Remembering The Known and Unknown

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When I logged onto Facebook a week or so ago, a memory from seven years ago shown at the top of my newsfeed. One having to do with my favorite Old Testament book–The Wisdom of Sirach.

The Wisdom of Sirach is part of the Orthodox Christian Old Testament Bible. It is as true and valid as the other Old Testament books other Christians of other traditions have. So, perhaps knowing that The Wisdom of Sirach is canonical for us Orthodox Christians, you may be able to better understand why we commemorate and remember the Saints of our Church.

It has been done since the early years of Abraham and Moses, etc. The tradition has carried on to this day in our Orthodox Churches.

Incidentally, I’m leading a women’s Bible and Orthodox book study during this Nativity Fast, in which we will begin to read and study this treasured book together.

The verses on remembering the saints before us from The Wisdom of Sirach are here:

44 Let us now praise honored men and our fathers.

2 The Lord established His great glory and majesty from the beginning through them.

3 There were those ruled in their kingdoms and were men renowned for their power, giving counsel through their understanding and proclaiming prophecies.

4 There were leaders of the people by their counsels and understanding of learning for the people. Wise in their words of instruction.

5 There were composers of music, and they set forth verse in writing.

6 Wealthy men with great resources, living in peace in their dwelling-places.

7 All these were honored in their generations and in their days were a source of boasting.

8 There were those who left behind a name that men might declare their praises.

9 There were also those whom no one remembers, who perished as if they never existed; and they died as if they had not been born. And so have their children after them.

10 Nevertheless, these were men of mercy, whose righteousness lives with God.

11 The good they did remains with their seed, and their inheritance with their children’s children.

12 Their seed stands with the covenants, and their children as well for their sake.

13 Their seed shall remain forever, and their glory will not be blotted out.

14 Their bodies were buried in peace, and their name lives to all generations.

15 Peoples will tell of their wisdom, and the assembly will proclaim their praise.

 

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The Hardest Thing In Life

silhouette of woman facing sunset

There are many difficulties and challenges in life.  Generally speaking, they are usually these:

Financial.  Loss of jobs, debt, etc.

Emotional.  The ups and downs in relationships with family and friends, bullies and adversaries.

Physical.  Illnesses.

Death.  The loss of a loved one.

School.  Working hard to get good grades and finish a degree.

Job.  Stressors in the workplace.

But, for me, none of those temporary hardships and painful experiences is as challenging or as tough as living the Christian life.

It’s a lifestyle that is worked on daily.  One of constant striving to repent, changing my thinking and actions.  It can get very exhausting and frustrating.

Being a Christian, living the life of a Christian, isn’t just believing in God and reading the Bible.  Sure, that’s necessary and included, but it requires more from us.

Cooperating with God’s grace so that we are transformed. 

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There’s a saying by St. Athanasius that says “God became man so man can become like God” (paraphrased but the gist is correct).

In order to become like God, (called theosis in Greek explained here), there are tools and practices that help us get there.

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, these tools and practices are:

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Confession, attending Church services, reading the Bible, books about the Saints, and Other spiritual material, and spiritual mindfulness/warfare.

Image result for public domain pictures of Greek Orthodox Christian Jesus Prayer Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner

All of these practices are like exercises for an athlete training for the Olympics.  With God’s help, we are training our minds, bodies, and souls, in preparation for encountering Him when we depart this life and hopefully enter into His Kingdom.

St. Paul talks about this race we must run until the finish (the end of our earthly lives).  God says that we are saved when we endure until the end.

This transformation of our minds, hearts, and bodies is a life-long journey.

All of this effort is exhausting at times, especially the mental battles via spiritual warfare.  You’re fighting with the enemy’s temptations, and your own ego/pride.

Incidentally, you have to die to live.

We died and rose with Christ in the fount at our baptism.  But being a Christian means I am to do this daily.

We as Christians, are to be continually changing, growing spiritually and holy in Christ God.

This means we are not supposed to be stagnate.

We are not supposed to be the same person we were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, a day ago.  By our cooperating with God, He is transforming us into holy beings.

Without God, we can do none of this.

In a culture that is all about ME and the EGO, it is a very difficult activity to repent daily and make the effort to cooperate with God’s grace.

It’s much easier to stay the way we are, which isn’t fully human.

Staying as we are is not how God initially made us to be in the beginning before the Fall.

Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made this transformation of union with God and holiness possible through his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, reconciling us to God the Father.

Yet, at times, I wonder why I’m doing this because I don’t see my progress. Why am I not changing?  It feels at times like I’m idling, just sitting there in my own sinful mud puddle, flailing about.

feeling-the-effects-of-chronci-stress

A few weeks ago, pondering all of this, I could understand why people become atheists.

The Christian life is tough.

You feel like running in a hamster wheel getting nowhere a lot of the times.  I teeter between hating myself and self-love/arrogance/conceit.

This perpetual battle drains you of any energy or will to want to continue.

But you know you can’t quit.

You want to be with God, you want to love Him, you want to love others.

You can’t quit because you know Him.

monk contemplating with prayer rope

There are still occasions where I’m still trying to fix myself without turning towards Him.  He is in the background instead of the foreground.

“We ourselves cannot get rid of any of our faults. He takes them away from us, one by one.” – Mother Gavrilia

I am corrupted by the culture in which I live, where I want results quickly, if not immediately, and I know intellectually that’s not how it works in the spiritual life, the life of a Christian.

“God works in eternity. Not in the hurry of our temporary life. Everything will happen as and when He wants.” – Mother Gavrilia

But this awareness needs to travel from head to heart to soul.

I get encouragement, love, and guidance from my spiritual father and love and understanding from fellow Orthodox and various Christian friends struggling along with me.  I follow the Orthodox Christian practices listed above.

If it weren’t for the Church, I’d be twisting in the wind with no roots or steady moral compass.

I know this because I was there decades ago before I was a practicing Orthodox Christian.

However, this ongoing inner struggle is a balancing act, of moderation, as always.  And for me, moderation in anything has been difficult most of my life until the past decade or so.

I was the All or Nothing sort.

I would pursue something hard and obsessively, or I’d just quit/drop the activity.  As a result, I’ve had to reign myself in when going overboard and pull myself up when apathetic or despondent.

But discovering this tendency and monitoring myself has only been possible through God’s enlightening my mind and heart, and His help.

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Christians find passages in the Scriptures and sayings by the Saints that give them hope and encouragement.

Mother Gavrilia, a nun who died in the early 1990s, is a not-yet-declared Saint, in my opinion.

I read the book about her life many years ago, and it was life-changing.  She changed my whole worldview.  I quoted her twice already in this blog post.

Here’s one of my favorites:

“God often does not desire the act but the intention. It is enough that He sees you are willing to do His command.” – Mother Gavrilia

She is saying making an effort to follow God’s Commandments daily is all He expects from us.

I cherish these words.  It washes away the frustration and weariness of my daily struggles.

“When you know Him, you want to be with Him, be like Him, learn to love Him, all people, and all of His creation.” – Me.

 

 

What The Hell

Oil-painting-The-Hell-Fresco

If you ask people what hell means to them, you’ll get a variety of answers.

Some people might say it loosely resembles the animated depictions in classic cartoons:

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Other people might say it’s a cold place far away from God:

cold dark cave

Then, there are people who think hell is a myth:

myth of hades

Lastly, a few people think Heaven and Hell are one in the same:

bright light

Personally, I see hell as the latter.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (my favorite Saint) describes it beautifully:

“I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

Why do I choose to see hell in this way?  Because it makes sense to me.  God is through all and in all, and He is a consuming fire.  God is warmth and light.  So, in understanding this, the next step in my thought process is that because of free will given to us by God, we make choices daily and therefore, I choose to follow God or reject Him.  In my decisions, I decide my fate, my own judgment.  I’m the judge of my own destiny.  God honors my choice because He can’t impede on my free will.  He can’t go against Himself, as Father Thomas Hopko of blessed memory would say.

All of this is contingent on whether I truly know God or have just been told or read about Him.

Back to God being a consuming fire.  When I repose this life, I enter into His Light because He’s everywhere.  Nowhere is He not.  And the Light is bright and warm, and it brings me joy and peace if I love Him as best as I was able to truly understand and give love to Him and others.  If I knew Him intimately and chose to sever my relationship with Him, I’d feel His Light and Joy as a burning, tormenting fire.  This is why God revealed He is eternal and why the Apostles speak of those rejecting God as being eternally tormented.  He’s always there.  God loves every human who’s ever lived and will live until His Second Coming.  He wants us to be with Him.  That’s why we were created.

I made a choice to follow Him twenty-three years ago, and I hope to continue to choose Him daily until I pass this earth and am standing before Him.  I hope to hear the glorious words akin to what God told the thief on the cross:  “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43) (NIV).

sunshine

 

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