Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Heartbeat again

Yudhie has started blogging again at his original blog Heartbeat, for Christ's faithfulness is much more than my heartbeats, and I want to share his post of today with my readers, and encourage them to visit Yudhie's blog and explore it. His older posts as well worth reading, written from the heart of a new Orthodox Christian, living as a stranger in the earth.


There is no other thing which could make a day so lively and full of joy, but being in constant remembrance of God's kindness and mercy. Without this, what can we expect from the misery and harshness of the days? Simply to remember His sweetest name is the joy and gladness of the universe, what is more to give Him constant adoration and praise from the pure heart and mind. When we cling on Him continually, we are being transformed into His likeness. It is in dwelling in Him, our soul finds its rest and consolation.

Let's set aside all the worldly cares and unnecessary thoughts. Lest our souls be distracted by what is not needful. Those things can cloud our minds and we can't see clearly the good things that the Lord is bestowing in our ways as the lover of Mankind. Unless our heart and mind are peaceful and meek, we can not be in peace with others, and we do not have peaceful days. No matter what comes to our way, be constantly thankful to Him who is ever good God. Trust in Him and unceasingly whisper the sweet praise to Him in your heart.

Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!

— Yudhie Kristanto

Marginalized in the Promised Land

‘Do you ever get the feeling that you, Christian, are a minority? Not a protected one, of course, like an endangered species, a primitive people, or a language group threatened with extinction. As a matter of fact, no one would mind it terribly, if you and your kind went extinct. After all, you’ve been troublemakers right from day one.

‘True, you claim that all the benefits of the modern world—individual and corporate liberty, modern science and medicine, not to mention more than a thousand years’ worth of architectural marvels, art, music, literature, even jurisprudence—are the result of the teachings of your nefarious savior and his followers.

‘But actually, while you sometimes take two steps forward, you then take three steps back, canceling all your stupid self-praise. Yes, one of you keeps saying, ‘we are living amidst the ruins of a great Judaeo-Christian civilisation,’ implying that what we’ve built on top of it is somehow inferior, but experience cannot be fooled.

‘No, modern man is better, has more, and it all owes nothing to your vaunted accomplishments. You fight Islam like a shadow boxer boxes himself. It’s just the flip-side of your centuries-old sociopathy, not a heresy but a transparency revealing your hidden agendas. Just like a mirror has its dark side, front or back you’re all one and the same.

‘So we’re quite justified in ignoring you. You have nothing to offer and you never had. You say your works and your faith have built this country and made it a promised land? In a way, you’re right—it is a promised land, but not the way you think. With your typical, ignominious hypocrisy, you cleared the land of its original inhabitants, by genocide. That’s all.

‘Now, as we see it, it’s your karma to be cleared off in exactly the same way. But we won’t give you the satisfaction of bloody martyrdom. In fact, we don’t have to. You’ve given yourself the very rope by which to hang yourself, all the while smiling and spouting shallow platitudes, seemingly unaware that you’ve readied your own gallows.

‘Marginalized in the promised land! Yes, Christian, we’re talking about you. You’re too deaf and blind even to turn around and see where you’re standing. You’re too wrapped up in yourself to even notice each other, let alone us. Like a blind peddler hawking his wares with a loud voice to a crowd he doesn’t know isn’t even there, you never saw us, never knew us.

‘All you wanted was our souls, for your paradise, our names for your ‘Lamb’s book of life.’ But it wasn’t that easy, was it? We could care less for your cheap dime-store thrills. Miracles. This is your day. Hah! We’ve had a good laugh watching you choke on your own vomit, and we can’t wait till the last of you enters the irreversible jaws of extinction. Finally, your own words will come true:

‘Free at last, free at last, we’re free at last… of you.’

Everyone knows it

An emissary of the King, wrongly accused of cloaked aggression by the one he was sent to, exiled to a trackless waste, attacked by enemies, tries to return Home while protecting the one that is the reason he is being attacked, succeeds in making his way to the house of mud, where the ship he expected is not to be seen, and perishes in a final combat, knowing that he lives forever.

Deep down inside every human being the Truth that God placed there, the true Light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9), remains for each one to discover. It shines in the darkness of human ignorance, and though that darkness cannot comprehend it, it also cannot extinguish it. (cf. John 1:5).

The Truth revealed openly and fully only by Jesus Christ in His person, His teachings, His ministry, His miracles and His victory over death, that Truth being instilled in the depths of every human being, still shines through, shedding Light in every culture, even in those ignorant of Christ.

Yet the Truth does shine in the non-Christian world, in every culture. That's the way God is. He's faithful. He wants everyone to be saved, though only if they want it too. The challenge of the true missionary to the non-Christian world is to be able to find those sparks of God's Truth in their pagan traditions and, without admitting anything unchangeable by grace, to build on these native "old testaments" wherever they turn up.

As an Orientalist by training and inclination, I watch a lot of East Asian films. Recently I bought a copy of the Korean film Musa the Warrior. After viewing it for the first time, I waited a couple of weeks and watched it again this weekend. It is a very good film, historically, a realistic portrayal of a violent time in the history of China, the period when the Ming dynasty was liberating the country from Mongol control, around AD 1375. It's about a Korean delegation that was wrongly accused of spying by the Ming and exiled to the Gobi Desert. Their adventure in escaping, trying to return to Korea, and helping to rescue a Ming princess from the Mongols, is the subject of the film. It may not sound interesting, but it is.

Watching it a second time, I got a lot more into the details and my understanding was deepened. My favorite character is the young General Choi Jung (pictured above), and I was startled by one scene near the end of the movie. Something that Choi Jung said to his men, just before their last battle, really hit me, went through me like a lance.

If the soldier attempts to live, he'll die.
but if he attempts to die, he'll survive.


The film is in Korean with English subtitles, and the translation is awkward. But the way Choi Jung looked when he said this, somehow brought the whole meaning of the film, for me, into sharp, burning focus.

In the pre-Christian Korean culture, here was a man shedding the true Light on his fellow men. They all had this Light in them, otherwise his words could not have had the effect they did. Without knowing it, he almost quoted Luke 17:33:

Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

This is the Truth speaking.
Everyone knows it.

It always encourages me to see this kind of thing in a movie because, whether people realize it or not, the seeds are there to be planted in the good soil. Let's hope that we're part of that good soil, to hear the Word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:20)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Greater than all

For Christ, Orthodoxy doesn’t exist. There is absolutely nothing that He says or does in the gospels that we can jump on and say we are following Him when we extol the perfections of Orthodoxy as against the defects of other religions, especially ‘other Christianities.’

Now I realise what it was that always made me so uncomfortable to be around new converts to Orthodoxy, and why after a couple of years of being one myself, I began to distance myself out from them, and get closer to the cradle believers, who didn’t seem to understand what a great treasure they had in Orthodoxy. I used to think they were that way because they took the faith for granted. It might be that, but I’ve known too many who were merely Christians, willing to help you, console you, witness to you, on the spot and without self-consciousness or fanfare, and then quietly return to what they were doing. Sometimes with their lips they couldn’t belt out a prayer on the spot, but they prayed with their hands and hearts and with the love in their eyes. God answered their unspoken prayer even as they were offering it. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

What sparked the thoughts I just expressed?

I had been reading an essay by archimandrite Fr Raphael Karelin, titled Differences in the Religious Thinking Between the East and the West. Very well-written, very eloquently written, the author carefully locates the temporal source of what became a growing and finally irreversible divergence between not only ideas but attitudes in the Christian West and East. In the essay I could not find a single appreciation of anything that the Christian West believed, practiced or accomplished, except for some hollow exaltation of Saint Augustine, only to bring him back down to earth by comparing his spiritual feats to the prowess of the Eastern fathers, who were incomparably superior.

There is so much about other Christians that we are unwilling or unable to face. We have defined so rigidly and infallibly our own positions on just about everything, that it isn’t even a matter of disagreement on doctrines or practices—we already know we’re right—but simply an issue of “they don’t belong to us, because they’re not part of us, and so they can’t possibly be what we are, that is, Christ’s.” We don’t talk ourselves out of it, we forget as easily as if we never knew, that others besides ourselves have the Bible, believe in Jesus Christ according to what they’ve received from the apostles, and even from the first councils. We treat them, if we recognize them at all, as less than ourselves, and even as non-Christians, justifying this by saying, “we don’t know what they believe,” and, “outside the Church, the Bible is a closed book.”

What if it were true, that in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, we were joined in real communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all those who ever looked to Him with faith, and followed Him, some even to the extent of dying for Him, in other words, with all saints of all times and places… and creeds, or lack of them? Whose anathema could be raised against that mighty host who lived so completely for the Lord that they did not see anything and anyone ahead of them but Him, and who followed Him wherever He went? Do we think that anything we could do, anything we could demand from them to conform to us, could keep them from the communion of the saints? Never fear, they are there, and it is we who, hoarding as our own what belongs to all, might do well to fear being cast out.

Not in contradiction, but plainly beyond the reach of all that human wisdom devises as a safeguard for the deposit of faith, the word of Jesus lays the only foundation that none can replace,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of My hand.
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
I and the Father are one.”
John 10:27-30

Commandments


“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Here are a few passages from the booklet “Spiritual Economy” by Father Matta el-Meskeen, spiritual father of the monastery of St Macarius, the Desert of Scete, Egypt...

…the power of faith in God is greatly strengthened when we believe in our hearts that the works that God performs with us surpass all our estimations, so much so that He can create a new creation from nothingness: “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).

How much more then will He give us what we need when necessary, and grant us all power and help in fulfilling His commandments, be it in fasting, vigil, prayer, voluntary poverty, sacrificial love, or any sort of service that is within His commandments.

Shall we then shrink from fulfilling His commandments for fear of falling ill or becoming weak? To St Paul the Apostle He has said, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To this St Paul himself also testifies, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Shall we then be afraid to apply His commandments lest we or our children should hunger, thirst, go naked, or become destitute? The Lord Himself has said, “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

Shall we fear confessing Him lest we should be persecuted? Has He not said, “Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you falsely on My account” (Matthew 5:11)?

And when relying upon Him alone with no power, no artifice or weapon, shall we then fear death? For He has said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

Therefore it should be firmly established in our minds that the One who has laid down the commandments for us has done so simply and solely for our gain; He has guaranteed the success of everyone who fulfills them with good intentions. The loss in the commandments, which appears frightful to the ego and the body, is in fact the touchstone of faith; latent in the loss is testimony for which is offered the reward.

The soundness of one's spiritual economy is the measure of one's faith. The strength, fervor and soundness of faith can neither be judged by a man's professed creed, nor by his thoughts, nor his writings, but rather by his works and behavior: “…and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18).

Correct theoretical faith in accordance with the foundation of sound beliefs as handed down by the Church is, in effect, the general foundation laid down for all who wish to build upon it their house of faith. But if a man builds nothing upon it, how can he claim that it is his faith?

As James the Apostle puts it, whoever is contented with the universal truth that “God exists,” that person has no merit; for demons also believe the same, even confessing Him and trembling at His existence. In other words, man must prove his faith in the existence of God by his prayer, as well as by his behavior among people in accordance with God's directives and commandments.

His behavior in the midst of hardships and tribulations should clearly proclaim his personal trust in and practical reliance on God…

How then can you love God except by fulfilling His commandments? Or how can you grow in His love except by growth in devotion, and by precisely fulfilling even the smallest of His commandments?

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 15:14). “If a man loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:24).

The question that everybody then asks is, “How can I grow and be strong?” This question is the same as, “How can my love in Christ grow and be strong?” The answer is provided by the verses cited above. In other words, how do you propose to keep the words of Christ? By what sort of zeal, love and ardency will you persist in scrupulously, faithfully, and sincerely fulfilling His commandments?

When one first begins to manage one's spiritual life, it clearly appears how faith conflicts with man's comfort, how the commandments of Christ stand against human honor, and how the sayings of Christ taste bitter on the palate of the ego which seeks to be glorified by people, and which seeks to change all opportunities of the spirit into opportunities for personal fame.

The gauge of faith's exactitude, appropriateness, and even its orthodoxy, is manifest in man's readiness to reject the whole of earthly life, and with that to relinquish all its comfort and false glory, if it conflicts with even the least of Christ's commandments.

Ever and always your whole life long, the devil will pressure you with all possible guile, to ease up in your adherence to the Truth in order to maintain your worldly or social status. He will alarm you and confuse you, so that you might relinquish Christ's commandments in order to attain an opportunity for pomp, authority and outward glory.

Thus the Gospel, and along with it Christ, become victims along the path of your utilization and exploitation of chances for gain, comfort, and transient glory…

This is the measure of free faith, and blessed is he who chooses loss, weariness, contempt, illness, or even death instead of relinquishing his fidelity to God. For if he dares to choose this, then he will receive strength that will compensate all loss—a strength he had never known of or expected, that strength which we call grace, which means “the gratuitous omnipotence of God,” and which is so tightly bound to faith:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
It is not just any faith, but rather the faith of one who is bold and defiant of death.
This omnipotence makes hard things easy for you and elevates your flesh and senses above the needs of nature. Thus it is that man prays without fatigue, fasts without wasting away, serves without flagging, loves without ceasing—all this with fervor in asceticism and spiritual economy that never grows cold.

Abba Matta al-Meskeen (1919-2006)


Son, I have posted these words for you, to help you right now. These words I took to myself as a young man only a little older than you are now, and I believed them, and I began to live by them, and now that I am old, I continue in them, for they are the words of Jesus, spoken by His beloved servant, my spiritual father, Matta el-Meskeen.

Of course, I never met the elder in person, but by living in the words of Jesus, as he also did, I have come safely to this moment, just as he promised, when he writes,
‘He has guaranteed the success of everyone who fulfills them with good intentions.’

Trust me, Son, and let's serve Christ this way together. He has called us, and He will not fail us.
He makes us fearless. He makes us
true men.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ων ουκ ην αξιος ο κοσμος

Of whom the world was not worthy…
Hebrews 11:38

One of my favorite Bible verses, and may it be found true of me.
I know, however, that it is true of a Christian brother in India, who has blessed me with these bright words…

   One man who stood for God
   One man against the multitude;
   One man by faith in God
   One man who condemned the world.

   One man heaven seeks,
   One man who will stand steady;
   One man who will join them,
   For whom the world was not worthy.

   I am weak and foolish my Lord,
   Too scared to even voice my thoughts;
   But if you will have me and make me,
   I will be that man! I will be that man!

These verses are taken from the complete poem, entitled Noah, which you can read by following this link:
Heb 11:38 The world was not worthy of them.

Even greater works

One of my favorite sayings, which I stole from a Belgian Roman Catholic priest (eventually he fell under that church’s displeasure) and added to the storehouse of Orthodoxy is this:
“Jesus is still the most active person in the history of the world.”

When I first read this in Fr. Louis Evely's wonderful book That Man Is You, it struck me like a bolt of lightning.

I’d always believed in Jesus' historicity as recounted in the Bible, and I believed along with the whole Church that He suffered, died, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. That meant that He is ‘up there’ at the right hand of Divine Majesty interceding for us, and all the talk about ‘Christ is in our midst’ and ‘I have Jesus in my heart’ had to be just metaphorical, sort of a jumpstart for people's faith, using their imaginations.

But after nearly three and half decades as a follower of Jesus, my understanding has been transformed gradually. Yes, the Lord Jesus did ascend into heaven, but in a very real and actual sense, He is still in our midst, still among us. He is the truly undead God-Man.

Every other historical person, religious figure, prophet or philosopher, died and that's that.

Some of their believers may think that they can still help them from beyond the grave, but facts are facts, they died, and no amount of prayers to them will help anyone an iota.

But Jesus is different.
We don't have to reduce Him to some kind of ancient guru with powers of bi-location (being in two places at once); that’s what our limited human imagination wants to do. Christ Jesus is, again I say, the undead God-Man.

The dead are buried and gone (or dead and ascended as New Age masters are claimed to be). But this Jesus was dead and buried, but He didn't stay that way.

His presence before the Father now that He has ascended—whatever that means—is actually no different than when He walked the earth as God-Man.

Then, He was present before the Father, and present with us.
The first we (or rather, His original disciples) took on faith, the second they saw with their own eyes.

Now, He is present before the Father (at His right hand, really), and present with us. The first we take as a doctrinal fact, the second we must take on faith.

If Christ really is among us, or ‘in our midst’ as the Orthodox phrase it, then it makes sense for us to walk in His presence, and follow Him bodily into the world where He is going every day, every hour, every minute of every day.

If we exercise our faith, it will develop to the point where we can actually ‘see’ Jesus with us, leading the way.

This is our goal as His disciples, to follow Him as He goes out into today’s world ‘seeking that which is lost,’ and to do what we see Him doing there.

I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in Me will perform the same works as I do Myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12 Jerusalem Bible

Why does Jesus say we ‘will perform even greater works, because [He is] going to the Father’? Does this ‘going to the Father’ inaugurate a Divine absence?

No, His ascension to sit at the Father’s right hand was a going up in power, inaugurating not a period of absence but, instead, one of hidden presence.

In His 33 earthly years in the old human body, Jesus was limited, self-limited,
‘emptying Himself to assume the conditions’ of our mortality.

Now that He has been raised in an imperishable body, He is limited no more, except by our failure to find Him among us, ‘in our midst,’ and to follow Him as He goes among us, seeking His lost sheep.

To India


Just a few days ago, my copy of the biography of Mother Gavrilía, the book Ascetic of Love, which I lent over a year ago to a neighbor, was anonymously returned by being pushed through the mail slot in my front door. What a blessing! I so missed that book, and when I wanted to read it, I had no choice but to find bits of it here and there posted on the internet. If you follow the linked title to Amazon, you may find that what few used copies are available are too expensive to buy.

When I lend a book and it's not returned, I just assume the person needed it, and so I never ask for it back. I just buy another. In the case of Ascetic of Love, the book is out of print, and I could not find another. So I broke down and asked for the book to be returned. I was afraid the neighbor might have thrown it away, but I am so thankful she kept it, and returned it. I decided that, if I got it back, I would post some of my favorite passages here at Cost of Discipleship, and share the blessing that Mother Gavrilía has been to me, with others.



The following passages are from pages 232-236. Mother Gavrilía tells of her journey to India, where she was an Orthodox witness for Christ, a sort of 'faith missionary', one who is not sent or supported by a missionary society, but who simply goes because of the call of Jesus Christ, relying on Him, and Him alone, for everything. When you read what follows, you will understand what I mean.

I set out for India, where my first stop was at a small dispensary within the ashram of Guru Sivananda—a great guru of that time—up on the Himalaya Mountains. I made the journey by bus, because I wanted to avoid having all those vaccines and injections. So, I traveled from Beirut, to Syria, Jordan, Baghdad, Tehran, Meshed, Zahedan, the Persian Desert, Pakistan, and finally I reached my destination, after a journey that lasted eleven months… I shall never forget the sunset at Khorramshahr. The greatest solar disk to be seen is there!… At that time India too was like the world before the Fall… When I arrived at the Himalayas I was almost out of money. For God had sent me on my way without money, so that I could see His glory at every step. Before long, I faced the first difficulty.

My passport  expired and I had to revalidate it. They told me that the Greek Consulate was in Bombay, and I sent the passport there together with a letter: «Dear Mr Consul, you are certainly aware of the adventurous nature of the Greek race and also of the inherent dignity of the Greek people. As I am here offering my services without payment, I would appreciate the issuance of a new passport free of charge.»… In a few days I received my passport, stamped gratis, and a very nice letter written in English: «…it is with great pleasure, etc., etc.» When later, God guided my steps to Bombay, I went to the Greek Consulate and you can imagine my astonishment when I saw that the Consul was not a Greek but an Indian gentleman! In fact, there never was a Greek Consul in Bombay.

Well, such surprising things happened all the time, from the beginning to the end of my stay there… At that time, back in 1954, India made appeals for help all over the world—for persons afflicted with leprosy, for children suffering from infantile paralysis and so on… The inner Voice had told me: ‘You will not accept payment anymore. You will not have money anymore.’ Yet, everything is so simple in life. Even if you know no one, when you know Christ, He will take you everywhere. All the doors open before you, and you are considered an important person, because you take no money, although you are penniless. That's how it is. But then again, what would it cost to provide food and shelter for one person? Rice and yogurt, rice and yogurt—that had been my food for five years!

Did you know the purpose of your going to India?

No. The Lord was leading the way and I followed. But you know, as soon as I arrived in India, at the first place where I was offered hospitality [Guru Sivananda's ashram], I received something like a message—the quotation from the Gospel: «Go not into the way of the Gentiles… but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel» (Matthew 10:5-6). Indeed, many of the foreigners, Europeans, Americans, etc., who went there, were on their way to Hinduism, about to lose Christ… I watched them all, coming to seek the Truth. For you know, everybody in India is still seeking the Truth.

Many of their wise men asked me: ‘Are you a seeker of the Truth?’ And I would answer, ‘I am of a church called the Orthodox Church.’ They had not heard of it up there. They knew Catholics, they knew Protestants, but not this Church. ‘This Church exists in Greece and many other countries.’

‘We know Socrates and Pythagoras,’
they would say, ‘so we welcome you as one of their descendants.’ Whenever they invited me to speak, I would always say, ‘I am particularly happy to be near you in a «Before Christ» country, because I see your quest and hope that someday, like so many others in the whole world, you too will find the Light…’

On one occasion, a Member of Parliament stood up and said: ‘Well, we too need a Socrates’… Actually, anywhere I went, I almost always came across Europeans—and all these Christians were about to forsake Christ! I said to myself: ‘There is your destination. Love them and make them come back.’ And, with God's help, many did come back… I had such enthusiasm then, a feeling beyond words… India was my great adventure with Faith and the Love of God.

I had gone there knowing nothing at all, neither where nor how I should live in a foreign land with a foreign language, without money… Just God and I on earth… I never asked anything. I always awaited the Call—to any field of action. Because when Christ calls you, you have no will of your own. You go wherever He takes you. And He led me to very poor surroundings—like Fr Athanasios Anthidis, who is now experiencing exactly what I went through thirty years ago, and in the same places too: at Hooghly, outside Calcutta. I know what it is like when conditions are so hard!

Still, to this very day, I am so certain that there is nothing I have to think of. I am as I was the first day I set out for India: Awaiting God's will. To anyone proposing something I say «Yes» and I go on. That is how I traveled all over India. ‘Come and work with us,’ they would say. I went, worked, and left…

You have loved this people very much…

What I cared about was Love. I loved the people there. I loved them for many reasons. In the first place, because if you stop loving, it is as if you stop breathing. Love is the Breath of God. Where I was, there came so many sick, so many suffering, so many hungry ones. Entire families of pilgrims came up the Himalayas after walking for six or seven days. Some had even walked for fifteen days, some others as much as a month… Quite often their children died up there.

My first task at the dispensary of the ashram was to put a dead child in a sack, together with a stone that would sink it into the river Ganges. I had such a shock and felt so sad that unconsciously tears flowed from my eyes. Then, the head of the ashram [Guru Sivananda] said: ‘Look at that! From the end of the world, a person has come to weep over this poor child’

In a short time it became known that there was someone who could help cure some ailments. Indeed, I must tell you that the miracles of Christ were astonishing! I was amazed! You know, it is very easy for people that have not been acquainted with medicine to have no doubts. The moment I told them that with a little massage the painful arm, etc., would feel better, they believed it. This belief and the help of God made them well. So the news spread around that a Greek lady who could help had arrived, and so on. It was then that they started asking: ‘What church does she belong to?’

At about that time, when J. Nehru was in power, I happened to meet his daughter, Indira Gandhi. She suffered from a painful nape that required massaging. While treating her, she talked to me about her life. One day, a lady came and after introductions she asked: ‘Is this lady a Catholic?’  ‘Oh no! She belongs to a church you do not know at all, a church that is completely different’… Mrs Gandhi replied.

The difference was—and I beg forgiveness of all who think that I was wrong—that I did not talk. I never said anything. I just loved these people… and worked, and worked, and worked.

Once, a very wise man, along with some other persons, came and asked me: ‘Who is your God?’ I said, ‘There is only One God, and Christ is His Son. This is my God!’ ‘I guessed as much. But why don't you say it? It is the first time that we see a European who doesn't talk, who doesn't tell us that our gods are nothing. You see our life, you know our philosophy, but you make no comments. How is that? Missionaries always reprove and go away, criticize, then leave’… ‘I cannot say such things,’ I answered, ‘because our ancestors were like you!’

‘What do you mean by that?’
he asked. So, I started to talk about the ancient Greeks and to explain how, when Christianity reached our country, it did not make us renounce all our ancient philosophy, but gave us Christ as Life. Because Christ is not only a religion. Christ is Life… Then, they asked me for Gospel books. I also gave them, even before the Gospel, the Imitation of Christ, as it is a book full of reference…

I lived in the Himalayas for a whole year. After that, I was invited to visit various centers. I could say that in five years I traveled all over India—North, South, East and West. I went to Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Langpur, Cashmere, the Himalayas, Dharasul, Uttar Kashi, and to so many other places… without a penny of my own!

I had no money. The fare was paid for me, and I was taken to my destination. And it was really strange: One day, I would sleep on the floor, with rats running about and scorpions crawling everywhere. The next day, the Maharajah of Patiala would send for me, to help organize a small group of physiotherapists at the local hospital; and then servants in liveries would come to ask what I would like for dinner! This is the way I journeyed all over India. But what impressed me most is that wherever I went, whether for a few months or for a year, I was learning the «Lessons».

And just one more short but very important testimony, from page 237…

In India, when I was asked: ‘Are you a missionary?’ I answered, ‘No.’
‘Well,’ they would say, ‘who sent you, then?’
‘Christ.’
‘What did He tell you?’
‘India,’
and ‘Follow Me.’

In a way, you are one of the pioneers of Christianity in contemporary India…

No. Because Christ was already there! He was leading the way and I was following Him…

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Just say Yes

The only thing I know that I have permanently—and I do not speak out of conceit or imagination—is what I have day and night, wherever I may be… It is first, faith; second, faith; third, faith. That's it!
There's nothing else I can say to you. It animates and guides my life.

Since I have faith, if someone were to come and tell me, "Will you go with me to Lebanon?" I would answer,
"Yes!"
"How can you say 'yes' just like that?" they may ask.

"Yes, I say 'yes' because I believe that if it is not for my own good, God will arrange things so that the very same persons who invited me will say 'no'. For instance, there may be some delays with formalities which will prevent our departure, and so on. I have seen that occur in my life, regularly, these last fifty years—not just for one or two years, as I am now ninety-one years old! I wish you all to reach that age!"

I read in the Gospel again and again something extraordinary.

Jesus comes and says to the Apostles, "Leave your fishing nets now, and follow Me!" If they had answered, "Who are you? Why should we lose the day's work? Why should we lose our profit? Where will you take us? What will you do with us?" If they had answered so, what would they be? They would have remained in darkness. They said 'yes' to a Stranger Who came and told them "Come, leave everything, and come!" Why? Because they had faith in God and were expecting the One, Him Who would tell them "Come!" And this is how it began. Whereas if they had said, 'No', what would have happened?

Philokalía

We asked the Elder, “what is the best translation of ‘Philokalia’?”, and straightaway received this spontaneous answer:

Philokalia: Unbridled eros for the lightning flashes and energies of the divine beauty, which adorns the microcosm and the macrocosm with a cohesive and comprehensive harmony and washes the innermost bowels of the human psychosomatic hypostasis and heart in its light, its virginal, inconceivable beauty and its utterly melodious, roaring silence, in order that the person (ánthropos) may reign as a divine person (theánthropos, god-man), in the image and likeness of Him who formed him, the Triune God.


And again, Philokalia is also the collection of the texts of the neptic fathers, who are, namely, kings, prophets and priests of the Holy Spirit; texts that are mystical and poetic initiations, in essence, reductive elaborations of the Song of Songs, capable of liberating and resolving, healing and transforming, the passions and the dead-ends of human nature into the new creation of the Kingdom of God the Father in Jesus Christ our Lord, through the Holy, presiding and life-generating Spirit.”

The above is excerpted from the book Beauty Will Save the World, by Gregory Wolfe, originally posted at the blog Between Jerusalem and Constantinople.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Let no man seek his own…

…but every man another’s.
(1 Corinthians 10:24)

That is the principle of the saints of God, both in times past and at the present time, from all ages to the end of the world. That is the principle of all true social structure. On that principle can be founded a human society that is the most perfect, the most pleasing to God and the happiest. It is a saving principle in every kind of difficulty that people today encounter, against which they struggle without victory and without hope.


A holy soul cares for his neighbor, either close at hand or far away.

He cares where the homeless will spend the night, how the hungry will be fed, with what the naked will be clothed. He cares and he prays for the salvation of his neighbors; that their hearts may be filled with love towards God, that their minds may be directed towards God, that the wicked may turn from the paths of wickedness, that the hesitant may be confirmed in the Faith, that the firm may persevere, that the departed may behold the Face of God, that the living may be written in the book of Life in the Kingdom of Light.

Nikolaj Velimirović, bishop of Ohrid

No suspect witnesses

Something that Blaise Pascal wrote, which can be found in his Pensées, as fragment 592, has always intrigued me…

If the Jews had all been converted by Christ we should only have suspect witnesses left. And if they had been wiped out we should have had none at all.


Pascal's book is also a treasure trove of Christian understanding of the Jews, and not very well known. That is one of the reasons I love Pascal so much: he was not afraid to look the Truth in the face, even when it might seem to go against current thinking inside the Church, or out of it.


If all Israel had been converted, why would they have been suspect witnesses? Could it be because they only supported Christ because He is their Messiah? That would mean they were confirmed in the unique truth of their faith, that their eternal King had come among them, and by accepting Him, they were now, indeed, lords of the earth. Where would that leave the nations? At worst, as enemies to be vanquished and exterminated, at best, as mere servants and slaves of the Chosen People.


But by rejecting Christ for who He was, their witness is not suspect. They rejected their own flesh and blood, making themselves martyrs for twenty centuries of the unique truth of their faith, which the eternal King had come to fulfill, but not only for them, but for the whole world. Otherwise the prophecies of the conversion of the nations would never have come to pass. Conversion, not conquest. Conversion, not subjugation. Conversion, not annihilation.
‘For God so loved the world…’

What Pascal writes is drawn from his intimate knowledge of holy and divine scripture, secreted to him by the Holy Spirit, taught him by the Master he followed so closely. Yes, confirming—though it needs no confirmation if you just see what is before you—what the holy apostle himself writes,
‘Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead!’ (Romans 11:15)


Pray, brethren, for our brothers, the people of Israel.

Pray, people of Israel, for your brethren, ‘those who fear the Lord.’

Have mercy, Lord


Yahweh, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for help,
do not stay deaf to my crying.
I am Your guest, and only for a time,
a nomad like all my ancestors.
Psalm 39, verse 12

Psalms for the 26th Day: Psalm 119, verses 105~176


Nun (verses 105-112, Jerusalem Bible)
Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn to observe, I shall maintain,
Your righteous rulings.
Yahweh, though my suffering is acute,
revive me as Your Word has guaranteed.
Yahweh, accept the homage that I offer,
teach me Your rulings.
I would lay down my life at any moment,
I have never yet forgotten Your Law.
The wicked have tried to trap me,
but I have never yet veered from Your precepts.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes—
compensation enough for ever!

Tav (verses 169-176, Jerusalem Bible)
Yahweh, may my cry approach Your presence,
let Your Word endow me with perception!
May my entreaty reach Your presence;
rescue me as You have promised.
May my lips proclaim Your praise,
since You teach me Your statutes.
May my tongue recite Your promise,
since all Your commandments are righteous.
May Your hand be there to help me,
since I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for You, Yahweh, my Saviour,
Your Law is my delight.
Long may my soul live to praise You,
long be Your rulings my help!
I am wandering like a lost sheep:
Come, and look for Your servant.

A Jewish Orthodox Priest-Martyr

…I was told over and over, “But the deeper I went into the Church, the more deeply I felt myself as belonging to the people of Israel,” and, “The more I am Christian, the more I feel myself a Jew.” What is more, this Jewish identity had become positive and internal, rather than the negative, externally reinforced anti-Semitism that was their basic identification with Jewishness before entering the Church. They did not become ‘Russian’ in the Russian Church, but ‘Jewish.’

Father Alexander Men' probably needs no introduction to many of you. He is the late priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who was found murdered by an axe in September 1990, and whom the late academic Sergei Averintsev called "The man sent from God to be missionary to the wild tribe of the Soviet intelligentsia."


This post about hieromartyr Alexander Men' consists entirely of quotes from an online article sent me this morning by a dear sister in the Lord. To read the entire article, click HERE. Father Michael is an Orthodox priest of Russian Jewish origin. Photo is of Alexander Men' as a youth.

It was an issue of how to maintain your difference. ... To stay a spiritual personality. Not to be completely engulfed. In this sense, the Church helped to support the human personality, the personality of the intelligentsia, for whom personhood is extremely important. Not to be completely dissolved into the aggressive Soviet mass. … It was the power that I found to stay myself. (Father Michael)

For another Russian-Jewish intellectual affected by the wave of baptisms in the late sixties:

… Living in the Soviet Union, and always being bothered by the constant lie, you had the sensation that there must be a great deal that they are simply hiding. I was led to a sense of readiness, readiness to believe in something else. I didn't know what that something was, but the readiness was there. ("Osip")

There were and are, of course, many ways to respond to such inner "readiness." They could have sought out Judaism, to the extent that was feasible in the Soviet Union of the time. They could have become Zionists, and tried to go to Israel. Or they could have followed the secular dissident pattern of, say, Sakharov. Indeed, in the sixties, these paths did not seem so disparate, as one interviewee acknowledged:

From the same underground came the dissident movement and the Zionist movement. Discussions would take place in the same house… I didn't hide the fact that I went to church. For those Jews in those days the fact that we were Christians was not an issue. Most of them had been in Stalin's camps. Christians were not enemies. They were all allies. In those days we were a minority of outcasts. (Father Michael)

For many of these "outcasts," as I have said, it was Father Alexander Men', by both example and word, who showed them the way out of what has been variously called the ideological lie, the vacuum, the cellar, or the prison of Soviet culture. Born a Jew, thus an outsider, a "dissident" by birth, trained as a scientist in a Soviet institute, Men' came to represent for these intellectuals the best of all worlds.

Men' clearly had charisma. But he also had a message that appealed to a generation straitjacketed in their institutes for Historical Materialism and Marxism-Leninism. The way out of the cellar that he showed them celebrated the highly sensual ritual, the materiality of Russian Orthodoxy not as a utilitarian end, but as the incarnation of mystical Truth and as a sign of the possible deification of creation. Spirit and matter, religion and secular knowledge were not so far apart, after all. Engineers, historians, and mathematicians were attracted by Men's readiness to build a bridge between the Church and secular society, between science and religion: "This idea of dialogue with the world has stuck with me all my life," wrote the Jewish priest [Fr Michael].

…perhaps the most radical, and controversial of the followers of Men' now gather to pray in the basement of the building housing the Center for Human Rights, near the Nikitskie Gates [in Moscow]. To be clear, this small community is not part of the Patriarchate of Moscow. It belongs to the so-called Apostolic Orthodox Church, founded in May of 2000 through the authority of the True-Orthodox (Catacomb) Church, a body that never reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate since the 1920s. It is sometimes called Gleb Iakunin's Church, for its founder, the famous dissident from the 60s. At the recommendation of Iakunin, this dissident Church's synod canonized Father Aleksandr on September 8, 2000.

The canonization of Men' was, and still is, highly controversial. Many followers of Men' with whom I spoke agreed that the canonization was perhaps deserved, but nonetheless, in this form and by this splinter Church, nothing more, and nothing less than an unnecessary provocation: We split with them over this, Men's brother explained. I understand their views, but it was all done on their own, which only disturbs the situation. Men's son, Mikhail, currently the deputy major of Moscow and a controversial figure in his own right, wrote: "I look on this as a provocation directed against all my family. ... by an organized group of people having no relationship to the Russian Orthodox Church."

But a saint he is, say some. The makeshift Church of the New Martyrs, led by Father Yakov Krotov [photo right], is divided by an iconostasis with only three icons: the Mother of God, Christ, and one of Father Aleksandr. The wall is punctuated by wide arches in place of the closed royal doors of a traditional icon stand, thus making the altar fully visible, and accessible, to the congregation. The services are conducted in Russian, rather than the Church Slavonic recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, and, thus, also easily accessible to the worshippers. There is no choir; the congregants themselves are expected to chant the entire service, and Father Iakov recites all prayers aloud, rather than mumbled as is usually done in the Orthodox Church. All of these innovations, Krotov believes, make his service more democratic, more inclusive, and more in the spirit of Father Aleksandr Men's own teachings.

Does he deserve sainthood for this legacy, as those in Gleb Iakunin and Iakov Krotov's Church believe?

According to one of Men's Russian Jewish Christians:

I do think that according to the Orthodox definition of a saint, Fr. Alexander is a saint. There are a few different types of saints. One of these types is a person who lived a great life, was extremely important for his time and people around him, bravely preached about faith in the time of danger, wrote beautiful books about faith, and died as a martyr. Who will fit this definition better then Father Alexander Men?

The OCA [Orthodox Church of America] website gives the following definition:

It means only that, within the context of his age, he manifested the image of God in himself in some way — that he was an ikon, an original creation, a new creature in Christ.

Canonization does not make a man a saint. Rather, it establishes the fact, publicly and for all to see, that the man is already a saint…

Was Father Alexander Men' such a man? I don't know. I never met him. I don't believe in saints. I don't even believe in Jesus Christ. And I'm crazy about Jews converting to Christianity. I do know, however, that his ministry, and, even more, the presence of his spiritual children, grandchildren, cousins, and fellow travelers, especially among the Jews, continue to press the case of his significance, and in so doing, to test the saintliness of the contemporary Church itself. "In his day," in the "cellar" of the Soviet Union, he did something unusual. He was an "original creation" as an intellectual in the Church.

"Pasha," a Russian Jewish Christian now living in New York suggested the following:

To show you are a Jew in Orthodoxy is a kind of litmus paper. Jewry is the verification of faith for a Christian. Why? If you take this paper, Jewry, and you immerse it in someone's faith, and the paper changes color, even just a little, then that is a marker that something is not right in his faith. True Orthodoxy, the Orthodoxy his followers believe was preached by Men', is thus associated with tolerance and ecumenism, with what they see as the true message of the gospels. And any Orthodoxy that does not accept Jews, that flunks the litmus test, must have abandoned its true ecumenical form and become intent only on its own ritualistic laws. Did Men' revolutionize the Russian Orthodox Church? By no means. Was he a messiah? Absolutely not. Does his legacy point out to the Church how it might "heal itself"? In a quiet, sometimes defeatist and always paradoxical way: Yes.

At once

Και παραγων ειδεν Λευιν τον του Αλφαιου καθημενον επι το τελωνιον και λεγει αυτω, Ακολουθει μοι, και αναστας ηκολουθησεν αυτω.

And as he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphæus, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. Mark 2.14

The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. The cause behind the immediate following of the call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.

This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. There is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road — only obedience to the call of Jesus.
What does the text inform us about the content of discipleship?

Follow me, run along behind me! That is all.

To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after.

At the call, Levi leaves all he has — but not because he thinks that he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call. Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus. The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead.

He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may ‘exist’ in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of the finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).

Again, it is no universal law. Rather is it the exact opposite of all legality. It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.

The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one.

‘I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments.’ (Psalm 119.45)
Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing. It may be the ideal way, it may even lead to martyrdom, but it is devoid of all promise. Jesus will certainly reject it.


And they went to another village. And as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head. And he said to another, Follow me.

But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their dead, but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God. And another said, I will follow thee, Lord; but suffer me first to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand unto the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Luke 9.57-62

The first disciple offers to follow Jesus without waiting to be called. Jesus damps his ardour by warning him that he does not know what he is doing. In fact, he is quite incapable of knowing.
That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer. No man can choose such a life for himself. No man can call himself to such a destiny, says Jesus, and his word stays unanswered. The gulf betwen a voluntary offer to follow and genuine discipleship is clear.
Where Jesus calls, he bridges the widest gulf.

The second would-be disciple wants to bury his father before he starts to follow. He is bound by the trammels of the law. He knows what he wants and what he must do. Let him first fulfill the law, and then let him follow. A definite legal ordinance acts as a barrier between Jesus and the man he has called. But the call of Jesus is stronger than the barrier.

Nothing on earth, however sacred, must be allowed to come between Jesus and the man he has called — not even the law itself.

Now, if never before, the law must be broken for the sake of Jesus. Therefore Jesus emerges at this point as the opponent of the law, and commands a man to follow him. Only Christ can speak in this fashion. He alone has the last word. This call, this grace, is irresistable.

The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he mapped out for himself, but the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms.

He lands himself in a hopeless inconsistency, for although he is ready enough to throw in his lot with Jesus, he succeeds in putting up a barrier between himself and the Master. ‘Suffer me first.’ He wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms. Discipleship to him is a possibility which can only be realized when certain conditions have been fulfilled.

This is to reduce discipleship to the level of human understanding. The trouble about this third would-be disciple is that at the very moment he expresses his willingness to follow, he ceases to want to follow at all. His desires conflict not only with what Jesus wants, but also with what he wants himself.

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps.

The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. Jesus makes it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole life of man. The only right and proper way is quite literally to go with Jesus.

The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God. The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible. If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe.

This step is not the first stage of a career. Its sole justification is that it brings the disciple into fellowship with Jesus, which will be victorious. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. If men imagine they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.

Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation, and the situation in which faith is possible is itself only rendered possible through faith.
Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will be only pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own.

This first step starts as an external work, which effects the change from one existence to another. It is a step within everyone’s capacity, for it lies within the limits of human freedom. To take this step it is not necessary to surrender one’s freedom.

Come to church! You can do that of your own free will. You can leave your home on a Sunday morning and come to hear the sermon. If you will not, you are of your own free will excluding yourself from the place where faith is a possibility.

Once we are sure of this point, we must add at once that this step is, and can never be more than, a purely external act which can never of itself bring a man to Christ. Nevertheless the external work must be done, for we still have to find our way into the situation where faith is possible.

We can only take this step aright if we fix our eyes not on the work we do, but on the word with which Jesus calls us to do it. In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ.

Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

He opens the tombs

When you hear that at that time the Lord freed the souls from hell and the regions of darkness and that He descended into hell and did an amazing work, do not think that this does not have any personal meaning for you.

Man, indeed, can readily accept the evil one. Death has its grip on the children of Adam and their thoughts are imprisoned in darkness. And when you hear mention made of tombs, do not at once think only of visible ones. For your heart is a tomb and a sepulcher. When the prince of evil and his angels have built their nest there and have built roads and highways on which the powers of satan walk about inside your mind and in your thoughts, then really, are you not a hell and a sepulcher and a tomb dead to God?

... But the Lord descends into the souls of those who seek Him. He goes into the depths of the hellish heart and there He commands death, saying, "Release those captive souls that seek after Me, those that you hold by force in bondage." He breaks through the heavy stones that cover the soul. He opens the tombs. He truly raises to life the dead person and leads that captive soul forth out of the dark prison.
“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Merciful

If a man readily and joyfully accepts a loss for the sake of God, he is inwardly pure. And if he does not look down upon any man because of his defects, in very truth he is free. If a man is not pleased with someone who honors him, nor displeased with someone who dishonors him, he is dead to the world and to this life. The watchfulness of discernment is superior to every discipline of men accomplished in any way to any degree.

Do not hate the sinner. For we are all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you not see how He wept over Jerusalem? We are mocked by the devil in many instances, so why should we hate the man who is mocked by him who mocks us also?

Why, O man, do you hate the sinner? Could it be because he is not so righteous as you? But where is your righteousness when you have no love? Why do you not shed tears over him? But you persecute him. In ignorance some are moved with anger, presuming themselves to be discerners of the works of sinners.

Be a herald of God's goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are; for although your debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting payment from you, and from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you.

Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright (cf. Psalm 24:8, 144:17), His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious’ (Luke 6:35).

How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matthew 20:12-15).

How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? (Luke 15:11 ff.).

None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it; and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God's justice, for whilst we are sinners Christ died for us! (cf. Romans 5:8). But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.

Far be it that we should ever think such an iniquity that God could become unmerciful! For the property of Divinity does not change as do mortals. God does not acquire something which He does not have, nor lose what He has, nor supplement what He does have, as do created beings.

But what God has from the beginning, He will have and has until the [unending] end, as the blest Cyril wrote in his commentary on Genesis. ‘Fear God, he says, out of love for Him, and not for the austere name that He has been given. Love Him as you ought to love Him; not for what He will give you in the future, but for what we have received, and for this world alone which He has created for us.’

Who is the man that can repay Him? Where is His repayment to be found in our works? Who persuaded Him in the beginning to bring us into being Who intercedes for us before Him, when we shall possess no [faculty of] memory, as though we never existed? Who will awake this our body for that life? Again, whence descends the notion of knowledge into dust?

O the wondrous mercy of God! O the astonishment at the bounty of our God and Creator! O might for which all is possible! O the immeasurable goodness that brings our nature again, sinners though we be, to His regeneration and rest! Who is sufficient to glorify Him?

He raises up the transgressor and blasphemer, he renews dust unendowed with reason, making it rational and comprehending and the scattered and insensible dust and the scattered senses He makes a rational nature worthy of thought.

The sinner is unable to comprehend the grace of His resurrection. Where is gehenna, that can afflict us? Where is perdition, that terrifies us in many ways and quenches the joy of His love? And what is gehenna as compared with the grace of His resurrection, when He will raise us from Hades and cause our corruptible nature to be clad in incorruption, and raise up in glory him that has fallen into Hades?

Come, men of discernment, and be filled with wonder! Whose mind is sufficiently wise and marvelous to wonder worthily at the bounty of our Creator? His recompense of sinners is, that instead of a just recompense, He rewards them with resurrection, and instead of those bodies with which they trampled upon His law, He enrobes them with perfect glory and incorruption.

That grace whereby we are resurrected after we have sinned is greater than the grace which brought us into being when we were not. Glory be to Thine immeasurable grace, O Lord!

Behold, Lord, the waves of Thy grace close my mouth with silence, and there is not a thought left in me before the face of Thy thanksgiving. What mouths can confess Thy praise, O good King, Thou Who lovest our life? Glory be to Thee for the two worlds which Thou hast created for our growth and delight, leading us by all things which Thou didst fashion to the knowledge of Thy glory, from now and unto the ages. Amen.

Isaac the Syrian, Homily 60

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14