Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What is peace?

This issue of peace has been on my mind of late.  There is so much strife in the world.  The civil war in Syria, the killing of Christians in the Muslim world, the lack of civil discourse in our own country, and the continual violence caused by guns. 

What is peace? How do we attain it?

This brought to mind a teaching that is older than Christian thought that comes from the ancient Chinese in a delightful book, The Tao Ta Ching.  One of the verses (54) in this book is about what I call the ripple effect. It goes like this:

What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.It will be honoured from generation to generation. 
Cultivate peace in yourself,And peace will be real.Cultivate it in the family,And peace will abound.Cultivate it in the village,And peace will grow.Cultivate it in the nation,And peace will be abundant.Cultivate it in the universe,And peace will be everywhere.

Where does it start?  It starts with each person, in their heart.  What we have in our heart will ripple outward. It is like the light that is placed on the top of the hill or the ripples in a pond when we drop a stone into is smooth surface. When we have peace within it will shine or ripple outward, first to our family. Then, if our family is at peace, it will ripple out to our community.  If our community is at peace then to our nation and so forth until there is peace in the whole world.

Isn't this what Christ came to teach us? Isn't this the way we demonstrate and live out His grace which is freely given to us? He calls us to examine ourselves, to repent, to purify our minds, to become united with Him the source of love and peace.

It all begins with love. Our love of God, and our love of others. But first we must have this love for God in our own heart and seek his grace. We must seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is with His grace that we have the kind of love that can bring peace within ourselves and then shine or ripple out to our family. 

If we all examine our own inner selves and seek peace within, then each of us can become instruments of God's peace. Without this, all our efforts at peace are in vain.  How do we do this? The Orthodox way of life is one proven way.  Follow it.

Ten points for an Orthodox Way of Life.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Life of Balance

I read the following article on the blog Kanylaki: Orthodox Spiritual Counsels and it went straight to my heart. Orthodox faith is based on Love, not legalisms, rituals, fasting routines or other self-guided efforts, but on a faith founded on love.  First, a love for God and second, a love of all Creation.  Too often we get focused on the disciplines and rituals taught by the Church as aids to our spiritual growth and make the mistake thinking they are the means to salvation. No! They are only aids. The Way is to love God with our whole heart and mind and allow His grace to work through our heart. It is only through His grace that we are saved, not by our self-efforts. Our self-efforts are only to help prepare us to receive His grace. We cannot allow them to get in the way through our obsession with them. 

The Orthodox way of life is a life of balance.  We feast, we fast, we pray, we worship, we work, we play, we love. God's creation is all good and we must use it properly in balance.  If we focus too much on the disciplines, then we will stifle our heart and lose love. Our heart becomes hard. We criticize others for their lack of discipline. We become more self centered. We become insensitive to the real needs of others. The Holy Spirit holds back. The grace we seek seems distant. I know this error well. May the Lord have mercy!

Please read the article below written by one of my favorite Elders, Paisios.

Elder Paisios-On The Letter of The Law

Elder Paisios 
I once asked someone: "What type of warrior do you consider yourself to be? Christ's warrior or temptation's warrior? Are you aware that the evil of temptation also has its own warriors?"

A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for and be sensitive towards all people. Those who inconsiderately toss out comments, even if they are true, can cause harm.
 I once met a theologian who was extremely pious, but who had the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a very blunt manner; his method penetrated so deeply that it shook them very severely. He told me once: "During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady." But the way that he said it, crushed her. "Look", I said to him, "you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads, not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also."

Let's not stone our fellow-man in a so-called "Christian manner." The person who - in the presence of others - checks someone for having sinned (or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person), is not moved by the Spirit of God; he is moved by another spirit.

The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists. The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be.

I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. Someone who is truly in a spiritual state must possess and exemplify spiritual discernment; otherwise he will forever remain attached to the "letter of the Law", and the letter of the Law can be quite deadly.

A truly humble person never behaves like a teacher; he will listen, and, whenever his opinion is requested, he responds humbly. In other words, he replies like a student. He who believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.

A person that begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, lacks true discernment. His actions exemplify a latent type of egotism that is hidden beneath this behavior; he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes.

Quite often, people begin with good intentions, but look where they may find themselves! This was the case with the "icon-worshippers" and the "iconoclasts" of the past: both cases were extremes! The former had reached the point of scraping off icons of Christ and placing the scrapings into the Holy Chalice in order to "improve" Holy Communion; the latter, on the other hand, burnt and totally discarded all icons. That is why the Church was obliged to place the icons in higher places, out of reach, and, when the dispute was over, lowered them so that we can venerate them and thus confer the appropriate honor to the persons portrayed therein...

- Elder Paisios the Athonite, The Letter of the Law