Saint Sophia Cathedral
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Topic of the Week – Going Deeper Lecture – Part II
“…Look at what St. Paul says in his epistles when he’s talking about the antichrist, and the coming of the antichrist. And he says that ‘Many … will follow him because they have not the love of the truth.’ He doesn’t mean truth in ideas only or even mainly. Truth in ideas would be… the learning about God or about the reasons for being of the things of this world. Right? And that’s an important aspect of truth, absolutely, that’s part of the revelation and also part of the creation of God. We see in God his handiwork and so that leads us to God – that still is ABOUT God and not knowledge OF God. Experiential knowledge of God. And all that is good, but it’s not enough. We have to go deeper. We have to come to the knowledge of God experientially.
We have … to seek like Thomas and say ‘Now, I experientially know that He is good and He is the grace of God that I have experienced.’ That’s our goal. And even if we don’t reach degrees of the saints we see, in the lives of the saints, that’s fine. But that’s our goal and we have to go for that, and nothing less.
So, we have to love the person of Christ… Saint Gregory Palamas says famously that ‘Those who are not of the Truth are not of the Church.’ So that’s the… expression. And that’s the criteria. What does he mean ‘those who are not of the truth’? It doesn’t mean the ideology, the knowledge about God, he means this knowledge of Christ experientially. They’ve come to experience the grace of God.
So being in the church, truly being in the church, this is what it means. It means to participate in the mysteries AND to do it fruitfully so that we, day after day we see a change within us….”
Going Deeper Lecture – Part II – Fr. Peter Heers
Question: “You mentioned working in Christ and for Christ. How effectively in every day life [can we be – Ed.] working for Christ or in Christ? How do you begin?”
So what is it that the Lord said? Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! We change, we re-orient ourselves to God. We re-orient our mind, our heart, our soul, our nous and we are focused on God and that’s how we’re going to prepare for holy communion and we’re going to live in Christ and for Christ.But the for Christ, let me talk about that a minute. What does it mean to live for Christ? Well, there are many people who are Christians and they say they love Christ and I believe they really do but they still live the Church as a religion and I mean that in [the] negative sense… it can be really unprofitable. The religions of the world are essentially human expressions of desires or offerings to God…. that’s a human ascent. And that human ascent may be praiseworthy but if it’s only in the Church a human ascent and not a divine/human synergy, it’s not of the Church an expression of life in Christ.What do I mean? So if we approach, for instance, just a simple thing. We bring artoklasia… So we go on Saturday night on a feast day and we have our artoklasia. In the Greek Church it’s very, very prominent. In Greece this is especially a beloved thing and you have many women coming on the feast days or special days that they have something happen that they thank God. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. But it’s not done according to the order of the Church, and it’s really not done for Christ, it’s done because ‘I would like God to bless my child’, ‘I would like to have….’ It’s a bit superstitious. I want something. So what is religion that we don’t want to do? We don’t want to do a kind of religion. What is it? I give in order to get. I go in order to take. That is a selfishness that’s mixed in with our religiosity. We want to live for the person of Christ. For Christ. Totally for Christ without any kind of presuppositions, any kind of desires to give me something back. That’s true love.
So again, you go back to the well of knowledge and what is it? Of course the life of the Church. And prayer is the most important. You have to start to pray to God. That’s the basic, that’s the heart of our life in Christ. Continually turning to him throughout our lives, throughout our whole day with the Jesus Prayer, morning and evening, with morning and evening prayers.
Listen to the story about the life of Saint Symeon the Stylite here: Our Holy Father Symeon Stylites (459)
“…make this a goal of your life, that you’re going to have 2 books that are going to be next to your bed; the Synaxarion, (the Lives of the Saints)…. have that right there before you go to bed and next to it the Gospel and the epistles. And even if you read one line from each one of them, don’t miss a day. You cannot live a Christian life without those two things on a daily basis. Like, eating junk food all day instead of some real food. I want you to have a good diet here, to not walk away hungry….”
“…We’re provoked… the passions are provoked all the time. We fall. Right. And we get angry or we judge. What’s going on there? Well, what’s going on there is that the nous, the soul, the spirit of man was not directed and focused on God but was lost in creation or in himself and there was… that in and of itself is a sense of pride, arrogance. The only way one can get ahead of the temptation and not fall into it is if he has the remembrance of God and is in the presence of God. Because it’s impossible for us to get ahead of the lightning action of the passions.
The passions are in us and immediately they’re at work with, they’re provoked, we see some delicious food, we’ve already eaten a meal and we want to eat it. Even if we don’t eat it, we lust after it, OK? The only way that is not going to happen is not because we do something more, better and quicker but because we get out of the way and God is in us and prevents us or let’s say saves us from this inclination and we are in the grace of God. So a way to understand this is… our whole movement is actually negative. The human movement is negative and the saving grace is the presence of God. So we cannot… get ahead of the passions or get ahead of the sin ever on our own strength. So, that’s a sign that we don’t have the grace of God, at least not to the degree that we need it to become… to have him reign within us. The reign is not within us. So, prayer and watchfulness is the key. It’s at the center of everything and if that’s not happening within us… that’s why, again, the Jesus prayer is so SO important because it becomes… it works within us and His presence within us is actually what prevents us from falling into the sin.
(Fr. Theodore): So when I see the cake and I realize rationally that I’m not lusting after it like I always did, or not running over to get it even though I’m full…
(Fr. Peter) : Yes, you’ve made progress….maybe some people will think ‘well, maybe I really can’t measure the spiritual life. OK, right? I just go about my life and I hope in God.’ No, it’s not true. It’s not true. If you are living the spiritual life, you understand it. You recognize it. You recognize the passions to a certain degree. And the more you live it the more self-knowledge you obtain, the more you see and then the more the grace of God allows you to get ahead of the passions.
So, if you today are a slave to Coca Cola or you just cannot have under 4 cups of coffee every day and if you don’t get the 4th cup you’re crying… if that’s the case, and you can’t do any better, then… if however you did that a year ago but today that’s not even a thought, you don’t even think about it, I’m just giving you bad examples but you understand what I mean. Then yes, you’ve made progress.
Give Glory to God, though because it’s God’s grace within us that has allowed us to make the progress. We should see progress in our spiritual life. We should see change. We should see repentance. We should come to the knowledge that we should feel the peace of God within us and the joy of Christ within us, absolutely. This is what we’re doing. Why would anybody struggle with the spiritual life if you don’t have this as a result of the spiritual life?? Why?
(Fr. Theodore): [changes] where a person starts recognizing that things are changing in them because of their ascetic practice I guess I’m not reacting to situations that I know I would have in the past. I just am not giving in to the temptations when things happen, [there is a –Ed.] transformation.
(Fr. Peter): They key is self-condemnation or self-critique, continually looking at ourselves, not our brother. Looking inside, praying to God continually, not just looking but continually praying to God ‘I have this passion, I have this problem.’ Recognizing our weakness, our inability to do anything, really without the grace of God. That’s a continual process of prayer. I cannot do it without You, I am pathetic.
The opposite is, you know, I remember people in the village, I would be like ‘You ought to come to church, you ought to come to confession.’ They would say ‘I’m a good person, I don’t need confession.’ I was like ‘You need confession especially. If you’re telling me you don’t need to come to confession, you’re the first in line tomorrow.’ So this is the kind of thing. That’s the recognition actually that you don’t know anything. So the opposite, if you’re recognizing continually how much you need… you know the saints… the paradox of holiness is that the closer they get to God the more they see how far they are. And the farther you are from God the more you think you don’t have the need of God, it’s a paradox. So they see… So it’s kind of like we’re in darkness and we look at ourselves and of course we’re filled with all these spots that we’re wearing and we’re in a perfectly white t-shirt or something, or dress shirt, right? And it’s filled with garbage. But we’re in total darkness and we don’t see any of it. The more you approach the light the more you see all this, right? And the more… the light and everything is illumined, the more you see how much you [need God.] So there’s never a time that you’re going to say, ‘I’ve arrived.’ There’s never a time you’re going to say ‘I’ve arrived’….”
Read the entire transcript HERE.
Or listen here: https://www.slocc.com/
A Message from Maria Spanos
I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.” — Saint John of Kronstadt
“Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse