Jan 20, 2008

This World is Not My Home

I can’t remember if I have mentioned the journey I have been on this past year – the path from Western Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. It would take innumerable blogs to delineate the manner in which God has put together this puzzle in my life. He has used a number of books, individuals, and circumstances to lead my husband and me to a new understanding of the Christian walk through an Eastern mindset. For those of you who would enjoy reading another woman’s journey into Orthodoxy, I recommend Frederica Mathewes-Green: Frederica Mathewes-Green. For those who want a more general understanding, I suggest reading through some of the topics covered by Orthodox Wiki: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Orthodox_Christianity.

One of the joys I have discovered in this entry into Orthodoxy is learning about Christians who lived in the first hundred years after Christ. Many of them chose to spend years in remote locations in order to learn more about their faith and God Himself. They originally came from homes of wealth, impressive educational backgrounds and were disheartened with the pursuits of men and the desire for power and prestige. I had always considered such individuals as a bit crazy and self-centered who were just fed up with life and chose to just isolate themselves from humanity. How many of us would like to do the same? I would read accounts like the following and think “I cannot relate to this kind of Christianity”:

One time Macarius (at this time, a monk at the monastery) caught a thief loading his things on a donkey standing near his cell (his room). Without revealing that he was the owner of these things, the monk began to help tie up the load. Having removed himself from the world, the monk told himself, "We bring nothing at all into this world; clearly, it is not possible to take anything out from it. Blessed be the Lord for all things!"

There are amazing accounts just like this one that reveal a type of spiritual faith we are not used to in the West. These men and women understood something about the Christian faith that transcends life here on earth and is centered in heaven – daily and moment by moment. They appreciated the mystery of God and the way He is intimately involved in our lives. Their joy was not attached to things and people here on earth. Their faith was rooted, not in just the intellectual, but rather all five senses. Salvation was not limited to a one time profession of faith but a continuous transformation only possible through an intimate connection with the life of the Trinity. As a believer, one is brought into the Church, the Body of Christ (past, present and future) and a loving relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No solo Christians here! Your life is part of an eternal community that spans time and space. In addition, you have been brought into the presence of the God of the universe who hears your prayers and cares for you.

Daily, we are besieged by the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). Everything around us seems to communicate that this world is the most important thing and worth all sacrifices of time, money and energy. What are we doing daily to counterbalance this tremendous pull? What are we doing to focus on the eternal and that which has true value? Are we daily asking God to transform our lives as we pray and meditate and ask Him to make us more like His Son? Are we becoming less comfortable living in this world and viewing it as a “temporary residence”? Are we holding on to our jobs, money, and possessions, believing that they will bring fulfillment or offering them up for God to use however he chooses and to further His kingdom? Difficult choices, but, in return, you will reap the marvelous reward of the unbelievably rich life and love of the Holy Trinity.

For more on Macarius, go to: Macarius of Egypt

Jan 11, 2008

An Enlarged Heart

"Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasure less feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and loathsome passion, it comes to be but has no offspring, so that one need not say much about it. A man who has put a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, since offspring can come only from a living parent." St. John of the Ladder

Father Stephen pens a convicting essay on the issue of forgiving others. You might want to read it in its entirety - The Remembrance of Wrongs - if you're up for a bruising. I have never seen myself as a person who holds grudges against others, at least according to my definition. However, I find that God's definitions frequently differ quite a bit from mine! He doesn't stop at "do not hold grudges" but continues by insisting that we "forgive one another" and, further, to love them with a sacrificial love. When someone wrongs me, betrays my confidence, slanders my character, what is my immediate reaction? I cannot admit to thoughts of love and concern for them. Typically, such actions toward me result in mycastle1.jpg placing them on my "enemies" list and someone to avoid in the future. The drawbridge goes up and soldiers are sent to the towers to defend the castle! This is not at all the example that our Lord set before us as he hung on the cross, nor our dear brother, Stephen, while he was being stoned to death. We have never experienced such rejection and suffering, and yet their responses were the same toward their accusers: (The Lord)"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" and (Stephen)"Lord, lay not this sin to their charge". These requests came from the very depths of their hearts. Their love for others was greater than any injury or insult they could sustain.

If this makes you uncomfortable (as I am) about your present attitude toward certain individuals who have hurt you, the incorrect thing to do is to concentrate on not holding grudges and trying to be more kind to others. The piece that is missing is not a need for more forgiveness but a need for more love toward others. Love of this depth and magnitude is supernatural and can only come from God's Spirit working in and though us. We cannot produce it ourselves. We can manufacture a weak likeness to it, but it has no power, no life-changing qualities. What is needed is more humility - realizing our propensity to sin in our thoughts, words, and actions. And humility comes as we gaze upon Christ and see how spiritually needy we truly are. Others are the same. We are in the same boat. They need his grace and mercy just as much as we do. As we beseech the Lord daily to purify our hearts, we will find greater capacity to love those around us.
"The purer the heart becomes, the larger it becomes." St. John of Kronstadt