Posts Tagged ‘spiritual discipline’

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.”

From St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ’s Sake, courtesy of this blog:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

And a well-known story about advice from St. Macarius the Great about indifference to praise and insult, ‘Insult the Dead.’

From Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the key Fathers of the Church (his feast is commemorated this Sunday 12 October, and two hymns of his feast are here):

Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart,* convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established(Emphasis added.)

(*–NB: In the Author’s Prologue, in the second paragraph, I believe the phrase “it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric” should read “it is not anthropocentric but theanthropocentric,” ie, centered on the Theanthropos, the God-Man — Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, Theos and Anthropos, God and Human.  One might also say “Christocentric.”

NB2: The online text from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS’ Orthodox Psychotherapy linked to is not the entire book, which you might wish to buy or borrow [or steal?! Just kidding.].

NB3: This work is not to be confused with this one of Russian provenance, which I have not yet read through.

NB4: Metr. Hierotheos may well be a living Father of the Church.  At least as of 1994 he was spiritual father to “a vast number” of people, especially in Greece, but also worldwide, even through “a treatment network” of “the more spiritually healthy” of his spiritual children.  Since ’95 he’s been an active Ruling Hierarch of a diocese in Greece northwest of Athens [on this page he’s spelled Ierotheos, without the H].  As you can see, they have quite a few dioceses over there … where they’re called Metropolises, as with most Greek / Hellenic jurisdictions.)

…from the original source follows, for interest’s sake (emphases and footnotes mine):

8.) What do you personally find the most challenging about Orthodoxy?

I keep finding that I have so much further to go. Well, to step back, the most challenging thing about Orthodoxy is that it dumps you right out at the place where it’s you and Jesus and nowhere to hide. You have to deal with him. No excuses, no lies — lies come from the evil one. As I continue to use the “workout routine” of the spiritual disciplines, I continue to discover that I am still lying to myself about so many things, I am still afraid, I am still lonely, and stubbornly choosing lonely freedom over loved humility. It’s an endless struggle. I have been practicing the Jesus Prayer for 12 years, and I am still so far from “pray constantly.” It’s not a matter of feeling guilty, but more like recognizing that you are still flabby and out of shape and not ready to run the race. Orthodoxy keeps emphasizing God’s compassion–that’s another thing I noticed early on, that it keeps stressing that God forgives us freely and welcomes us like the father of the Prodigal Son. But I keep holding back. That’s the most challenging thing.

9.) Do you feel the freedom to disagree (agreeably) with certain issues of doctrine within the Orthodox Church? How might you handle this differently now, compared with when you moved in Protestant circles?

I guess as a Protestant, and a graduate of Episcopal seminary, I felt an “appropriate” (ha) pride in my own intellectual vigor. There is a vibrant tradition in Western theology, perhaps from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, of theological debate. The problem, as one seminary prof explained to me, is that eventually all the possible new ideas have been thought of, so a person who wants to make his name has to advance a theory that is outlandish if not impossible. Anyway, as a Protestant, I not only felt free to disagree, I felt invited to disagree, and taht not disagreeing would be intellectually lazy. It’s a funny thing, hard to express.

In Orthodoxy there’s a different history. It’s more collaborative. It’s as if the expectation is, we all want to grow in Christ–that’s the only goal, there’s no goal of theological exploration for its own sake. So anything anyone expresses is intended to be a contribution to that goal. At its best, when Orthodoxy is functioning well, the good stuff gets picked up and included, and the not-so-good (it’s all well-intentioned; there is no intention of “making a name for myself”) might percolate a while before being discarded. Someone told me early on that, no matter where you dip into Orthodox history, no matter what nation or century, the writings sound teh same; the writing style is the same. Strange but true.* So there is this impulse to collaborate, pull together, to work on this one thing that unites us–rather than an impulse to pull away from the herd and be original and independently brilliant.

There are some things Orthodoxy is united on, and when it comes to those I either agree, or hope to understand better. I can’t think of anything that is a serious problem for me. Before we became Orthodox we believed in women’s ordination, and I still have no problem with women being ordained in other churches, but I recognize tht they aren’t in Orthodoxy. I don’t understand fully. Apparently it has never been controversial, in all 2000 years, which alone tells you something, so there’s no explication. However, Orthodox women saints have been preachers and teachers and theologian, they’ve acted as pastoral counsellors to both men and women, they’ve gone into new nations and single-handedly evangelized the people. I’ve given Sunday-morning sermons from Orthodox pulpits all over the country. So Orthodox women do as lay people a lot of things that might require ordinaiton in a Protestant church. I wrote an essay on this in last January:  But not everything in Orthodoxy has that kind of unanimity. There was a time when the church was completely pacifist, and then, after Constantine’s conversion, war was permitted (we don’t believe in Just War, however. War is always tragedy and sin, but sometimes it’s just going to happen.)** I tend to be a pacifist, but I recognize that I can’t prove this viewpoint consistently in the Church. So I’m on the board of teh Orthodox Peace Fellowship and this view is represented there. This is not really the same thing as “disagreeing” but it is navigating an unsettled point. It’s strangely enough another one of those paradigm shifts in the east — the noble responsibility to disagree, the honoring of the rebel, is a (relatively recent?) Western idea that doesn’t occur in the East, because we see ourselves as partners in each other’s process of transformation. Collaboration rather than disagreement.

10.) How might an Orthodox see salvation in a different light than a Protestant Evangelical?

I think I covered a bit of this above–I guess I’d say first that in one sense the view is the same, that is, the moment you believe in Christ you are “saved.” If you died that moment, you would end up in heaven. But most of us don’t die taht moment. We have all this time left over, days and years, in which we must choose moment by moment either to be surrendered to Christ or to withdraw. In Orthodoxy we are always being reminded of the example of Judas, who had every advantage of being in Christ’s presence, Christ even washed his feet, yet he withdrew and fell. If he’d repented again he would have been saved, but he remained locked in his rejection. So we have a strong teaching that it is possible to “lose salvation,” in the sense that you can fall away and reject it later on. This doesnt’ happen suddenly but gradually, as your commitment weakens, one little tempting thought after another. So there is strong emphasis on clinging to the Lord and admitting your weakness, being humble and not proud abt spiritual strength.

There are two senses of “salvation,” then. One is the right-this-instant sense, and another biblical figure that Orthodox regularly recall is the Good Thief (also known as the “Wise Thief”), who was saved apart from any effort of his own by God’s grace, just by calling out to Christ in humility. But another sense would be that day by day you are “growing in” salvation. By God’s grace, on the last day you will endure to the end, and be one of teh saved at his right hand. An Orthodox reply to “Are you saved?” is “I have been saved, I am being saved, I hope to be saved.” 

(*–Maybe because it’s the same Spirit of God behind it all?!  –Leo Peter)

(**–That is to say, one thing rulers and armies do, even ones trying to be Orthodox Christians, is fight wars.  The Orthodox view, sans the West’s Justifiable War Tradition, is merely realism.  At the same time, you may recall, Emperor Constantine wasn’t Baptized until he was near death – spent all that time as a catechumen – in part so that he could do what he felt he should as Emperor, ie, first, military commander [Latin imperator].  But he remains an Orthodox Saint, Holy Emperor Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles – blasphemy to my Mennonite and Quaker friends!  But anyone who shed blood used to be barred from receiving Communion for 3 years, and clergy and monastics traditionally still aren’t allowed to shed blood ever.  And often a soldier or ruler who came to feel strongly enough about it resigned, and sometimes entered a monastery.  Many sainted Irish Orthodox princes even gave up the prospect of succeeding to thrones – often a successor [Gaelic tanaiste, tanist] virtually had to prove his worth in factional fighting within the clan or kingdom – in favor of monasticism.  –Leo Peter)