Tag Archives: peace

Self-Emptying Peace

August 19 (O.S., August 6) 2018: 12th Sunday after Pentecost. The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:10-19
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission
Madison, WI

Glory to Jesus Christ!

On the feast of the Transfiguration, we sing that the disciples saw the divine glory “as far as they could see it.” 

One sobering implication of this is that the only limiting factor on divine grace is human freedom. Put in its starkest terms, the only constraint on God’s grace and mercy is, well, me.  St John Chrysostom makes a similar point.image

After reminding us that “the blessings and gifts of God are irrevocable” he goes on to say that because God respects human freedom, my “recalcitrance” can “frustrate even the intention of God.”

While God doesn’t change, from a human point of view, my lack of repentance can “overthrow” the mercy of God (“Homily on St Matthew,” 61.4, ACCS NT, vol Ib, p.88).

Thankfully, not only does God respects human freedom, He conforms the revelation of His love to our ability to receive it. And all this He does this, as the kontakion says, for our benefit.

This means that God in Jesus Christ makes Himself small so that in Christ, we can grow great. How do we grow in greatness? Through our proclamation of the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Preaching the Gospel needn’t mean standing on a street corner telling people about Jesus. It need not mean, in other words, telling people about Jesus. But it does mean working to bring the world around us into an ever greater conformity to the Gospel.

Doing this excludes absolutely any coercion on my part. I can’t manipulate or browbeat others into believing the Gospel. Much less can I use physical force. I can’t even use social pressure, I can’t shun those who don’t believe.

So how can I peaceably proceed?

We heard last week that in His incarnation the Son “empties Himself.” It is just this self-emptying we see when Jesus reveals His glory to Peter, James, and John. Our Lord doesn’t overwhelm His disciples.

He is able to do, or rather, not do this for two reasons.

First, He knows His disciples, their strengths, and limitations. There is nothing abstract in how Jesus relates to Peter, James, and John.

Second, Jesus is free in Himself. He isn’t moved by concern for His reputation. Much less does He suffer from those internal compulsions–that internal dialog–common to us as fallen men and women.

Of the two qualities, it is the second of these–Jesus’ freedom–that is decisive. Not only is His humanity wholly united to His divinity. The former is the vehicle (if I may speak so) for the latter.

Far from obscuring His divinity, Jesus’ humanity is the means by which His divinity is revealed. If it seems otherwise, it is because of my own sinfulness. To borrow from the troparion for the feast, in my fallen state I can’t bear the glory of His divinity as it shines through His humanity.

And so, I close my eyes to the beauty that is before me.

All this means that to grow great, to become more fully who God has created me to be, something in me needs to change. Paradoxically, I must change to become who I am.

And if I don’t? If I refuse to change? Again paradoxically, by staying the same I increasingly become who I’m not.

The change I need to make is this. I must empty myself of all those things in my life I cling to and depend upon rather than God. This is the meaning of repentance. I lay aside everything in my life that is not God.

If we stop here, the Gospel sounds monstrous. And, let’s admit it, many Christians present the Gospel is just these terms, as wholly negative. They deform the Gospel presenting as they do as a series of renunciations without any commensurate gains.

But this simply isn’t true. The loss we experience in following Christ, pale in comparison with the gains.

As we lay aside everything in our lives that isn’t God, as we empty ourselves after the example of Jesus, we discover a deeper, more enduring attachment to those things that we a moment ago surrendered.

On the other side of the self-emptying to which Christ calls us, we discover that is He, His love, that unites us to each other and to the whole creation.
Whether person or project, the tie that binds us is not our own affections.

What unites us to each other, to the work that fills our days, and to the whole human family is not our own passing thoughts and feelings but God’s grace and love for us.

Like the Transfiguration, conforming the world to the Gospel is not first and foremost a matter of changing others but changing ourselves. To borrow from the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, I must learn to see the light of Christ’s love as it shines throughout the whole of creation.

It is only illumined by the Divine Light that I am able to avoid the myriad great and small acts of violence that undermines the Gospel and instead bring the world into ever greater conformity to Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God in Jesus Christ conceals His glory, He limits Himself so that we can reveal Him as “the Radiance of the Father!”
He makes Himself small so that we can become great.

And proclaiming the Gospel? Conforming the world to Christ? These are one and the same. Two ways of saying the same thing we hear today in the Gospel.

“Lord! It is good for us to be here!”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Peace in the Midst of Conflict

Thursday, February 23 (O.S., March 8) 2018: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent; Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna († 167); New Hieromartyrs Priests Alexis, Nicholas, Michael and Martyr Sergius († 1938); Venerable John, Antiochus, Antoninus, Moses, Zebinas, Polychronius, another Moses, and Damian, Ascetics of the Syrian Deserts (5th C); Venerable Alexander the founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones” († c. 430); Venerable Gorgonia, sister of St Gregory the Theologian; Venerable Polycarp of Briansk († 1620-1621); Venerable Moses of White Lake; Venerable Damian of Esphigmenou on Mt Athos; New Venerable Martyr Damian the New of Philotheou, who suffered at Larissa (1568).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 11:10-12:2
Vespers: Genesis 7:11-8:3
Vespers: Proverbs 10:1-22

St Ignatius of Antioch wrote that just as a ship needs a rudder to arrive safely in port, Christians need the conflicts and controversies of the present time to find God. To be honest, I don’t like to hear this. It isn’t that I think the saint is wrong; he isn’t. I just want him to be wrong.

The readings though for today–as well as several passages in the New Testament (Matthew 24:19, Luke 21:23, 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 11:19 come quickly to mind)–all attest to the truth of the saint’s word. Yes, as we read in Isaiah, God will redeem His People. Along the way to be redeemed, His People will make war against their oppressors.

God’s newly redeemed will know victory but not the absence of conflict. Instead “they shall swoop down upon the shoulder of the Philistines in the west, … plunder the people of the east…. put forth their hand against Edom and Moab” and subjugate by force “the Ammonites.”

The road they take from slavery to liberation will be swept by “scorching wind.” Droughts will dry up rivers so God’s People can “cross dryshod.”

They will be saved by they will also mourn. Family and friends will be left behind since only a “remnant” will escape. And like the Hebrew Children, the path to redemption will be through the desert.

For all the hardships along the way, God’s People are thankful. They aren’t blind to the suffering around them. Much less do they deny their own suffering.  For all this they are still able to say as one People: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

I’m a fool to think redemption means that I am exempt from the consequences of sin. It’s bordering on blasphemy to think I won’t suffer because God loves me.

Look at how God saves Noah and his family. He places them in a ship tossed by storms. Everywhere they look they see death and devastation. They not only face the terrors of being on the open seas, they must labor unceasingly to care for the animals on the ark.

God doesn’t Noah or us from hardship. What he does is transform it; He uses it to for our spiritual and practical benefit.

This last point is the one Solomon makes not only in today’s reading but throughout Proverbs. Again and again, he places side by side examples of wisdom and folly, of diligence and laziness, and of righteousness and wickedness.

God doesn’t blot out the latter of these pairs in favor of the former. Instead, He contrasts the two paths to make clear our choices.

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, NKJV)

While the details of each choice can at times be complex or vague, the actual choice is stark. Will I be obedient to God or will follow my own will?

Obedience doesn’t guarantee the absence of conflict. All of today’s readings–to say nothing of centuries of Christian history–make this clear. What obedience does bring is peace in the midst of the unavoidable conflict we will encounter on the way to the Kingdom of God.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Pursue Wisdom, Find Peace

Friday, February 10, 2018 (OS: February 23): Clean Friday; Hieromartyr Charalampus, Bishop of Magnesia in Thessaly, and the Martyrs Porphyrius, Baptus and 3 Women Martyrs († 202); New Hieromartyrs Priests Peter and Valerian († 1930); Virgin-martyrs Ennatha and Valentina and Martyr Paul of Palestine († 308); Venerable Prochorus of the Kiev Caves († 1107); Holy Hierarchs of Novgorod: Joachim, Luke, Germanus, Arcadius, Gregory, Martyrius, Anthony, Basil, and Symeon; Venerable Longinus of Koryazhemka († 1540); Holy Right-Believing Great Princess Anna of Novgorod († 1056); “Fiery Appearance” Icon of the Mother of God.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 3:1-14
Vespers: Genesis 2:20-3:20
Vespers: Proverbs 3:19-34

Human beings are in a sad muddle. If only, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, the line between good and evil was drawn somewhere else than through the human heart. Life in a fallen world would easier–or at least simpler he says–“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

But it isn’t this way.

Everything in this life is a mix of “wheat and weeds” (Matthew 13:24-30). I do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons.

This moral confusion extends as well to the created world. The creation, St Paul says, is subject “to futility” because of our sinfulness. And so it “groans and labors with birth pangs” in anticipation of our final redemption (Romans 8:18-25).

We see this all laid out for us in today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The natural social hierarchy has been upended. Men of experience and power “make boys their princes” and are “ruled over” by infants. Now “the youth” are “insolent to the elder[ly],” and “the base fellow to the honorable.”

The natural human impulse to friendship has likewise been corrupted. People “oppress one another, every man his fellow and every man his neighbor.” We have lost the communion with each other that was God’s gift to us in the beginning. And so strife reigns.

And we suffer poverty. The land itself, as we read in Genesis, has lost its natural fecundity. It still produces food. But now we must contest with the ground our sinfulness has cursed; “in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you. … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”

In our desperation and loneliness, our hunger and our illness we seek out anyone we can find to lead us. Anyone, that is, but God.

But, like I said a moment ago, though fallen the world is not divided into discrete units of good and evil. Though extensive, the corruption of sin is not–and can never be–absolute.

“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth.” Even if I often have trouble seeing it, all of creation, as Solomon reminds us, reveals the wisdom and the knowledge of God.

Like taking food from the earth, acquiring “wisdom and discretion” requires effort, even a battle. But if we hold on to them we are able to “walk … securely and … not stumble.” Yes, we will be tired but when we sit to rest we “will not be afraid” and our “sleep will be sweet” even when we see the  “panic” and “the ruin of the wicked” around us.

As we grow in our confidence and trust in God fear retreats and our communion with our neighbor grows. Even if at times it will require a real sacrifice on our part, we will find joy in taking Solomon’s advice that we “not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

What good are we asked to do?

Do not plan evil against your neighbor who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.

Even in though the world is fallen, if we pursue wisdom we will find peace.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory