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400 Texts: The Conclusion

I am pleased and thankful to be able to report that, as of yesterday evening, we have finally finished our study of St. Maximos the Confessor’s Four Centuries on Love – and it didn’t even take us one century! A few highlights from last night’s concluding study:

Only God is good by nature (cf. Matt. 19: 17), and only he who imitates God is good in will and purpose. For it is the intention of such a person to unite the wicked to Him who is good by nature, so that they too may become good. That is why, though reviled by them, he blesses; persecuted, he endures; vilified, he supplicates (cf 1 Cor. 4:12-13); put to death, he prays for them. He does everything so as not to lapse from the purpose of love, which is God Himself. (IV.90)

This is great advice for us to keep in mind when we are considering any response to make or advice to give: Is the intent behind our response/advice, like God’s, to overcome our enemy by helping them to become God’s friend?

There are four principal ways in which God abandons us. The first is the way of the divine dispensation, so that through our apparent abandonment others who are abandoned may be saved. Our Lord is an example of this (cf Matt. 27:46). The second is the way of trial and testing, as in the case of job and Joseph; for it made Job a pillar of courage and Joseph a pillar of self-restraint (cf. Gen. 39:8). The third is the way of fatherly correction, as in the case of St Paul, so that by being humble he might preserve the superabundance of grace (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7). The fourth is the way of rejection, as in the case of the Jews, so that by being punished they might be brought to repentance. These are all ways of salvation, full of divine blessing and wisdom. (IV.96)

This one just blew me away when I realized that if we leave out the examples, it is essentially saying, “There are four principal ways in which God abandons us. … These are all ways of salvation, full of divine blessing and wisdom.” If we then add the examples back in, we begin to understand the significance of the old Orthodox Christian saying: “Everything that happens to us is coming to us from the hand of God for our salvation.”

The friends of Christ love all truly but are not themselves loved by all: the friends of the world neither love all nor are loved by all. The friends of Christ persevere in love to the end; the friends of the world persevere only until they fall out with each other over some worldly thing. (IV.98)

I particularly loved James’ response to the first part of this saying, pointing out that the reality behind “not themselves loved by all” quite spectacularly highlights the shallow understanding that all-too-often undergirds that classic appeal, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

plan

And the study concluded, quite fittingly, with all-but-absolute silence at the work’s stunningly beautiful conclusion:

Many have said much about love, but you will find love itself only if you seek it among the disciples of Christ. For only they have true Love as love’s teacher. ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy’, says St Paul, ‘and know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . and have no love, it profits me nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:2-3). He who possesses love possesses God Himself, for “God is love’ (1 John 4:8). To Him be glory throughout the ages. Amen. (IV.100)

I think the only word that was said at this point was a simple and heartfelt, “Amen.”


Calendars

I am particularly pleased to report (as your perennially calendrically challenged priest) that the 2016 church calendars are finally here (thanks to Dn. Peter and Matushka Sarah) and that the online church calendar is now up-to-date (thanks largely to Dn. Peter). There may still be a few minor tweaks yet to come to the online calendar, but it should now be accurate enough that you can use it to plan your church attendance for the rest of the year and rest reasonably assured that you won’t have to do a lot of rescheduling.


Christmas

The Nativity is when God Himself revealed the hidden greatness of the small and the ordinary.

Make no mistake, though… It was revealed to us in retrospect as we revealed our race – the human race – to be Christ-killers. It seems there was no other way to get our attention, so God, being rich in mercy, Himself undertook it, beginning with the smallest and humblest possible beginning: His own birth. And ending with the greatest possible calamity: His own death.

But, of course, that’s not the end… Pascha is coming.


Site Clean-up

Just a quick note to draw attention to the fact that this site has finally gotten some much-needed love, thanks in part to our wonderful web-designer Tom Froese, and to knowledge gained from my amazing co-workers in my “secular” job, Joe and Kyler. Thank you, Tom, Kyler, and Joe! The most notable change is the addition of our church Bookstore page, which was there before, but which is now properly labelled!


Excerpts from an Interview

I always enjoy responding to interview questions – the challenge of communicating what we believe to those who know little about the faith always forces me to think a little more deeply about why we believe what we believe. I particularly enjoyed the recent experience of being interviewed by a student from a local high school. Here is an excerpt from that e-mail interview:

How do Christian beliefs apply to daily life?

The three central specifically Christian beliefs are that
1. Jesus is God, who became one of us,
2. Jesus entered into our suffering, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, so that our experience of suffering and death might become meaningful and that we might rise from the dead with him, and
3. we are to love one another as Jesus loved us.
Undergirding all this is an understanding that there is only one true God, who created the whole universe and created us in His image, entrusting this planet and everything in it to our care.

This means that as Christians go about their daily life, they try to
1. pray, as we were created to be in communion with God,
2. love all they come in contact with, as individuals created in the image of God, and
3. take care of everything they have as stewards (caretakers).

How important is worship and prayer to you?

Worship and prayer are essential, as they are the actions by which we enter into communion (loving communication/relationship) with God, which is the reason we were created: as expressions of our love-relationship with God, worship and prayer are our raison d’être.

How important is religion in your daily life?

It is of primary importance, since it is life’s primary source of meaning.

Is it possible, in your opinion, to live almost exactly as the Bible says?

The Bible says a lot of things. If, by this, you mean is it possible to live as Jesus teaches us to live, my answer would be “Yes, and no.” Jesus teaches us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbour as ourself. He teaches us to love our enemies and to love one another as he has loved us. He teaches us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” All of this is obviously impossible. On the other hand, Jesus teaches us to repent (admit where we are wrong and work to change our minds and behaviour) and to forgive and that we will receive God’s forgiveness as we forgive others. This is eminently doable. If we continue in love and in repentance and forgiveness, it is possible to live almost exactly as Jesus teaches us to live.