Category Archives: Worship

He Needs True Human Beings

Steve Robinson over at Pithless  Thoughts wrote something yesterday that really struck me–right in the solar plexus:

“God does not need our ministries and false humility and our greatness. He needs true human beings to live and die in Christ as a witness to the resurrection, and to be willing to be an obscure, no-name person in someone’s distant past who, because of a glimmer of faith, did one small thing in the name of God that, generations later, saved the very cosmos.”

God does not need my ministries and false humility and my greatness.

Ouch.

This is difficult to put into words–not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not sure how to speak of these thoughts. For most of my Christian life I have striven to be something. A leader, yes, in various roles. A nice guy. A potential mate. But it goes deeper than that. It seems to me now that I’ve spent my energy as a follower of Christ in trying to rise above my humanity, to be more than what I am or can be. Looking back over my experiences in the evangelical world, I’m surprised by how much loathing for people there is. For all the talk of love for others (where you can find it), there seems to be a general disdain for the human species under the surface–reverberations of a theology that denies or forgets the goodness of God’s creation. We are not dung. I don’t believe that.

Of course, I believe we should improve how we act, speak, think. But in my experience, such tasks easily become an external effort, as if putting on a costume, acting the part, rather than simply becoming those virtues, as dye stains wool. We feel empowered by the costume and begin to believe it’s who we really are, although no transformation has really taken place. We’re just wearing a set of clothes made for the stage, not real life. And when the gig is up, we feel disillusioned, like walking away.

The trouble is that one can only perform for so long. Sooner or later, the lines we’ve rehearsed to craft our false image become transparent, no longer able to conceal what’s really in our hearts, how we live, judge, hate.  We may try a different role, to craft another persona, but the same end is inevitable. All this manifests itself in cycles of zeal and piety, self-loathing and despair, wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes excited and other times apathetic. Trying to be something for God and winding up resentful of ministry obligations, feeling the vastness of the chasm between who I am and who I have projected myself to be, the sickening gravity of standing at the edge of the abyss. Can you relate?

I hate the cycle. And I’ve realized at the heart of it is pride–the belief that I am better than I am, better than you, my wife, my friends, my family, neighbors, strangers–whether I realize it or not. I’ve found that the first in that list is the seed of all the others and is a stumbling block to true repentance. How could I have done that? I should be better than that. But you know what? I’m not. And I can’t make myself better by putting on good deeds and attitudes and leadership roles as if the clothes make the man. I’ve done that for too long. It doesn’t work.

I think at the heart of this, besides pride, is impatience. The unwillingness to accept who I am at present and to trust God to make me who I will one day become, by His grace and mercy. I have a tendency to short-change the process. It goes something like this: I read a few spiritual books, I have some great conversations with friends, and maybe I pray consistently for a week or two. Then, feeling puffed up with spiritual goodness, I do one of two things, if not both: think better of myself than I ought, and take on a spiritual project, believing there to be a readiness in my heart that does not yet exist. I want to do it all now. And I want to do the jobs I admire whether it’s good for me or not. And if I’m honest, sometimes that doesn’t become a question until the damage is already done.

All of that spiritual playacting isn’t being a human. Putting on someone else’s clothes or armor or job title won’t bring us to our true selves, our personhood, however much we admire what they do.

I want to live and not analyze or evaulate everything.  There’s a time and place for self-examination. But I fear too many people I know, me included, approach their life as if shopping for costumes. We turn away from what we truly are to embrace a self as wooden as the floor in my house. That’s not transformation.

I’m tired of trying to “get ahead.” I want to make mistakes and repent and be forgiven. I want to be wise and open and loving, not defensive or detached by self-focus and inherently limited analysis. I want to be my true self, deep in my soul, my heart, in my speech and actions, however long that takes to get there–not a manufactured, calculated facade (i.e. delusion). I want to live. That’s it. I want to live in the present moment and become better by the grace and mercy of God through everyday circumstances. I want to be healed. I want to be human.

All of this grossly falls short of describing the issue at hand. I’m no teacher, and I’m not a wise man. But I think for the first time, I almost “get” that oft-quoted proverb: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Almost.

Thanks, Steve.

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All Will Be Transformed

theotokos_donsk_437“Do you see what happens? With the Spirit of God we all become incapable of every sin. We are made incapable because Christ dwells within us. We are henceforth capable only of good. Thus we will acquire the grace of God and become possessed by God. If we abandon ourselves to the love of Christ, then all will be overturned, all will be transfigured, all will be transformed, all will be transubstantiated. Anger, resentment, jealousy, indignation, censure, ingratitude, melancholy and depression will all become love, joy, longing, divine eros. Paradise!”
– Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love

Everything Beautiful is in Christ

Christ , Mt.Athos, 13th century
“Love Christ and put nothing before His Love. Christ is Everything. He is the source of life, the ultimate desire, He is everything. Everything beautiful is in Christ.” -Elder Porphyrios

On Reproving One Another in Peace

Scott Morizot is doing a series of posts on the Didache, an ancient Christian manual for worship dated around the end of the 1st Century. One by one, Scott shares each section of the Didache and adds his own commentary. From today’s post (I recommend the entire series):

And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.

“Like the NT, the Teaching is still close enough to the Jewish roots of our faith that when we read “peace” we should hear the full resonance of “shalom”. So we reprove one another from the desire not for control nor even to achieve a cessation of hostility, but to restore the one we reprove to wholeness, to completeness, to fullness of life. If you speak in anger, however righteous your anger might be (or at least that you believe it to be) you can never accomplish that goal.”

Read it all.

Thanks for sharing, Scott.

A Tough One: “Closed Communion”

The Mystical Feast
This excerpt is taken from an interview with Met. Kallistos Ware on the topic of living the sacramental life. One of the most challenging things to understand about Orthodoxy (and Roman Catholicism for that matter) is the concept of “closed communion.” Met. Kallistos does a good job of gently pointing out why the Orthodox guard the sacrament as they do. If you’ve ever felt the sting of being denied the cup somewhere, hopefully this will be helpful in one way or another, even if you don’t agree with his point of view. Interesting to note: exclusivity in the Eucharist was the norm for nearly all Christian traditions (yes, even Protestants), to one degree or another, until the late 20th Century.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, the sacrament of the Eucharist – the Divine Liturgy – is the heart and core of our worship as Orthodox Christians. What are some of the differences in our understanding of the Eucharist as Orthodox Christians from the many other Christian confessions that exist, and why are Christians of other confessions not able to receive Communion when they attend the celebration of the Eucharist in our church, the Orthodox church?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

There are two questions there.

So let’s take the first of them. In the Orthodox Church, we believe that the bread and wine, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become the true body and blood of Christ. So we believe that the Eucharist is not simply a commemorative meal in which we recall the Last Supper. We believe Christ is objectively and immediately present in the consecrated elements. So here there is a clear difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, not just a recollection. In the Divine Liturgy, recollection becomes reality. So, we receive the true body and blood of Christ.

But this is mystery. We do not understand how, but we do regard the reception of the consecrated elements as the supreme moment of our personal encounter with the Saviour. Now many Anglicans [and] Episcopalians, though not all, would likewise say that the Sacrament is the true body and blood of Christ. So on this point some Anglicans differ from us but others agree with us. The Romans Catholics firmly believe that the Sacrament is Christ’s body and blood. They use to describe the change in the elements the word “trans-substantiation.” In the past from the 17th century onwards Orthodox often used that same word. I prefer to avoid because it is not a word used by the early fathers; it is a word bound up with a particular philosophical system – Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy – which we Orthodox on the whole do not employ.

But I do not see a difference here fundamentally between ourselves and the Roman Catholics. We both believe in the real presence. We Orthodox perhaps put greater emphasis on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the consecration, but in the last 30 years, Roman Catholics have also begun to stress much more the work of the Spirit in effecting the consecration. So I would not think that is a primary difference here between us and the Roman Catholics.

If the Roman Catholics share with us essentially the same faith in the Eucharist, and if many Anglicans do as well, why can we not have Communion together? That is your second question.

I long for the day when all Christians can receive Communion together. It causes me deep sorrow that I cannot offer the Holy Communion to non-Orthodox. At the same time I believe that the Orthodox discipline here rests on important theological principles. When we come to Holy Communion, this is not simply an isolated act – me personally coming to my Saviour – I come to Communion as a member of the Church – as a member of the family of believers, not alone but with others. And when I come to Communion, I am summing up and expressing the totality of my whole Christian faith, of my entire church membership.

It is a painful reality but nonetheless a fact, that at this moment Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Protestants, we are divided; we belong to separated ecclesial bodies. We are seeking unity but we still have a long way to go. So long as we are separated as ecclesial communities, it is not realistic for us to have Communion together. Communion expresses our total unity in faith, our solidarity as members of one ecclesial family. If our faith is different and if we belong to separated ecclesial families, it is somehow untruthful for us to have Communion together. The reception of Communion should not be seen as a means towards an end, not as a means towards greater unity. It should be seen as the expression of the unity that we possess. It is a gift from God, and until that unity is fully expressed, we have to accept that we cannot receive Communion together. It would not be truthful. It would not be realistic to the facts of our separated church membership.

Link

Extreme Pilgrim: Ascetic Christianity

extremepilgrim
(h/t OrthodoxFathers.org)

Our Moment of Opportunity

Today Fr. Stephen wrote about “The Sacrament of the Present Moment,” which he explains is “everything, everyone, every place, filled with God, becom[ing] moments of communion and theophany.” I thought it worth passing on, so here is an excerpt (find the link below):

We confess that God is everywhere present and fills all things, but we still largely walk through the world treating all the things we encounter as just that – things. We carry no sense within us that God is in fact sharing His life with us in and through all things.

This goes to the very heart of living life as though the world were secular, of living life in a “two-storey” universe – the storey in which we live being the one not inhabited by God.

It has been a common observation that when various reformers set about to reform the Church, they declared “all days to be holy days,” and thus rid the calendar of any particular holy day. The unintended result was that before long not only were all days not holy days, no day was a holy day.

In the same way, the decrees concerning the “priesthood of all believers” rather than making every individual a priest, became a meaningless phrase, for without the sacramental priesthood, the phrase lost its reference of meaning. No one had seen or dealt with a priest so to be told that they had some kind of “priesthood” from Christ was meaningless.

Read the article