Simplicity of Faith

Once a very educated man asked Abba Simeon, “What is truth?“ He replied, “It is a beautiful thing, and it would be really simple if people didn’t try to constantly explain what it is.“
It is with some irony that Pontius Pilate had once asked Jesus that very same question. After all, Christ didn’t come to reveal the truth to us but to be the very personification of it. In other words, all aspects of truth knowable in this life are nothing but a reflection not of what but who is truth. If that is a staple of our faith then how are we to witness the Truth to others? St. Isaac the Syrian instructs us, “Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.“

I remember vividly visiting a family for their Slava in my first parish. While I was warmly greeted and welcomed by all, it was their old baka that left a lasting impression on me. She didn’t speak much, she was clad in black, her head covered, face worn and tired but warm and joyful. I was fresh out of seminary and ready to share all my knowledge with my new flock. Yet it was the faith of this old baka who said nothing as she piously engaged in the service that left me speechless.

It is no wonder that St. Theophan the Recluse tells us to “explain truth in a simple way“, reminding us that for St. Paul “his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the simple telling of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was crucified on the Cross (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2–4).“ 

I found an article online that listed the top things we do to complicate our lives. On top of the list was: confusing means with goals. Archimandrite Aimilianos writes in his book The Church at Prayer, “we know all the breeds of dogs and horses, the species of plants, makes of motor cars and radios, but we often fail to know those things which have a direct bearing on our life.“ We all seek meaning and purpose – the truth – about our life and where its going, but doesn’t our Lord tell us that He is all of these things (John 14:16)? Subsequently, He is all we need, the One who is with us at every Divine Liturgy throughout all of our churches.

I have a weekly Discussion about our Faith class in my parish. Ironically, though they attend religiously (pardon the pun) and engage in lively discussions – they’re not regular church goers. (Glory be to God, that’s changing.) What’s interesting, however, is that whenever we begin talking about how taking part in the Divine Liturgy and taking communion is very important we inevitabley end up talking about: when one should sit or stand (or sit at all), or light candles, or wear casual or dress clothes, etc. While each of these things has its place and meaning that’s not the reason why we’re there.

Don’t get me wrong, by simplicity of faith I’m not referring to some reformation-inspired sola fide approach. On the contrary, the idea is that we realize that we simply need the Church as “the body of Christ. More specifically, we need the Holy Eucharist in our lives without which, according to our Lord’s words, “we have no life in us“ (John 6:53). “In the same way one wears an engagement ring as a promise of marriage, so too my presence at the Liturgy means that I am linked with Christ, who promises me that, if I remain faithful, He will, without fail, bring me into the kingdom of heaven,“ writes Fr. Aimilianos at another place.

Our parishes can be complicated places: we have arguments and disagreements; get offended – or worse – offend others, and so on. But the simple answer to all of this is Christ. In the Gospels Christ often refers us as “sheep“. Sheep need a shepard and sheepfold, somewhere the shepard can lead them to. Every day the Lord invites us to His Holy Church, to that banquet feast in which we mystically partake of His Body and Blood wherein we become “partakers of the divine nature“ (2 Peter 1:4).



Glory from men

IMG_2469Human nature is funny – we say one thing but mean another. There are people, for instance, who openly admit they like being credited for their donations while others claim they don’t. In truth, however, I would wager that we all like to be given the credit we deserve. After all, the human spirit longs for recognition and appreciation. That’s why when thanking people it’s a generally accepted rule to never mention names. Not because there are those who don’t want such recognition. But because we might overlook someone and even though that someone told us one thing they might have very well meant something else altogether.

While psychologists tell us that a certain amount of reward and recognition from others is necessary in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy, does the Bible agree? When Christ talked about rewards He said: “Take heed that you do not do charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore when you do a charitable deed do not sound trumpets before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, that they have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matt. 6:1,2).
Depending on how you read this, it might sound a bit harsh. The key, however, is that God is preparing a reward for all of us.

This poses another question altogether: If God is preparing a heavenly reward for us does this mean our salvation is earned through our “charitable deeds“? The Church teaches us that we are saved by the grace of God and there is nothing that we can do on our own to produce salvation. What’s more, the Orthodox understanding of salvation is a union with God, a theosis. So it’s not good deeds that God wants from us – it’s us! Subsequently, our good deeds work towards the transformation of our entire being. They produce character which, in turn, gives us hope. And it’s character that divides us into those who do the work and those who want all the credit.

In the Old Testament there is a story about a man named Gideon who was one of the judges who ruled Israel. When God told him he would have to go to battle against the powerful Midianites Gideon was happy to announce that he already had 32,000 men ready to go. Surprisingly, God wasn’t too happy with that number. It was too much. When Gideon returned with 10,000 the Lord was still unpleased. Finally, with a mere 300 men God gave His blessings and sent them off to war. He later explained to Gideon that He was not about to give Israel a reason to boast that her own strength had saved her. Even though God would work through Gideon the credit belongs solely to Him.

As the holy Apostle says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights“ (James 1:17). We end our liturgy with these words that we might be reminded of this fundamental truth before we “go in peace“. Yet, regardless, it surely can’t be a sin to express our gratitude to one another with a mere, Thank you. On the contrary, I would imagine it going unsaid to be the bigger transgression.

Neither saying it or having it said is wrong. Seeking it from men, however, is not worth the effort.

Tollhouses and the Bible

farm-building-with-prairie-in-the-foreground-midwest-nebraska-neb132H/T: Orthodoxy Christianity (here)

Biblical testimony on the tollhouses

Where in the Bible do they talk about aerial tollhouses—those obstacles that the forces of darkness put in the way of souls rising after death to heaven through the space under heaven? Why do the demons wait for a soul in the under-heavens? What and who can help a soul pass through the tollhouses? How should we view the fact that there are differences between patristic works and the lives of the saints in explanations of the tollhouses? How can we answer critics of the teaching on the tollhouses?

Primarily testifying to the tollhouses is the Holy Scripture where it quite specifically talks about the coming trials in the air. In the Epistle to the Ephesians is written: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-2). Satan rules in the air. And further in this Epistle it says, Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6:11-13). The “evil day” is the day of death, and the words, “done all” [in Slavonic this phrase translates as “overcome all”] points to the tollhouses. The words, “against spiritual wickedness in high places” [in Slavonic, “against spirits of evil in the under-heavens”] hints that on our path to the heavenly Kingdom of God—not in the upper strata of the atmosphere but precisely on our path to the heavenly Kingdom of God—spirits of evil will be warring against us (the “tax collectors”) [1] which obstruct each soul from ascending through the tollhouses and prevent them from coming closer to the Heavenly Kingdom of God. Continue

A Standing Miracle

H/T Here

Iconic Serra Cross in Ventura standing tall after area ravaged by Thomas Fire

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A standing miracle. That’s how many residents are describing the fact that the iconic Serra Cross atop Grant Park in Ventura is standing stall despite the Thomas Fire scorching the area surrounding it.

It’s said that a large wooden cross was planted on top of a hill overlooking the Mission San Buenaventura church soon after the Mission’s funding as a road sign for travelers in search of the Mission.

The Mission is the ninth in the series of California Missions and Father Junipero Serra’s last.

The Serra Cross has been a point of contention in the past with a potential constitutional lawsuit in 2003 threatening to remove the cross after the city of Ventura was accused of violating the principle of separation of church and state by owning and maintaining the cross.

The Ventura City Council opted to sell the cross and an acre of land surrounding it which helped the cross stay in place.

Birth Date or Birth Place

IMG_0794I grew up hearing stories of Stapar. It’s a small town outside Sombor in north Serbia. It’s where me and my sister were born. It’s where my father was born and his father and so on. The stories were in epic fashion. You’d think it was some magical place where kings ruled and everyone lived happily ever after.

In reality it’s a small, agricultural town. I still have family there and visit when I can. The photo above is from a trip to Stapar almost a decade ago with Vaso. I went two years after that with Lazo and the plan was to continue the visits with Nikolina, Jelena and so on. I was very happy that Vaso got to visit on his own last year.

But here’s the thing, while all this emphasis and all these stories of where I’m from spread during my childhood, my birthday would go unnoticed. Granted, not completely. We’d have so-called birthday parties but it was usually my parents and their friends getting together.

A similar thing happens when we think of the Saints – we know where they’re from but we don’t know when they were born. Tomorrow is St. Mardarije of Libertyville or as Metropolitan Amphilohije will refer to him as: St. Mardarije of Ljesan-Libertyville. The region of Ljesan is where he was born. Next week is St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia. He was born in Patara which is in Lycia (so is Myra where he served as bishop). St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, St. Elijah the Tishbite all come to mind.

Of course this isn’t the general rule and some Saints are known for other things “the Baptist”, “Chrysostom”, “the Merciful”, and so on. The old saying comes to mind: Never forget where you’re from.

Oddly, there’s no mention of when.