What we have…

March 17, 2008

Consider this…

Moses, who spoke with God through the burning bush, who removed his sandals on the ever-holy ground… who led the captives out of Egypt, who ascended the Mount and saw what can only be described in our frail human terminology and way of thought as the ‘back side’ of God… then descended with the Commandments… Moses, who by the power of God, parted the sea and freed the captives from Pharaoh.

He did not have what we have.

David, the Prophet, the King, who wrote most of the Psalter from which we chant and sing, who understood repentance and was considered the apple of God’s eye — David who slew Goliath, being exalted from a young shepherd boy, to Israel’s greatest King…

He did not have what we have.

King Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, who built the temple which held the Ark of the Covenant, who wrote the powerful Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes…

He did not have what we have.

John, the Baptist of the Lord, known to be the holiest man who walked the earth… who in shambles dared to touch the untouchable, in fear that he may be consumed as wheat to fire in touching God the Son! John who preached from the desert, sustaining himself only on honey on locusts, clothed in animal skins and very much dead to the world, who many believed to be the promised Messiah…

He did not have what we have.

Isaiah, the Fifth Evangelist, who saw the Lord seated high and lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died… Isaiah who felt contrition in a vision of the Lord, though he had seen the coming of divine worship, he still knew himself to be unclean. Isaiah, who was visited by the Seraphim with the burning coal, that glorious foreshadowing of the Divine Eucharist — the first to have heard “Behold, this has touched your lips…”

He did not have what we have.

Though these were undeniably holier than we, stop and consider — we have seen the fulfillment of the Promise. What Isaiah saw a foreshadowing of we have access to! Where Moses had to ascend in fear and trembling our God now descends! The path in which John preached to walk is manifest!

… How we must grieve the Lord, that we take our faith so casually.

How we must grieve Him that in the Old Testament, the days of waiting and expectation, there were those holy enough to look upon the Chalice with true, undeniable piety… reverence… Godly fear… and tears. How often we approach the Chalice with indifference, and hardened hearts, and mindlessly attend the Divine Liturgy which so many righteous died waiting for, without even knowing of it’s future revelation.

How would these Saints and righteous ones have approached the Chalice? How would they have stood within the beauty of the New Israel, God’s Church? In fear, in awe, in extreme piety and devotion, in ways that we would possibly never even come to understand… these Saints who lived before the God-man, before the Promise of Salvation had been completely made manifest, even as a Child to a Virgin. I must stop for a moment and consider Moses, how would he respond to that call, “with faith and with love come forward”? Would he be able to move at all? Would he tremble in fear, rejoice in tears and thanksgiving? That we can’t say for sure…

… but consider, if he and the others were to watch us in our stoicism, in our inattentiveness, and our hardness of heart, as we check our watches and shift our weight and worry for comfort… they would rend their garments, and sprinkle ashes on themselves. How easily we take it all for granted! We stand within the Church of Acts, of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Church of Pentecost, of the radiant and victorious martyrs! The faith which established the universe is ours!

How much do we give, how much do we strive, how much do we hurt, how much do we show that we want it? Do you know the difference between a man and a Saint? Effort. God has revealed to us the Church and the Sacraments, and the power in which His grace can turn us from men into angels… we have so much more than the Old Testament Saints. We stand on holier ground, we are beyond compare richer, we have the complete fulfillment of prophecy and vision…

… but we simply, lack, the effort.

May God visit us during this time of struggle and preparation, that when the Royal Doors are once again opened, and the King of all is invisibly escorted in… we may remember our immense blessings. May we turn from pharasaical hypocrisy, false struggle, vanity, pride, selfishness, delusion, hardness of heart, and embrace humility, patience, understanding, and the wisdom which God offers to those who seek after it. May we take it upon ourselves to break ourselves from laxity and comfort, to free ourselves from the delusion of “freedom” and become a slave in Christ, that we may finally understand what freedom truly is…

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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To suffer, is to learn joy.

November 27, 2007

The deeper sorrow carves our hearts, the more space love can fill. Often we see pain and trials at face value alone, without spirituality we fail to see their worth. Within every heartbreaking moment, every tear that falls, every time of uncertainty we’ve faced where we couldn’t see the beginning or end, there hid a blessing which helped shape our lives.

How can we learn to love selflessly if we’ve never been at the receiving end of hate? How can we relate or even begin to truly sympathize with those who suffer if we’ve not once been in their place? This is the beauty of the Passion of Christ. In every way, He suffered, thus in every way He can divinely sympathize with our own weaknesses. He is a tower and fortress to the oppressed, not only because He is our Comforter, but because He has withstood our pain. Knowing this… knowing that we as Christians should strive to emulate Christ, why do we frown in the face of trials? We should embrace them. We should rejoice in the sufferings of the Cross, knowing that sharing in those sufferings, we will also share in it’s glory, and we will understand the mysteries therein.

This world is not the place of our happiness or complete contentment. Although we are blessed beyond compare, we hardly have a taste of what’s to come. But when we begin to understand that it’s not happiness alone which satisfies, but contentment and rejoicing in every trial we’re faced with, then we can better comprehend what happiness means. I have been shaken and beaten down, I have seen things people should never see, I have felt ways people should never feel, I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt others, life has had it’s share of tears, frustration, disappointments, darkness, hopelessness, loneliness, every type of negativity possible — and it’s by these miracles, these blessings in disguise, that I am now alive. Before, I only existed. Today, I am alive. Though I still struggle and I still fall, though I haven’t seen the last of my shortcomings or beatings, though I am weak and frail and merely stumbling along that straight and narrow way, I’m alive.

Because of days and nights without a smile I can now appreciate one. Because I’ve understood how it feels to have no one I can be a greater friend. Because I’ve seen the worst in many I can appreciate the best in those who dare to show it. Because I’ve been walked out on I’ve learned to seek out a Presence that’s real. Because I was hurt to the point of holding a grudge for nearly my entire life, I finally came to understand the liberation that forgiveness holds. I smile, I hope, I dream, I dare, I forgive, I look forward, I strive for what’s good, I pick myself up when I fall, I have sight of something with meaning, and for about a year now I feel I’ve lived life with meaning…

… and I owe it all to each and every trial I’ve ever been through, because there is no way possible I could’ve appreciated any of it without them. As silver is purified in fire, so is the soul purified in trials. As a loving father chatizes a son for correction, so too does God chastize those whom He loves. We are pruned to be made fruitful, dead branches severed and cast away. It’s hard to appreciate light without first being immersed in darkness, and sometimes we fail to see the sky until we’ve been forced on our backs. Again, to share in the glory of the Cross we must also share within it’s sufferings. To the carnal mind, a trial is a setback, to the spiritual mind, a trial is an opportunity for growth.

Let’s look patiently to the Cross when we are faced with difficulties. Let’s embrace all that’s thrown at us, in silence, in peace and in prayer, asking and hoping that God gives us the grace to find growth in such an opportunity. The broad road which leads to death is found in ease and in idleness, whereas the road to life is straight and narrow — but often only as difficult as we make it to be. Don’t ask for a lighter load, ask for a stronger back. Seek opportunity in disaster. Consider those who walked the path before you. Just as St. Paul walked in blindness for a short time before his eyes were opened to the glory of God, we should expect to experience darkness before the light. Just as Job lost everything he held dear before it was returned to him three times over, we should never expect to gain anything of value without first knowing loss. As the thief on the cross entered into spiritual life only moments before his physical death, we should be exceedingly thankful that we have been given an opportunity to become alive in Christ while we are yet so blessed. Count your blessings. Our cups are running over. Our Father has met every need and will continue to. God is present. Christ is in our midst and always has been.

Be thankful for every time you were blessed enough to be hurt, and every time you will be hurt again — because pain is only a door to happiness.

“I do not feel good.”

November 13, 2007

I feel spiritually dead, the more I try to be a good person the more I fail, I just keep getting worse. I used to pray a lot but I can not even bring myself to do that anymore, I have asked God to make me a stronger person, to take up my burden, to do anything that would help me and I feel like my prayers have gone unanswered. I hate myself and am loosing hope. I am sorry for sounding so whiny but I really do not know what else to do.

Here’s a message someone had sent out, and I couldn’t help but try to reply to encourage and motivate him. Thinking back to times when I had felt just like this, and bearing in mind the jewels of wisdom from Saint Isaac the Syrian, I replied:

“His path has been trodden from the ages and from all generations by the cross and by death. How is it with you, that the afflictions on the path seem to you to be off the path? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or have you plans for devising some way of your own, and of journeying therein without suffering.”

“The path of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into Heaven by means of ease, for we know where the way of ease leads and how it ends.”

“In truth, without afflictions there is no life.”

“Know with certainty, therefore, that to stand is not within your power, nor does it pertain to your virtue, but it belongs to grace herself which carries you upon the palm of her hand, that you may not be alarmed.”

— St. Isaac the Syrian

“Friend, I know exactly how you feel. Divine services hardly take root because the heart feels like a slab of wood. You can hardly seem to pray because it seems like they don’t even escape the ceiling, and you’re speaking only to a silent room, even as your thoughts are running around in your head from lack of interest.

Thank God for this. With every hard temptation and struggle is a chance to become victorious in Christ the Lord.

You may not want to pray, but do it anyway. Prayer is askesis, exercise, and an infant isn’t born bench pressing 200 pounds. Through time and effort muscles develop and grow, through common labor they’re strengthened, through continued use they’re made strong. Prayer is the life of your soul, and until this spiritual exercise is stronger in you your spirituality is fleeting and scattered. This, coming from a man who can’t muster a single tear for his sins and loves life more than God. I condemn myself here, too, but I do know that the Fathers knew spirituality, and I wouldn’t lead you astray if I spoke boldly of what they’ve passed down to us who are unworthy.

“Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more so than the prayer of the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combating the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling bodily nature.” — Saint Isaac the Syrian

See, there is power in vigilant prayer because they’re done while denying the self. How easy it is for us to mumble our evening prayers from the comfort of our beds and pillows. Where does great prayer come from? Labor and fasting. Fasting is the crown of all virtues. It’s a mental struggle for you to pray, but for the sake of God, do it that much more fervently, even if you don’t want to. This is strengthening you. Don’t mumble along, be attentive to what you’re praying, and offer to the Lord your presence of mind and spirit with the tiredness of your body and the hunger of your stomach. This is the way of the ascetics.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on ‘R’ and grant him all that profits his soul. May my weak and scattered prayers tonight be counted acceptable among theirs.

Ever the sinner, your friend in understanding,

Isaac

Don’t be dead inside. Die to the world, and die to yourself.”

This will be a good reminder for when times like that visit me again. It’s something, how barrenness of soul leads to good things, should we learn from it. Seeing the opportunity for spiritual growth in every circumstance is a gift we should all hope, strive, and pray for. How do we grow in patience without patience wearing thin? How do we understand long-suffering until we’ve triggered our anger? How can we appreciate light without darkness, or silence without the monotonous hustle and bustle? How do we expect to be vigilant without bearing in mind that the strongest steel comes from the hottest flame?

Anger, pain, frustration, noise, disappointments, letdowns, and other such things are golden opportunities to be victorious. It’s not enough to be thankful only when the harvest is plentiful, it’s not enough to love only those who love you, it’s not enough to forgive only those who humble themselves first and admit their faults — what’s the glory in that? Bare minimums are abominable. Struggle.

Then, your vision is refined, your faith is strengthened, and your vigilance is powerful, not simply because of your feeble stirrings, but the grace of God that you have opened your heart and soul to through them.

Glory to God in all things.