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God’s ongoing struggle for us

I invite you to read an exceptional explanation by Father Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra of the next verse of the Holy Scripture:

“After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs…” (Acts 1:3)

The Evangelist presents us directly all the ways and testimonies of life that God gave to the human being. And what is it that He did not do? If I could express it at a human level, there is only one issue that occupies God’s thought: How to make man understand and believe and remember that He is alive, that He lives connected with the human being.

That a man lives for God and to suffer to be alive in God, is a thing I can understand. But God’s love makes God to see Himself connected with the lowest person and to arrange His plans before the foundation of the world  (Eph. 1:3-6) and to schedule, we could say, Himself and to organize everything, so that the Infinite God Himself to fit in the human being’s measures.

And we see God stooping down to create man, so that as soon as the first man would open his eyes to see God; the God Who stooped down and created him “from the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). Opening his eyes, the first man created of the ground, who was the entire human nature, at the first opening of his eyes, sees God, Who takes dust of the ground and makes it man and, in the Holy Spirit, comes and gives man breath, breathing upon him; breathing into his nostrils and in his dead sleeping soul, in his earthly body, and gives him life!

            As the child that sleeps and awakes and looks at his father, who hugs and caresses him or kisses him with affection, with delight and feels this earthly affection, exactly so was the man created so that, from the first opening of his eyes, he would not see anything else but God! But he was in the middle of a wonderful world! This world had various gardens, all kinds of plants, all kind of animals, all kind of stars, all kind of angels. And yet, He did not create him to see anything else, so He would see the One that created this creation of His hands, the One that breathed in his nostrils that closely! That close is Christ! Because the Scripture says: “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7) “A living being” because He approached him. As your person comes next to me, so that you can kiss me, or blow into my face and my life would not get out, so close did God come to man.

            See the effort of God to make Himself understood and received by man.

            Next, God listens to man’s footsteps, but the man listens as well, at dusk and in the moments of sin, the footsteps of God (Gen. 3:8), to remember him, what else, but that God is alive and that, in that day of falling, he, the man, was dead. “Do you hear me walking? I am alive. What are you? You are dead, because you separated from Me.” So that you may understand what I have told you: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen 2:17).

            What does this mean? “I walk, but you cannot walk no more, even if you would live a thousand years. You die, because you left Me. I, however, am alive, I walk next to you.” He listens to his footsteps and sees him, and asks him and tells him: “Adam, Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). The movement, the hearing, this hearing, this movement, this word are the testimony of divinity who wants to be received; of God being alive, and therefore, can be received by the human nature.

            And yet, when he receives the first good news of salvation from God(Gen 3:15), when he was drove off as punishment and when God supports him again when he sins, helps him when he raises, man – who God raised yet even more – nevertheless, man hardens himself. And God searches once again thousands of ways to be able to show him His Life and that He is so close to him, so close that the man can hear and feel closely God’s breath. And God imagines tens of thousands of ways to do this.

            One way of God’s descending we could see in the Psalms. You remember that beautiful image of Christ who bends towards the river that flows to drink water, as all the people bend (Ps. 110, 7). What does this thing mean? That “even if you forgave Me, I, the Heavenly God, bend Myself like you bend, I share your life, so that you can share Mine. I work as you work, to show you that I make Myself like you, so that you can make yourself like Me. So, do you get tired on your way? I am tired Myself. Do you thirsty? I thirsty. Do you bend, to drink water? I bend Myself. Like you bend, so do I bend Myself. I humble Myself, I empty Myself and drink Myself and refresh Myself as well. And what do you do and I don’t do? Therefore, if I am so close to you and bend to you, indeed you cannot grasp Me? Aren’t you able to seize Me? Aren’t you able to hold Me? Aren’t you able to make Me forever yours? Aren’t you able not to lose Me? Aren’t you able not to see Me in front of you? Since we bend together towards the same spring, towards the same water…We make ourselves both deprived. We make ourselves both poor. I, the wealthy One, I, the One Who lacks nothing, I, the tireless One, I, Who with a single view embrace the world, come and sneak in the tiny place where you sit and walk in your footsteps. What more do you want? This much I humbled Myself!”.

You see, He does all these to show us His descent, his alikeness, His life alike ours, so that we can understand it and rejoice at it.

            And still, the man hardens! God comes as a breath and gives grace to the prophets (1Kings 19:12). And he forgot about God. God kills the false prophets (1Kings 18:40; 2Kings 1:10). And he forgot about God. God comes and gives him wonderful triumphs (Exod. 17: 9-13; Josh. 6:12). And he forgot about the Victorious One, forgot about God, Who gave him the triumph. God forgives –  Israel – their sins and they rejoice at forgiving, but then go on and sin again (Judg. 2:11; 4:1-3) and forget the One that forgave them. He drives them through the desert (Exod. 13:18); in the desert He gives them on one day bread (Exod. 16:14), on another water out of the dry rock (Exod. 17:3), He gives them quails (Exod. 16:13), He gives them anything, bearing witness by all these to His life that wants to be shared; finally, they remain again without God and again forget Him and again cannot do anything.

            They reach the foot of a high mountain, hear thunders, see lightning, hear the words that God speaks to Moses (Exod. 19: 16-19), know that Moses climbed up there because he was called after he fastened for forty days and forty nights (Exod. 24:18) and, after so many things, he told them: “I am going to bring you the Law, I am going to bring you the Lord”; and they were afraid, they trembled, they saw the mountain smoking – all symbols of the presence of God – and they left God, forgot God and, without having God, they made God a calf (Exod. 32:1)! They made another false God! Why? Because they cannot live without God. Because man, as I was saying, was made only to live. And he does not live but by deifying; only by forging a God or having a God, only deified, only by living in God.

            Why does man build a calf? Because this sin of his, this delusion of his, this departing of him from God bears witness to the fact that man cannot live without God. Therefore, he has nothing. Even by making a calf, the man expresses this longing after Divinity, that he can only live as a god. And yet, he builds a calf and leaves the True God. And Gods bends once more! He forgives him again. Is struggling to find the way for the human to finally become eternally His, the Visible One, the eternally Touched One. And He finds this ways:

“During the day the desert burns you and you want cooling. Very well! I make Myself a cloud (Exod. 13: 21-22), that will cool you and light you so that you know that I am your coolness and that which interposes between you and the burning sun.

During the night you want light! By night I make Myself light for you. I make Myself your pillar of fire (Exod. 13: 21-22). And consequently, seeing light at night to know that I am this light. It is the reflection of My Glory.

At day you have the cloud, at night the pillar of fire. God is endlessly present. You move forward, I rise up and stay in front of you so that you can see Me. You stop, I descend and sit in front of you so that you can see Me. You come in front of the tent of meeting, there I am, there you hear Me. You come to your high priest, there are the symbols of my presence. No matter where you go.”

God humbles Himself, emptied – all these are ‘emptyings’ [Translator’s Note: kenosis (from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσις, kénōsis)] of God – He comes to resemble even the cloud, even the pillar of fire, or any other thing that exists.

Think about God’s struggle, at God’s fight, but also about God’s longsuffering, at God’s  wisdom and almightiness to become eventually everything, to sneak into everything, to blend into everything: the cloud, the pillar, our sins, our mountains, our yells, into everything, so that He can be everywhere. And since I know that I cannot live without Him, then to endlessly live with Him.

A convincing proof of His life is the pillar. A convincing proof is the cloud. A convincing proof is the high priest. A convincing proof is the tent of meeting. “By many convincing proofs.” An entire eternity, God did not do anything else but present Himself alive “by many convincing proofs”. Alive in connection with man, alive so that I can grasp Him, so much alive that my life would never separate from Him.

You do now understand what “by many convincing proofs” means. You do understand God’s struggle but, at the same time, our own hardening as well, our weakness, our denial. Like someone would come and put food into your mouth but you close it, like someone would come to open your eyes, so that you can see, but you close them so that you would never learn to see, this is the man and that is God. A fight. Instead of fighting to know Him, to love Him and to get God, I fight with God that hunts me. He makes me a relentlessly chased game so that I can understand sometime this thing, and to return and see Him and to make my Hunter rejoice, the One that is so much mine.

(Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

           Translated by Radu Iacob

Do you want to stop suffering?

When I’ve read some while ago what Our Lord Christ said: ‘Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy’ (Mt. 5, 7), I haven’t understood very well what He meant. I was mainly thinking that those who would help the poor and would always be charitable would be shown mercy by God on Judgement Day, when they will enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Now I also understand something different besides this promise.

I understand that when I show mercy to someone poor and I help them, then God shows mercy to me as well and He helps me. I also understand that when I am generous to the wretched then God is also generous to me and He doesn’t punish me when I do wrong, instead He forgives me.

Just like I take pity on someone when I see them suffering and I help them, God takes pity on me when I do wrong and He doesn’t punish me. When I’ve been merciful to others, God did not delay in being merciful to me as well.

Some while ago I was thinking how great it would be to stop suffering, to stop having troubles and having a constantly happy life. It seems rather impossible, here on Earth. But I think that this is mostly possible.

Many times I was not punished by God, although I deserved it awfully. I haven’t received troubles from God although I should have. I have never suffered too deeply. I can’t say I’ve had troubles, but only sorrows. I’ve received so much from God and for that I’ve tried to help others the way I could and God has taken pity on me and hasn’t punished me too often, He hasn’t given me suffering, but He forgave me and made me realize that I’ve done wrong.

I think that those who don’t want to suffer must help others who are suffering. Whoever relieves someone’s suffering (hunger, thirst, etc.) will also be kept from suffering by God Who will always watch upon them.

‘Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’ (Luke 6, 30-33)

 

My Yoke Is Easy and My Burden Is Light

You ask: ‘O, Lord, our Lord, is it really easy to be persecuted? Is it really easy to go through the narrow door and down the stony path?’ You ask with confusion, perhaps doubt sneaks into your hearts: ‘Is Christ’s yoke really easy?‘ And I am telling you: Yes, yes! It is easy, extremely easy. But why easy? Why is it easy to follow Him upon the thorny path? Because you will not be alone, exhausted, but Christ Himself will be accompanying you; because His endless Grace will strengthen your force when you struggle under His yoke, under His burden, because He Himself will support you, will help you to carry this burden, this cross.

I am speaking to you not only out of reason, but of my own experience – for I have to confess that when I was treading a very difficult path, when I was carrying Christ’s heavy burden, it was not at all heavy and that path was a path filled with joy, because I could really feel that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was walking by my side and supported my burden and my cross. It was a heavy burden that one, but I recall it as a bright joy, as a great mercy from God – because God’s Grace pours down richly on anyone carrying Christ’s burden. This is because Christ’s burden is inseparable from Christ’s Grace, because Christ does not let alone those who have lifted up the cross and follow Him, He does not leave them without His support, but He walks by their side, He bears their cross, He strengthens them with His Grace.

Remember His holy words, for great truth lies within: My yoke is easy and My burden is light. All of you who have believed in Him are called by Christ to follow Him by lifting up His burden, His yoke. Therefore, do not be afraid, do follow Him, follow Him boldly. Do not be afraid of the terrors the devil threatens you with, which strives to turn you away from walking this path. Spit at the devil, chase him away with Christ’s Cross, with His Name. Lift up your eyes to the heavens and you will see the Lord Jesus Christ Himself walking by your side, relieving your yoke and your burden. Amen.

Homily of January 28, 1951 of Saint Hierarch Luke of Crimea

The Holy Hierarch Luke of Crimea (1877 – 1961) was ordained a priest at mature age in full Bolshevik terror, having been already highly esteemed as a surgeon for his discoveries. A widower with four children, despite communist threats, he insists on appearing at conferences and in the operating theatre with his cassock on. He is marginalized and exiled to the Soviet gulag for his unwavering faithfulness. He becomes a bishop, remaining at the same time one of the greatest surgeons of his time. For his spirit of self-sacrifice in caring for the suffering, for his confessing of the true faith in times of persecution and for the wonders he worked even during his earthly life, Saint Luke was canonized by The Russian Orthodox Church.

Translated by Claudia

Why does the human being still bear the consequences of the ancestral sin?

Sorin, one of the writers on our site asked me the following:

“I’d like to ask you a dogmatic question: if Christ’s Sacrifice erased the ancestral sin, how do the Church inviereaFathers explain the fact that the woman still gives birth to children in pain, the man still gains his bread in the sweat of his face and the nature is still decayed?”

Because I didn’t have a good answer, I asked father Dorin Picioruş to help us. Here is the aswer of his holiness, very conclusive and precise:

“Christology, the talk about God, about His Person and work, is not an isolated chapter, but a entirety itself, integrated in an even bigger entirety, meaning a holistic and complete theological understanding.

Theologically speaking, the question is wrong from the very beginning, because it asks about the Sacrifice and not about Lord’s person, about the Sacrificed, as if this fact could be separated of His person. Or can’t see it alive, direct and complex, that the one Who is sacrificing is Christ Himself, Who not only is sacrificing Himself for us, but He also deified His assumed humanly kind, through every single moment of His life, continuously.

My dear ones, not the Cross itself or His death on the cross have abolished sin in the sinless humanly nature of Christ, but every single moment of His life was a denial of the sin, therefore a victory over sin in His humanity.

Yes, His sacrifice was a crucial and dramatic moment, but it defeated sin. But this moment must not be individualized or separated from His life in its wholeness before and after His death and resurrection.

Because absolutizing the Cross, like the protestants did, only idealizes His death for us, making it the only moment of the redemption of the humanity and hiding the hypostatical truth, that each step of His life, from His conception to His Ascension to the Heavens are victorious steps over sin and, therefore, over death and the devil.

So, any sin has been abolished in Lord’s person through the continuous and the most divine deification of His human kind, which was a constant denial and victory over sin. And the deification of His human kind is the new being, it’s the pattern for how it looks and how it should look the divine-human man, the god by grace, the Saint.

But the Saint’s holiness is not a moral issue, but an ontological one. Just as it was for Lord. For Lord not only because He obeyed Father and died on the Cross for us, has saved and redeemed us, but because He was continuously, moment by moment obedient to Father and in a constant intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit, both in human and divine nature.

The holiness is ontological for it’s an ascesis in which you live constantly and consciously the joy of life in the grace of the Holy Trinity. It is also an inside reality, the holiness, that means the grace of The Holy Trinity, which outflows from the soul and you can see it onto the body as well. The body deifies, it transforms…but in the end it still dies.

And the Christian woman, although baptized, still faces the pains of labour, but she is helped and full of grace, the grace that makes her strong and fills her with the Holy Spirit. The man, as well, who wearies himself, both working but also in his ascension, because God’s life, that means His grace, springs into him.

Also the nature is sanctified by the prayers and the services of the Church. It is prepared, like a dough, to yeast. And when the Groom of the Church will come everything will be ready for the great wedding, the disclosure of His glory, of His power, of His love, of His omniscience and of His almighty beauty.

Although now we live in the body, which, apparently, has only the post-lapsarian (lapsarian=the fall of man at the beginning) attributes and it needs food, drink, sleep, making love, creation, work, if we are Christ’s mystic members, deified and which constantly deify, deep inside our persons, who look the same with the ones who are outside the Church, in these persons the greatness of deification happens.

That’s why some people stink after their death, but others smell like high-priced chrism. If you put the Saint next to others, while they are still alive, to many people, they don’t seem to be very different. But if you look at them deep inside they are fundamentally different, for their lives are hidden in the life of God, in the uninterrupted relationship with God and, when He will come, we will show our true person.

We can also feel in the holy and honourable relics of the Saints, who they really are and what will they be, they who keep raising in holiness into His Kingdom, when Lord will come, in His glory, irradiating His glory and He will be with all His Saints.

Therefore, to conclude, Christ has abolished sin in His human nature, because sin never had a place in His human kind, the human kind which obeyed, chose and loved the ones His deified nature wanted. But even if apparently both, the sons of God and the sons of man look the same, only in the sons of God the new deified being is shaped and them, together with the whole universe prepare all the time, becoming more and more beautiful.

The beauty of the being, which is its deification. And without it we have only a philosophical, sterile theology, a continuous fuss which shows you don’t take part of the talking, living with and loving God.

Thank you for your question, but consider this a rule: don’t ever study or ask yourself fragmentary things, but study them in their completeness, for only in this way orthodox theology makes any sense!”

(Father Dorin)

Translated by Sinziana Moldovan