Posts Tagged ‘self-restraint’

From one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (presumably Gregory the Theologian, aka Nazianzen), honored East and West, courtesy of the masthead at http://www.palamas.info/:

Not to everyone, friends, does it belong to philosophize about God, not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low. And, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

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This is common and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ADVICE for Orthodox, seemingly paradoxical considering all the talk about Uncreated Light, angels, theophanies, visions, etc.  “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  We’re even supposed to avoid visualization-meditation of any kind, which he can make use of.  And if we do see some apparition, we’re not to trust it or obey it, but consult our spiritual parent or priest or bishop.  This is not the same as Western skepticism toward “private revelation” or needing to get “ecclesiastical approval.”  It’s checking your experience with someone who traditionally knew from his or her own confirmed experiences and Divine Gift how to “discern spirits.”  The reason for this is how easily we can delude ourselves regarding spiritual things, in severe form known by the Slavonic word prelest, in Greek plani.  And it’s dangerous because we can be spiritually mis-led and imperil our salvation.  Holy Tradition is full of stories of the greatest Saints and Fathers of the Church who were temporarily deceived or even deluded.

All we do, then, is struggle with life on the Orthodox Way, in The Orthodox Church if available, aided by God’s Energies and an Orthodox spiritual parent.  Purification, period.  Illumination and Glorification / Theosis are in God’s hands and Mercy and Love.

If that doesn’t sound like much, remember this(!), and the great Saint or Father who, as he lay dying in the Monastery, had his brethren around him.  They saw his lips moving, though they couldn’t hear what he was saying, so they asked him.  He said he was seeing an angel, and asking for more time to repent.  They were incredulous: ‘If anyone has purified himself of all his sins and readied himself for God’s Glory, it’s you.’  But he countered, “I’m not sure I have even begun to repent.”  This isn’t “poor self-image;” even my Latin novice-master told us, “The closer you get to the sun, the more cobwebs you see.”  Hence Orthodox prayer asks God ‘merely’ to help us “make a good start.”

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

“Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”
–St. Isaac of Syria (7th century)

“No matter how ‘right’ you may be on various points, you must be diplomatic also. The first and important thing is not ‘rightness’ at all, but Christian love and harmony. Most ‘crazy converts’ have been ‘right’ in the criticisms that led to their downfall; but they were lacking in Christian love and charity and so went off the deep end, needlessly alienating people around them and finally finding themselves all alone in their rightness and self-righteousness. Don’t you follow them!…”
–Father Seraphim (Rose) (20th century California)

“Never say that God is just. If he were just, you would be in hell. Rely only on his injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.”
–St. Isaac the Syrian

“Have the heart of a son toward God, the mind of a judge toward yourself, and toward your neighbor, the heart of a mother.”
–Blessed Elder Cleopa (Ilie) (20th century Romania – met by English journalist Victoria Clark, as recounted by her in a passage of Why Angels Fall: A Journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovoshortly before his repose in 1998 )

“The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.”
–St. Isaac of Syria

This year the Orthodox Great Fast aka Great Lent begins on Monday, March 10, Clean Monday aka Pure Monday.  This week, Monday through Sunday, is Cheesefare Week, and last week was Meatfare Week.

During Meatfare, we eat-up any meat left in our houses, because we won’t have any more meat until Pascha, the Great Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of the Lord.  This is where the carne in some Western countries’ Carneval aka Carnival comes from (as in chili con carne); the Western Church used to have similar Lenten fasting rules to Orthodoxy.  (That’s “flesh” as in meat, not as in sexual revelry!!)

During Cheesefare, we eat-up any dairy products left, same reason.  That is, milk, cheese, butter, anything from an animal’s udder.

(As usual, fasting rules tend to be lessened for the very young or old, or the sick, in consultation with your priest.)

However, I’m not aware of any Orthodox-influenced culture that ‘parties hardy’ all-out at this time like the well-known Mardi Gras or Carneval as in Brazil, Louisiana, or Quebec!  Though there is this! 😉