Thursday, June 21, 2012

You will be what you eat

Eating and drinking: such simple, yet vital and universal acts of humanity. We have to eat and drink. If you stop for too long you die.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He set mankind in the Paradise of Eden. There He planted the Tree of Life. It is clear from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints that mankind was intended eventually to partake of this Tree, but due to the fall this never happened; instead Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise (cf. Gen. 3: 22-21). The flaming sword then barred the way to the Tree of Life. It became impossible for mankind to eat of the Tree.

In ancient Israel the consummation, the defining action, of being an Israelite was the ability to participate in the oblations sacrificed on the altar in the Temple at Jerusalem (and before that in the Tent of Tabernacle). This participation was a defining reality; only true Hebrews communed of the sacrifices in the Temple.

Eating and drinking in Judaism and Christianity have long held a much deeper significance than simply utilitarian biological functions.

God has, since the beginning, given to those who are His a very physical way of communing with Him; even to the point of taking a basic necessity such as eating and drinking and infusing it with potent spiritual reality.

Christ clearly says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6: 54-56), and elsewhere, “Take, eat; this is My body … Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26: 26-28). Archimandrite Vasileios says, "In one pearl of the Body and Blood of Christ one can find all of Paradise. So we see that Paradise is a tasting - as we sing, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good' (at every Div. Liturgy, cf. Ps. 33/34:8, my note) - to know and understand that God is love." Love which is participatory: "Take, eat ... Take, drink."

Today Eden exists and the Tree of Life is on earth. Whoever desires may still partake of the Fruit of Paradise. By the sacrifice of the Cross, Christ has planted Himself in the midst of His Church, eternally established in the time transcending reality of His sacrifice - Holy Communion. He has given those who are His to mystically and physically partake of Him through eating and drinking, and thereby commune in the everlasting victory of the God-Man.

In Eden of old the Tree of Life was imbued with grace to make Adam and Eve “like God.” Today any who would be like God must partake of the Fruit of Christ: His Body and Blood - the Tree of Life.
Icon: The Cross as the Tree of Life
Holy Communion, participation in Christ's real Body and Blood, has been the fundamental center of true Christian living since the beginning of the Church. As of old Eden was centered on the Tree of Life, and Israel was centered on the sacrifices of the altar in Zion, so the Church of Christ is centered on the altar where the Body and Blood of Christ is made manifest. A neglect or denial of this reality is a loss of that which is essential to the Christian faith. In fact a neglect of Holy Communion is a neglect of true Life in Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.(my emphasis, Jn 6:53).

Just as for physical life God has set down that we must eat and drink, so in the spiritual life He has ordained that one must literally eat and drink of Him. There is no other way to be like God: a Christian eats in a physical manner of the Tree of Life, which is Christ Jesus.
This Tree has always been the center of Orthodox Christianity; It blossoms, and Its Divine fruit is distributed at every Divine Liturgy; It has not been hewn down, cast out, and replaced by new up to date shiny attractions.

The invitation is still goes out to every man, woman and child: come partake of the Fruit of Paradise planted in the midst of Eden.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Eyes of the Heart

The Body of Christ teaches us to cry out: “O Lord enlighten the eyes of my heart.” We pray thus because the transformation of our being is founded in the enlightenment of the eyes of our heart. With the heart we begin to behold Christ in truth, and by seeing Christ we begin to partake of Him. Spiritual sight is not a passive observation, but it is a dynamic participation. In beholding Christ we partake of Him and our souls are healed. This is the goal of the Christian life.

Our Lord has said: “What is a man profited, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his soul” (Mat. 16:26). Too many times we let the eye of the soul become darkened by the darkness of this world andthe man made philosophies that aggressively seek to take the place of our Lord Jesus Christ. We become weighed down by the cares of this world “what shall we eat, or what shall we wear,” or we become fearful to live the foolishness of the Gospel, desiring instead to look wise in the eyes of others. St. Paul tells us that the Gospel vision “is foolishness to the gentiles” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18, 23). Those whose eyes have been opened, and who gaze upon the unending day, must be prepared to suffer ridicule from those that have yet to see.

It is for spiritual blindness that Christ the Lord rebukes the pharisees, calling them blind guides. They refused to receive the revelation of God through Christ; instead, they insisted on dwelling in their own philosophies and ideas (cloaked in lofty rhetoric about God), preferring their own dark reason to the Light of revelation in Christ. By doing so they created their own god, and refused the revelation of the True God. (How many systems today are founded on mankind's preference to have a god that is suitable to his standards, opinion and likes?) To have the eyes of the heart opened there must be repentance, purification and transformation. We must be willing, as the Gospel says, to lose our life. We no longer live for ourselves but for God, and through Him for the life and salvation of the world - that all mankind may know the Truth and be set free. When our eyes are opened, the facades that we have been hiding behind are revealed. It is a hard thing to find that we may have been focusing on washing only the outside of ourselves, while inside we still hide in darkness; it is not an easy thing to come to the purifying fire of God. But, to this we are called. Only by giving our hearts to the smelter pot of the Spirit can they be made into temples of the most Holy Trinity.

When the Holy Trinity comes mankind is illumined. Jesus Christ said “I am the Light of the world He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). By gazing on Christ, the eyes of the soul are no longer distracted by this world, nor infatuated by falsehood. Yet, those who have their gaze set on this world and its desires cannot know the Holy Spirit; their eyes are not filled with the light of life. By keeping our hearts steadfast on Christ we love Him the more, we see through Him Who is Truth, and become like our Lord. Vision is transformation. Elder Porphyrios says: “Christ is Joy, the true light, happiness. Christ is hope. Our relation to Christ is love, eros, passion, enthusiasm, longing for the divine. Christ is everything. He is our love. He is the object of our desire … This is our religion: for our soul to awake and love Christ and become holy, to give herself over to divine love, and so He, too, will love her.” Spiritual sight produces Divine love, which is a deep longing for Christ Jesus. St. Silouan the Athonite speaking of love for Christ says: “My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek Him with tears. How could I do other than seek Thee, for Thou first didst seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving Thee.”
What person truly beholding the God-Man Jesus Christ cannot but love Him?

The vision of Christ is given by and in the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit sinners are made holy, cowards become brave, and the proud hard heart is turned humble, soft and pliable. It is by the Holy Spirit that all things are made new for us. In Him we truly see. Through Him we partake of the Father and the Son. In Him we are made His children by adoption. He is the seal of our salvation, the guarantee of our inheritance (cf. Eph. 1:13-14). Through Him we set our eyes on the Heavenly realm, where our true home is. Through Him we are change from glory to glory, our hearts being renewed by the uncreated energy of God. By Him we are made into the image and likeness of Christ Jesus our Lord. Speaking of the transformation of those who have the eyes of their heart opened, St Symeon the New Theologion says: “For being dead, we were raised to life; corruptible, we are made over into incorruption; mortal and we are changed over to immortality; earthly, and we are become heavenly; fleshly and possessing our birth from the flesh, we are become spiritual, are reborn and created new by the Holy Spirit.”

The goal of everything the God-Man Jesus Christ did, His incarnation, death, resurrection on the third day and ascension into heaven, is to open the eyes of our hearts that we may communion with Him, the Father and the Holy Spirit. By acquiring clear spiritual sight, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are healed and united to God. Malady is perceived; darkness is dispersed. Divine Light is the vision that makes reality evident. Christ came that mankind might have life, and life most abundantly; that we may be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, this is what having the eyes of our heart illumined means. Our hearts are to become a pure mirror reflecting the Light of Christ, thus we become lights on a hill, lamps that are burning in the darkness. Therefore, Christ Jesus tells us “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mat. 5:14).  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dying to Live

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Mt. 16:24-25). It is a natural inclination of mankind to strive and seek to live. But if our desire is set selfishly on ourselves and what we want, promoting ourselves above others, then we are in fact not living but dying. Self-centered existence is but the beginning of death. Christ Jesus tells us: it is only in losing our life that we find it. The Lord Jesus gave Himself completely for all of us, even to death on the Cross. When we endure insults from other people, when we love those who hate us, when we stop our mouths from speaking foul words, crude jokes or wrongly about others (remembering that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks); conversely when we bless those who cause us trouble and give thanks for everything, then our hearts will have welling up inside that unstoppable fountain of life, love and truth. This is the fruit of the Cross. It is not acquired easily or cheaply, for it demands our very life; and we must desire it.

If we plant the Cross in our heart, how could envy or dislike of others ever find a place in it? From the Cross Christ forgave even those who crucified Him. If the Cross becomes the center of our being then we will be given grace to endure all things with joy and love. The bitter waters which life may bring become sweet through the power of the Cross, the iron bars of hell fall and crumble, the barren plain of death becomes a fertile field bringing forth the abundant fruit of life. All the ups and downs of earthly living become one saving act, one once in a life time opportunity to become Christ-like.

The way of Christ, the way of the Cross is not the way of this fallen world. He commands us: do you wish to be first? become the last. Do wish to be strong? Become like a little child. Do you desire eternal riches? Become poor in spirit. Do you desire Heaven? Humble yourself to the earth and even to hell. Do you desire eternal joy? Endure, patiently suffering all things. Do you wish to truly live? Then lay down your life, your rights, everything that is yours, die to yourself and this world. When the Cross is set on the hill of our heart and we ascend to it willingly then we shall breath the sweet air of paradise; then the Cross becomes for us the tree of life, and not an instrument of annihilation and torture.

The Cross teaches us to simply love God, not for our own gain, not to receive something in return, not even to get to heaven, but simply because He is God - the Lover of mankind. He came and redeemed all of humanity, even while we were yet in our sins. He stood us up when we had fallen, washed us from the filth of sin and death by His very blood. He delivered us from the bonds of death and corruption. There is no other God besides Him, there is no other Redeemer of mankind. His love for us is endless and beyond words, His care for us without measure, His mercy is forever. It is through the Cross, personally experienced in our lives, that we know this to be reality. The Cross is the wellspring of our resurrection.