Orthodox Philokalia

Meditations of an Orthodox Scribe ~ Matt. 13:52

On Love & Defining Sin

Love never ends, says the Apostle; so we can be sure that it is eternal. It is the energizing force of heaven; it is God himself. Now God has no beginning, and so neither does love, since God is love. But inasmuch as God has no beginning and no end, even so love is the source, middle, and eternal goal of all existence.

Love is not only an all-pervasive energy, it is also ordered by Christ as the greatest commandment, and St. Paul says love is the fulfillment – or accomplishment – of the law. It is the whole point of the law. So we see that love not only pervades time and eternity; it is also our moral purpose.

Of course love has a subject (a lover) and an object (a beloved). True love is both a generous attitude and a gift that is given to someone. When we love things more than people, or creation more than God, we may say our love is false or misguided. So true love properly values God above all, and humans more than material goods. God is the ultimate object of our love, and likewise other humans and their well-being are the proper objects of love.

It is entirely possible, and indeed commonplace for us humans to cherish, dwell on and love lesser things before the greater things. Sin and suffering consist in misuse, or in the disordering of creation. The proper order of God’s creation has been upset through the fall. God is above man, man above creation. So God is loved and worshiped above all, then man is loved, then creation is loved and cared for by God through man. When this order is upset by angels or humans, this is when you have sin or misguided, blameworthy passion.

‘Passion’ comes from the Greek word that means suffering or illness, and can refer to an illness of soul or body. I am particularly fond of how St. Maximus the Confessor uses this word. He says, “A blameworthy passion is a movement of the soul contrary to nature” – in other words, outside of the purpose for which the soul was created. Likewise, he says “The blameworthy passion of love engrosses the mind in material things. The praiseworthy passion of love binds it even to divine things.” Maximus articulates the proper direction of our capacity to love, not unlike St. Augustine’s concept of “rightly ordered love.” Augustine basically asserts that sin is not the opposite of virtue, but the unfortunate disorganizing of our loves into misplaced priorities.

This can be a helpful corrective to a view of sin which locates the attention upon violation of commandments. Indeed, it is true that God gave us commandments for our benefit, and the church fathers would have us see the commandments as a real gift from God completely and utterly conducive and correlative to our original nature. In other words, when God commanded that the first man and woman not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was completely in accord or agreement with their natural dependence upon God and his Word to have faith in his commandment. St. Theophan the Recluse says obedience to the commandments of God places the natural faculties of humans in complete accordance with the original purpose and design with which we were created by God. It was when the crafty serpent challenged the Word of God in the mind of the humans, “Did God really say . . . ?” that they cast doubt upon their memory of God’s commandment. St. Thalassios the Libyan locates the beginning of vice within forgetfulness and ignorance, and this is what we see in the beginning of Genesis, from when the humans doubt the command of God, then disobey, and then are cast out of the garden of Eden to work the soil. After that, with their descendants upon the earth we are told that forgetfulness of God after the first few generations prevails along with lawlessness.

So sin is not only disordered love, a living outside of God’s commandments for which we were created, but it is also forgetfulness of God. I would also like to point out another primary meaning of the word sin – in Greek hamartia – to “miss the mark”. St. Nikodimos of Athos says, “Sin means failure, because it causes the one who commits it to fail to achieve the purpose for which he was created by God.” And we know from St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians that we are to “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” In Orthodoxy sin is not so much seen as a violation of a rule, or a transgression, though it is certainly that, but as failure to become what we were created to become in the first place, which divine image Christ has come to restore in us.

So what sort of hope ought this engender within us? Let me proffer a few suggestions:

  1. If sin is misdirected love, or disordered love, loving things at the wrong time, essentially idolatry, it means that we merely need to re-organize our priorities, perhaps. We ought to turn to Christ and ask him to help us redeem the time, and focus on loving God and our neighbor, more than stuff.
  2. As regards commandments, we ought to remember that a commandment is a word of God, and Jesus is the original, ultimate and final Word of God. Christ revealed the true way of fulfilling the law. Perhaps we ought to look again at the words of Christ, and endeavor to fulfill his commands, by his mercy, trusting in his Grace, with the understanding that to do the commandments is to inhabit the Word of God, and to participate in it.
  3. As we remember God and Christ’s commandments, we will hopefully move from forgetfulness of God to the remembrance of God. The Jesus Prayer can also help, to remember the Name of Jesus. As we do this, we hope with God’s help and grace through the sacraments through the church to slowly become what we were created to be – human, lowly, dignified creatures in communion with the loving Creator Trinity who made us.

 

 

Harmonious Unity of Love

5. Love alone harmoniously joins all created things with God and with each other.

~ St. Thalassios the Libyan

From “On Love, Self-Control and Life in accordance with the Intellect” written for Paul the Presbyter, First Century

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Thoughts Unworthy of Love

2. An intellect that has acquired spiritual love does not have thoughts unworthy of this love about anyone.

~ St. Thalassios the Libyan

From “On Love, Self-Control and Life in accordance with the Intellect” written for Paul the Presbyter, First Century

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Longing for God

  1. An all-embracing and intense longing for God binds those who experience it both to God and to one another.

~ St. Thalassios the Libyan

From “On Love, Self-Control and Life in accordance with the Intellect” written for Paul the Presbyter, First Century

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Freedom from Passions

93. If you want to be free of all the passions, practise self-control, love and prayer.

~ St. Thalassios the Libyan

From “On Love, Self-Control and Life in accordance with the Intellect” written for Paul the Presbyter, First Century

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Remedies for Anger and Sorrow

Love of being dishonored is a cure for anger. And the singing of hymns, the display of compassion, and poverty are quenchers of sorrow.

~ St. John Climacus

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Baptism: a Meditation on Anecdotes.

As a matter of disclosure, before I became Orthodox by chrismation and communion, I had been born and raised in The Wesleyan Church, in fact I was baptized the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit by a Wesleyan Pastor, and since the age of 14 I was a full covenant member of The Wesleyan Church. Aside from the fact that The Wesleyan Church allows the baptism of infants, its baptismal practice is essentially believer’s baptism after the manner of Baptist churches.

With regard to my own baptism, I remember taking traditional baptismal vows according to the Anglican/Roman tradition. What stands out to me about my own baptism is that as I look back, I realize that my own baptism marks for me the point at which I felt like I was truly a Christian. I no longer felt the need to ask Jesus into my heart again and again to no apparent avail or change in my life. I did, in fact, until I was baptized fear for my salvation and “prayed the sinners prayer” somewhere between 5-10 times as a child, just to be sure I wouldn’t go to hell. But it never seemed to make much of a difference. While I cannot distinctly remember how I felt after being baptized, what stands out to me is I felt that I was a Christian.

Now we genuinely admit that for The Wesleyan Church, as for a great number of other Protestant denominations, baptism is not believed to have any material or spiritual power or efficacy for the baptized. It is taught and promoted as a means of testimony whereby faithful profess their faith. This is not 100% wrong, because even in the early church and today when one is baptized one must make profession of faith and say the Creed. But we would presently hold as Orthodox have for centuries that Baptism is the “bath of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), and the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It is primarily the action of God whereby we are buried with Christ into his death, and raised to new life unto his resurrection.

A number of years ago, before I was Orthodox but while I was already persuaded of Baptismal regeneration, I noticed something very unique, inspiring and promising. I noticed that baptismal candidates prior to their baptisms, while professing their faith ad libitum, tend to use language about baptism as if they are expecting God to do something in them and for them and to them through being baptized – whether it be forgiveness of sins, new birth, or salvation in general – I’ve witnessed and heard a great number of people profess faith in baptism’s power at the hands of ministers who deny its power. It is to the chagrin and shame of Christian ministers that their baptismal candidates believe in baptism more than they do. In other words, Christian denominations are attempting to maintain through (erroneous) doctrine, that baptism is only an outward sign and has no inner power. But those coming to baptism tend to believe differently.

Now, I cannot quote or cite actual examples. But I would encourage those who might witness Protestant baptisms to listen closely to what the candidates say about baptism directly prior to it. Time and time again, I’ve heard people humbly, powerfully and innocently confess one baptism for the remission of sins in the midst of traditions that deny this tenet of faith.

The Greatness of Baptism

Great is the baptism that lies before you: the ransom of captives, the forgiveness of sins, the death of sin, the regeneration of the soul, the garment of light, the holy perpetual seal, a chariot to heaven, the delight of paradise, a welcome into the kingdom, the gift of adoption.

~ St. Cyril of Jerusalem

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A Brief Apologetic for Orthodoxy in Light of Recent Negative Publicity

Quite recently Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Man, joined the Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday just a few weeks ago.

To be quite honest I had never heard of Hank before, but I was grateful to learn that someone else had found their home within Orthodoxy. I’m not one to put too much stock in the importance or publicity of well-renowned folks joining my religious group; much less would I tout any popular conversions as even good publicity – something which the past few weeks have proved to the contrary. Since his ‘conversion’ to the Orthodox Church, Hank Hanegraaff has been accused by folks online for “leaving the Christian faith,” and other such nonsense.

In particular, Ed Stetzer wrote a piece in Christianity Today commenting on the phenomenon of Evangelicals converting to Orthodoxy. And more recently in Pulpit and Pen, Jeff Maples made a poor attempt at polemicizing the Orthodox Church after he visited our Easter/Pascha service. I am not ambitious enough to here go line by line, point by point and mount a defense against these posts. However, I do want to say something in response, so I would like to offer the following points as humble observations:

  1. Hank Hanegraaff has himself said that he has not really changed or altered his faith in joining Orthodoxy. While it may be true that Orthodox Ecclesiology differs greatly from that of Evangelicalism, it is true that many Evangelicals join the Orthodox Church because they find it proclaiming the same faith that they themselves have believed, and that the ancient church has preached for 2,000 years. For many, it is described as a coming home precisely because faithful folks feel and believe they have arrived at the living, historical source of the faith they already have.
  2. I can sympathize with folks who think Orthodoxy to be a strange cult. For people who are used to white-washed walls and austere sanctuaries, Orthodoxy can be a striking contrast in worship style.But I would like to make a simple observation in this regard: The more austere, white-washed sanctuary is a product of the Protestant Reformation. We have archaeological evidence that ancient house churches and synagogues were covered with frescoes as early as the mid-third century. So what really is strange and new is Protestant worship (though not totally without connection to ancient worship, nor without merit), not ancient, liturgical Orthodox worship.
  3. The piece in Pulpit and Pen is really very sad. The author makes a long list of poor bullet points with unfounded accusations against the Orthodox Church. It seems clear to me that this person has no sense of a historical perspective, and is very myopic.
  4. For my fourth and last point I merely want to comment and elaborate on my first point: Orthodoxy is not a new religion, it is not an outdated religion. It is the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. It may be true that Orthodoxy has its own unique liturgical character, but that is to its own credit, not demerit. People joining Orthodoxy are looking for a theological, liturgical and ecclesiastical home, somewhere they can grow deeply in Christ, and become the best versions of themselves – selfless, God-centered creatures grounded in humility and pouring forth love. So it is really offensive, and quite sad, when people say things like “they have left the Christian faith.” Friends, the Christian faith is deep and wide, and it takes a lot of hard work to actually leave it. What I myself have found to be true is a timeless faith and a liturgical mystery whereby I encounter the living God, the burning coal from the altar, and wings by which my soul might fly upward to the Holy, Holy, Holy.

Anger

19. The same abba said, ‘A man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God.’

~ Abba Agathon

from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

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