Thursday, August 21, 2014

What does "Hallowed be Thy Name" mean?

Most Christians will recite the Lord's prayer every day and pray, "Hallowed be Thy Name." Have you stopped to think about what it means to pray this?  For surely God is holy. He does not need to be told that. What are we praying for when we say these words? Why did Jesus ask us to pray in this way?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa in his commentary on the Lord's prayer writes,
But now what does the Lord's Prayer set down? "Hallowed be Thy Name." If I did not utter these words at all, let us say, would it be possible that God's Name be not holy? ...God's Name is forever holy and nothing escapes the power of God's rule. Rather, He has dominion over all and admits no addition to His holiness. God absolutely lacks nothing and is perfect. What then does the prayer intend with the words, "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come?" 
It must be clear that it is not to proclaim that God is holy, but to ask for something for our own salvation. How do we make His name Hallowed? It can only be by how we live our lives. If we proclaim to be a Christain and are dedicated to serving this God, then we must demonstrate what this means through the way we live our daily lives.  Otherwise, those who see us will not think very highly of our God.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa puts it this way,
those who bear the name of the faith, but their way of life contradicts the name whether by lapsing into idolatry by way of greed, or by behaving unseemly through drunkenness and revelry, or by wallowing like swine in the mire of profligacy then those who are unbelievers resort to a handy accusation. They do not direct their accusation against the free choice of those who abuse Christian life by doing evil, but against the mystery of the faith itself, as if the faith positively teaches to do those kinds of things. 
If we want God's name to be hallowed, holy, we must become true followers of what he teaches.  Otherwise we blaspheme Him. This phrase states the entire purpose of our life. We are to live in a such a way that makes God's name hallowed. This is our purpose. to become united with Him is such a way that His holiness shines through us.

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) says this,
This petition shows what the purpose of man is and for what reason he lives. Man’s purpose is to be united with God and to become holy according to the grace and energy of God. God is holy by nature and people are [called] to become holy by grace. In the language of the Fathers of the Church, this is called deification and those who are made holy by their participation in the grace of God are called deified. For one to become holy, to be deified, means that all one’s spiritual and bodily faculties are transfigured, that God is the center of one’s life. 
He further explains that our inability to live such a life, leads others to have no faith or a very weak one.  If we want to spread His Word to others, then we must hallow His name. It is not what we say, but how we live that will bring us salvation but also others to join in union with Him.
Because our lives are not consistent with this petition [in the Lord’s prayer] and we do not strive to live according to the will of God, our conduct is anti-Christian. We are full of vices and passions, hatreds and animosities, and we commit injustices and slanders. And that is why other people see us and do not believe in God; hence we cause the name of God to be blasphemed among the nations.
Next time you recite this prayer that our Lord has instructed all to pray, think about how you hallow His name. Do not take the easy path and only think that it means that God is holy, but think about what this requires of you in your daily life.  Examine how closely you carry out His love of Him and others. 

Gregory of Nyssa concludes his comments with with this,

When I pray saving "Hallowed be Thy Name," the meaning of these words apply to me actual- izing God's blessings. Lord, through the cooperation of Your help, may I become blameless, just and pious. Abstaining from every evil, may I speak the truth, practicing righteousness and walking on the straight path. May I shine with prudence, be adorned with incorruption, and be beautified with wisdom and discernment. Overlooking earthly things, may I set my mind on the things above (Col 3:2) and be radiant with the angelic manner of life. 
May we all pray for the strength and divine grace to live a life that makes His name hallowed. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Should We Fear God?

For many years I was troubled by the pronouncement when the chalice is brought out to offer communion, "With the fear of God draw near."

Why should we fear God? Should we fear Him because He will punish us for our mistakes? But we know He is a loving and forgiving God. How could He punish us whom He created. Maybe we  should fear Him because we are not willing to give up our way of life to become congruent with the Life of His Kingdom.  Maybe we should fear Him when we learn that we are seeking to make His kingdom like we wish it to be and know deep down that this is not the realty we face?

I recently saw a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin says the following, "If Heaven is Good and if I like to be bad, how am I supposed to be happy there?" Calvin like many of us prefers to be "bad".  If that is the case then our choice will be hell. For Calvin, heaven only has meaning if it can be like he wishes it to be, "bad". But this is not the way it is. This is not the reality of our existence. Heaven is God's Kingdom. He calls us to perfection to be joined with Him in His Kingdom forever. His commandments are the only way to enter.

C.S. Lewis also addressed this issue in his book, The Great Divorce. In this book residents of Hell are given the opportunity to visit Heaven. When they arrive, they are met by heaven's Spirit residents  who tell each of them in an individual encounter that they are welcome to stay. All they need to do is to  give up their sins, whether that be a lack of forgiveness, a lust for recognition, or some other self centered activity. But in his story, none are willing to give up why they are living in Hell where the worst tendencies are accentuated. Unwilling to change they choose to stay in Hell. The visitors one by one get on the return bus and willingly to go back to hell.

All of us have our bad habits that we probably know are not acceptable to God. We need to ask ourselves, are we willing to change because of our love for God? Are we willing to give up what we think gives us fleeting pleasures in our life, and instead seek what God intends for us?  Or, do we expect God to adapt to our way of thinking? Do we think in the end it will be OK because I believe in Christ?

My problem was that I did not really believe in any absolutes. I believed that God surely would adapt to my view of what is a good life and way of living, after all I was a respected member of our society. I wanted to change the wording in the proclamation before communion to "awe" instead of "fear". But this misses a most important point I was to later learn.

The day of reckoning will eventually come for all of us. We will either have been trained through a life of repentance to have demonstrated our love for God and our willingness to work toward giving up our ego-directed actions to follow Christ, or, remain stuck in our own personal version of what God will accept. In the end we will be the one who chooses heaven or hell.  Will we be like the visitors to hell in Lewis' story, where when even confronted with what heaven is really like they were unwilling to give up what they believe gives them pleasure? They preferred the place where "bad" was acceptable like Calvin.

Christ told His disciples to "Follow Me." They gave up their livelihood and followed Him. We are not asked necessarily to give up our livelihood as they were. But, if we surrender to Him and cleanse our hearts of the passions, we will be blessed with His grace. It will then be up to us to follow the way He guides us. This is the path to heaven. There is no other.

There comes a time when our appropriate fear of God is transformed into an intense love for God. Our fear becomes transformed into a loving obedience. We will no longer fear His punishment, or that we will have to give up what gives us pleasure, because we have found true pleasure and joy in union with Him. We will be fearful that we could still lose the joy and comfort we gain when we willingly live in His grace.

"With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Divine Light of Christ - His Transfiguration

I have always been drawn to this feast and its icon. In it we see Christ in full glory surrounded by light and His disciples fallen way from Him, dazed by this glory. What makes this event so special?

At the time of Jesus in Jerusalem, a powerful person was easily recognized. In the city there were not only the leaders of the Jewish Temple dressed in their priestly garments, but also Herod the King and Pilate the Roman governor who lived in royal splendor. These were the people who drew crowds because of their power and moved about the city in splendor. Jesus presented himself entirely different, as a simple person, wearing simple clothes, coming without a large entourage. If someone who saw Him would call out, "He is the Son of God, our Lord," they would have thought of him as a witless fool.  Those who saw Him in the countryside of Galilee and who witnessed His miracles would have seen him as a great profit like Elijah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist. Even they would not dare say He is the "Son of God."

So why, if He was the Son of God, did He not appear to them as such? Why couldn't they see His indescribable Divinity? The truth is that none of them would have been able to stand it because it was so great a power that lay concealed within His body. It would have been as if the sun exploded in their faces. So He comes in the flesh from a pious simple woman, born in a manger, concealing His light of Divinity.

But on the day of the Feast of the Transfiguration something different happens. Six days following the exclamation of Peter that Christ was the Son of God, Jesus takes His most beloved disciples Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain, Mount Tabor. When they reach the top of the mountain after a long climb, a grand miracle takes place. Jesus changes in His appearance. He becomes, as Scripture tells us, gleaming as light, like a bright sun. His face shines and His clothes are a pure gleaming white.

What is this light that they witnessed? It was not a created light but uncreated. It was a light of Divinity. It was not a light that a camera would capture or any scientist could measure.

Gregory Palamas says the following,
Matthew writes "like the sun" not that one should think of that light as sensible––forsake the carelessness of mind of those who can understand nothing higher than what they can perceive! But so that we may know, that that which those who live by the senses and with the senses behold as the sun; that which those who live by the Spirit and in spirit behold is Christ as God, and those who see God have no need of another light. To the immortals He is the Light and no other. For why should those who have the greatest Light have another?
To understand this, we have to lift our own minds above the rationality of the physical world and experience with His three disciples a light which is Spirit, pure divinity, the light of Christ as mentioned so often in Scripture. Let your mind be free of its normal physical constraints.

While Christ was gleaming in His divine brightness two other men appeared with Him who were also illumined with a light. They were people from the past, Elijah and Moses. Moses appears to them to show them that there is a life after death. We will become spirits in another realm. Their appearance at His command shows that Christ is the Lord of all. Also, note that these great men did not stand with Him as equals but worshiped Him, showing clearing that Jesus is the true Messiah.

But there is more to the story. Suddenly there is a luminous cloud and a voice that says, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matt 17:5) They fell on their faces and heard Jesus affirm them saying, "Arise, and do not be afraid."

This was a historical event. This is not a parable or a myth like the stories told of pagan gods. Peter recalls,
We did not follow a cunningly devised fable when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent glory: 'This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.' And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).
This is an event we cannot fully understand or explain. We need to bask in its wonder and open and lift our narrow minds to accept things that are beyond reason, beyond scientific explanation. We need to assimilate this event and humble ourselves and do as the voice said, "Hear Him!"

Saint John Chrysostom says,
Hear Him, the uncreated, good, uncircumcised, sought out by faith but unmeasured by tongue, approached in faith yet the Word by words is undefined. For now Paul, the orator, who unbridles confusion and teaches everything without hesitation, cries, 'Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!'" (Rom 11:33)
So what was the purpose of this event?  Bishop Augoustinos puts it this way,
Through the Transfiguration the Lord wanted to give His disciples proof of His divinity so that, as the Church chants, "Seeing you crucified, they would know Your Passion is by choice, and would preach to the world that You are indeed the Father's splendor."  The Lord did not want them to be shaken when they saw Christ on the Cross, but would understand that He voluntarily gave Himself to death, since, as God, He could destroy all opposition and throw His enemies prostrate on the ground in the thunderbolt of His divinity. ...So He was pleased to be crucified for our salvation.
This event helps all us better understand the true nature of the Crucifixion, His Ascension, the role of the Holy Spirit sent on Pentecost and the Apostles who gave their life in martyrdom as they went out to spread the Word and create churches. We see from this that He was not just man, but truly both man and fully God. His inner being was Divine, made up of uncreated Light. The story of salvation is so much more than the idea that He gave Himself as a substitute for us, as a sacrifice in payment for the sins of mankind.  It awakens us to something much greater, something spiritual and shows us that we too are spiritual and can someday join with Him in His heavenly realm.  To do so we not only have to "Hear Him" but also "Follow Him."

Let your hearts fly to heavenly things as you contemplate this most Holy Event. Remember, what we read about this event is but a glimpse into something much greater. Let it shine light on our own imperfections and give us motivation and courage to live a life of true repentance, always trying to come closer to Christ by purifying our hearts throughout the teachings of the Church, her sacraments and the disciplines she teaches us. As Christ tells us, "Blessed are the pure in Heart, for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8) May we all become worthy of the personal experience of His divine Light.

Reference: Follow Me, by Augoustinos Bishop of Florina,  pp 146-157

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What does it mean, "Follow Me"?

When Jesus says, "Follow Me," (John 1:43) what does he expect of us? In the Gospel of Luke it says, "they forsook all and followed Him." (Lk 5:11) Does this mean we have to give up our career, our family, our worldly possession to follow Christ? 

Bishop Augoustinos of Florina writes,
No. For we saw that those who, like Apostles, are called to a special extraordinary mission to leave all these things.
This leaves us with the question, what does it mean then for us?  Here is what the the Bishop says,
Listen! Besides the things that comprise one's material goods, which everyone––even the poorest person––has to some degree, there is another bounty––one that is not material or visible, a wealth that is not blessed but damnable, and which has collected in our secret coffers by the meddling Satan. This bounty is vice, evil, and passion. 
To follow Him we must overcome our passions, those forces within our being that lead us to act in ways counter to the will of God. Passions are difficult to give up. Even when they lead us to miserable lives physically or mentally we find them hard to give up. We seem to be attached them and love them more than anything and would never think of separating ourselves from them.  We see this in the extreme in the alcoholic who will not separate himself from his passion for drink. We can see the same in the addicted gambler, the womanizer, and the glutton.

Bishop Augoustinos writes,
The passions are the possessions, the principle possessions, which we are called to leave, to separate ourselves from, in order to follow Christ (Luke 14:33). For one to leave material goods and put them at Christ's disposal is a praiseworthy act, but it is not as difficult as cutting oneself from one's faults, evils, and passions....Passions stick to our beings like a turtle's shell adheres to its body. They compose a second nature, and evil nature. 
We need to reflect on how the Apostles left everything to follow Christ and then ask ourselves, "What have I left for the Lord's sake?" Or, "what has my faith cost me up to now?" We are not asked to give up our jobs, our retirement savings or leave our families. We are asked to give up our bad habits. All of them.

Bishop Augoustinos says,
Have I left them all? Or have I maybe forsaken only a few bad habits which never bothered me much, and kept certain pet passions that I call "human weaknesses" to ease my conscience, but ones the Gospel or Christ condemns?
Each of us must examine ourselves and ask ourselves these questions. How important is our salvation. Remember, it's not a given just because you say you believe in Jesus Christ. You must demonstrate your faith and love of God by your actions just like the Apostles. Our salvation should be the most important responsibility in our lives. When that day of judgment comes around you do not want to be left short changed. Remember the virgins who were waiting for the coming of the Lord with their oil lamps and they did not have sufficient oil to keep them lit? At the last moment they had to go and get more oil and they were not able to enter the bridal chamber with Christ.

Bishop Augoustinos says,
Woe to us if there is any weakness we decide not to forsake. We will remain far from the Lord. Is there a greater calamity than this?  Therefore with His help, let's banish every sinful burden, and as well-girded soldiers follow the glorious path of the martyr.
Saint john Chrysostom says,
Forsake only your evil habits, and remaining in your own homes, you can easily be saved."
Reference: Follow Me, by Bishop Augoustinos of Florina, pp 68-71