Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Face of God: A Portrait of His Presence in the Life of David the Prophet

By Alexia Ioannides

“When You said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

The Book of Psalms is quite possibly the most widely examined and cherished book contained in Holy Scripture, mainly because it accurately portrays the extensive range of human emotion, desire, and experience. The author responsible for composing the majority of its literature is none other than the infamous shepherd boy-anointed king, David the Prophet.

As the reader explores the various psalms, it becomes increasingly evident that David possesses a unique attribute, one that enables him to experience a remarkably intimate relationship with God; that is, favor. Interestingly enough, his name means “Beloved,” which may help us discern what type of person he was, given that in ancient Israel, names were believed to carry great significance in foretelling a person’s character, personality, or calling. Perhaps, this young man was considered the beloved of God… but for what reason? The Apostle Paul addresses this question in Acts 13:22, as God testifies concerning David, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart…”

In an age when mainstream Israel had turned their back on God by pledging their devotion to idols, David remained wholeheartedly faithful. His primary goal was not to pursue the hand of God (how God could satisfy his wants and needs), but instead, to know the heart of God through a personal, life-changing experience. Indeed, he was a king who had all the glory, wealth, and pleasure made available to him by a simple request; yet his heart’s desire was for “one thing”: to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). After he did so, he was never again the same man.

Some may assume that David’s transformation and earthly success was a result of his perfect conduct. On the contrary, Holy Scripture clearly confirms that he was guilty on accounts of adultery, and even worse, murder. During these trying periods, he faced what many Christians struggle with today because of unrepentant sin—separation from God’s presence… “How long, O Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). He continues to plead… “Do not hide your face from me; Do not turn your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not leave me or forsake me, O God of my salvation.” (Psalm 27:9). David recognized that his peace and security was due to the umbrella of the Lord’s presence, but when sin separated him, his spirit became anguished… “Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain stand strong; You hid your face, and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:7).

Nevertheless, because of God’s unfailing love, David was not consumed by his afflictions. He was not forsaken to wallow in his miserable state because he honestly admitted his weaknesses and utter dependency upon the Lord. He had the ability to move God’s heart with deep compassion because he completely poured out his own heart—his deepest thoughts and emotions—in a spirit of repentance and childlike faith. Therefore, his humble disposition was honored and his spirit was restored, but now he had even a greater awareness of God’s justice and infinite mercy. As the Apostle Paul boldly reiterates in Romans 6, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” David’s sin provided God with the opportunity to demonstrate His graciousness for those who truly want to change their unhealthy lifestyles. Of course, His grace does not grant anyone license to sin, but it does afford hope to those who want their spiritual darkness transformed into the light of His presence shining upon them… “They looked to him and were radiant; And their faces were not ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5).

How many long to have their spiritual darkness transformed into a glorious light, a light that reflects the very face of God? How many are searching for peace that surpasses all understanding, joy that is unspeakable, and love that is unfailing and everlasting? Are these not desires that are embedded within the blueprints of every human soul? Were they not purposefully placed by the Creator Himself, in order that He could truly satisfy those yearnings? Regrettably, the mass of humanity has gone astray, as the ancient Israelites who worshipped lifeless objects to fulfill their God-given desires. They have become delusional, believing that idols such as money, fame, success, and unfruitful relationships can replace the relationship between the Creator and His creation. Only this relationship can eliminate the excruciating pain of these radical pleasure-seekers who are drunk with the wine of this world; who are living lives void of God’s love.

It is only an encounter with the face of God that will radically revolutionize the destiny of our race. If they behold His beautiful face, gaze into His fiery eyes of love, and hear His words of comfort and truth, they will be transformed as David was. David is a prototype of what a true worshipper should be. If our “one thing” is to seek the face of God and experience the fullness of His presence, then the petty circumstances and concerns of this life will diminish and look pale in comparison, to the blissful privilege of being called the beloved of God. However, no one can see God without purity. It is only after humanity comes into agreement with Him about their sin and allows Him to purify their hearts, will they be afforded the freedom to behold a vision of His face, which can quench the thirsty human soul as nothing else can; David discovered this… “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15).

“This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face.” (Psalm 24:6).

The Fruits of the Jesus Prayer

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

[An excerpt from "A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain"]

– I will mention to you some of the fruits of the Jesus prayer, since I can see you are very eager to learn. In the beginning the Jesus prayer is the bread which sustains the athlete, then it becomes oil which sweetens the heart and, in the end, it becomes wine which intoxicates man, that is, which creates ecstasy and union with God. To be more specific. The first gift which Christ gives to the man of prayer is the awareness of his sinfulness. He stops believing that he is "good" and considers himself "the desolating sacrilege... standing in the holy place" (Matt. 24. 15). Like the saw of a surgeon cutting through bone, the sharp word of the Spirit penetrates to the depths of the soul. There is so much impurity within us! Our soul reeks. Sometimes people come in my cell and they give a bad odor... from their inner filth. Well then, whatever was unknown before to the athlete, is now revealed to him through the Jesus prayer. As a result he considers himself below all people and thinks that Hell is his only eternal habitation and starts crying. He cries for his dead self. Is it possible for one to cry for the dead of his neighbour and not for the dead who is in his own house? In this way the athlete of the Jesus prayer, too, does not see the sins of others, but only his own death. His eyes become fountains of tears which flow from the affliction of his heart. He weeps like a condemned person, and at the same time he cries, "have mercy on me". "Have mercy on me". "Have mercy on me". With these tears, as we said above, the purification of soul and nous begins. As water cleanses dirty things, as the falling rain clears the sky of clouds and the earth from filth, likewise tears cleanse and whiten the soul. The tears are the water of the second baptism. Thus the Jesus prayer brings the sweetest fruit of purification.

– Is man completely purified when divine grace visits him?

– He is not purified completely, but is always seeking purity of heart for purification is a never ending effort. St. John Climacos reports this saying which he had heard from a monk, who had achieved dispassion. "The perfect but still unfinished perfection of the perfect". The more one weeps the more one is purified; the more one sees the deeper layers of sin the more he feels the need to weep again. St. Symeon the New Theologian elucidates this point well:

These by frequent prayer, by unutterable words
by the flow of their tears purifying their souls.
As they see their soul purified, they are set on fire with love, the fire of desire,
to see it perfectly pure.
But as they are powerless to find perfection of light the process is incomplete.
The more I am purified I, the sinner, am illumined,
the more He appears, the spirit who gives purity.
Each day, it seems I begin again to be made pure, to see.
In a fathomless abyss, in a measureless heaven,
who can find a middle or an end?
As you understand, my father, man is being continuously perfected and cleansed. The passive aspect of the soul is first cleansed and then the intelligent power of the soul. The faithful are initially delivered from the passions of the flesh; then –through harder prayer and more intensive struggle, from the passions of hatred, anger and rancour. When man manages to be freed from anger and rancour, it is obvious that the passive aspect of his soul has almost been purified. Then the entire warfare is carried out in the intelligent aspect, and the athlete wars against pride, vainglory and against all vain thoughts. This warfare will follow him to the end of his life. But all this course of purification takes place with the help and energy of grace, so that the faithful becomes a vessel receptive of rich divine grace. Again St. Symeon writes:

For man cannot overcome his passions
unless the light comes to our help.
Even so, it does not happen all at once.
Man by nature cannot receive all of a sudden, the spirit of God.
But much must be achieved, all of which is in his power.
Detachment of soul, despoiling of goods, separation from his own,
giving up his will, renouncing the world,
patience in temptations, prayer, sorrow,
poverty, humility, dispassion.
–And how does one understand that his soul is beginning to be purified?

–This is easy, the wise hermit answered. It becomes perceptible very soon. Hesychios the Elder uses a nice image. As the poisonous food which enters the stomach and causes disturbance and pain, comes out when we take medicine, and the stomach is relieved afterwards and feels the relief, the same happens with spiritual life. When man accepts evil thoughts and subsequently, experiences their bitterness and their heaviness, he "vomits easily and casts the evil thoughts out completely" through the Jesus prayer, attaining the sense therefore that purification is taking place. Moreover, the man of prayer becomes aware of purification, because the internal wounds that the passions cause cease bleeding. In the Gospel of the Evangelist Luke we read about the woman who had a flow of blood that: "she... came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased" (Lk. 8. 44). When one approaches Jesus Christ, he is immediately healed –"the flow of blood ceases": the blood of passions ceases to flow. I wish to say that images, circumstances, persons who used to scandalize us cease to now. In other words, when various persons or things disturb us, it is obvious that we are wounded by the attacks of the devil. It is within us that the scandal lies. Being purified through the help of the Jesus prayer, he sees all people and all things as creatures of God. He considers, especially human persons, as images of a God Who is full of love. Whoever, therefore, is dressed with the grace of Christ also sees the others dressed with such grace, even if they are naked. Whereas he who is destitude of divine grace, sees even those who are dressed as if they were naked! I would like at this point to read from the homilies of St. Symeon the New Theologian again.

–He is a Theologian, indeed. I read a few of his works and I was touched by them!

– I exhort you to read all his works because you will be able, in this way, to acquire a taste of mystical theology, of the apophatic way of ascetic experience. Well, the God–seeing father says:

The holy, pious Symeon the Studite
was not ashamed of seeing the body parts of any person
or of seeing naked people, neither was he ashamed of being seen naked;
for Christ was fully within him; the whole of him was Christ
and all of his members and everyone else's members
whether seen separately or all together he would always see as Christ;
and he would remain unmoved, unharmed and dispassioned,
for he was all Christ himself and saw all those
baptised as having put on Christ.
And if you are naked and being flesh, you touch flesh
and you become excited as a donkey or a horse,
how then do you dare calumniate the holy man
and you blaspheme against Christ who has been united with
us and has given dispassion to his holy servants?".
–As you can see, he went on, the dispassionate man, the one purified through the Jesus prayer, does not fall into temptation, whatever he might see. At the same time the devil is defeated; this is a fruit of the Jesus prayer. The athlete of the Jesus prayer recognises the enemy and his traps and easily casts him out of his soul. He also realises the devil's preparation for war and takes action just in time. He sees the arrows of the devil aimed at his soul, and before they even touch it, they are destroyed. St. Diadochos says that when the arrows reach the surface part of the heart, they are destroyed there, because the grace of Christ is within. Furthermore, as we were saying before, the integration of the complete person is achieved. Mind, desire and will are united and combined in God.

– Purification and dispassion are great gifts!!! I exclaimed.

–Yes, indeed, dispassion is a gift of grace. Dispassion presupposes purification and love and even more it covers love. St. Symeon can help us even at this point. He uses an effective image. On a cloudless night we see the moon in the sky filled with the most pure light and many times a shining circle around it. This is how St. Symeon adjusts this image to the purified and dispassioned man. The bodies of the Saints are the sky. Their God–bearing heart is like the moon. Holy love is the "almighty and all–accomplishing light", which fills the heart each day, according to its degree of purification, and then a time comes when the heart is full of this bright light and becomes like a full–moon. But this light does not diminish, as the moon’s light does, because it is preserved with good works. "It remains always bright through the zeal and the good works of the Saints". Dispassion is the circle which surrounds the all–shining heart, covers it, and maintains it invulnerable from the furious assaults of the devil. "It shields it from every side and guards it and maintains it invincible from every evil thought and establishes it unharmed and free from all enemies; not only this but also it makes it unapproachable by the adversaries".

Although dispassion is absolutely necessary, it is not the final gift of the Jesus prayer and the acquisition of everything. From then on the ascent to God starts. The Holy Fathers describe this spiritual ascent to divinization in three words: Purification, illumination, perfection. I'll mention to you two examples from the Holy Scripture to make it more comprehensible: the ascent of Moses on Mount Sinai to obtain the "Law" and the march of the people of Israel to the promised land. The first is described by St. Gregory of Nyssa and the second by St. Maximos.

–The Fathers always inspire me. They interpret the word of God correctly, that is why I like to hear the interpretations of the Fathers.

–The Hebrews washed their garments first and cleansed themselves according to the commandment of God: "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready by the third day". Then on the third day, all the people heard voices and "a very loud trumpet blast" and saw thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain. "And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke". The people walked to the foot of the mountain; only Moses went into the shining cloud and reached the top of the mountain, where he received the tablets of the Law (Ex. 19. 10–18). St. Gregory of Nyssa understands that the way to divine knowledge is purity of body and soul. He who is going to ascend must be, as far as it is possible, pure and spotless, both in body and soul. He must also, according to the divine commandment, wash his garments –not so much the material ones, because they do not become an obstacle for those who want to be deified– but rather the deeds of this life which enwrap us like a garment. He must also distance himself from the "irrational beasts", e.g. he must overcome every knowledge which is obtained through the senses. He must be cleansed from every aesthetic and irrational action he must purify his mind and be separated even from his own familiar companion –his sense– and being prepared in this way, let him dare to approach the mountain with the thick cloud upon it. Yet, since the mountain is inaccessible to the people, let only Moses –that is he who has been called by God ascend– proceed. Therefore, father, as it is seen here, purification precedes and the ascent to divine vision follows. The greater gifts, then, are obtained after purification, which is a prerequisite for their acquisition.

Let me remind you, the God–seeing ascetic continued, of the second example. St. Maximos the Confessor writes that there are three stages for the mystical ascent to God: practical philosophy which is both negative (purification from passions) and positive (acquisition of virtues); the natural theoria–vision when the purified nous contemplates all creation (that is the inner essences of created beings) comprehends the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, and sees God in nature and prays to Him. Then the third and last stage follows: the mystical theology, which unites God with the militant, the faithful one. These three stages can be seen clearly in the route of the people of Israel. They were first liberated from the slavery of Egypt, and crossed the Red Sea where Egyptian power was defeated. Then they came to the wilderness, where they received the gifts of divine love manifested in various ways (the manna, the water, the bright cloud, the Law, the victory against enemies), and they entered the promised land after many years of struggle. In the same way, the athlete of the "Jesus prayer" is first delivered from the slavery of passions (practical philosophy), he enters then the desert of dispassion (natural theoria–vision), where he receives the gifts of the love of God. And finally, he becomes worthy of the promised land (mystical theology) after a heroic struggle; he becomes worthy of perfect union with God and the enjoyment of eternity, which is experienced in the vision of the uncreated Light. These three stages, however, are not clearcut, according to the God–bearing Fathers. When we reach natural theoria–vision and mystical theology, it does not mean that we give up ascesis and compunction of the heart, i.e. practical philosophy. Rather the more a person progresses spiritually, the more he struggles so that he will not lose the mercy that he received. The Fathers advise us that when we become worthy of divine and lofty visions, we should then be more diligent in our expression of love and continence, "so that by keeping undisturbed the passive aspect of the soul, you will experience the unfailing light of the soul". It is necessary that man should always proceed on his spiritual path in fear. In the beginning, he should have the fear of Hell, of punishment (preliminary fear) and then the fear, lest he loses grace and falls from it (perfect fear). "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling", the Apostle Paul says (Phil. 2. 12).

– Tell me now, Gerondas, what are the gifts that the athlete of the "Jesus prayer" receives after purification and before he enjoys perfect union with God? Go on describing to me the other fruits of the Jesus prayer.

–The monk who does violence to himself feels divine consolation. He feels the presence of Christ, which spreads "sweet calmness", unperturbed peace, profound humility, and insatiable love for all. The consolation of divine presence cannot be compared with anything human. I met an ascetic who became seriously ill and went to the hospital for treatment. The best of doctors were by his side as they respected him and wanted to comfort him. He recovered, of course, thanked the doctors and returned to his little cell. After a brief period of time, however, he experienced a relapse which the brothers did not realise, because he was isolated. He suffered much, yet he was feeling such comfort from God, which could not be compared with the sincere and loving care of the doctors or with the efficacious action of the medications. The rest he felt was without precedent. That is why some hermits (this is incomprehensible to those of the world) avoid diligently human consolation in order to feel the intoxicating sweetness and the insatiable joy of divine consolation...

–That is a wonderful fruit of noetic prayer, I said. Go on, father.

–Man acquires grace in the sufferings that his fellow–men cause him. He flies to the azure and glorious sky of spiritual life, where the arrows of men of the world cannot reach him. Not only is he not afflicted, but neither does he not notice them. As an aeroplane cannot be brought down nor hit when stones are thrown at it the same happens with such a man. There is no grief because of slander, persecution, contempt, accusation etc., but there is only grief for the fall of a brother. But even if he grieves for something, he knows the way to cast it out. Such an example is told in the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers": "An old man who came to see Abba Achiles found him spitting blood out of his mouth. He asked him, "What is the matter, Father?" The old man answered, "The word of a brother grieved me, I struggled not to tell him so and I prayed God to rid me of this word. So it became like blood in my mouth and I have spat it out. Now I am in peace, having forgotten the matter"9.

–This means, indeed, perfect love for the brother, which forgives everything. He does not even want to recall them. We are already reaching perfection!

–Certainly. And this is achieved through the Jesus prayer. This love is the result of the experience of the unity of all mankind. And this is a wonderful fruit of the Jesus prayer. Not only man himself is integrated, but also the unity of mankind is felt.

You know, father, the hermit continued, that the unity of human nature was divided immediately after the Fall of Adam. After the creation of Adam, God created Eve from his side. Eve's creation gave joy to Adam and he felt her as his own (from his body) and so he said: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh... " (Gen. 2. 23). After his fall –when God asked him– Adam said: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate" (Gen. 3 . 12). Before the Fall, Eve was "bone" from his bones after the Fall she became "the woman" that God gave him! It is obvious here the division of human nature after sin, as it can be seen later in the children of Adam, in all the history of Israel and in all the history of humanity. This is natural. Since man was estranged from God, he was also estranged from himself and separated from other people. This constituted complete alienation and enslavement. The reunion of human nature was attained "in Christ". He "stretched out his palms and united what was before divided" and so he gave the power to each one of us, after being united with him, to experience the unity of human nature.

The ascetic, then, aquires great love for Jesus Christ through the Jesus prayer, and he is joined with Him through this love. It is natural, therefore, for him to love whatever God loves and desire whatever He desires. God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tit. 2. 4). This is what the athlete of prayer wants. He is shaken by the evil that exists in the world and grieves deeply for the loss and the ignorance of his brothers. Since sin always has ecclesiastical and cosmic dimensions and affects the entire world, it is natural that he who prays experiences all the tragedy of humanity and suffers deeply for her. He lives the agony of the Lord in Gethsemane. He reaches a point, therefore, where he ceases praying for himself and prays continually for others, to come to the knowledge of God. His purification from passions, his acquisition of the life–giving divine grace, and prayer for others –which is the result of his experiencing the unity of mankind in Jesus Christ– is the greatest mission. This is how the Fathers saw the missionary effort: as a striving for the renewal of the human being and a reintegration of nature. Each person who is purified becomes a valuable part of society, as we are all members of the blessed body of Christ. We can see this vividly in the person of the Most Holy Mother of God. She was "full of grace", and then bestowed grace and adorned all of human nature. Purified and "full of grace", she prays for the whole world. And thus we can say that the Most Holy Mother of God performs the greatest mission of all and benefits all of mankind effectively.

He kept silent for a while and then went on.

–Still the ascetic feels the unity of all nature.

– What do you mean?

–He is acknowledged by all nature. Before the Fall, Adam was the King of all creation, and all the animals acknowledged him as a King. After the Fall, however, this link was broken and this acknowledgement abolished. Nikolaos Kavasilas analyses this condition vividly. Man, he says, is created in the image of God. In Adam the image of God was the clear mirror through which the Light of God reflects on nature. As long as the mirror remained unbroken, all nature was lit up. However, as soon as it was broken and smashed, deep darkness fell on all creation. All nature, then, rebelled against man and now does not acknowledge him, neither does it want to give him its fruits. Thus, man is sustained with anguish and labour. The animals are also afraid of him and are quite aggressive. Yet, when man receives the grace of Christ, all the powers of the soul integrate. He is in the image and likeness of God. He becomes a mirror, a light which shines forth the divine grace even to irrational nature. Now the animals acknowledge him, obey him and respect him. There are many cases recorded where the ascetic–hermit lives in the company of bears and wild animals. He feeds them, and they in turn serve him, thus acquiring divine grace through the Jesus prayer, he becomes, again, King of nature, and evenmore, he ascends to a more elevated state than Adam's. Ac cording to the Fathers, Adam was in the image of God but he had to reach to the likeness of God through obedience. He was in the stage of the illumination of the nous and he had to attain to theosis. Whereas the ascetic attains to "the likeness of God" (divinization), as far as it is possible, through divine grace, without entering, however, into the Divine Essence. He partakes of the uncreated energies of God. I shall give you an example of this acknowledgement on the part of nature from this very present interview. When my ever memorable Gerondas was saying the Jesus prayer, wild birds would come to the windows of his cell pecking the panes. One would think that this was the activity of the devil to hinder him from prayer. But, in fact, the wild birds were attracted by the prayer of the Gerondas!!!

–Gerondas, you have led me through the stages of perfection; to the end of spiritual life. Man is capable of becoming a King...

He smiled faintly.

–There are even higher stages. After a great struggle, as I mentioned before, it is possible for the athlete to submit to ecstasy, the divine rapture, and enter the new Jerusalem, the new promised land. The nous is seized in rapture, and contemplates the uncreated Light. At vespers of the divine Transfiguration we sing: "When the chosen apostles beheld upon the mountain the overwhelming flood of Thy light, "Christ who has no beginning, and Thy divinity which no man may approach, they were caught up into a divine trance". Ecstasy and theoria (vision) of God are connected. When we say ecstasy, we do not mean something static, but we refer to divine presence and spiritual movement. It is not inactivity and death but life in God. The Fathers say that when man is enraptured in the divine Light, during the Jesus prayer, he ceases praying with the lips. The mouth and tongue remain silent, the heart is silent, too. The athlete, then, delights in the theoria (vision) of Taborian Light. He receives the uncreated energy of God. It is the same Light of Mount Tabor, which the disciples saw; it is the Kingdom of God –eternity. According to St. Gregory Palamas, the Light is "the beauty of the age to come", "the substance of future good", "the most perfect vision of God", "the heavenly food". Those who become worthy of seeing the uncreated Light are the Prophets of the New Testament. For, as the Prophets of the Old Testament would surpass time and could see the incarnation of Christ, the first advent, in the same way those who contemplate the Light surpass time and see the glory of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven.

He was silent for a while, took a deep breath and went on.

–The divine Light possesses all of his being. Even his hut shines from the presence of Christ and he enjoys this "sober drunkenness". He beholds the invisible God. "God is Light and his vision is Light", says St. Symeon the New Theologian. The monk sees divine Light at that moment, and this is "a pleasing and sacred vision", according to "the defendor of theologians", St. Gregory Palamas. Makarios the Chrysokephalos also describes this vision: "What is more beautiful than being in intimate communion with Christ? What is dearer than his divine glory? Nothing is sweeter than this light, through which every illuminating order of angels as well as of men is made lucid; nothing is more loving than this life, wherein we all live and move and have our being; nothing is sweeter than ever–incarnate beauty; nothing is more delightful than the everlasting joy; nothing is dearer than eternal gladness, dignified majesty and boundless Bliss". In other words, delight and joy are boundless. These states are indeed too great for words. This is how St. Symeon the New Theologian describes it.

He took one of his books in his hands and started reading.

"I sit on my bed, free of this world
and within of my hut I can see present
before me, Him who is out of the world, I see Him
and talk to Him; and I dare say I love Him and He loves me,
I eat and I am fed well only with the vision;
and being united with Him I go beyond Heaven
and I know that this is true and certain;
and where my body is therefore I do not Know.
I know that He Who is immovable descends
I know that He Who is invisible appears to me
I know that He Who is separated from all creation
receives me within Himself, and hides me in His arms
and then I am thus out of the world
and I, mortal and small in the world,
I can see the creator of the world within myself
and I know that I will not die, because I have eternal life,
and because all of life is poured forth within me".
The Gerondas read the passage with great longing. His voice was moving. His eyes sparkled. His face was shining with an inexplicable joy. His trembling voice –his spiritual delight brought tears to my eyes.

–Thus even his face shines, he went on, from the divine presence. He enters, like Moses, into the divine darkness of unknowing, into the "radiant darkness", and acquires "enduring knowledge" and "ineffable theology".

He stopped again for a while. I was waiting almost ecstatic, literally gasping.

– Even the body feels the sweetness of this Light and during these moments it undergoes "change".

–What does this mean?

– "That the body participates in the grace which acts 113 on the nous, is orientated to it and receives awareness of the ineffable mystery of the soul" (St. Gregory Palamas). Then the body "becomes strangely buoyant and glowing", that is, it feels an unusual warmth which is the result of the vision of Light. It is like the candle which when it is lit up, its main body (the wax) is at once warm and luminous.

–Please, allow me a question. It may be blasphemous but I will ask it anyway. Is this "change" of the body a reality or imaginary? Is it an imagined warmth?

–No, my father it is not. This "change" is real. The body participates in all the states of the soul. The body itself is not bad, but rather the mind of the flesh, that is, when the body is enslaved to the devil. Besides, the vision of the Light is a vision of the physical eyes which have been altered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit and have become capable of seeing the uncreated Light. There are many examples in the Holy Scripture which indicate that the grace of God, through the soul, penetrates to the body as well, which feels the action of the life–giving divine grace.

–Could you refer to some of these?

–There are many verses in the psalms of David, which show this: "My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God" (Ps. 84). "In Him my heart trusts; so I am helped and my heart exults" (Ps. 27). Also in the 119th Psalm: "How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth"! We have the story of Moses, too. When he came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments, his face shone. "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, he did not know that the skin on his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him" (Ex. 34. 29–30). This is also seen in the case of archdeacon Stephen: "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel" (Acts 6. 15). St. Gregory Palamas believes that the sweat of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying in the garden of Gethsemane, shows "the fervour felt in His body because of the intensive prayer to God".

–Forgive me, father, because I've tired you with my blasphemous and worldly question. We, people of the world, cannot understand... Allow me, however, one more question. Are there monks nowadays, who see the uncreated Light and undergo "change" when they pray?

He smiled and said:

–If the Holy Spirit should cease acting in the Church, then "the beholders of the uncreated Light", will cease to exist. The Holy Mountain hides great treasures and those who fight against it in any way, are accusers and enemies of God. In the time of St. Athanasios the Great some disputed the Deity of Christ. In the time of St. Gregory Palamas they disputed the deity of the uncreated energies. Nowadays, we fall into almost the same sin. We dispute the existence of deified people, who see the divine Light. Today, there are sanctified monks –Gods by grace. The continuation of life on earth is due to these deified ascetics. They brighten our world, which is darkened by sin.

The Hymnography and Iconography of the Transfiguration in Hesychast Theology

By Leonidas Pittos

[This is excerpted from a larger unpublished study on Hesychast hermeneutics]

The permeable boundaries between a Byzantine worshiper’s visual and hymnographic experiences of an icon allow for us to explore the interpretation of hymnography as a means of considering Hesychast interpretation of the Orthodox liturgical experience. It is significant that in every case in which he utilizes elements of hymnography, St. Gregory Palamas either ascribed patristic or ecclesiastical authority to the hymnographic text. The source of a liturgical text’s authority in weighing in as proof of truth was its universal acceptance in church practice. Thus, in proving the light the light of the Transfiguration was eternal and thus common to all three persons of the Holy Trinity, Palamas affirms his argument by appealing to church practice:

"This is why we chant in common in the Lord during the annual celebration of the feast: ‘in the manifestation of Your light, we have seen the Father as light and the Spirit as light’, [and] ‘for You bared Your divinity’s hidden rays’. . . That this light was of the essential characteristics [των περι Θεόν ουσιωδώς θεορουμένων], we are firstly taught from [hymns] chanted annually during the feast."

In another instance, Palamas writes:

"[The divine activities] are never created but only their participants are created . . . [for] as you hear chanted in the church—and do not shut your ears to this—‘they saw on Tabor the essential and eternal splendor of God’, and not the glory of God from created things [την απο κτισμάτων δόξαν του Θεού]."

Palamas’ theological point, then, was affirmed in church practice.

The interpretive practices that come to the surface in St. Gregory Palamas’ interpretation of the hymnography of the Transfiguration cluster around two poles: a) the identification of the divine light with the hypostasis of Christ, and b) the affirmation of the saints’ experience of the uncreated light. It is, in addition, in these two themes that Palamas’ interpretive practices converge with the iconographic themes of the Transfiguration.

In icons of the Transfiguration, Christ’s body formed the focal axis of the mandorla’s (the circular disc of light) geometric patterns and dominated its geometric logic. The body of Christ, moreover, formed their point of reference and origin, and, at the same time, the axis of their geometric logic. Indeed, the rays were proper to Divinity as well as enhypostatic (proper to Christ's person) as they ever-unendingly had their existence from Christ’s uncreated hypostasis—from His eternal divine being. At the same time, the iconographic depictions of the apostles’ experience of the Transfiguration of Christ show them in extreme postures and gestures of awe. Thus, the apostles collapse before the awesome vision of the transfigured Christ, “cast down upon the ground, unable to gaze upon the Form that none may see.”

The enhypostatic nature of the light of the Transfiguration lay at the heart of the Hesychasts’ exegesis of the Transfiguration. The light that emanated from Christ was an essential operation of His divinity and had as its source the divine essence of the Word. During the Transfiguration, however, the light was said to emanate from Christ’s face (“and His face became bright as the sun” ) by the evangelists. Drawing on the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory Palmas maintained that it was by way of the hypostatic union between the divine and the human natures realized in Christ that divine, uncreated grace penetrated and deified created humanity. Thus in Christ’s body, hypostatically united to the Word, the divine energies—the uncreated light of the Transfiguration—penetrate created nature and deify it. It is in this union “according to energy” that the uncreated divine energies become accessible to all those in Christ. The hypostasis of the Incarnate Word thus was the absolute source the light that shown on Tabor. Palamas uses the authority of hymnography throughout his theological works to affirm this very point.

"That this light as of the essential characteristics [των περι Θεόν ουσιωδώς θεορουμένων], we are firstly taught from [hymns] chanted annually during the feast, one a example of which will suffice: ‘The blinding light of Your essential and divine splendor hidden beneath the flesh, oh Christ, You have shown to Your disciples upon the holy mountain, our benefactor, enlightening the disciples that were with You.’"

The light that emanated, then, from the face of Christ during the Transfiguration was “uncreated” (άκτιστον), or divine, and therefore unapproachable and beyond human comprehension. To say anything positive of it was to reduce it to something that it was not. While incomprehensible and unapproachable, it was “incomprehensibly and inexpressibly” participable. To be precise, “uncreated” did not refer to an affirmation of substance, but was an apophatic negation—an affirmation of what that light was not: created. The light, then, that radiated form the face of Christ during the Transfiguration was divine, the “essential operation/activity” of God, distinct yet indivisible and inseparable from the Divine Essence, eternally emanating from the hypostasis of the Word of God, inexplicably purifying and uniting the apostles to God. It was the same light that enlightened the prophets of the Old Testament and that later illumined and deified the saints, initiating them into the mysteries of “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. What is more, it is the same light that will emanate again from Christ during His second coming, flooding the world and causing the just “to shine like the sun”.

In the hymnography of August 6th and 7th, the feast and post-feast of the Transfiguration, St. Gregory finds two hymnographic passages that affirm the particibility of the light:

"The radiance of God is participible and is distributed [to those worthy]: For as [the hymnographer writes] “the Lord uncovered [His] bright radiance on the mountain” which it participants saw not in it entirety, 'so that they would not die from the vision.'"

The experience was inexplicable and unfathomable. Similarly, in his third Triad, St. Gregory cites the Kanon on the Transfiguration by St. Kosmas of Jerusalem. He argues that if one would say that the light of the Transfiguration was a temporary symbol of the divinity, distinct from the divine nature:

"Let him tell me what and how this is . . . that this experience was entirely unfathomable—and not just to the eyes—for [the hymnographer writes], '[the disciples, struck with fear and illumined], looked at one another and fell downwards upon the ground.'"

Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name

Psalm 89

I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.
And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.
For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.
Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.
Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.
His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;
If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.
Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.
It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.
But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.
All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.
The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.
How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?
Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?
Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.
Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Orientations"—by Odysseas Elytes


The world reconciled itself to bitterness
Shooting-star lies left the lips
Night freed
From noise and care
Is transformed in us
And its new silence shines with revelation

We find our head in God's hands.

A prayer transfigures its heights
Time changes course
And leads us tripped of earthly concern
To other meanings

Where is the pulse of earth
The blood in the memory of our faces
The selfsame journey?

Decedents of perishable tears
Rowers of futile lakes
We left earth's skin
We fingered our words
In the tree's whispering
For the last time

Now stars neighbor our forehead!

Image oh! Immutable
You dress every hovering concept
Which brings our hope near

There the query that separates itself from us
You are everywhere You share
Our dark harps
Immaterial sheath.

Our eyes left but our souls went ahead
At their meeting in the heavens
A pure moment shone
Agonized trembling
An exact reflection of our innards

Higher up
Serenity is enthroned
In united solitude of her stars

Because we rid her of our bodies
Because we exhausted her with out hopes
Because we brought her our Idea as votive

She gives birth again to feelings.

Silence was analyzed in us
Her archangel touched our innermost beings
He rolled our memory into an uninhabited chaos
When we were granted an unbelievable riverbank

A riverbank of lightweight shadows
Once dreamy from tears
Golden marks looked at us
So much that we were detached from our weight
As we were detached from sin!

Imaginary glow
Cyan space
Soul's catharsis!
It is as if the earthly noise went missing
As if memory's malice stopped
Our clear new dream
An invisible hand pulls us by the hand

Where the innocent sky becomes Serenity
Where the soul is judged immutable.

[Translation by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris in "The collected poems of Odysseus Elytis" (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Wake Up Call

By Alexia Ioannides

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:14)

Those who are acquainted with the popular music of this generation are most likely familiar with the trendy rock band, Evanescence, and their awfully dark, but candid hit song, Bring Me to Life. The lyrics tell the story of one woman’s inner diary; her thoughts, feelings, and cries of desperation as she seeks someone, anyone, to wake her up from a spiritual slumber. She continues to express her heart cry, pleading for a resurrection power to call her from the sleep of death, before it is too late. Finally, the song dramatically ends with one last plea for salvation, as she confesses the reality of her existence: “I’ve been living a lie. There’s nothing inside. Bring me to life.”

The implications of this song far surpass its genre status as merely “pop music” because they vividly portray those who live in this age of obscurity without the light of Christ. It is the anthem of a generation of walking zombies. We encounter these people daily; they work at our jobs, study at our schools, and even live in our homes. They appear to be functioning normally because they have the same blood flowing through their veins as us. What we fail to discern, however, is that the lifeblood of their souls are frozen, and their spiritual senses have become numb to the ways of God. In Matthew 13:15, Christ discussed the nature of these “zombies”: “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Spiritual slumber is the unobvious, but rampant epidemic affecting the masses, and they are in dire need of a wake-up call.

Saint Irenaeus, an early Church Father of the 2nd century, rightly once stated, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” He clearly understood the significance of a wake-up call because God’s reputation, His credit and fame, is staked upon the coming alive of man’s image. Ever since the First Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin has disfigured the image of God in man, conveying a false message about His nature, and thus, blaspheming His glory. When the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, fulfilled His Earth mission by redeeming humanity from the curse of sin, He freely gave His Holy Spirit to restore man’s authentic image, which will ultimately reinstate His Father’s glory. Apparently, this task cannot be fully accomplished without the help of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, to reach out to those who wear the mask of false identity.

The reason why the Orthodox Church plays such a vital role in accomplishing this task is because it is a Spiritual Hospital. It was bestowed by the Holy Apostles, the procedures and medicines essential to heal the spiritually sick and raise the spiritually dead. As members of His Body, we must be His hands and feet and employ the graces of healing manifested through the Holy Sacraments and Spiritual Disciplines (i.e. Holy Communion, Holy Confession, Prayer, and Fasting). These are the healing balms by which we nurse the wounded; impartations of the resurrection power of the Great Physician.

Humanity, as represented by the woman in the song, is frantically seeking refuge from the wave of spiritual slumber that has crashed upon our shores. Depression and suicide rates in America are at an all-time high, aiding fuel to the countless campaigns of New Age, self-help, and religious gurus who claim empty promises of deliverance, while simultaneously reaping a financial harvest from the tears of the destitute. Many are longing to experience a genuine spiritual awakening, one that will reveal to them their true identity in Christ. Just as the Angel of the Lord, in Acts 5:20, inspired the Holy Apostles to fearlessly spread the gospel at any cost, may our prayer be that these words continue to rouse those who share in the Apostles’ zeal to sound the wake-up call, and “tell the people the full message of this new life.”

The Holy Spirit, Prophecy, and the Body of Christ

By Fr. John Romanides

That Christ came with the Holy Spirit and the Father after His resurrection, ascension, and return to dwell in the faithful is a fundamental presupposition of both St. Paul and St. John. Given St. Luke's relation to Paul, the event of Pentecost recorded by Luke most probably has a Pauline ecclesiological background. However, in an important respect, i.e. in regard to speaking in tongues, Luke has in fact become the key to Paul instead of vice versa.

It should be noted that Paul's epistles are directed to those already initiated into the mysteries of the Church. John's Gospel is a post-baptismal book of catechism intended for those who already have the Spirit. The Gospel of Luke, however, like those of Mark and Matthew, is a pre-baptismal catechism, and Acts are intended for an audience not initiated into the esoteric life of Christ. However, since Luke was a student and companion of Paul, his writings presuppose and reflect this esoteric life in Christ.

For John the coming of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of Christ's promise to prepare a place where, upon his return, He will receive His disciples unto Himself so that they may be wherever He is (John 141 2-3). By Christ's intercession the Father will give His disciples another Advocate whom they know because He dwells in them and will be in them (John 14, 16-17). In that day the disciples will know that Christ is in the Father and that they are in Christ and He in them (John 14, 20). They will see Christ because He lives and they will live (John 14, 19). Christ will appear to him who loves Him (John 14, 21). Christ and His Father will come and make a dwelling with him (John 14, 23). When the Holy Spirit comes He will teach them all things and remind them of everything He said to them (John 14, 26). When the Spirit of Truth comes sent by Christ from the Father, He will witness concerning Christ and the disciples will witness, because they are with Christ from the beginning (John 15, 26-27). When the Spirit of Truth comes He will lead the disciples into all the truth for He will not speak from Himself, but He will speak whatever He hears and will declare to them things coming. He will glorify Christ because He will receive these things from Christ and will declare them to the disciples. Christ said this because everything that the Father has is His. For this reason the Spirit of Truth will take from Him and declare to the disciples. Then Christ repeats that in a little while the disciples will not see Him, but again in a little while they will see Him (John 16, 13- 16). Then he reaches the climax of chapters 14-17: "Father, those whom you gave me I want that they also be with me wherever I am, that they see my glory which you gave to me because you loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17, 24).

For John the ascension of Christ's human nature is an absolute prerequisite for Christ's sending the Holy Spirit, as it is obviously for Luke and by extension for Paul. "New I go to Him Who sent me.. .It is in your interest that l depart. For if I do not depart, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I will depart, I will send Him to you (John 16, 5-7). That John does not confuse the post resurrection appearances of Christ with His return in His Spirit on Pentecost is clear from his recording of Christ's statement to Mary Magdalene. "Do not touch me for I have not yet ascended to my Father." But in the next recorded appearances Christ told Thomas Didymus to put his hand to His side. Thomas believed by seeing rather than by touching. "Because you saw me you believed" (John 20, 29).

The place of common dwelling of him who loves the Father in Christ is the human nature of Christ, the Temple of the Logos by nature. and its natural glory that Christ as Logos received from the Father and by nature shares with the Holy Spirit. By becoming a member of the Body of Christ one becomes the temple of God and at the same time dwells in God as his temple. Pentecost is the birth of the Church because the human nature of Christ is present and by grace is united to each member of His Body, not as part of Christ in each, but by grace the whole Christ in each member. Christ departed so that He might return in the Holy Spirit by a new presence of His human nature which, like God's uncreated glory, is divided indivisibly among many faithful so that Christ is present within and united by grace to each of the members of His Body. At the same time the Body of Christ remains one so that its members are one with each other in the glory and rule (vasileia) of the Holy Trinity.

According to Acts Christ told His disciples before His ascension that they would shortly be baptised in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1,5; compare Matt. 3, 12). On Pentecost "divided tongues appeared to them and sat upon each of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking with other tongues when the Spirit gave them to announce (Acts 2, 1). In view of John's association of the coming of the Holy Spirit with His own appearance again to His disciples, as we saw, and the actual appearances of Christ after Pentecost, e.g. to Stephen (Acts 7, 55-56) and to Paul (Acts 9, 3ff; 22), 6ff, 17ff), there are some grounds to entertain the possibility or even probability that Acts 1, 11 is to be taken as fulfilled by Acts 2, 1ff. While Christ was ascending two men dressed in white appeared to the apostles saying that Christ "will come in the manner that you saw Him going to heaven."

In any case speaking by other tongues and announcing (αποφθέγγεσθαι) are not to be confused. Announcing in Acts 2, 4 means prophesying as is clear from the whole of St. Peter's discourse in Acts 2, l4ff. One first receives the gift of tongue in the heart and then one is inspired in the mind to understand the prophets and Christ in order to prophesy. These distinctions are clear in St. Paul and it would be unlikely that Luke was not conversant with them. Once the person receives this gift of tongue then the Spirit may or may not create such conditions as in Acts 2, 6-13.

In any case, baptism in the Spirit is identical to the reception of the gift of tongues and is clearly distinct from baptism by water. Paul was first glorified in his vision of Christ in glory and then was baptised (Acts 9, 18; 22, 16). When he received the gift of tongues is not recorded, although that he possessed it is. The twelve disciples of Appolos who had received John's baptism of repentance, were "baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus, and Paul having laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and they prophesied 7,(Acts 19, 5-6). In the case of the centurion Cornelius and his companions, they were first baptised in the Spirit by receiving the gift of tongues by or in glorification, and then were baptised by water when Peter could thus no longer resist. "While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those listening to the discourse, and the circumcised faithful, who came with Peter, were astonished that the girt of the Holy Spirit was also poured upon the gentiles, for they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, 'Can one forbid water that they who have also received the Holy Spirit like us be not baptized?',, (Acts IO, 44-47). In his apology for what he did Peter recalls what Christ said before His ascension about receiving baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts l, 5) and concludes, "if then God gave to them the same gift as also to us...Who was I? One with power to stop God?" (Acts ll, 17). The Greek word for same in this text is "ίσην" which also means equal. So the gift here received is not only the same as Pentecost but also equal. It is this idea of equality which lay at the core of the problems in Corinth where many with only the gift of tongues believed themselves to be equal to the others. not understanding that this is so only when tongues are preceded or followed by glorification since during vision of God all charismata are abolished except love.
This baptism in the Spirit which results in the gift of tongues, and which normally is accompanied with the charisma of prophecy, is evidently the origin of chrismation, the mystery by which one becomes a member of the Body of Christ and a temple of God. For St. Paul the gift of tongues seems to be the minimal requirement for membership in the Body of Christ. It is the foundation not only of prophecy, but of all charismata. Below those who speak in tongues are the private individuals (ιδιώται) and those lacking in faith (άπιστοι). They are neither members of the body of Christ, nor charismatics. The ιδιώται have a special place in the assembly and say amen at the proper times during prayers (I Cor. 14, 16). The fact that they say amen to thanksgiving prayers means that they were probably baptised by water and were awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in their heart, i.e. the gift of tongues, and may have participated in eucharistic communion as the apostles had also done before Pentecost. They evidently were the baptised laymen of the apostolic community.

The άπιστοι, the lackers of faith, are evidently catechumens of pagan background who could not be handled like Jews. Jews were still considered as faithful so long as they did not completely reject the Lord of Glory made flesh.
Those with the charismata in I Cor. 12, 4- IO (which charismata include the διακονίαι and ενεργήματα listed, as is clear in I Cor. 12, 28-31) and those with the charismata in these latter verses are all members of the clergy listed according to spiritual gifts, but not strictly according to liturgical function and ordination. They are called directly by God, who gives the gin of praying by tongue after proper preparation by a spiritual father. Paul says that the Corinthians may have many teachers In Christ, but not many fathers. I gave birth to you in Christ by means of the Gospel,, (I Cor. 4, 1415). However, Paul thanks God that he baptised none of the Corinthians except for a few (I Cor. l, 14, 16). This means that Paul gave birth to them in the realm of the charismata of which speaking or praying in tongues is the foundation. In other words, the charismata are products of being baptised in the Holy Spirit and the sign of having become a member of the Body of Christ. "For also in one Spirit we all have been baptised into one body... and we all drank in one Spirit" (I Cor. 12, 13). This is clearly the baptism of the Holy Spirit. From all that follows, the Body Christ includes only those who have been thus baptised.
Like in Acts, so in Paul, speaking in tongues is a fundamental sign of being baptised in the Spirit. But in I Cor. 12, 10 and 12, 28, 30 γένη γλωσσών- kinds of tongues - at first sight seems to be detached from the higher charismata, giving the impression that the Church can do without them. However. the statement "all do not speak in tongues, (I Cor. 12, 30) does not mean that the higher charismatics do not, but rather that the ιδιώται and άπιστοι do not, as is clear in I Cor. 14, 16, 23, 24. When Paul lists those placed by

God within the Church, he begins with the apostles in first place and ends with the γένη γλωσσών(kinds of tongues) in the last place (I Cor. 12.28). The ιδιώται are neither included here, nor in the ordering of the assembly in I Cor. 14, 26ff. The reason for this is that they do not yet have the gift of the Holy Spirit praying unceasingly in them and therefore have not been placed by God in the Body of Christ.

That the higher charismata include the lower, but not the lower the higher, is clear from what St. Paul says about himself. "I thank God speaking by tongues more than au of you, but in church I prefer speaking five words with my intellect, that I may also catechize others, than ten thousand words in tongue" (I Cor. 14, 18-19). This does not mean that St. Paul does not pray in church by tongue, i.e. by the Spirit, but that in church he is obliged to pray also with his intellect for the edification of others. "I will pray with the Spirit, but I will also pray with the intellect" (I Cor. 14, 15).

By "kinds of tongues" St. Paul evidently means praying, reciting psalms, and singing spiritual hymns and oodes (Eph. 5, 18-20). So some have kinds of tongues and others in addition have interpretation of tongues (I Cor. 12, 10, 29). "Yearn after spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy . .. I want you all to speak in tongues, but rather that you may prophesy, for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks by tongue, unless he interprets, that the Church may receive edification (I Cor. 14, I, 5). As in Acts, so here, prophecy exists because of the gift of tongue, but the latter may not always result in prophecy. There is no record that Cornelius and his associates prophesied, although they spoke in tongue as a result of their glorification. However, speaking in tongue may result in inteipietation instead of prophecy,and the former is equal to the latter.

However, inspite of this equality prophets are more important. Besides being listed at the bottom of the charismata those who spoke or prayed only in tongues were virtually forced by Paul into a silence in Church, more befitting an ιδιώτη. Those who speak only tongues are to keep quiet and are to be spoken for by the interpreters, who will each speak for two or three of them in succession. "If there is no interpreter let him be quiet in church, but let him speak to himself and to God,, (I Cor. 14, 27-28). In other words, he should continue to pray by tongue inaudibly, and let the others conduct corporate worship and instruction by the use of their intellect, which in this case conveys its thoughts by the formation of words with the created tongue and mouth.

This group whose spiritual formation had been limited to the charisma of praying in tongues or by the Spirit was evidently the main source of the disorders in the church of Corinth. They may have been a majority which democratically imposed the practice of inaudible corporate prayer in tongue, in order to demonstrate their equality. The most probable reason why they neither interpreted nor prophesied was that they were illiterate, and could not expound their authentic experience coherently in an organized and concise manner. They were probably mostly of pagan background7 neither accustomed to synagogue procedure nor readily at ease with the world of the Old Testament. The most that many of them could progress to, or were willing to, was to interpret or to teach prayer to others. Among them were evidently many wives, giving Paul an opportunity to apply time-tested rabbinical wisdom. The charisma of interpreter was evidently required to keep this group silent in church. The remark "if there is no interpreter" seems to mean that interpreters would be appointed when this group is brought under control.

St. Paul became exceedingly irritated because a group of Corinthian charismatics had evidently convinced the others to conduct corporate worship without giving audible expression to the Holy Spirit's prayer in their hearts. For Paul this is in itself well done. "For indeed you give thanks well, but the other is not edified," (I Cor. 14, 17). "Since if you bless in the Spirit, how will he who occupies the place of a private individual say amen to your thanksgiving since he does not know what you say?" (I Cor. 14, 16). It is obvious that to pray in tongue or by the Spirit are interchangeable terms.

St. Paul discusses the kinds of sounds that exist in the world, both that of lifeless things like flutes, harps, and trumpets and that made by humans. That Paul is speaking about the sounds themselves which are being made and not about confused sounds not understood. seems clear from the term άδηλος φωνή in I Cor. 14, B which means unmanifested or unrevealed sound. In 14, 9 Paul is speaking about the impossibility of understanding speech unless conveyed by words formed by the tongue. Then he goes on to say that "These many, if correct, are the kinds of sounds in the world, and none is soundless. If then I do not know the force of the sound (την δύναμιν της φωνής), I shall be to the speaker a barbarian and he shall be a barbarian to me (I Cor. 14, 10-11).

It seems clear that chapter 14 of I Cor. at no point contradicts what is literally set forth as the subject under discussion from the very beginning. For he who speaks by tongue does not speak to humans but to God. For no one hears, since he speaks mysteries by the Spirit" (I Cor. 14, 2). "If I come to you speaking by tongue, what will I benefit you, if I will not speak to you... (I Cor. 14, 6).

The very fact that certain Corinthians were speaking in tongues, but neither expounding nor prophesying, should be the determining proof that this was not the announcing (αποφθέγγεσθαι) of Acts 2, 1ff. On the other hand, Paul gives not the slightest hint that those with the gift of tongues had any problem understanding each other. It seems that only the ιδιώται and άπιστοι could not participate in what was transpiring. However, when the whole body of charismatics engages in prophecy then both the private persons and those lacking in faith find themselves with the hidden things of their heart becoming manifest by scrutiny and examination (I Cor. 14, 20). This is the diagnosis we spoke about in the last chapter. They acquire the conviction that the prophets truly have God within themselves. The resulting confidence and submission to these spiritual fathers therapy leads to their adoption in the Spirit and union with the Body of Christ, i.e. the reception of the gift of tongues.

Thus, diagnosis of one s spiritual heart ailment by therapists with the charisma of the discernment of spirits (I Cor. 12, IO) is the most fundamental presupposition of acquiring the therapy of the Holy Spirit's prayer in the heart which alone gives understanding of those things pertaining to Christ and the Body, the Church. This is why "tongues are a sign not to those who have faith, but to those who do not have faith. but prophecy not to those who do not have faith but to those who have faith,, (I Cor. 14, 22). In other words, tongues are not a sign to those who have the gilt of inner faith within the heart since they have the gift of tongues, but to those who lack this gift. Prophecy, on the other hand, is a sign not to those who do not have this faith, since they do not have the gift of tongues which makes both prophecy and its understanding possible, but to those who have faith, since having this gift of tongues they understand prophecy. Thus one must begin by the outward faith of accepting the authority or competence of the therapist. To remain in the state of praying and reciting psalms in the heart without advancing to at least interpretation which edifies others, is a stultification of spiritual growth and will not lead to love which does not seek its own. For this reason there are many among you who are weak and ill and some are asleep (I Cor. ll, 30).

Speaking in tongues is not a phenomenon peculiar to Corinth. St. Paul speaks to the Romans about intellectual worship (λογικήν λατρείαν) and transformation by the renewal of the intellect (Rom. 12, I-2). This is made possible by the liberation of the intellect from the law residing in one s members which wars against the law accepted by the intellect and holds one captive to the law of sin (Rom. 7, 23). "I myself subject myself by means of the intellect to the law of God, but by flesh to the law of sin. Therefore there is no condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus liberated me from the law of sin and death," (Rom. 7, 25-8, 1-2). "But if Christ is in you, the body is indeed dead for sin, but the Spirit is life for righteousness (Rom. 8, 10). "For as many as are led by the spirit of God. they are sons of God, for you have not received a spirit of slavery again for fear. but you received a Spirit of adoption. in which we cry Abba. Father. This Spirit itself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8, 14-16). In other words. one knows of his justification and adoption in Christ by the Spirit when he hears the Spirit's prayer in his heart unceasingly.

That this law of the Spirit of life in Christ is the gift of tongue of I Cor. and Acts is clear from the climax of Paul's exposition. For what we shall pray as we should, we do not know, but this Spirit itself intercedes on our behalf with unspoken groans. But He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, that according to God it intercedes on behalf of the saints (Rom. B, 26-27). In other words to be a member of the body of Christ is to have this gift of tongues. If one does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Rom. B, 9). One can see why John calls the Holy Spirit another παράκλητος which literally means advocate or one who intercedes.

Perhaps one of the most striking passages on the γένη γλωσσών is Eph. 5, 18-20. "But be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves (λαλούντες εαυτοίς – the εαυτώ δε λαλείτω καί τώ Θεώ of I Cor. 14, 28) in psalms and spiritual hymns and odes, singing and reciting psalms in your heart to the Lord, always thanking God who is also Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is certainly an amplification of the "I will recite psalms by the Spirit," of l.Cor. 14, 15, and to be distinguished from "I will recite psalms by the intellect." This is also a clear reflection of what Paul told us about himself in I Cor. 14, 18, as well as testimony to the unceasing nature of γένη γλωσσών.

In the light of 'this one may turn to I Thess. 5, 16-21: "Always rejoice, pray unceasingly, at all times give thanks. For this is God's will in Christ Jesus unto you. Quench not the Spirit, do not disregard prophecies, but test all, hold fast the good, stay away from every kind of evil." This is the summary of everything we looked at thus far.

The law Of the Spirit of life in Christ is thus not in opposition to the created Torah, but that which makes its fulfillment possible. One can see why the Fathers did not think in terms of the Old Testament as simply law and the New Testament simply as grace. For Paul faith is not simply an acceptance of doctrines, but the girt of tongues in the heart. The same categories are clearly underlying Paul's epistle to the Galatians. The law became our guide to Christ when we were children that we may be justified by faith. Faith having come, we are no longer under guidance as children (Gal. 3, 24). Paul is not here making an historical contrast between the Old and New Testament in terms of law supposedly being abolished by grace with the coming of Christ. He is speaking about the distinction between catechumens under the guidance of law and those baptised in the Spirit in his own time. The Galatians were as spiritual children under the guidance of the Torah, but now having received the baptism in the Spirit they are no longer ιδιώται or άπιστοι because they have the uncreated law of the Holy Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith here is not simply belief or confidence in Christ, but inner faith which comes as the gift of tongues. For you are all sons of God by faith in Christ, because all who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ as a garment.... And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father, so that you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also an heir by Christ" (Gal. 3, 26-27; 4, 6-7). Justification by faith, the gift of tongues, baptism into Christ, reconciliation, and adoption are one identical reality.

It is within this realm of life in Christ that there are neither Jews nor Greeks, neither slaves nor free, neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3, 28). At the level of praying in tongues and prophesying, all are one in Christ. So we have "every man who prays or prophesies" and, "every woman who prays or prophesies" of I Cor. ll, 4-5. However, men should do this with their heads uncovered and women with their heads covered, because "the head of every man is Christ, but of woman the man, and of Christ God", (I Cor. ll, 3). Since one prophesies for the edification of others (I Cor. 14, 2) and the Church (I Cor. 14, 4), one would expect that women prophesy in church also. For you may all prophesy one by one that au may learn and all be comforted" (Cor. 14, 31). However Paul forbids women to speak in Church (I Cor. 14, 34-36). On the other hand, Paul's injunction that women should prophesy with their heads covered seems to be a reference to their attire at the assemblies of the Church. That women prophesy along with men is the very first fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy reported by Peter in his Pentecostal discourse (Acts 2, 17).

The prophets mentioned in Ephesians 2, 20 are evidently not those of the Old Testament, but of the Church, as in the case of Ephes. 3, 5. Christ "was not made known to other generations to the sons of men as He now was revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in Spirit...." This seems to be a clear reference to the fact that those who held second place in the Church after the apostles (I Cor. 12, 28) did so because Christ revealed Himself in glory to them as he had done to the apostles. In other words, they did not only prophesy because of the gift of tongues, but they had also been glorified in Christ by the Spirit. On arguing that all members of the Body of Christ are not the same. Paul concludes by saying and if a member is glorified, all the members rejoice with him for you are the Body of Christ and members in part. And those whom God placed in the Church are first apostles, second prophets, third teachers... (I Cor. 12, 26-28). In the light of Ephes. 3,5 this means that the prophets were called in the same manner as the apostles. It is evidently within such a context that Ephes. 2, 19 ff is to be understood. "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and of the family of God. having been built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus being its corner stone...."

What we have before us is a ladder of perfection which culminates in love which does not seek its own (I Cor. 13.5) and which alone does not fall (I Cor. 13.8). when all the charismata are abolished with the coming of the perfect. i.e. glorification. or the vision of God in the face to face encounter with Christ in Glory (I Cor. 13.10. 12). However. after this encounter love remains along with faith and hope and the accompanying charismata.

What has become known as eucharistic ecclesiology is a structural phenomena whose original context was the Pauline reality of the Body of Christ. At the heart of the structure was the diagnosis of the malady of the heart and its therapy by means of the charismata of which the Holy Spirit's prayer in the heart was the sine qua non and glorification the foundation. When the local community was the Pauline Body of Christ. eucharistic ecclesiology was its normal or natural structural expression. However with the various stages of the weakening of this heart of the local congregation, the structure of the church underwent an evolution which was the result of the determination of those who passed on the tradition of the Holy Spirit's prayer in the heart from generation to generation—the heart of apostolic tradition and succession.

[This is an excerpt from "Jesus Christ: The Light of the Word"]

Friday, April 27, 2007

Paschal Message 2007

Beloved brethren and dearly beloved children in Christ,

Let us celebrate the Holy and Glorious Resurrection of Christ in fervent faith and warm yearning, glorifying His infinite goodness and mercy on account of which He became a man in order to redeem mankind.

The love of God toward mankind is indeed ineffable and unique, as He Himself characterizes it: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) A sacrifice of friendship on the altar of love! So great is the goodness and ingenuousness of the merciful God that He refers to men who have sinned and have apostatized from His glory as cherished friends and offers Himself as a sacrifice on their behalf.

To what end was such an unfathomable offering made? He gives us the answer Himself: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) A sacrifice of a precious life for the salvation of blameworthy sinners!

The form of the Crucified One renders for us the impenetrable image of the mystery of God’s love. The Incarnate Son and Word of God, who sits enthroned along with the Father and the Spirit, is sacrificed on the Cross between two contemptible thieves in order to redeem those who have faith in Him. This is indeed an awesome and unspeakable mystery of divine economy. Divine Blood flows on the earth in order to cleanse the filth of Adam’s sin; it is offered as a ransom for the deliverance of the enslaved race of men. The Creator is sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. The Immortal One is seen dead on account of the forefathers’ sentence of death, in order to quicken and render immortal deadened mankind.

All of creation suffers along with the Crucified Jesus. St. Dionysios the Areopagite, observing from the city of Alexandria a darkness over the earth inconsistent with the regular patterns of solar eclipses, fearfully remarks: “Either a God is suffering or the universe is being shattered!” The sun is made dark and the earth trembled in fear. Fright and terror takes hold of the heavenly powers, but not the hardened hearts of the crucifying Judeans.

All these are fulfilled as prophetic oracles, in that there is no other, absolutely no other way to ransom Adam and his race from the hands of Hades. This great and fearful event renders clear, on the one hand, the great weight of mankind’s sins and, on the other, the value of an immortal soul, established by the word of the Lord: “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) This is interpreted to say that the entire world does not hold the value of one human soul.

For this reason what was required was the sacrifice of the most-high life of the God-Man as propitiation [1] and as the only counter balance for spiritual salvation, according to the Divine Paul: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22)

This message of salvation, pious lovers of the Feast, is the quintessence of the Divine Work of Salvation. Christ is risen as God having trampled under foot death and quickening mankind, having become our forerunner for that last day of the common resurrection of all.

Up to the life-giving tomb, we knew only the human nature of the Lord. In the Resurrection, we see His Divine nature as well, affirming His world-salvific work and verifying His utterance regarding His Eternal Kingdom and the beatific future belonging to those who have faith in Him.

So necessary was the Resurrection of Christ that Paul, the walker of heavens, ventures to say: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Therefore, beloved, rejoicing on account of such good will from God toward us, let us celebrate God’s Pascha of salvation in a way worthy and pleasing to God—our passover through Christ from the earth to the heavens, according to the hymnography of the Church: “This is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O peoples! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has brought us from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song.” This is the interpretation of the Pascha of salvation.

Indeed, what a dispensation! Man, who was enslaved by the apostate devil, is raised through Christ to the heavens.

Indeed, as well, what an obligation for mankind in the face of such a magnificent dispensation! Beneficent God asks us to respond to His love with our love, in that all of the Law and all the Prophets are enclosed in whole and complete love. A lack of love signifies a separation from God.

Mankind, however, beneficed to such a degree but vacillating greatly, shuts its eyes and ears to these things, “like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear” (Ps. 57:5/58:4) according to the Psalmist, and discards its eternal gladness, remaining instead attached to vanity and the sinful senses.

One part of mankind not only discards but also mocks and taunts the redemptive work of the God-Man, abusing divine forbearance! It thus renders itself worse than even Lucifer’s venture in heaven, in that Lucifer vainly sought divine equality. He did not blaspheme by mocking God as man has. What an appalling eternal punishment—more dread than that of Satan’s—awaits those foolish unrepentant ones!

But we, beloved brethren and children in Christ, in much thanksgiving and faith and love toward our Benefactor, Savior, and Redeemer God, let us be radiant in virtues and, shining radiant, let us meet the Resurrected Christ in pure spirit and heart through repentance and let us fall down before Him and worship the extreme divinity of His Divine majesty, glorifying His immeasurable mercy toward us. But let us beseech Him that He reside inseparably with us, as a divine guide and helper, even up to our yearned for entrance into His Kingdom and eternal gladness.

Let us also participate in the triumph of victory over death and the tyranny of Hades along with heaven and all of creation, singing the victory hymn of redemption as a greeting and proclamation to the world:


Would that His grace and mercy be with you all, along with my humble blessing.

+Archbishop CHRYSOSTOMOS of Athens
First-Hierarch of the Genuine Orthodox Church of Greece

[1] cf. 1 John 2:2. “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Sighing of My Heart

The woman has fallen into many sins, o Lord, yet when she perceived your divinity, she joined the ranks of the Myrrh-bearing women. In tears she brought you myrrh before your burial. She cried: woe is me! For I live in the night of licentiousness, shrouded in the dark and moonless love of sin. But accept the fountain of my tears, as you gathered the waters of the sea into clouds, bow down your ear to the sighing of my heart, as you bowed the heavens in your ineffable condescension. Once Eve heard your footstep in paradise in the cool of the day, and in fear she ran and hid herself. But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet and wipe them with the hair of my head. Who can measure the multitude of my sins, or the depth of your judgments, Savior of my soul? Despise not your servant in your immeasurable mercy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Akathist to the Theotokos

To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

Oikos 1

An archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to Her such things as these:

Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth: Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease!
Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam: Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve!
Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts: Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels!
Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King: Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all!
Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear: Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed: Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 2

Seeing herself to be chaste, the holy one said boldly to Gabriel: The marvel of thy speech is difficult for my soul to accept. How canst thou speak of a birth from a seedless conception? And She cried: Alleluia!

Oikos 2

Seeking to know knowledge that cannot be known, the Virgin cried to the ministering one: Tell me, how can a son be born from a chaste womb? Then he spake to Her in fear, only crying aloud thus:

Rejoice, initiate of God's ineffable will: Rejoice, assurance of those who pray in silence!
Rejoice, beginning of Christ's miracles: Rejoice, crown of His dogmas!
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down: Rejoice, bridge that conveyest us from earth to Heaven!
Rejoice, wonder of angels sounded abroad: Rejoice, wound of demons bewailed afar!
Rejoice, Thou Who ineffably gavest birth to the Light: Rejoice, Thou Who didst reveal Thy secret to none!
Rejoice, Thou Who surpassest the knowledge of the wise: Rejoice, Thou Who givest light to the minds of the faithful!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 3

The power of the Most High then overshadowed the Virgin for conception, and showed Her fruitful womb as a sweet meadow to all who wish to reap salvation, as they sing: Alleluia!

Oikos 3

Having received God into Her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth whose unborn babe at once recognized Her embrace, rejoiced, and with leaps of joy as songs, cried to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, branch of an Unfading Sprout: Rejoice, acquisition of Immortal Fruit!
Rejoice, laborer that laborest for the Lover of mankind: Rejoice, Thou Who givest birth to the Planter of our life!
Rejoice, cornland yielding a rich crop of mercies: Rejoice, table bearing a wealth of forgiveness!
Rejoice, Thou Who makest to bloom the garden of delight: Rejoice, Thou Who preparest a haven for souls!
Rejoice, acceptable incense of intercession: Rejoice, propitiation of all the world!
Rejoice, good will of God to mortals: Rejoice, boldness of mortals before God!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 4

Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, the chaste Joseph was troubled. For knowing Thee to have no husband, he suspected a secret union, O blameless one. But having learned that Thy conception was of the Holy Spirit, he said: Alleluia!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Bridegroom

By Alexia Ioannides

“Whatever kind of wife you marry, you will never take a bride like Christ did when He married the Church; you will never marry anyone estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Despite all this, He did not abhor or hate her for her extraordinary corruption. Do you want her corruption described? Paul says, “For once you were in darkness”. Do you see how black she was? Nothing is blacker than darkness. Think of her shamelessness; she passed her day in malice and envy. Look at her impurity; she was foolish and disobedient. But what am I saying? He sacrificed Himself for her in her corrupted state, as if she were in the bloom of youth, as if she were dearly beloved, and a wonderful beauty.” – Saint John Chrysostom

What is the fundamental nature of the Church? Within various sects of contemporary Christianity, there are those who believe that Christ died for a perfect Bride. Therefore, their speech and actions display a form of self-righteousness, as if to declare their superiority to humanity. For Orthodox Christians, it is essential that we understand the truth of this matter, to identify the proper attitude, which initiates pious conduct. Particularly, humanity is watching us and seeks to imitate a spiritual identity that is worth believing in; not a divided, professed religion that is saturated with hypocrisy.

Saint John Chrysostom, in his 20th Homily on Marriage and Family Life, reiterates a central theme of salvation—Christ died to restore His sickly wife to health. Romans 5:7-8 supports this premise, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Since, then, the Church is included with the spiritually ailing, what is the key element that distinguishes us from humanity? It is the Bridegroom’s therapy—the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. He alone is responsible for purging the flaws of His tainted Bride. We are not in charge of creating holiness, for then we would boast in our self-sufficiency. Our duty is to surrender to the purification process, as a wife submits to her husband because she trusts him. Of course, many people struggle with the submission process because they fear exposure of their shame; a by-product of their immoral lifestyle.

Why should we trust the Great Physician to purify and restore us to our original image, despite what our circumstances have defined us as? Simply put, we are His Body. Ephesians 5:28 states, “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” Christ is the ideal husband; naturally He nourishes and esteems His Body. To know our identity in Him eliminates shame because we are His very flesh, partakers of the divine nature. Nevertheless, this knowledge should not inspire arrogance, but humility, realizing that we are washed to be presented to Him, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

An illuminated and deified Bride—this is who the Bridegroom is returning for at His Second Coming. As a man leaves his father, cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh, so did Christ leave His Father, to unite with us because He desires a communion of intimacy. He is a jealous God, however, and will not share us with another. He suffered unspeakable horrors to heal a wounded Church, but more importantly, to gain the affection of a faithful Bride. In light of this fervent demonstration of love, we should eagerly await His return. Thus, let the meditations of our heart echo the words of Revelation 22:17, as the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”