Sunday, June 23, 2013

9th Century on Heaven

‘Remember who your teachers were,’ writes holy apostle Paul to his young partner Timothy. There isn’t a single thing that I know, or have thought or written, that hasn’t been the result of receiving gladly what was ‘handed over’ to me. How many expressions that I use daily in speaking or writing are really my own? Very few, I’m afraid. No, rather I’m happy to admit it. I want to be known as one who followed in the footsteps of those who followed Jesus, and not as one who blazed new trails of my own. Like the bride in the Song of Solomon, I receive and obey the words spoken to me, ‘Follow the tracks of the flock, and take your kids to graze close by the shepherds’ tents’ (Song of Songs 1:8 Jerusalem Bible).

A modern Church father who had a profound effect on me as I was growing up was Fr Louis Evely. I have distilled the text of Chapter 9: Heaven from his book That Man Is You into a ‘Century,’ that is, following the classical spiritual authors, a collection of one hundred ‘sayings.’ May it bless you as it blesses me to read it, understand it, and live it.

Download a PDF booklet of the following text
Ninth Century on Heaven
adapted from Fr Louis Evely

1 Some people have never met God in His written Word, or in forgiveness, or in faith, or in their neighbor, or in their own lives, yet they vainly hope to meet Him in heaven. We must discourage this expectation, correct this misconception, before it leads to utter ruin. If we have not found God on earth, we will not find Him in heaven.
2 Heaven is not another world where we go to escape. The kingdom of heaven is already in us [Luke 10.9], and we are called to build it up with the grace God gives us.
3 God wants people who will work with Him, not just sit around and dream. If we are content to only wait for the kingdom of God to come, it will never arrive.
4 The gifts of God in us are efficacious. They are meant to produce results. They only retain their true character as gifts when we give them away.
5 This is eternal life: To know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. [John 17.3] Those who have not started living this eternal life on earth, who have not already been illuminated by the presence and light of God which are offered to every man who comes into the world [John 1.9], and who have found nothing to eternalize, those people will never get to heaven.
6 Earth is a place where we build our heaven. God does not invite us simply to pass over into another world. Rather, He has invited Himself into this world. He has redeemed it and released into it infinite forces which He has entrusted to us, so that we might transform it. Finally, He will crown His work and ours by making it eternal.
7 We are in this world forever, so let us accept it and our place in it. Heaven is the establishment and fruition of what we will achieve with the gifts God gave us.
8 Too many Christians are spiritualists. They believe in the immortality of the soul but not in the resurrection of the body. To the contrary, God takes on a body and deems human flesh a good conductor of divine power.
9 God reveals Himself through creation, for the universe fashioned in His image is God made visible.
10 God becomes incarnate and acquires a human nature. He communicates His grace through the mysteries and will make all creation share in the glorious freedom of the sons of God. [Romans 8.21]
11 The joy of heaven does not consist in having our human faculties suspended but in finally being able to live human life to the full. God has already given Himself to us so completely, that He can be contemplated not only in Himself but also in the whole of creation. The presence of the Giver does not make us scorn His gifts. Rather, it sheds brighter light on them.
12 We are not to choose between God and the natural world. We are to discover Him in the world and reveal Him to it. Though we cannot yet imagine what the ultimate face-to-face vision of God means, its repercussions on man concern us even now. The resurrection of the body teaches us to expect that our heavenly bliss will also be a human bliss.
13 God is not enthroned in some other world. He came into this world and has never left it. Christ has not left the human world. He remains with us, day in, day out. At His ascension, He did not go away. He disappeared.
14 It makes no sense to celebrate the ascension of Christ unless we understand the difference between departure and disappearance. Departure results in absence. Disappearance inaugurates a hidden presence.
15 At His ascension Christ became invisible, was fully glorified in His humanity, and began sharing the infinite power of the Father as Theánthropos, God-Man. Because of this, He is closer to us than He ever was before. Far from abandoning us and leaving us orphans [John 14.18], He acquired the very influence and boundless efficacy that enables Him to fill everything with His presence. [Ephesians 4.10]
16 We must not restrict Christ either to heaven or to earth. His ascension is not a going up in spatial terms that would only separate us from Him, but a going up in power that intensifies His presence.
17 Jesus Christ is still the most active Person in the history of the world. The Evangelist Mark demonstrates this beyond a doubt in his narrative of the ascension which begins, Jesus was taken up into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God. The apostles went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them, confirming their message by the miracles that followed. [Mark 16.20]
18 Think about it. Christ is here on earth with us and will never leave us, because His spiritual presence is more intensive and extensive than His physical presence ever could have been. For our own good He disappeared visibly, so we could find Him present invisibly, any time, anywhere.
19 Do we really believe in the communion of saints? Do we really believe Christ wants to gather heaven and earth into a single entity beyond which there is simply nothing? [Ephesians 1.10]
20 We must fervently hope for a world where people love one another, are united, and all enjoy God together. We must desire to see this world other than it is, and not try to run away to some other world.
21 Jesus Christ commands, Go teach all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and show them how to practice everything I have commanded you. And you will see that I am with you every single day till the end of time. [Matthew 28.20]
22 Where is the Father? Up in heaven? Not if that means away from us, somewhere up there. He is here with us on earth, permanently. How can that be? Jesus Christ says, If anyone loves Me, My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. [John 14.23]
23 Where is the Holy Spirit? He is with us and in us forever. [John 14.17]
24 Where are the saints? They are alive in that same Holy Spirit in whom all who live are alive, in communion and close fellowship with us. The saints spend all their time in heaven doing good on earth. Where would they be, if not with Christ? What would they be doing, if not what He does? When we welcome Christ, we welcome the saints, and in furthering His work, we collaborate with them.
25 What of death? To die means to find ourselves in the most favorable conditions to assist in spreading of the kingdom of God on earth.
26 To die means to be cured of our weakness, our inadequacy, to be made perfectly adaptable, perpetually active, and always available to continue our work with those who are still on earth.
27 This is the communion of the saints, all of us, under the leadership of Jesus Christ, working together toward one goal, day after day, till the end of time.
28 The redemption always depends on the incarnation, on the invasion of the world by God. The incarnation of Christ is also permanent. Christ is risen in a mystical body. His glorified human nature has become the head of a vast organism. His risen body is distinct, yet shareable, communicable, capable of subjecting and incorporating into itself all who do not resist Him.
29 The abiding presence of Christ on earth, made universal and accessible to all, is called the Church.
30 Heaven signifies starting to believe in His presence and detect it, starting to get used to it and work to extend it.
31 Faith is already the beginning of vision, and love is a theological virtue, whether we show it to God or neighbor.
32 What is new about the commandment of Jesus Christ? Is it, loving one another? This precept already existed in the Old Testament. Christ merely summarized and quoted it. His real innovation was making the second commandment identical with the first. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. [Matthew 22.36-40]
33 Since the Word has become flesh, brotherly love is theological. If we love God, we must love our brother. If we say we love God whom we do not see, but refuse to love our brother whom we do see, then we are liars. [1 John 4.20]
34 Our behavior toward our neighbor reveals our real attitude toward God. To love our brother sincerely is to love God, and this is a foretaste of heaven, right now, here on earth.
35 As a matter of fact, the earthly world is bound to become heaven, since we pray for the will of God to be done on earth as in heaven. If it seems our plea is not heard, can it be because we are spiritually lazy, unbelieving, or faint-hearted?
36 The object of our prayer should also be the object of our faith and hope. Instead of running away from this world to reach heaven, we should make it our business to see that the will of God is done here on earth as it is in heaven. Do we secretly think, That will never happen? Well, then, why bother praying? So God will do it? He wants it with all His might. The only obstacle is ourselves!
37 Because the redemption of the world depends partly on us, it is not absolutely certain. The world could end with something less than total redemption, but only because it is blocked by our refusal to believe in the power of God, to serve and magnify it.
38 Do we love God up in heaven? Do we look up at the starry sky when we speak to Him? We need to look a little closer. He is here, somewhere, beside us, perhaps gazing at the stars like us because they are beautiful, or perhaps so hungry, cold, and sick, He cannot even raise His head, unless we feed, warm, and comfort Him. Will we be the ones to ask, But Lord, when did we see You like that? [Matthew 25.44]
39 According to our belief, God has become man. We cannot be sure we are in line with God unless we are in line with our neighbor.
40 At the Judgment, we will understand that mere religious instruction was not enough to convince us. At that moment of decision, the so-called good and so-called bad will get the shock of their lives. The incarnation of God really happened! God was their neighbor, and the first and second commandments were really the same! The first was fulfilled in the second, and heaven had begun on earth!
41 If anyone says, I love God, do not be impressed. Perhaps he is just going through a pious phase. But if he says, I love my neighbor, then perhaps consider him an extraordinary being. Perhaps you have met someone, at last, who can put up with God!
42 Do we really love God up in heaven? That means we love nothing, just a figment of our imagination. It would be all too easy to earn heaven if we had nothing to do but spend an hour and a half a week bowing and crossing ourselves in some church where, luckily, we do not really know a soul.
43 No one feeds on the Holy Gifts of the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ, and no one is a naturalized citizen of heaven until, along with the communion, he can swallow all his neighbors. It is easy to see from this example, how the Eucharist can be both a banquet and a sacrifice.
44 Communion means community of persons in perfect agreement, a foretaste of life in the Holy Triad. The surest way to test the validity of our mystical experiences is to adopt as our companions in heaven all our neighbors at the Divine Liturgy, along with everything they have shown us so far.
45 We must be reconciled to the faces around us. That is how we know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. [1 John 3.14] That is also how we know the real heaven from its dark double.
46 The Christian faith actually gives brotherly love a higher priority than love of God. If you are in church, about to present your gift at the altar, and you remember your brother has a grievance against you, leave your offering there and go make peace with him. [Matthew 5.23-24] If we find it in our heart to love him again, we will also find heaven, Christ in our midst, once more.
47 God and our neighbor are indissolubly linked, but what trouble we have believing that! If God were only enthroned high above, far above us, hidden behind clouds of incense, we would not have to worry, we could detest our neighbors without fear!
48 Christian contemplation differs profoundly from New Age spirituality on this point. Christians become contemplatives not to escape from this world, or to feel religion, or to enjoy ecstasies, but to consider an incarnate God, a crucified Savior.
49 It is impossible to know and love God without beginning to resemble Him. It is impossible to remain a contemplative without becoming a missionary.
50 We do not have to invent God. We must just accept Him as He reveals Himself.
51 We do not have to retreat to another world to discover Him. We must just recognize Him in this world, where He reveals Himself to those who love Him.
52 All who have recognized God He has immediately sent back to their neighbors, fashioning them after His own heart. To everyone who saw and recognized the risen Christ, to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, He commanded, Go to My brothers, [Matthew 28.7] and, Feed My lambs. [John 21.15]
53 God has loved the world so much. [John 3.16] We do not really share His thoughts unless we also love this earth and everything in it, unless we are sorry we cannot keep on praying and working here until it is wholly stirred up, consecrated, and ablaze with love and joy.
54 When Christ refused to pray for the world, He did not mean the earth as a whole, but only those forces in it that resist the activity of God.
55 The world that Christ condemned is the one that satan rules over, the domain of egocentrics that cut themselves off from God and their neighbor. The boundary between that world and the one God has loved so much passes through each of us. It is up to us to push it back and claim all we can for the kingdom of God.
56 Everything we rescue from this world will be eternalized in heaven.
57 The Divine Liturgy is a daily Pascha, a passing over from the profane to the sacred, from earth to heaven.
58 We must not allow anyone to be lost or anything to be desecrated.
59 The universe eagerly longs to see the sons of God, hoping to be liberated like them from its slavery to corruption, so as to share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans with the pangs of birth. [Romans 8.19-22] Are we burning to satisfy this expectation?
60 Many Christians give up the world with regards to its salvation. After getting all they can out of it, they doom it to apocalyptic destruction. They should read the Word as it is. The Apostle Paul asserts that heaven is to be brought forth here on earth.
61 The apocalypse will reveal to everyone once and for all what was always really there, but hidden, as behind a veil.
62 The birth of a child is an apocalypse, the manifestation of a being who was already present, but hidden. There is nothing catastrophic about it. The labor pains are forgotten for joy that a man is born into the world. [John 16.21]
63 Harvest time is the apocalypse of the grain of wheat, primarily a festive season, even if it is also mowing time.
64 So too, heaven will end up being the joyous revelation of all that the love of God and His saints has brought to perfection in this world forever.
65 Everything we have really loved will be saved. Our redemptive power is in proportion to our capacity for love. It is all a matter of loving something so much that we will not let it be lost. With Christ, we must say, I have watched over them and not one is lost, except the one who chose to be lost. [John 17.12]
66 Those who think they want to die as soon as possible, to be with the Lord, will not participate in the salvation of anyone or anything.
67 Creation will be transfigured by sharing in the glorious freedom of the sons of God. To the extent that the falsely pious ignore it to save their own souls, they hinder the rebirth of the world.
68 God desires and needs us. He wants us not merely to wait and hope for heaven, but to build it now, by starting to make this earth a place where justice rules, and where we love one another.
69 We must not imagine that God will impose a prefabricated heaven of His own to replace the one we are working on. We could not validly choose our eternal destiny unless we had already had a foretaste of it even in this life.
70 Test yourselves, urges the Apostle Paul, Make sure Christ is in you. [2 Corinthians 13.5] Have we never sensed the kingdom of heaven within us? Have we never noticed the miracle that, selfish, mean, and sarcastic as we can be, the grace of God has taught us to love, to trust others, to forget wrongs we have suffered, to give generously, to be moved to pity even over an enemy, to be touched if he repents, and to be overjoyed if he changes his ways?
71 Heaven is the only place where there is more happiness over one sinner who repents than over a thousand who do not need to. [Luke 15.17] If we have ever felt the same way, it is because we were in heaven at that moment. It is because there really is a heaven, and we have access to it.
72 As for hell, we have a preview of that, too. The unbearable heaviness that comes over us when disagreements and grudges cut us off from the world where people love one another, share, believe, and tolerate anything.
73 The gloom of our occasional eclipses bears painful witness to the habitual existence of a light that must eventually shine through us, unobstructed. If we are so chilled and so uncomfortable when we turn back into our natural selves, individualistic and aloof, conceited, independent, and desperate, we should conclude that it has become necessary for us to be supernatural, that we were made for another kind of life, the life of heaven.
74 Heaven is not a exactly place, but a state of being. Passing from this world to heaven does not mean moving from one location to another, but turning towards God, opening our hearts to the things He keeps wanting to do in us and through us.
75 Because of sin, the kingdoms of God and of man became two different worlds, but in Christ they have reestablished contact and set up ceaseless relations. All our efforts should go to bringing them closer, bit by bit, till they finally merge into one.
76 Ever since His conversations with Adam in paradise, God has not stopped frequenting mankind and living on earth. He speaks reassuringly, I will be at your side, to all those who want to draw near Him and walk in His presence [Genesis 17.1], from Abraham through all the prophets, down to the last human being at the end of the world, His name will be Emmanuel. [Isaiah 7.14] He will be with them as their God. [Revelation 21.3]
77 There is a continual theophany inherent in our world, a constant manifestation. Man has been made capable of God, and the earth susceptible of consecration and sacrifice.
78 Our earth has access to heaven whenever there is loving, sharing, communion. That is why the expression, gaining heaven, becomes not only false but absurd, and the charge of being mercenary refutes itself.
79 We do not gain heaven, we get used to it. We train for it as spiritual athletes, we build it and are built into it, as living stones, all of us, together.
80 Heaven is the home of a Reality we most often see only the back side of. [Exodus 33.18-23] It is the long-sought coincidence between what we wanted to be and what we are.
81 Heaven is finally being able to take our place in the procession we could never quite keep up with. It is a family where we love each other, where we laugh and forever leap with joy, because we are together.
82 It is in our power to be in heaven with Christ right now, to be happy with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him means being happy with His happiness, and that, in turn, means loving, helping, sharing, rescuing, and redeeming.
83 We were not made to be in bondage, submerged in hatred and thoughts of revenge, in self-seeking and indifference, in peace and security that we make for ourselves. We were made for something else, for a totally different kind of life. Some have gotten so accustomed to puttering around down here, submerged, that they do not think of coming up anymore, they do not even want to.
84 What about us? Do we want to come back up and live once again in a world where people converse, know and love one another, and are interested in what happens to everyone? Where they are all bound together in fellowship and stay close to the One source of their fatherhood and brotherhood? Where they throw themselves, body and soul, into all the work and all the joy that awaits them?
85 The Apostle Peter reminds us, we are strangers and pilgrims here. [1 Peter 2.11] Those who believe that God still has work for them farther on keep themselves ready, willing, and able.
86 Saints are more vibrantly alive than anyone else, more adaptable to any situation, because they have detached themselves from everything and so are free to embrace anything.
87 Those who do not feel perfectly content anywhere are the only ones who can be happy everywhere, the only ones who can do any work assigned them with the same prompt enthusiasm.
88 Because saints are not rooted to any one place, they never look transplanted. Because they do not see enough love anywhere, their grief compels them to love with all their might.
89 The Lord says, Your sorrow will be changed to joy. [John 16.20] When you find a want, you try to fill it, and you give more and more till you eventually give yourselves. You become a gift. You become love, joy, and heirs of heaven.
90 Our earthly life will be radiant, full, harmonious and happy, insofar as we believe that what it announces and signifies is infinitely more beautiful than what meets the eye, that what visibly failed today is an invisible promise for tomorrow, because of our hope in it, because we know ours is a hidden life with Christ in God. [Colossians 3.1-4]
91 We all have seen that our deepest joys always slip away before we realize it, or do not measure up to what we expected, and yet in retrospect, they prove richer than we were able to appreciate. The worship services that sickness, worrying, and various kinds of troubles keep us from fully participating in, those that weary our fickle hearts, those that we are inclined to judge as too long, that we dread before they begin and wish were over while they are still going on, those very services, we understand later, are filled with the presence of God. How can we be so blind to our supreme good?
92 We sometimes rush out of the services, inhale the first breath of fresh air with relief, and then in a flash we realize what we are missing, what we are turning our backs on. Then we know, we were never happier than the whole time we felt so bored, or thought we did not understand what was going on in there. We doze off like Patriarch Jacob, who lay down in the darkness of night, his head on a rock, and when he awoke he recalled what happened, how he had seen angels and the Lord who manifested Himself through them.
93 We are so rarely the persons we want to be. The fact is, we cannot be our real selves except through grace. It takes a state of grace for our faculties to work without hindrance, for us to be free to use what is most truly ours.
94 Everything is grace. We come upon the Truth only by surprise. We speak it aptly only because we hit on the right words. We discover ourselves only when we give ourselves. Nothing short of death can definitely unlock to us the full expanse of our soul, can place us in the only position where we can see ourselves as we really are.
95 Heaven is the re-experiencing in a blaze of light the wonderful moments of our earthly existence. At each step along the way, we are astounded by the philanthropy of God and ashamed of our past heedlessness. The greatest surprise about heaven is that there is nothing new there. When we wake up from this long sleep and all its nightmares, we shall find ourselves clasped in the same arms that have always held us. The glorious face that will beam down on us will be the one we always sensed was watching over us in our trials and sorrows, though we refused to wholly believe. At long last we will recognize the elusive but faithful Friend whose mysterious presence puzzled us.
96 If heaven is not exactly a place, the earthly world is not a very well-defined place either. If we choose earth for our final home instead of heaven, we will soon notice it has always been hell. If we situate it just below heaven, we will discover that ever since our first day here, it has been part of heaven itself.
97 If we are willing to work on earth for heaven, with an insatiable desire for love and progress, we are already in heaven. We must not long for some other world but desire to make this world other than it is. We must not stop working or hoping. Through our activity, a redemption is effected that transcends us.
98 At the moment of His ascension, when the Apostles watched Jesus rise before them, perfectly naturally and with every right, they grew aware of the true identity of their mysterious Companion. They started to understand who Jesus is, what He had done for them, and how they had received Him.
99 For three years, God had lived with them, God had eaten at their table, God had slept in their homes, God had told them all about Himself, and they had never even thanked Him. And they stood there, gazing into heaven. [Acts 1.10] Heaven had begun thirty-three years before, and they had not even noticed.

100 But angels came to shake them, to rouse them from their nostalgia and send them into the world where their Master was waiting for them. They realized, it was not too late.
Now they could do for men all that they were sorry they had not done for Christ. Together, they would renew the great adventure without end.
They were going to live the life of heaven on earth.


Tissot, Ascension of Christ

1 comment:

polycarp7 said...

This is great! Much to think about. Thank you for making this available as a booklet, too.