Praxis

* The sign of the Cross and the phronema of the Church*

Now I would like to talk about the sign of the Cross. We may sign the Cross so often its significance is overlooked, that it becomes automatic. But the Cross is the weapon of Christ’s victory over sin and death. We sign the Cross over food we eat, wear a cross around the neck, and during prayer form the Cross over ourselves with our right hand. St. Peter of Damascus, the sacred martyr, calls us to marvel how demons and various diseases are dispelled by the Cross. I knew a young man flung from a raft into raging water who, immediately making the sign of the Cross while dragged downstream miraculously froze mid-current, bobbed upward and was safely lifted into the craft. Any other account would have seen this boy drowned beneath rock and surf.

The holy fathers have handed down to us the inner significance of this sign so not only plates of rice and lentil are blessed but wooden homes, chickens, and bees, too. All creation participates in the sanctifying energies of our crucified and resurrected Savior.

The downward movement of the hand when signing the Cross may remind us of the story of the fall, the plunging into waters of baptism, our Lord’s descent from heaven, rising Himself and all others to the right hand of the Father, and so the evident harmony between the cross, death, and the uplifting sweep of the resurrection over the entire body is indeed curative.

Needless to say, the sign of the Cross takes the form of a call to Christ, an intercession. This not only expresses humility and repentance but conforms us to the image and likeness of our Lord, Whose life we receive in communion.

Entering closer into this union with Christ both body, mind and soul expresses an important teaching. If we think we our body and soul are two, that is wrong; if we think that they are one, this is also wrong. Our body and soul are both two and one. This means, after awhile, we die. Our soul separates from body. If we think this is the end of life, we have been fooled. But, on the other hand, if we think our body is a prison, and burning the body to a crisp once and for all liberates the soul, this too is wrong. Now, we may die a spiritual death, but the soul once made is lives onward, remembers, and remains immortal from the moment of conception. When the Church Fathers speak of death, they usually mean spiritual death or temporary separation of soul and body, because soul and body will be united. The soul will be bright as a coin. Both soul and body glow deified by uncreated energies, which is why saints’ relics exude fragrant myrrh and illumine, so we might see.

So when we make the sign of the Cross it symbolizes this reality. We make this sign inwardly and outwardly. We should be attentive. The Church Fathers speak of nepsis, or watchfulness, reminding us our Lord’s command to ‘watch and pray.’ But when the thinking part of the soul, the nous, remains fractured as it does after the Fall, its powers are dispersed between created and imaginary phenomena, not concentrated on God alone. Watching, or guarding, this door or window into the heart (the nous) entails spiritual warfare and finds healing through the ascetic, hesychastic and sacramental life of Holy Tradition.

When you concentrate body and mind on Christ, and making the sign of the Cross is not only a reminder, not only a symbol, but again a victory over the scattered, demonic powers, then we have the right state of mind, the Orthodox state of mind. This is to say, we approach the phronema, the mind, of the Church.

Repentance

032_mdd_oumilenie

 

“In the beginner’s heart there are many possibilities, but in the learned there are few.”

I hear a lot of talk that living the Christian life is easy, but there’s a misunderstanding as to why. It’s not easy because living the Christian life is giving oneself over to the Pattern, the Way of Life. Giving oneself over to the Incarnate Logos, Christ, is participation in the prescriptive medicine of the Church. The Church prescribes denying ourselves through fasting, through ascetic and hesychastic effort. St. John the Forerunner confirms this when saying he must decrease so Christ increases. What we can do with this is turn away from desires and corresponding thoughts, seek the humble and narrow road and journey to the hidden man of the heart. This is repentance.

The Christian life is easy because divine energy, uncreated grace, unites man to his Creator, to the Bridegroom of the soul. But we must want and seek Christ because He does not force Himself. God doesn’t manipulate, coerce or force entry into man’s heart. He waits patiently, like a beggar, calling to us through the filthy window, the heart, so we must hear His voice through the buzzing of thought and passionate desires. Not only must we hear His voice, but we must recognize Him too, which requires a right or Orthodox understanding of Him. In this way, we may stop what we are doing – fasting from our busy preoccupations – and, turning toward Him – repenting – open the door or window and invite Him within, whereby uniting ourselves to true life, conquering death, and tasting immortality.

The Byzantine Empire sought to heal its people and this is why it encouraged purity of Orthodox doctrine. The Empire saw doctrine as potentially medicinal. These days, some people may believe absolute truth exists, but they will say it is a subjective truth, a truth from ones perception. Well, the reality of absolute truth cannot exist as a subjective truth. These are different phenomena. Perception changes and really isn’t all that reliable when we get down to it. A truth that changes is opinion, not truth. So in this sense, and many more, “a truth from ones perception” isn’t necessarily truth. Christ, Who is Truth, is beyond conception. This is great, because an experience of Him isn’t directed at the mind, but the heart. The West places the center of man in the head, which is why Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam within the Sistine Chapel shows not Christ creating man but God the Father made in man’s image. The entire depiction resembles the outline of a human brain. This isn’t accidental.

Participation in the therapeutic liturgical, hesychastic and sacramental life of Holy Tradition produces saints. We speak of this method when we refer to man uniting himself to Christ. Saints are saints not because they are born this way but through participation in the life of the Church. Saints are made by the Church, and the very deifying energies of God enable man to grow in His image and likeness.

In this way, then, the Church is a Hospital. Her methods of healing are even scientific: observable in Her saints, repeatable in Her liturgy, tested by repentance and meekness. The life of Holy Tradition is Christ Himself, and participation in His deifying energies cures us. So we see that doctrine, dogma, is not what saves but opens the pathway for us to reach purification and illumination. Orthodoxy isn’t subjective.

The inner faith by which man’s heart is properly adjusted, that is to say, the faith curing man’s heart of passions and images so he might truly see God – blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God – this inner faith is noetic prayer. This means the prayer of the Holy Spirit is within him, and then he beholds things to which most of us remind blind. This is to say, we behold a vision, theoria, when the filth of the window of the heart is cleansed. Because God is One, because He doesn’t change, this vision is changeless, and all the saints have beheld this vision, Who is Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. This vision is true theology, it is contact with God, not academic knowledge. It is wisdom from personal experience, but this vision is at the same time held by every saint in the Church, because it is only Christ Who imparts Himself to us, not in His unknowable Essence, but in uncreated energies, in His grace and power. This grace is, of course, beyond individual perception, because it is one and the same as God. So any therapy, any doctrine, that isn’t curative, any therapy that changes over time, which proceeds from ideas, speculation, from philosophy, is a matter of realization. There is a difference between realization and revelation.

In the Orthodox Church, we speak a lot about repentance. In the beginner’s heart there are many possibilities, but in the learned there are few. The goal of repentance isn’t being a good person, nor is avoiding fiery punishment the motive for true repentance. The ultimate goal of Christian life is Life Himself, Jesus Christ. Our Church isn’t abstract philology.

Suppose we obey spouses merely to avoid conflict. This isn’t much of a relationship, yet this is what we see and experience through non-Christian, and even self-professing Christian, traditions. It might be good to trust and immediately obey somebody. But we must do so out of love and trust, not fear, and with discernment. We fear God because we fear separation from the Beloved, not because He punishes us. Hell doesn’t exist from the point of view of God. He is everywhere present and fills all things, but we might reject His love, we might not turn to Him. In other words, we may not answer His first Gospel command to turn toward Him, to repent like the prodigal son and return.

In returning home, we don’t have to use words. This action is quiet, which is described by the Church as hesychasm, or the quieting of oneself, to be still and know God.

And when we begin to be submerged in the presence of God, we forget about that darkness in which we first called out, and Christ invisibly comes to us, in the words of St. Gregory Palamas, “gives peace within the thinking part of the soul, increases our faith, strengthens us, and in due time sets us among His chosen in the heavenly kingdom.”

 

The Mariner

Snow whirled and whistled through pine, thumped from rooftops, then dripped at winter’s first sun’s rays. Bluejays hopped, and nearby a dog yelped. Someone got hold of his tail, but the dog and his master disappeared into a blue truck around the bend. A shot rang out later, at twilight, and the master returned with his dog and several rabbits. But when the sun went down, as it does early in Alaska, a fire crackled and popped shooting embers across the campfire into shadows of pine once whirled by snow, now silent. This is winter.

David, a homeschooler and son of a priest, was waiting for his father at home, across the bay on the island he knew well, and his cheeks were rosy. His teeth pulled red mittens from fingers, eyes scanning the blue horizon for a boat. His lungs stung with cold. It seemed to him that his father’s absence was like a hollow tunnel rabbits darted in over the snow.

It was a long two weeks Dad visited grandpa and Dad always went hunting after these visits. He returned with tales of dogs and bears, and fresh rabbit. The first stew after Dad comes home is always delicious. Carrots and potato simmered with spinach, rubbed lemon and pepper. Families gathered around meals as long as food was available. The son of a priest knows well the significance of common food.

David’s mother was always first to see Dad arrive home, but not this time. The belled censer, usually sweeping incense across the church, drooped now in a corner by an icon of the Last Judgement. The heavenly choir could not be seen because the priest had yet to return but David listened.

He liked the heavy breathing of darkened spruce, and ice crackling in the streams. When winter kneeled down around you, and pulled warmth from the fiery logs, you experienced hunger. Heart and body long for warmth and you must hide your warmth from winter, or something will be stolen. And the boy looked at his father’s empty dinner chair, wooden and airy like a nest. His heart fluttered. The garden was full of cabbage.

They had dragged kelp slimy from the sea over the garden bed. In summer, everything took on a bigger appearance, a larger significance. The days wore longer and kale fanned out from the dirt. Summer draped most things with a magnifying glass. Meals were bigger on the tables. Pulled from the icy depths halibut spat blood in the boats, and the seas were hungry.

Grandpa’s eyes were milky like the ocean and pneumonia filled his lungs, so it seemed the ocean was rising up out of him. He had braved many waves in life, many storms. He floated these last years mostly alone with pipe fire, coffee and maps he had worn invisible. His sons talked. They told stories around his bed, floating now ever closer to, then further away, from that place where the heart fights her battles.

They recounted the Gospel passage where Christ climbed into a boat with his disciples and told them to cross the other side of the water. They recounted how a storm had come down over the boat and they were filling with water, and how they cried out.

Hidden Bread

The prayer [of the heart] measures the amount of consumption of this simple food, for prayer not only invisibly and unexpectedly inhibits you from being satiated (since it drove away the demon of overeating and insatiety), but even your stomach can only take in a small amount, since it has been filled with the grace of God.

The prayer instructs you about the amount of food and drink you will consume…and you begin eating with great reverence, the love of God invisibly surrounds you. And you really feel its energy because, eating your bread or some other simple food you have prepared, the taste in your mouth becomes sweet from the grace of God, as if you were eating sugar (as one of the fathers said).

At other times your bread or the simple food you prepared seems like, or better yet, really becomes, like the manna the Hebrews ate of old in the wilderness. That is, sometimes it seems like you are eating milk, or meat broth, or honey, or savory fish, while in reality your food is boiled vegetables without any seasoning or greens without any oil. Eating and savoring such wondrous food, your mind also becomes sweet, meditating upon the inexpressible sweetness the saints enjoy in heaven, as they eat the heavenly bread…of the glory of the Lord.

….For this reason the Prophet David said, “I shall be satisfied when your glory is revealed.” Simultaneously with the sweetness that your tongue and mind experience, the prayer leaps within you on its own…

~ A monk of Mount Athos,

The Watchful Mind: Teachings on the Prayer of the Heart

 

multiplication-of-loaves-and-fishes-c-osseman

The Knowability of God in the Cappadocians and St. John Chrysostom

 

15954.d

The heart is deep beyond all things; and it is the man.

Even so, who can know him?

I, the Lord, examine hearts and test minds,

to give each man according to his ways

and the fruits of his practices.

~ Jeremiah 17:5-6

One

Regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, standing 450 feet over North African coastline and burning day and night, the Lighthouse of Alexandria brightened at the foot of Arius’ birthplace.

A prototype for all lighthouses in the world, the Greek region’s source of nautical illumination embodied pagan philosophical dominance. However, “a basic assumption of [Greek] philosophy,” notes Fr John Romanides, “is that only the unbegotten and unchangable is immortal and real. Everything which has a beginning in time also has an end.”1 Indeed, Helios, the Titan god of light, perched atop this Greek furnace until 1480 when earthquake and ransacking lay waste to the world’s dark Hellenistic inheritance.2

Alexandrian priest Arius stood in this shadow, maintaining the true God of Light, Christ, is merely the “privileged creature” originated by God the Father’s will, “liable to change and sin.”3 Emphasizing “there was a time when He was not,” he held the Son as unlike the Father in essence thereby reducing our salvation to moralistic pantomiming and philosophy.4

While acknowledging one God Who is “alone eternal, alone without beginning, alone truth, alone possessing immortality, alone wise, alone good,” Arius contends the essence or substance of God the Father is uncommunicable.5 Although Life and Truth Himself, the Godhead remains impersonal and completely inaccessible.

Florovsky, dissecting Arius’ poor logic, explains:

God for him was primarily the Creator; apart from that, little, if anything, could be said…[but] God is much more than just “Creator.” When we call God “a Father,” we mean something higher than His relation to creatures (Contra Arianos I 33). “Before” God creates at all, He is Father, and He creates through His Son. For the Arians, actually, God was no more than a Creator and Shaper of creatures, argued St. Athanasius.6

Florovsky continues:

God is described in the Scripture as the Fountain of Wisdom and Life. The Son is His Wisdom, Now, if one admits with the Arians that “there was when He was not,” this would imply that once the Fountain was dry, or, rather, that it was not a fountain at all.

The spring from which nothing flows is not a spring at all.-The simile is characteristic of St. Athanasius.7

Psalm 36:9 triumphantly declares, as we sing on Pascha, For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Christ Himself tells us, the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.8

Separated from God by sin, the heart of man is in need of Christ who is both God and man uniting both in Himself. True union doesn’t happen by merely thinking or talking about union, by dredging seas with linguistic netting as Eunomians will later. Rather, this union between God and man, through Christ Who is God and man, “the Physician of our souls and bodies,” honors the whole man.9 Salvation is personal and ontological, not academic.10

Man is made whole by Divine revelation, when the heart joins with the head. Fallen and created mind cannot touch He Who is unlimited and uncreated, but the heart may be touched.11 This secret place where your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly is the center of man, where the Kingdom of God awaits us buried in field.12 When our heart is touched by the finger of God, she shines like the Burning Bush receiving ineffable Mysteries with inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.13

________________________

Seeking to extinguish fire burning over Alexandria spreading throughout the Empire, St. Constantine summoned the First Ecumenical Council in summer of 325, on the fertile shores of Lake Askania in Nicea.14 Bound by the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and a number of folded mountain ranges, Nicea in Asia Minor became a lighthouse for all subsequent Church councils.15

A number of future saints attend the Nicean Council: St. Athanasius the Great, St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Spyridon of Cyprus, St. Alexander of Alexandria, St. Paphnutius of Egypt, as well as St. Hosius.

Upholding the Logos as “homoousios” (of the same essence) with the Father, the Council affirms that only if Christ is truly God can He unite us to God. It is in the Incarnation “God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ in a revelation that is total, establishing between God and man an intimacy and a unity that is complete, so that men can become, in Peter’s words, ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’”16

Formulating the Symbol of Faith confirmed and completed at the Second Ecumenical Council, the Church Fathers express “Jesus Christ, Who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest” as “one Essence with the Father.”17

The bridge between created and uncreated was, for Arius, slowly burning away by the magnifying glass of rationalism. He had already exiled himself in heresy from the Way, and the Truth, and the Life so it may be no surprise when St. Constantine burns Arius’ work in pits of mud and fire banishing him to the birthplace of Diocletian.18

By 336, weakened by decades of displacement, the corrupt body Arius had worked hard to maintain implodes. Historian Socrates of Constantinople, writing some generations later, notes “divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities…a terror arising from the remorse of conscience” seized Arius as what might well be described as hellish heat rumbling among his organs.19 Everything within the heretic seemed want of escape: poisoned ideas, small intestines, liver, even the elixir of his blood. This “extraordinary kind of death” was now the battlefield on which his heresies had wreaked destruction.20

Two

Although Arius’ death and that of St. Constantine a year later may have cooled atmospheres of heresy, embers smoke all through the Empire. Eunomius and his teacher Aetius, who argued “a Neo-Platonic metaphysic,” soon stoked a furnace in Cappadocia with tinder that might best be described in terms of linguistics.21

Eunomius and Aetius tought when one knows the name of a particular one knows the essence of this particular. By this we we may conclude every name has a particular and different essence. So, if the name “unbegotten” is applied only to God the Father, it goes to say His essence is unique to Himself, and the Son does not share His essence. Hence, the Son is not God and cannot unite man to God. The Arian tendency to subordinate the Son remains strong here, but leaps ever further declaring the essence of God simple, intelligible and known to Christ and other creatures.22

Perhaps it is the mind itching to make communicable the god who, according to Arius, remains impersonal and completely inaccessible that gives way to so many heresies. For Aetius, Arius is “too far to the right and certainly a long way from the truth when he spoke of the Father as unknowable and the Son as not simple in being.”23

Together with the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa – brother of St. Basil the Great – contends knowledge of God’s essence is impossible:

Intellectual curiosity has no clear limit and there is always some truth left to dawn on us. The marvel of it all – I share [St. Paul’s] feelings as he closes his argument with impassioned wonder at the sort of things he calls “the wealth and depth of God” in acknowledgement of the incomprehensibility of God’s judgements.24

Indeed, whereas Eunomius confidently seeks God through intellect, Holy Scripture affirms we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.25

St. Gregory agrees, affirming God’s infinity, affirming “the impossibility of exhausting Him or comprehending Him, as the human mind comprehends a concept. Communion with God is a constant ascent from glory to glory,”26 “a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb”:

The contemplation of God is not effected by sight and hearing, nor is it comprehended by any of the customary perceptions of the mind. For no eye has seen, and no ear has heard….He who would approach the knowledge of things sublime must first purify his manner of life…27

Purification enables our heart, “the focal point of the body and the seat of the intelligence and of the soul,” to perceive clearly the grace of God.28 When we calm waves of thought, calling upon the Name of Christ, He so to speak wakens and rebukes the storm. Now our spirit will actually ‘hear’ the wordless voice of the Word speaking in us.

St. Gregory makes use of the expression “luminous darkness,” illustrating how the Unknowable can make Himself known while remaining unknowable:

When he who has been purified and is sharp of hearing in his heart hears this sound (I am speaking of the knowledge of the divine power which comes from the contemplation of reality), he is led by it to the place where his intelligence lets him slip in where God is. This is called darkness by the Scripture, which signifies, as I said, the unknown and unseen. When he arrives there, he sees that tabernacle not made with hands, which he shows to those below by means of a material likeness.29

While cataphatic, or, positive theology proceeds by affirmations, apophatic theology proceeds by negations. A primary source of apophatic teaching is found in fifth century works of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Rooted in these works, Vladimir Lossky explains:

All knowledge has as its object that which is. Now God is beyond all that exists. In order to approach Him it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is. If in seeing God one can know what one sees, then one has not seen God in Himself but something intelligible, something which is inferior to Him. It is by unknowing (agnosia) that one may know Him Who is above every possible object of knowledge.30

Beholding God in darkness at first may seem contradictory, especially in light of the Light over Sinai and Tabor. But St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches:

true knowledge of what is sought is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of knowledge.31

St. Gregory makes use of alternate words “energies” and “powers” to describe manifestations which make God accessible without destroying His inaccessibility.32

“It is by His energies,” writes St. Basil, “that we can say that we know God. We cannot claim that we come near to the essence itself. His energies descend to us, but His essence remains unapproachable.”33

Born in Constantinople near the foot of a darkened volcano,34 Basil knows well the limitations of academia, especially in light of the dark pagan philosophy erected over Alexandria and indeed outside Eastern Christendom. A brilliant aristocrat, theologian, polemist, preacher, bishop, ascetic, Basil writes:

Yet it seems to me that to Eunomius God has manifested not only His name, but also His very substance! This great secret, which was not manifested to any of the saints, he makes public by writing it in his books, and blurts out to all people recklessly. While the promised blessings stored up for us are beyond all human knowledge, and the peace of God surpasses all intelligence [Phil 4:7], he does not admit that the very substance of God is beyond all intelligence and beyond all human knowledge.35

Warning against getting wrapped up in thoughts and compulsive thinking, whereby habitual thought-patterns attach themselves to feelings, and finding – or losing – our identity in these patterns, we forget who we really are and lose sight of Truth.36 “Making the heart ready for it [Truth] means the unlearning of the teachings which already possess it, derived from evil habits.”37

St. Basil continues:

We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. For just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, not turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, but the sight must be fixed firmly on the object in view if one would make his vision of it clear, so too man’s mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.38

St. Gregory Nazianzus, ‘The Theologian,’ addresses “the incomprehensibility of deity to the human mind and its totally unimaginable grandeur”39:

Mentally to grasp so great a matter is utterly beyond real possibility even so far as the very elevated and devout are concerned, never mind slack and sinking souls. This truth applies to every creature born, to all beings whose view of reality is blocked by this gloom…whatever we imagined or figured to ourselves or reason delineated is not the reality of God.40

Now, “when St. Paul says that Knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8), He does not say this about complete and perfect knowledge, but about partial knowledge.” writes St. John Chrysostom, “the golden-mouthed. “He speaks of passing as an advance to something better, whereby the partial knowledge is now made perfect and complete.”41

St. John, born in Antioch – one of the three greatest cities of the eastern Mediterranean, along with Constantinople and Alexandria – “Churchman par excellence” – articulated the Divine Liturgy as celebrated all over the world, forming the mystical narrative in which we partake of the Mysteries – the Energies – of God. The Liturgy is, notes Elder Zacharias, “a recapitulation of the entire history of God’s dealings with men.”42

The incarnation of Christ, the Savior of the World, the Elder continues, His life and saving sacrifice are at the centre of the Liturgy, which is also the re-enactment of Christ’s two-fold manifestation – before God and before man, by which He simultaneously justified God the Father before man and fallen man before God.43

So, we may perceive even the distinction between essence and energy, knowability and unknowability, at the heart of Orthodox liturgical worship. St. John writes:

I, too, know many things but I do not know how to explain them. I know that God is everywhere and I know that He is everywhere in His whole being. But I do not know how He is everywhere. I know that He is eternal and has no beginning. But I do not know how. My reason fails to grasp how an essence can exist when that essence has received its existence neither from itself nor from another. I know that He begot a Son. But I do not know how. I know that the Spirit is from Him. But I do not know how the Spirit is from Him.44

The Fathers stress God is unknown to man in His Essence, but is in fact known through in His energies, and only then by His invitation through the Holy Spirit.45 God is wholly present in His grace and whether we perceive this grace as ‘small’ or ‘large’ is dependent upon man’s receptivity. Christ always encourages us to Come, follow Me.46 This invitation is to both body and soul, as we anticipate a resurrection that will be ontological on the Last Day.

Here, participate in the same life St. John Chrysostom and the Cappadocians articulate by deed and by word, singing “let us now lay aside all earthly cares that we may receive the King of all.”47

St Basil articulates:

Putting aside this idle curiosity about the substance since it is unattainable, we ought to obey the simple advice of the Apostle, who said: One must first believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him [Heb 11:6]. For it is not the investigation of what He is, but rather the confession that He is, which prepares salvation for us.48

So we do not live outside experience of God, rather, “when we offer our psychology to God in the Liturgy, He sanctifies it and overshadows it with His eternity and we become spiritual.”49 Whenever we bring the best we can offer before God in the Liturgy, the Elder continues, “including our faithfulness throughout the absence of His grace, we receive life – His life.”50

Divine worship through Liturgy is the authentic, mystical lighthouse burning with Paschal Fire, at the same time “unique and performed by Christ Himself. It is an act of revelation surpassing description, embracing the whole creation: heaven and earth, Angels and men, the living and the departed.”51

The prodigal son remembers the warmth of his Father’s Bread, and returns from the far country where the eye is not dimmed nor does the person age. For how can an eye which is always in the light be dimmed by the darkness from which it is always separated? And the person who by every means achieves incorruption in his whole life admits no corruption in himself. For he who has truly come to be in the image of God and who has in no way turned aside from the divine character bears in himself its distinguishing marks and shows in all things his conformity to the archetype; he beautifies his own soul with that which is incorruptible, unchangable, and shares in no evil at all.52

Three

Climb arthritic joints of rickshaws among India’s serpentine avenues, peer through jangling bells and discover ashrams populated with men claiming to know the essence of God. Or, walk air-conditioned between convention centers flat and gray to a preacher citing Holy Scriptures divorced from Holy Tradition. He may share verse after verse experiences of prophets, eunuchs, kings, and apostles but words cannot be experience of God, as Eunomius claimed. Pride is a weed sometimes watered by reading Scripture without knowledge of Patristic Tradition.

In March 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India where I meet him exiled in the Himalayan mountains over buttery, yak tea served with rice. Folds of red and orange robe peer through doorways.

At Tsuglagkahng temple, I break from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives where I work most afternoons, and meditate before lifeless, bronzed statues. The goal of meditation can be a bird chasing her shadow. It is never ending and constantly self-reverential. What we perceive in mind alone is fantastically misleading.

Following Eunomian heresy we remain among created things, even language. As noted earlier, Light is beheld in darkness. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes,

I know that the One Who remains unmoved descends. I know that the One Who remains invisible appears to me. I know that the One Who is separated from all creatures takes me inside Himself and hides me in His arms, and then I find myself outside the whole world…Here and there, equally dazzling, He reveals Himself to me. How can all of this come about? How can I accurately understand it? How would I be able to express all that I understand and see? In truth, these are indescribable things, utterly ineffable.53

Truth is a Person.

“For the Christian,” writes Elder Sophrony,

as we see Him, the only way to the Father is through the Son….In the eternal birth of the Son the Father poured into Him the plenitude of His Being. Accordingly, the Son is in all things equal to the Father. He is the consummate fulness of the revelation of the Father. He is the life of the Father, His strength, power, might, kingdom, wisdom, omniscience, creative, love…He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father [John 14:9].54

For Eunomius – or anyone – pronouncing Christ a creature, a philosopher, or a mere prophet, salvation is a summation of pagan ideas, a false light perceived dimly only in the mind. Here then he remains, unable to ascend in Light, a chimney extinguishing like all the rest, folding in on itself by shadow.

 

Works Cited

Damascene, Hieromonk. Christ the Eternal Tao. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2004.

Florovsky, G. ‘The Concept of Creation in Saint Athanasius.’ In Studia Patristica, vol. vi, ed. F. L.

Cross (Berlin, 1962), 36-57, reproduced in Aspects of Church History. Vol. IV in the Collected

Works.

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1978.

Miller, Timothy. The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns

Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. The Person in the Orthodox Tradition. Levadia-Hellas, Greece:

Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2002.

Pomazansky, Fr. Michael. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2005.

Romandies, Fr. John. Patristic Theology. Thessaloniki, Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2008.

Runciman, Steven. The Great Church in Captivity. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University

Press, 1968.

Sophrony, Archimandrite. We Shall See Him As He Is. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska

Brotherhood, 2012.

St. Basil of Caesarea. Against Eunomius. The Fathers of the Church. Translated by Mark

DelCogliano and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz. Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of

America Press, 2011.

St. John Chrysostom. On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Tr. Paul Harkins. CUA Press:

Washington, D. C., 1984.

St. Gregory Nazianzus. The Five Theological Orations. Faith Gives Fullness to Reasoning.

Translated by Lionel Wickham and Frederick Williams. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J.

Brill, 1991.

St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Life of Moses. Translated by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett

Ferguson. New York, New York: Paulist Press, 1978.

St. John Chrysostom. On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Translated by Paul W. Harkins.

Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984.

Veniamin, Christopher. ‘Saint John Chrysostom and the Light of Tabor,’ in The Orthodox

Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Scripture and Tradition. Dalton, Penn: Mount Thabor

Publishing, 2014.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997.

Wiles, M. F. ‘Eunomius: Hair-Splitting Dialectician or Defender of the Accessibility of Salvation?’ The

Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick. Ed. R. Williams. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Zacharias, Archimandrite. Remember Thy First Love. Dalton, Pennsylvania: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2010.

Endnotes

1 Fr. John Romanides, Ancestral Sin, p 30 quoted by Metropolitan Hierotheos in The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, 29

2 Providentially, the year 1480 also marks the protection of Moscow by the Vladimir icon of the Theotokos against Tartar hordes commemorated June 23. See Prologue from Ohrid.

3 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 229

4 Fr. Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History: St. Athanasius’ Concept of Creation, 47

5 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 227

6 Fr. Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History: St. Athanasius’ Concept of Creation, 47, 52

7 Ibid. 54

8 See John 4 and John 7:37-39: “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

9 A prayer by St. John Chrysostom, included in The Book of Needs, beseeches Jesus Christ “in Your great love grant him relief from his pain…that restored to the vigor of health, he may serve You faithfully and gratefully all his life, and become heir of Your kingdom, for You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, O Christ.”

10 See Exodus 33:18-23: “Please, show me Your Glory.” See also 2 Cor 4:6: For it is the God Who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

11 “Our way to knowledge of God lies not through books but through faith in Christ’s word. This faith brings our mind down into the heart, consumed by the flame of love for Christ. We descend into the bottomless ocean which is the heart of man. We know the arduousness of this immersion, the weight of suffering that it entails. There in the depths the Divine arms embrace us tenderly and lift us to heaven.” Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, 88

12 Matt 6:5-6

13 2 Cor 12:4. See Ecc 5:2: “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” An ancient proverb also reminds us, ‘God’s first language is silence. All else is poor translation.’

14 The remains of a nearly 1,600-year-old church discovered under the Lake may have collapsed in 740 during the Great Earthquake at Constantinople commemorated October 26 in our Church. See any number of archeological journals regarding this discovery and, The Prologue of Ohrid for more information.

15 The importance of Nicaea cannot be overstressed. It is here Christ God, our Savior, fully God and fully man, is affirmed as the center and unending furnace for the human heart, “Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made.”

16 Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 129

17 St. Ignatius of Antioch, ‘Letter to the Magnesians,’ quoted in Early Christian Writings, 72. Drafted by the Council and required for all the bishops to sign, the creed closes with this anathema: “But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic Church anathematizes.” See J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 232 for full text.

18 John 14:6. Arius was exiled to Illyricum, the Western Balkans, where St. Paul spread the Gospel of Christ as recorded in his Epistle to the Romans 15:19

19 Ecclesiastical Histories, Chapter 38 – ‘The Death of Arius.’

See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.xxxviii.html

20 Ibid.

21 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 249

22 Historian and essayist M.F. Wiles claims it is unlikely Eunomius claimed to know all there is to be known about God, but rather he was claiming to know enough about the Divine essence and what it is to be God to ensure the reality of Christian language and exclude “Cappadocian mystification.” See his essay ‘Eunomius: Hair-Splitting Dialectician or Defender of the Accessibility of Salvation?’ anthologized in The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, 157-172.

23 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ, from translator Lionel Wickham’s introduction, 15

24 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28: 21

25 2 Cor 3:18

26 Fr John Meyendorff, Preface, XIII, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses.

27 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 158

28 Steve Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 132

29 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 169

30 Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology, 25, quoted in Christ the Eternal Tao, by Fr. Damascene, 452-453

31 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 95

32 Ibid. 44, 45

33 St. Basil the Great, Epistolae, M.P.G., XXXII, col. 869, quoted by Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 134

34 Mount Erciyes

35 St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius 1.13

36 Fr Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao, 223

37 St. Basil the Great, Letter to Gregory, quoted by Metropolitan Hierotheos in The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, 43

38 Basil’s Letter 2

39 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28:11

40 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28:5-6

41 St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 1.10

42 Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, 219

43 Ibid.

44 St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 1.19

45 Fr John Romanides, Patristic Theology, 223

46 Matt 4:19

47 Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

48 St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius, 1.14

49 Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, 226

50 Ibid. 211

51 Ibid. 213

52 Ibid. 318

53 Quoted by Fr Damascene in Christ the Eternal Tao, 402

54 Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, 86

Winter approaches

The one who is present during Divine Liturgy, and watches the heart day by day, sees in the heart a book to be read. Her words aren’t visible, the language silent yet audible. The pages turn as censors swing cold and fragrant and hymns glisten like curls of shaved gold into the ear.

Sometimes this heart is a window. Through it darkness and light shine. Longing for what has already and what has not yet been may chart a course toward God. In this way, what we give attention may be the star of Bethlehem, guiding the wise to Christ while inciting Herod, the old man. The events of Old and New Testaments remain at play within us.

A hike through woods no longer remains merely external to us. Every valley corresponds to another, hidden place. And snow? What is this white blanket giving depth to glaciers and color beneath bird wing? Snow captures memory, preserving the wandering patterns of rabbit and mouse. A hike along Bear Creek one afternoon, and the silence reveals details among spruce branches, gurgling water beneath folds of decaying ice and my breath wetting a red scarf around my lips.

Snow piles up against closed doors. It falls silently and deadly. Remain too long in a grasp of snow and limbs thicken and pull downward, drawing blood to the heart in one last push for driving warmth. But even the heart, that fiery furnace, cannot survive long against the snow drifts. People wander out every winter never returning.

Memory is little different from snow.

Best to draw oneself inward, heat up with a warm cup of prayer. Everything depends on Christ. If we stand in Liturgy, remaining truly present in prayer, even frost melts around the window.