31 July 2009

The Church is One

The separation of Churches or, better said, the schism of Christianity is the greatest failure of the Christendom in history. This failure testifies, how much freedom the Providence of God has given to man, and how much man has misused this freedom.

In the Church there cannot be separation, because the Church is One, and it is homogeneous. Its oneness is determined through the fact that Christ is living in it, that it is mediating the gifts of Grace, and that in it are administered the sacraments.

It is not the Church that is divided, but rather Christian humanity. The separation happened within the kingdom of Caesar which became interweaved with the Kingdom of God, but it is not in the Kingdom of God, in which there cannot be separation.

~Nikolai Berdyaev
There is only one Church, not several Churches. And de facto the schism was not in the Church of Christ, but in sinful humankind, in the kingdom of this world, in the kingdom of Caesar. And the restoration of Christian unity does not consist in unifying the Churches, but rather in reunion of the splintered parts of Christian humankind. All parties are guilty of the schism between Christians.

Even when I am convinced that the dogmatic Truth is with Orthodoxy, I must still however feel the guilt which is on us, Christians of the Orthodox East. Also with us there was a lack of love, self-assertion, aloofness, an aversion to engage a spiritual world which seems to be something strange, also with us there was the ecclesiastical nationalism and particularism, there was the recoursing to the typical confessionalism.

Reunion and union of the Christian world must begin with community and unification of Christians of all Confessions, with mutual respect and love, with an inner universal spiritual attitude. All must begin with spiritual life, with spiritual unity, and it must work from inside outwards.

Unification of the Churches can only be a work of the Holy Spirit. But we can prepare this work spiritually in our human part, we can create a favorable spiritual soil. Christian unity must not begin with negotiation of Church governances, but with a spiritual unification of Christians, with forming a Christian friendly association, which is possible while also remaining true to one's own creed.

~Nicolai Berdyaev
"Orthodoxy & Ecumenism" (1927)

29 July 2009

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

O Holy Spirit, most merciful Comforter: You proceed from the Father in a manner beyond our understanding.

Come, I beseech You, and take up your abode in my heart. Purify and cleanse me from all sin, and sanctify my soul. Cleanse it from every impurity, water its dryness, melt its coldness, and save it from sinful ways. Make me truly humble and resigned, that I may be pleasing to You, and that You abide with me forever.

Most blessed Light, most amiable Light, enlighten me. O rapturous Joy of Paradise, Fount of purest delight, my God, give Yourself to me, and kindle in my innermost soul the fire of Your love.

My Lord, instruct, direct, and defend me in all things. Give me strength against all immoderate fears and against despondency. Bestow upon me a true faith, a firm hope, and a sincere and perfect love. Grant that I always do your most gracious will.


~St. Antiochus of Lyons (5th c.)

27 July 2009

Need for the Holy Spirit

Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away, Christ stays in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter the Church is simply an organization, authority, a matter of domination, mission, a matter of propaganda, the Liturgy no more than an evocation Christian living a slave mentality.

But in the Holy Spirit, the cosmos groans with the birth pangs of the kingdom; the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the source of life, the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity, authority is a liberating service, mission is a Pentecost, the Liturgy is both memorial and anticipation, human action is deified.

~Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch ATHENAGORAS (1948-1972)

Catholic Without Being Latin

"Dear brothers from Rome, one can be Catholic without being Latin. And we were attacked on two fronts, Catholic-Latin and Orthodox-Byzantine. And we said: No, dear brothers, one can be Ukrainian, one can be Byzantine, one can be at the same time Catholic. These different elements do not contradict one another. So this is why neither the Latin Church nor the Orthodox Church is very happy with us. "

~His Beatitude Lubomyr Husar,
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarch of Kviv-Halych

26 July 2009

Ghetto Mentality: Threat to the Eastern Catholic Mission

In a ghetto life is closed in upon itself, operating only within itself, with its own ethnic and social clichés. And the Parish lives upon the ethnic character of the community; when that character disappears, the community dies and the parish dies with it.

One day all our ethnic traits - language, folklore, customs - will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.

~Melkite Archbishop Joseph Tawil
"The Courage to be Ourselves" Christmas, 1970

20 July 2009

Jesus Takes a Break

Jesus withdrew with His disciples...(Mark 3:7)

I found this curious. He was healing people and casting out demons, showing His power, yet Jesus was concerned about being crushed by a mob. He told the disciples to have a boat ready so he could get away (Mark 3:9).

Was He turning His back on people who needed to be healed?

Here again we see the humanity of Jesus. From reading Mark's Gospel it seems like Jesus has been going non-stop since emerging from the desert. He's been so busy: preaching, healing, calling His disciples. Action, action, action!

It's as if He finally wore out and just needed to get away from the crowd.

This is important to remember in our own lives. I've seen people get so busy in their work for the Lord that they burn out.

You can't heal everybody.

Take time to rest. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to discern.

13 July 2009

Renewal and Prelest

I remember talking with an Eastern Orthodox brother about the Charismatic Renewal and he referred to it as "Prelest". That there are no shortcuts in the spiritual life, so the idea of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" and speaking in tongues was delusion.

This Russian Orthodox word "Prelest" is often translated into English as spiritual deception, illusion, or delusion. It is the opposite of spiritual sobriety or watchfulness.

General Prelest is to think that you have no sin or need for forgiveness. Like the pharisee you see yourself as righteous before God based on your own efforts. The reality is that without Christ you are nothing. As you truly grow in holiness you become more aware of your sinfulness.

The Eastern fathers often speak of a particular Prelest that happens when you "live beyond your capabilities". This is someone who hasn't been cleansed of passions yet strives for a life of contemplation and desires the delights of spiritual grace. This spiritual "eagerness" leads to demonic exploitation of these desires. This person imagines that they are near to God and in a higher dimension of spirituality.

Seraphim of Sarov warned that "Surpassing their acquaintances in struggles of prayer and fasting, they imagine that they are seers of divine visions, or at least of dreams inspired by grace. In every event of their lives, they see special intentional directions from God or their guardian angel. And then they start imagining that they are God's elect, and often try to foretell the future."

The possibility of falling into Prelest is the leading cause of Eastern reluctance to the Charismatic Renewal. "The monks on Athos don't speak in tongues, so how could Nick the usher?"

I've been around the Charismatic movement since I was in diapers and will admit there were ups and downs in the last four decades. Mistakes and mis-steps have been made and some people do swim out over their heads and get into trouble.

The best safeguard against Prelest, according to Eastern writers, is to have a good spiritual director. If you are accountable to a priest or other elder in the Lord you are less likely to fall into error.

And that is exactly what the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church did. Those who had experienced this new outpouring of the Holy Spirit went to the Church hierarchy for guidance and clarification. In their wisdom the Pope along with many cardinals and bishops recognized the "new Pentecost" that they were praying for.

My experience in the Orthodox church showed me a different reaction. Suspicious bishops "disciplined" priests who encouraged Charismatic experience. Lay people who experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit had their enthusiasm "bridled".

Direct access to the Holy Spirit? That's something you earn by fleeing the world and living a life of strict asceticism--even then there are no guarantees. Illumination is a reward--no shortcuts!

This rigid thinking has led to a quenching of the Spirit. Like the pharisees they only expect God to act in a certain way according to established rules. Anything outside of those rules is suspicious, delusional, or even heresy.

It's all based on fear. Fear of prelest, fear of diluting or destroying tradition, fear of losing ethnic identity, fear of "ecumenism".

We are so fortunate in the Catholic Church to have a shepherd that encourages all the faithful to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit (May 2008). We have a growing Charismatic presence that compliments and enhances our ancient rituals and devotions.

Pray for our brothers and sisters of the East that they would overcome fear and re-discover the joy and freedom found in the Holy Spirit.

12 July 2009

St. Symeon the new Theologian

Let us be like those who knock patiently and to whom the Lord opens the doors of His kingdom, according to His promise, and like those who seek and are given the Holy Spirit. It is impossible for a man who seeks with all his soul not to find the Holy Spirit and be enriched by His Charismata. (Cateshesis 22)

A person who has within him the light of the most Holy Spirit, unable to endure it, falls prostrate upon the ground; and he cries out and shouts in terror and great fear, for he sees and experiences something that surpasses nature, thought and imagination. He becomes as one whose entrails have been set ablaze: devoured by fire and unable to bear the scorching flame, he is beside himself, and he cannot control himself at all. And though he sheds unceasing tears that bring him some relief, the fire of his longing is kindled to yet fiercer flames. Then he weeps more abundantly and, washed by the flood of his tears, he shines as lightning with an- ever-increasing brilliance. When he is entirely aflame and becomes as light, then is fulfilled the saying, ‘God is joined in unity with gods and is known by them. (Practical and Theological Chapters 3:21)

When someone suddenly lifts up his gaze and contemplates the nature of existing things in a way that he had never done before, then he is filled with amazement and sheds spontaneous tears without any sense of anguish. These tears purify him and wash him in a second baptism, that baptism of which our Lord speaks in the Gospels when He says, ‘if someone is not born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Again He says, ‘If someone is not born from above’ (John 3:5,7). When He said ‘from above’, He signified being born from the Spirit.

11 July 2009

Did Eastern Fathers Pray in the Spirit?

In the Spiritual writings of the Christian East, specifically the Philokalia, many types of prayer are described: psalmody, the Jesus Prayer, contemplation, singing hymns, and vigils. One type of prayer that is often mentioned but not explained is "formless prayer" that, according to St. Peter of Damaskos, exchanges human words for "the divine words of the Spirit".

Ilias the Presbyter calls this free-form prayer, "sweet smelling wine," and "those who drink deep of this wine are rapt out of themselves." (Gnomic Anthology, 72)

If you've been following my recent posts then you can guess where I'm going with this. When I read words like this through a Charismatic lens I can't help but connect it to the spontaneous prayer in the Spirit associated with the Renewal. I naturally associate praying with "divine words of the Spirit" with praying in tongues. And the resulting rapture and ecstasy is that sweet consolation one feels when caught up in Spirit-filled worship.

I'll admit that I could be totally off-base here and simply projecting my experience onto ancient words. Even so, what I have discovered in my recent survey of Eastern Christian spirituality is a vocabulary for understanding contemporary Charismatic experience in an Eastern context.

My prayer is that Eastern Christians find joy and "sober-minded drunkenness" as they transcend the words of prayer, psalms, and Liturgy into communion with the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, o gracious One.
~Eastern Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Tone 6

10 July 2009

Fire Divided for Sharing Gifts

O Lord, the Spirit of Your salvation, which formerly was received by the prophets in fear, now creates a pure heart in Your apostles and renews in our hearts an upright Spirit; for your commandments, O Lord, bring us light and peace.

~Pentecost Matins Canon, Ode 5

09 July 2009

Getting Drunk with St. Macarius

The Makarian Homilies were attributed to St. Macarius of Egypt, a fourth-century desert father. In the eleventh century they were paraphrased by St. Symeon Metaphrastis. It is this text that appears in the Philokalia.

Like much of Eastern Christian spirituality he considers individual effort (heroic virtue) essential to spiritual perfection: We receive salvation by grace and as a divine gift of the Spirit. But to attain the full measure of virtue we need also to possess faith and love, and to struggle to excercise our free will with integrity. (1)

But, St. Macarius adds that through much prayer and faith, and by turning completely to God, we are able, with the help of the Spirit, to conquer the passions and root out sin (3). This is what distinguishes him from most Eastern Fathers. He emphasizes communion with the Holy Spirit and the need for more than human effort. In fact, he considers asceticism without the joy of the Holy Spirit to be empty:

[The Christian] may have fasted, kept vigils, chanted the Psalms, carried out every ascetic practice and acquired every virtue; but if the mystic working of the Spirit has not been consummated by grace with full consciousness and spiritual peace on the altar of his heart, all his ascetic practice is ineffectual and virtually fruitless, for the joy of the Spirit is not mystically active in his heart. (113)

To bear fruit, according to Macarius, requires participation in the Holy Spirit. He calls the Spirit a heavenly treasure and admonishes his reader to aquire it (87). For those who experience this release of the joy and love of the Holy Spirit, "Sometimes it seems they are in some realm greatly rejoicing and drunk with the inexpressible drunkenness of the mysteries of the Spirit, and then at other times they are full of grief, weeping and lamenting as they intercede for men's salvation." (89)

His descriptions of communion with the Holy Spirit sound very much like my experience in the Charismatic Renewal. I've seen similar emotional and physical reactions to the Spirit at prayer meetings. So, what we see is that such experience is not foreign to Eastern spiritual life. Of course, St. Macarius lived during the golden age of Church history before spontanaety succumbed to institutionalism.

Later, St. Macarius describes that the spirit-filled person at prayer, "...experiences an ineffible and measureless delight; his intellect wholly suspended and ravished, is overwhelmed, and during the time he is in this state he is mindless of every worldly concern. For his thoughts are filled with numberless incomprehensible realities and are taken captive by them. In that hour his soul through prayer becomes one with his prayer and is carried away with it." (91)

Those who have experienced the release of the Holy Spirit in their life know this delight and feeling of being carried away by love. The Charismatic Renewal did not invent this kind of prayer and worship, nor did we borrow it from Protestant Pentecostals--it was part of the undivided Church in the East and West.

What we see today is a rediscovery of refreshing, dynamic, active life in Communion with God the Holy Spirit. To my brothers and sisters in the Eastern Rite, I invite you to enter into joyful communion with the Holy Spirit by following the admonision of St. Macarius of Egypt:

We should eagerly drink spiritual wine and become drunk with a sober-minded drunkenness so that, just as those glutted with ordinary wine become more talkative, we too, brim-full with this spiritual wine, may speak of the divine mysteries. (99)

~David Samuel Thomas

*Quotations from "The Philokalia, Vol III". Palmer, Sherrard, & Ware, ed. trans. London: Faber & Faber, 1984

08 July 2009

Spontaneous Prayer in Eastern Spirituality

St. Peter of Damaskos was an Eastern bishop of the eighth century. His writings appear in the Philokalia, an influential compendium of spiritual writings revered in the Orthodox church. In his work on the eight stages of contemplation he mentions yielding to the Holy Spirit when He "interrupts" your normal prayer routine:

When, however, God's grace kindles a sense of deep penitence in the heart, you should allow your intellect to be bathed in tears of compunction, even if this means that your mouth stops reciting psalms and your mind is made captive to what St. Isaac the Syrian calls 'blessed captivity'. For now is the time to harvest, not plant.

He also quotes St. Isaac's description of someone in a state of pure prayer:

Often it happens that a person so concentrates his intellect during prayer that, like Daniel the prophet, he falls unbidden to his knees, his hands outstretched and his eyes gazing at Christ's Cross; his thoughts are changed and his limbs are made weak because of the new thoughts that arise spontaneously in his intellect. (from the Mystic Treatises)

St. Peter adds that "the more habitual these thoughts become, the more the longing for God draws us on to understand and worship the Father ' in Spirit and in truth', as the Lord said. St. Paul also indicates this when he says: 'I would rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue' (1 Cor. 14:19); and again: 'I wish that men would pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without anger and quarrelling' (1 Tim 2:8)."

He concludes that singing hymns is a remedy for weakness, but "the experiences of rapture mark the perfection of the intellect."

Here is an example of the charismatic and liturgical working together in the spiritual life of the Eastern church. If you are sensitive to the action of the Holy Spirit, then don't be surprised if He interrupts your regularly scheduled prayer rule. Don't be afraid to fall on your knees, lift holy hands, and even pray in tongues. Here are two eastern saints, Peter of Damaskos and Isaac the Syrian, who testify to this reality.

*Quotations from "The Philokalia, Vol III". Palmer, Sherrard, & Ware, ed. trans. London: Faber & Faber, 1984

03 July 2009

Spontaneous Vocal Worship in the Eastern Rite?

As long-time readers know I spent 12 years in the Eastern Orthodox church and was a tonsured Reader in the Antiochian Arrchdiocese.

I still frequent Eastern Rite Catholic parishes now that I am in communion with St. Peter's successor in Rome. My home parish in the Latin Rite is officially Charismatic and encourages spontaneous vocal worship, and yes, "speaking in tongues", during Mass. There are liturgically appropriate times for such expression, known among the Church Fathers as "jubilatio".

Today I was musing about how such expression would work in the Byzantine Rite.

The Divine Liturgy in the Eastern churches has less flexibility and is treated as a museum treasure that should never be altered. Of course, one finds variations between Russians, Greeks, Antiochians, Serbs, and Romanians but nothing to convene a council about. Then you get the ultra-orthodox who only do the Liturgy in Church Slavonic or Greek and consider English as an inferior language for worship. But I digress...

There are two parts of the Divine Liturgy where I most often feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, maybe I'm biased about where He would inspire the faithful to break out in spontanous worship and glossolalia.

The first place is during the Trisagion. Right after the Little Entrance, when the priest comes out with the Gospel and declares "Wisdom, be attentive" the faithful sing "Come let us worship and fall down before Christ..." But where is the worship? Where is the falling down? Sounds like an invitation to DO something.

Next is the Trisagion hymn: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us (three times). Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

HERE is the place where I imagine singing in tongues, shouting praises to God, vocal declarations of worship like I find in my Charismatic parish. What happens after? The priest declares "Dynamis" or "Again with fervor" and the faithful sing one more time "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us."

Okay, I can hear a collective groan from the Byzantine liturgists, but if you consider this seriously, it appropriately enhances what is happening at that point in the Divine Liturgy. What if people are distracted? Well, the next thing said is "Let us be attentive", so everything is brought back into order. Did the Holy Spirit set it up that way?

At the beginning of the Anaphora, right after the priest tells the faithful to lift up their hearts,"We lift them up unto the Lord" is the reply, then the celebrant commands "Let us give thanks to the Lord", with the response "It is proper and right".

Here we go again! More time to worship in the Spirit. Hearts (and for some, hands) are already lifted, why not praise the Lord with angelic tongues. This naturally leads to the next part of the Liturgy, what the Latins call the Sanctus, where we join the angels in singing "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabbaoth..." Totally appropriate in timing and order.

I don't claim any historic precedent for these musings. We know that spontanous expression did happen in the early Church, but with the establishment of organized Liturgy the freedom faded. I am not proposing that Orthodox and Eastern Catholics modify their Liturgies to accomodate such innovations.

My point is that IF spontaneous worship and speaking in tongues were to happen in a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, this is where I imagine it.

01 July 2009

July Arrives!

July is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

Precious Blood,Ocean of Divine Mercy: Flow upon us.
Precious Blood,Most pure Offering:Procure us every Grace!

Precious Blood,Hope and Refuge of sinners: Atone for us!
Precious Blood,Delight of holy souls:Draw us! Amen.

~St. Catherine of Siena

The Holy Father's Prayer Intention for July are:

Christians in the Middle East -- That Christians in the Middle East may live their faith in complete freedom and become instruments of reconciliation and peace.

Humanity Reconciled -- Through the witness of the faithful, may the Church be the seed and soil of a humanity reconciled to be God's one true family on earth.

Commemorations this Month:

+Blessed Junipero Serra (1)
+Sts. Cosmas & Damian (1-Eastern Rite)
+St. Thomas (3)
+St. Maria Goretti (6)
+St. Benedict (11)
+Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (13-ER)

+Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (14)
+St. Vladimir of Kiev (15-ER)

+Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (16)
+St. Elias [Prophet Elijah] (20-ER)

+St. Mary Magdalene (22)
+St. Panteleimon (27-ER)
+St. Macrina (19-ER)

+St. Christina (24-ER)

+St. Ignatius of Loyola (31)