Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Publican & Pharisee

Today is the first Sunday of the Triodion; the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee.

Seasonal Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Let us flee from the boasting of the Pharisee and learn through our own sighs of sorrow the humility of the Publican. Let us cry out to the Savior, "Have mercy on us, for through You alone are we reconciled."
Since the chief weapon for virtue is humility, and the greatest hindrance to it is pride, the divine Fathers have set these three weeks before the Forty-day Fast as a preparation for the spiritual struggles of virtue. This present week they have called Harbinger, since it declares that the Fast is approaching; and they set humility as the foundation for all our spiritual labors by appointing that the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee be read today, even before the Fast begins, to teach, through the vaunting of the Pharisee, that the foul smoke of self-esteem and the stench of boasting drives away the grace of the Spirit, strips man of all his virtue, and casts him into the pits of Hades; and, through the repentance and contrite prayer of the Publican, that humility confers upon the sinner forgiveness of all his wicked deeds and raises him up to the greatest heights.

Here is an exerpt from St. Silouan the Athonite (thanks to Father Stephen's blog):
Enlightened by baptism, people believe in God. But there are some who even know Him. To believe in God is good but it is more blessed to know God. Nevertheless, those who believe are blessed, too, as the Lord said to Thomas, one of the twelve: ‘Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’

If we were humble the Lord in His love would show us all things, would reveal to us all mysteries, but our trouble is that we are not humble. We puff ourselves up and boast over trifles, and so make both ourselves and others unhappy.

The Lord, though He is merciful, oppresses the soul with hunger on account of her pride, and withholds grace from her until she has learned humility. I was perishing from my sins, and would long ago have been in hell, had not the Lord and His most holy and blessed Mother taken pity on me. O, her quiet, gentle voice! A voice from heaven the like of which we shall never hear on earth! And so now in tears I write of the Lord of Mercy, as He were my own Father. It is sweet for the soul to be with the Lord: Adam tasted the sweetness of this bliss in paradise when he saw the Lord with open eyes, and we feel in our souls that He is with us according to His promise: ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’

The Lord is with us. What more could we desire? The Lord created man that we might live and bask in Him for ever - that we might be with Him and in Him. And the Lord desires to be with us Himself, and in us. The Lord is our joy and gladness, and when pride causes us to withdraw from Him, it means that of our own accord we deliver ourselves up to suffering. Anguish of heart, dejection and evil thoughts lacerate us….

The proud man fears obloquy, while the humble man cares nothing. He who has acquired Christ-like humility will ever upbraid himself, and it rejoices him to be abused, and grieves him to be acclaimed. but this humility is still only elementary - when the soul comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, how humble and meek He is, she sees herself as the worst of all sinners, and is happy to sit in shabby raiment in the ashes like Job, while she beholds other men in the Holy Spirit shining in the likeness of Christ.

May the Merciful Lord give all men to savor Christ’s humility which passes description. The soul will then know no further desire but will live for ever in humility, love and lowliness.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

St. Gregory the Theologian

Today (Old Calendar) we commemorate St. Gregory the Theologian.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The pastoral flute of your theology conquered the trumpets of orators. For it called upon the depths of the Spirit and you were enriched with the beauty of words. Intercede to Christ our God, O Father Gregory, that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
O Glorious One, you dispelled the complexities of orators with the words of your theology. You have adorned the Church with the vesture of Orthodoxy woven from on high. Clothed in this, the Church now cries out to your children, with us, "Hail Father, the consummate theological mind."

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev has written an interesting article entitled: Theology and Mysticism in St. Gregory Nazianzen. Here is an excerpt:
First of all, Gregory’s theology is very central to the entire Byzantine Tradition. In Byzantium he was known as ‘The Theologian’ and was the most quoted author, after the Bible, in the ecclesiastical literature.[1] The corpus of his writings (especially his Discourses), have become not only an integral part of Byzantine paradosis (Tradition); it was in fact regarded as regula fidei (‘the rule of faith’), almost as sacred scripture. No other Byzantine author ever enjoyed such appreciation, popularity and unquestionable authority.

Theology ought to be inspired by God: it ought to be not the word of a human person, but the word of the Spirit which is pronounced by human lips. A true Christian theologian is the one who is able to be silent until the Holy Spirit touches the strings of his soul. And it is only when the human word falls silent and the word of the Spirit emerges from his soul, that true theology is born. From this moment ‘a lover of words’ is transformed into ‘a lover of wisdom’, a rhetorician into a theologian.

According to Gregory, not everyone can be a theologian, but only the one who purifies himself for God. Not everyone can participate in theological discussions, but only those who can do it properly. Finally, not every theological theme can be discussed openly:

Discussion of theology is not for everyone, I tell you, not for everyone - it is no such inexpensive and effortless pursuit... It must be reserved for certain occasions, for certain audiences, and certain limits must be observed. It is not for all men, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold on pure things is dangerous,[1] just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness. What is the right time? Whenever we are free from the mire and noise without, and our commanding faculty[2] is not confused by illusory, wandering images... We need actually to be still[3] in order to know God... What aspects of theology should be investigated, and to what limit? Only aspects within our grasp, and only to the limit of the experience and capacity of our audience... Yet I am not maintaining that we ought not to be mindful of God at all times... It is more important that we should remember God than that we should breathe... So it is not continual remembrance of God that I seek to discourage, but continual discussion of theology. I am not opposed either to theology... but only to its untimely practice...[4]