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Communing Is More than Just the Eucharist

There is something fascinating to me about the moments that Jesus prays. It really challenges me to reevaluate what I think prayer is. What runs through my head is this simple question: Jesus is God...what is he praying about? We see one of these passages in Matthew 14.  At the first of this chapter Jesus finds out that Herod has killed John the Baptist. Jesus's reaction is to go out to the desert places to pray, but as often happens, the multitudes follow him. He doesn't send them away so he can pray, but rather, he has compassion on them he sees their needs, that they have been following him for three days with no food, and he feeds all 5,000 of them.  Then, he sends away the disciples, he sends away the multitude, and finally, he prays. So, what or how does God pray to God? A quote about prayer on this year's St. Tikhon Monastery wall calendar seems to help explain this a little. Two or three months back, it had a quote from St. John Climacus: "prayer is converse an

Thousands around You Will Be Saved

For those of us coming from a Protestant background, especially from the "Evangelical" realm, we might be tempted to think of "saved" as 'made it into heaven', and thus accidentally read into St. Seraphim's saying a meaning something to the effect of, '...and thousands of people around you will accept Christ and become Christians as a result'. Though that meaning might be included in what St. Seraphim meant, it certainly is not the primary meaning, because that is not a traditionally Christian understanding of the word "saved". Without delving into the deep end of trying to fully understand "saved" in a more Orthodox manner, I will try to hone in on the one important aspect I see at work, to help us understand this quote. Think of the many places in the New Testament which speak of those "being saved"...well, that is not totally fair, because our translations do not always make that so clear in English. Search aroun

On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

St. Seraphim’s guidance in the spiritual life was focused on acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit, and, as you will see, his use of the word “acquire”, a money and business term, is no accident: "Prayer, fasting, vigil, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God." "'Acquiring is the same as obtaining,' he replied to me. 'You understand, of course, what acquiring money means. Acquiring the Spirit of God is exactly the same. You know well what it means in a worldly sense, your godliness, to acquire. The aim of life of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or make money, and for the nobility it is in addition to receive honors, distinctions, and other rewards for their services to the government. The acquisition of God's

St. Seraphim: Like the Fathers of Old

As mentioned in the first of these posts about St. Seraphim, this may feel like a rabbit trail, but after establishing the authenticity of St. Seraphim's message and its connection to the fathers of old (in this post), then moving on to his primary teaching about the spiritual life (in the next post), we will finally be able to accept the understanding of his most famous quote for what it is: a condensed version of everything he lived and taught. The Little Russian Philokalia, in covering the life and teachings of St. Seraphim of Sarov, reminds us that “there is nothing whatever that is new in the spiritual face of St. Seraphim; all is from the Holy Fathers, of whom he is a most faithful disciple, appearing in the latter times like some great desert father of antiquity, like a new St. Macarius the Great.” The author goes on to say: "His spiritual instructions like his celebrated conversation with Motovilov on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit contain no new teaching, but sim

A Silent and Secluded Evangelism?

These different variations of St. Seraphim's famous quote can carry slightly different emphases, but there seems to be another issue with this quote and how it challenges our understanding of salvation and “missions” in the Orthodox Church. There seems to be a thread of anti-monastic sentiment among Orthodox Christians today, as if the monastic life is something different than “normal” Christian life, and especially seeing monastics as anti-evangelical. This is theologically problematic, to be sure, but here, I will focus only on the desired re-interpretation of St. Seraphim’s quote. One respected source of Orthodox missions thinking today, a statement I heard with my own ears, suggested that Frederica Mathewes-Green was right in suggesting we have a misunderstanding of this quote, that is, the monk going out in the “desert” does not “save” anybody. I could not confirm any place that Frederica Mathewes-Green suggested this. Instead, she writes: "Being a saint is not a private

A Light unto the World

One of the most common patron saints American converts choose is St. Seraphim of Sarov. He has an obvious appeal. He, somehow, sums up Americans’ desire for conservative and traditional Christianity, while living out a beautifully “wild” and zealous life. He personifies the depths of spiritual life that so many of us yearn to possess. What more could we say about St. Seraphim than what our own enlightened, clairvoyant, and wonderworking San Franciscan saint, John Maximovitch, said of him in a homily, when he was still Hieromonk John, a seminary teacher in Serbia: "Thus, despite the changes that have taken place in the world, the memory of St. Seraphim not only does not fade, but it remains a lamp that shines ever brighter to humanity. … He was wholly occupied with the acquisition of 'the one thing needful'. ...The Lord gave us to see Himself in those like unto Him, in His saints. And so, one of these likenesses was St. Seraphim. In him we see restored human nature, freed

What to Take Away from the Teachings of the Cappadocians

The Cappodocians, as well as St. Athanasius before them, had to respond to heretical teachings. As a result, their language was necessarily limited to refutation. That does not leave us with a clear affirmation of how to proceed toward the knowledge of God. Basil’s scriptural references, as well as the homilies and other non-polemical writings from Athanasius, the other Cappadocians, and Chrysostom, can give us a fuller picture, using more affirmative language, of how we can begin to know God. The Apostle Peter, at the end of his second epistle, leaves us with a very clear and affirmative charge to continue on into the depths of the knowledge of God: You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We Are Made Partakers of the Divine Nature

Then, 2 Peter starts off running: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature (ἵνα διὰ τούτων γένησθε θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως), having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Not only is he speaking of partaking of the divine nature, but clearly connecting that with a practical, lived-out life of virtue, “escaping corruption”. Throughout Peter’s epistles, he develops this lived knowledge of God, which is important to understand when reading the Cappadocians in their response to Eunomius. Peter continues, For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ —importantly, immediately

The Connection between Knowing God and Our Own Works

The Apostle Peter also builds a connection between our own works and the revelation of Christ: rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts , as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct . Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. Here, St. Peter brings up the corruptible/incorruptible theme, which in context, when taking both his epistles together, is referring to the life in Christ, the process of uniting ourselves to him, which ultimately is knowing God. And again, we see St. Athanasius making the connection between our own works and participation in God, and like the apostle, us

But How Do We Come to Know God? Works.

In reading all these responses to specific theological problems, we all too easily lose our way trying to understand how much of God we will know and how the whole process works. St. Gregory the Theologian brings us back to the right path: “What God is in nature and essence, ... In my opinion it will be discovered when that within us which is godlike and divine, I mean our mind (νοῦν) and reason (λόγον), shall have mingled with its Like, and the image shall have ascended to the Archetype, of which it has now the desire.” In other words, he is saying, ‘I think we will find that out some day’. However, immediately following those words, he warns that this way of thinking, “as it seems to me, is altogether philosophical speculation ” (Καὶ τοῦτο εἶναί μοι δοκεῖ τὸ πάνυ φιλοσοφούμενον, ἐπιγνώσεσθαί ποτε ἡμᾶς, ὅςον ἐγνώσμευα). The Cappadocians, when speaking affirmatively of the life in Christ and knowing him, see no disconnection in their teaching from that of the Gospels, the Apostles, or