Orthodox Thought Control  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Metropolitan Jonah (b 1959) is the head of the Orthodox Church in America. While still the abbot of a monastery, he wrote an essay called "Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness". ++Jonah took over the reigns of a church racked by a prolonged financial scandal and is no stranger to controversy himself. However, the essay is well worth reading in full; I just hope that Jonah (a convert from Anglicanism, incidentally) is able to maintain the kind of spiritual equanimity he talks of in his new position. The excerpt comes from Fr Stephen's site (he's also an ex-Anglican), which has a link to the complete essay. A hat-tip to Bryan Owen of Creedal Christian.


One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God's grace within ourselves. It's not that God stops giving us His grace. It's that we say, "No. I don't want it". What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human being who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature. The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. "The devil made me do it" is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.

On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle--do not react--teaches us that we need to learn not to react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God's presence. If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if somebody says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts. Perhaps we're habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true--as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won't be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won't react...

A Wild and Crazy God  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The devastation in Haiti once more pushes our noses in that most intractable of theological problems: why does a loving God allow evil to exist in the world? Fr Matt Gunter suggests an approach that respects the Christian tradition without insulting our intelligence, unlike that of a certain television evangelist. Read the complete post on his site Into the Expectation.


The world is a wild place. In creating the world in which we live, God makes space for us and all creation to be free. That means God also makes space for us to make a mess of it, to make a mess of one another, to make a mess of ourselves. And it means there is space for things like cancer cells and earthquakes. It also means that the God who creates such a world must be as wild as the wildness it contains. Why does God have to make so much space for freedom? Why does God tolerate so much suffering and injustice? Why has God created such a world? If God is at the heart of it all--the Creator and Sustainer--God is not off the hook.

Which is, of course, the point of the gospel. On the cross, God himself is on the hook. In Jesus Christ, God enters into the mess that we have made of the world. And God enters into the wildness of the world God has created. On the cross, God in Christ takes on the pain and suffering of the world. The world's passion becomes Christ's passion. God transforms that passion into the promise of resurrection. There is the promise that we too will be transformed--the suffering of the world will not be lost, but gathered up and transformed in resurrection. By his wounds, we will be healed. And so will the rest of creation which eagerly awaits being set free from its bondage to futility and decay.

We live in a world of great suffering and great injustice. It can be a hard place to live. It can be a hard place to believe in God--especially the generic God of human imagination. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of our own imagining. The God we know is the God of the cross. Karl Barth wrote, "God earns the right to be God in this world on the cross". God earns the right to be God in this world--with all its pain, suffering, injustice, and tragedy--on the cross. French poet Paul Claudel wrote, "Jesus did not come to remove suffering or to explain it away. He came to fill it with his presence". Jesus does not explain suffering. He fills it with his presence and the promise of its transformation in the final resurrection of which his is the foretaste.

It does not resolve all the questions or remove all the pain, or eliminate all the anger resulting from something like the devastation in Haiti. But a God wild enough to create and sustain such a world as ours and wild enough to pour his love out on the hard wood of the cross is wild enough to absorb our questions, pain and anger.

Gregory of Nazianzus on Baptism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

For this feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we have part of a sermon on the topic by St Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390), also known as Gregory the Theologian. (Oratio 39 in sancta Lumina, 14-16. 20: PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359).


Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.

John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother's womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you; we should also add: and for you, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honor to Christ's baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exists. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received--though not in its fullness--a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Seraphim of Sarov  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today the Orthodox Church remembers Seraphim, monk of the monastery of Sarov and one of the Russian Church's greatest spiritual masters. Born in Kursk in 1754, he became a monk at the age of eighteen. After ordination he retired to a forest hermitage for a number of years. There he fed bears without any harm but had worse luck with humans; he was robbed and severely beaten by three thugs. At their trial he appealed for clemency and one of the men underwent conversion and became a monk himself. Eventually Seraphim returned to his monastery and quickly became recognized as a starets. For the rest of his life he would consult with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people every day. One of these was his disciple Motovilov, who left an account of his conversations with the monk from which the following excerpt is taken. Seraphim reposed in 1833.


However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts and vigils and prayer and almsgiving and every good deed done for Christ's sake, these are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ's sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.