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Jesus Christ—the Model of Moral Life

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

By Professor M. Olesnitsky, Doctor of Theology (Professor of the Kiev Divinity Academy), St. Petersburg 1907

For our success in the pursuit of a moral life, abstract law by itself is insufficient; a concrete example is necessary for the attainment of such life.

We have this model in God: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Mt 5:48); but still, we need an example that is closer to our nature, which would in turn satisfy the requirements and carry out the moral ideal, under the same conditions in which we live. This model moves into us the faith in the possibility of the true-moral life on the earth; it attracts us to virtues and paves the way to such life. Having lived on earth, we have such a model in the Incarnated, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Holy Scripture there are numerous places which call us to the resemblance to Christ. For example, in the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Peter we read: Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (1Pet 2:21). He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked (1Jn 2:6). St. Paul calls the Christians to have the same sensations, which were in Christ: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), not to please ourselves… for even Christ pleased not himself (Rom 15:1-3), walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us (Eph 5:2), looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). The Lord said to his disciples after washing their feet: I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15); and pointed at his love as to the example of their mutual love: Love one another, as I have loved you (Jn 15:12).

Looking closer at the model presented to us through the life of Jesus Christ, we find that He carried out His earthly life exemplifying the highest level of moral freedom, combined with perfect love. This freedom was manifested in the absence of any sin as well as any other sensation of the sinful burden, in the harmony of His nature, which excludes passions and any fascinations, and in the powerful and independent attitude to the world. Understanding the complete freedom from sin he says: which of you convinceth me of sin? (Jn 8:46) or the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me (Jn 14:30). As the One, Who is sinless (although tempted), the conscience did not burden Him and it did not arise in Him the feeling of separation with the divine will.

The harmonious nature of the Lord Jesus excluded the one-sided predominance in Him of any side of the human personality. For example, we distinguish male and female natures, with the predominance of distinctive qualities. However, in Christ the Savior we see the harmonious combination of male perfections, precisely—incomparable struggle, conquering the world heroism, and female—kindness, limitless devotion, extreme patience, infinite obedience. We distinguish reserved and contemplative, open and active, or practical characters.

However, in Christ the Savior we see the harmonious combination of the contemplation and practical activity. But the absence of fascinations and passions in our Lord the Savior, we see that in Him any emotional state never overcomes the others and the others do not predominate. For example, deep grief is soon changed in Him for sincere happiness, happiness is immediately dissolved by grief (Mk 14:8-9); anger is mitigated by compassion, and compassion passes into anger (Mt 23:39); in humiliation the Lord never forgets His royal sublimity; and possessing it He always remembers that He accepted the image of a slave and came not so that they would serve Him, but in order for Him to serve others. Denying the presence of passions in the Lord, we assert that there was only animation and the strong desire to carry out His destination on the earth in Him. Therefore he says: I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? (Lk 12:49).

Possessing moral freedom, the Lord Jesus Christ is so free in all his relations with the surrounding world. For example, he was fasting, but he “is eating and drinking” when He finds this necessary. He is out of the family relations, but He accepts the invitation to the marriage. The Son of man hath not where to lay his head, but never asked anybody for alms. He considers Himself free from the payment of tax to the temple; however, He pays tax, finding this necessary for His goal. The Pharisees tempt Him, they want to catch him in the violation of Moses’ law, in the disturbance against the royal authority, but He with a single word exposes all their intrigues and comes out of the temptation as the victory-bearer. People are enraptured with Him and want to proclaim Him the King, but He is higher than any terrestrial honor.

But love the Lord Jesus Christ expressed by leaving the quiet dwelling in Nazareth and stepping onto the thorny way of life, by the fact that He with incredible selflessness and patience worked for the good and salvation of people, He carried their weaknesses and their contradictions and abuse, accepted those despised by everybody publicans and sinners, blessed children, selected the disciples, loved by Him, He was close to His native Israeli people, embraced at the same time the entire world with love and finally voluntarily gave His life for the people. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us (1Jn 3:16). Love of Jesus does not arrange touching scenes, it does not invent refined expressions; however, how much inimitable tenderness is manifested in the farewell conversation of the Savior with His Disciples, or in the restoration after the Resurrection of fallen Peter!

The Lord Jesus Christ expressed love for the Heavenly Father by unconditional obedience, complete devotion, accurate performance of the will of the Father, by the internal unity with the Father and sincere prayer, which frequently lasted for the entire night. Even in those hours, in which the Father apparently leaves him (on the cross), His love remains invariably faithful, appealing to the Father.

Imitating Christ: The Grace of the Holy Spirit

Following Christ must not be copying of Christ, not the literal reproduction of all His actions; otherwise we must accomplish all the miracles performed by Him. Jesus is our Savior; our task is in using the fruits of salvation under those conditions, in which we are placed to live on the earth. On the word of the apostle, we must possess the same sensations, the same direction of the will that was in Jesus Christ, the same image or modus operandi that was in Him. Although Jesus Christ was the begotten Son of God among people, He expressed in His life and left to us the specific example of the man, which we must imitate and reproduce in ourselves.

The second inaccuracy in the study about the imitation to Christ, characteristic of the rationalists, consists of the statement, that we (as if) can be the true imitators of Jesus Christ and carry out a truly God-pleasing life without being in the internal, spiritual unity with Him and having Him only as an external model. No, the relation between the personality of Christ the Savior and the personalities of the Christians is not as external as it is between the teacher and his students. It cannot be said that the students must only be taught by the teacher, but they should also derive the example for themselves from his life. Meanwhile the Christians, being taught from the words of the Lord and imitating His example, must at the same time derive the completeness of life from His personality, live His life. This requirement is clearly expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ in the words: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:4-5). It is evident from these words that the Lord is not only the teacher and model for us, but also the source of moral life.

The force, which opens to us this exemplary source and helping us to derive from it and to live on the doctrine and model of Jesus Christ, is the Holy Spirit, His Divine Grace. By the grace of God I am what I am, says the apostle (1Cor 15:10). Has there ever existed a true Christian, who would thank himself for his moral Christian state, but not the Lord Jesus Christ, abundantly sending to him grace through the Holy Spirit? Grace is necessary both for the beginning of the Christian life and for its continuation. The apostle says that without grace not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves (2Cor 3:5), and even we know not what we should pray for as we ought (Rom. 8:26). However, in the Holy Scripture all the Christian virtues are called the fruits of grace (love, joy, peace, long-suffering… Gal 5:22-23), whole blameless spirit and soul (1Thess 5:23).

Have not any Christians experienced that the grace of the Holy Spirit was necessary not only for the first floating of the soul to God, but also later, when emptiness and weakness will begin to overwhelm the soul again?


Categories: Biblical Studies

Elder Arsenie – On Suffering

October 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Saint Sergius of Radonezh

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Repose of the Venerable Sergius, Abbot and Wonderworker of Radonezh is  commemorated on September 25.


Troparion – Tone 4


A zealot of good deeds
and a true warrior of Christ warrior of Christ our God,
you struggled greatly against the passions in this passing life;
in songs and vigils and fasting you were an image and example to your disciples,
thus the most Holy Spirit lived within you,
and you were made beautiful by His working.
Since you have great boldness before the Holy Trinity,
remember the flock which you have wisely gathered,
and do not forget to visit your children as you promised, venerable Sergius our father!


Kontakion – Tone 8


Bound by the love of Christ, O venerable one, and following Him with unwavering desire,
you despised all carnal pleasures and you shone like the sun in your land.
Therefore, Christ has enriched you with the gift of miracles.
Remember us who venerate your most holy memory,
and who call out to you:  “Rejoice, Sergius, made wise by God!”



HYMN OF PRAISE

An example of prayerful meekness
From his youth, holy Sergius
Loved God and God’s beauty,
And instilled serenity and goodness in himself.
He filled the wilderness with ceaseless prayer,
And transformed the forest into a holy place of God.
He cared not for worldly vanity,
Nor was he ever angered.
He was utterly quiet and meek with everyone,
Yet not meek toward the wicked adversary.
With the foe of God, the father of all lies,
Who seeks to devour the souls of men,
Sergius bravely waged a bitter struggle,
Tireless and powerful unto the final victory.
Thus the elder reposed, but the saint remained
As a fiery pillar for the Russian people,
Beseeching God for every blessing
And bringing blessings down from heaven to his people.
Holy Sergius, do not cease to shine,
Do not cease to pray to the Most-high God
For the good of the Church, for the good of Russia,
In the glory of Christ, O Saint Sergius!

Categories: Lives of Saints

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS

September 19, 2009 Leave a comment

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS


Troparion

O LORD, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by the virtue of thy Cross preserve thy habitation.

Kontakion

O THOU Who wast lifted up willingly on the Cross, bestow Thy mercies upon the new community named after Thee, O Christ God; gladden with Thy power the Orthodox Christians, granting them victory over enemies; may they have as Thy help the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy.

The Sign of the Cross


The sign of the Cross has been the most powerful weapon against great temptations from  demons, from the early ascetics down to the present day.

The Sign of the Cross is a fundamental element of Orthodox life. It should be second nature to anyone who claims to be an Orthodox Christian. The Sign of the Cross is used in virtually every situation in life. Before we eat, before we sleep, or when we awaken in the morning, we should automatically make the Sign of the Cross. The great spiritual advantage of making a habit of this is that, when we are confronted with a dangerous or compromising situation, we will make the Sign of the Cross without hesitation. This might save our life or even our soul, depending on the circumstance. Saint Barsanuphios the Great has written:

“The Lord Jesus Christ, an angel or another person can be portrayed by demons, not only in sleep but when a person is awake— for satan can transform himself into an angel of light. But the Cross of the Lord, upon whose power, as the Church chants, the devil does not even dare to gaze—for he trembles and is convulsed being unable to behold its power—this he cannot represent.”

Because the Sign of the Cross has such a powerful effect on demonic powers, people often experience a sense of self–consciousness when attempting to make it. Our weak flesh also rebels against outward manifestations of faith. But this can be overcome quite easily, if we only strive to train ourselves and come to understand the tremendous power of the Cross, in which, Saint Paul tells us, we should glory.

To make the Sign of the Cross, we place the thumb and the first and second fingers of our right hand together, representing the Three Persons or Hypostases of the Holy Trinity. Next, we fold the fourth and fifth fingers against our palm, representing the two Natures of Christ, Who came down from Heaven to the earth, in order to save mankind. Holding our right hand in this way, we touch the tips of the three fingers to our forehead, our abdomen, the right shoulder, and the left shoulder. We then put our hand down to the side of our body. Properly executed—and one should be careful to make it slowly and with care—the Sign of the Cross has tremendous spiritual power. This is because we are not only affirming our faith in Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross at Golgotha, but confirming our belief in the Holy Trinity and the Human and Divine Natures of Christ, that is, the basic dogmas of the Orthodox Faith.

The Sign of the Cross was such an integral part of Christian life in the Early Church, that few direct references can be foundin the literature of the Early Church. It was an oral, living tradition which every Christian took for granted, much like Holy Baptism. Thus Saint Basil the Great says the following of this custom in his treatise “On The Holy Spirit”:

For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance that they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel at its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the cross those who have trusted in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

Here, Saint Basil refers to the Sign of the Cross as “the first and most general example” of an oral tradition. There are many references in the Lives of the Saints from Apostolic times down to the present day which testify to the power and security an Orthodox Christian can experience through the pious act of making the Sign of the Cross over himself. Saints and Martyrs of all ages have been delivered from fire, wild beasts, demonic attack, carnal temptations, and poison by fidelity to this ancient tradition: The mysterious power of the Cross, however inexplicable, is true and indisputable. Saint John Chrysostomos saysIf we are striving to drive out demons, we use the Cross, and it is also of aid in healing sickness.”


St Benedict made the sign of the Cross over a glass containing poison and the glass shattered as if struck by a stone. St Julian made the sign of the Cross over a cup of poison brought to him, and drank the poison, suffering no bodily harm from it. The holy martyr Vasilissa of Nicomedia protected herself with the sign of the Cross and stood in the midst of the flames, remaining completely untouched. The holy martyrs Audon and Senis crossed themselves when ravening wild animals were let loose upon them, and the beasts became docile and meek as lambs.

The sign of the Cross has been the most powerful weapon against great temptations from demons, from the early ascetics down to the present day. The most ferocious of the devil’s devisings are dispersed into nothing, like smoke, when a man signs himself with the Cross. Thus it was the good will of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that the erstwhile sign of wickedness and shame, the Cross, should, after His crucifixion on the wood of the Cross, be the vehicle of all–conquering power and might.

The Sign of the Cross should, as we have said, become an automatic response to every act we perform and every trial we experience. This is especially true when unclean or carnal thoughts suddenly come into our minds. Such thoughts are perhaps not sinful in and of themselves, but they can lead us to sin.Therefore, it is essential that we immediately dispel them by making the Sign of the Cross in faith. We should also hasten to add that a pious retreat to the power of the Cross assumes that one is making a sincere effort to lead a Christian life or that he is in the midst of sincere repentance.


The Sign of the Cross is not a talisman against those things that we do not want to put up with. It contains spiritual power, which always draws on the power of human intent. It is not something magical. If we neglect to say prayers or keep the fasts, or if we feel no true compunction for our carelessness, we should not be surprised if the Sign of the Cross does not magically heal, for example, a loved one in the hospital intensive care unit. By the Providence of God, such an unusual thing might happen. But within the domain of our own efforts, true spiritual results are always the result of a sincere devotion to God and submission to His Will, whatever the circumstances.

As the perfect symbol- the symbol most real and the reality most symbolic- the cross gathers into unity every element of God’s gracious dispensation in creation and redemption for our celebration, contemplation, and praise. It does so not only by its form, but also by its substance. It is the tree of the cross, the life-giving wood by which humanity is healed. By a tree the first Adam was cast out of paradise; and by a tree the last Adam brings him back. By his disobedience to God the first Adam was cut off from the tree of life and given over unto death. By His obedience to the Father” unto death, even death on cross”, the last Adam restores humanity to communion with the tree of life, which is itself the most precious tree of the cross. The liturgy of the Exaltation celebrates his central mystery of man’s being and life:

Katavasia of the Cross

Tone 8

Ode 1. Inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross upon the waters, /

Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea, /

opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod.  /

Then he marked a second line across the waters and united them in one, /

overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh.  /

Therefore let us sing to Christ our God, //

for He hath been glorified.

Ode 3. The rod of Aaron is an image of this mystery, /

for when it budded it showed who should be priest.  /

So in the Church, that once was barren, /

the wood of the Cross hath now put forth flower, //

filling her with strength and steadfastness.

Ode 4. O Lord, I have heard the mystery of Thy dispensation:  /

I have considered Thy works, //

and I have glorified Thy Godhead.

Ode 5. O thrice-blessed Tree, /

on which Christ the king and Lord was stretched!  /

Through thee the beguiler fell, who tempted mankind with the tree.  /

He was caught in the trap set by God, /

who was crucified upon thee in the flesh, //

granting peace unto our souls.

Ode 6. Jonah stretched out his hands in the form of a cross /

within the belly of the sea monster, /

plainly prefiguring the redeeming Passion.  /

Cast out from thence after three days, /

he foreshadowed the marvelous Resurrection of Christ our God, /

who was crucified in the flesh //

and enlightened the world by His Rising on the third day.


Ode 7. The senseless decree of the wicked tyrant, /

breathing forth threats and blasphemy hateful to God, /

confused the people.  /

Yet neither the fury of the wild beast nor the roaring of the fire /

could frighten the three Children: /

but standing together in the flame, /

fanned by the wind that brought refreshment as the dew, they sang: /

‘Blessed art Thou and praised above all, //

O our God and the God of our fathers.’

Ode 8. O ye Children, equal in number to the Trinity, /

bless ye God the Father and creator; /

sing ye the praises of the Word who descended and changed the fire to dew;/

and exalt ye above all for ever the most Holy Spirit, //

who giveth life unto all.


Ode 9.  O Theotokos, thou art a mystical Paradise, /

who untilled hast brought forth Christ.  /

He hath planted upon the earth the life-giving Tree of the Cross: /

therefore at its exaltation on this day, //

we worship Him and thee do we magnify.

Today the death that came to man through eating of the tree, /

is made of no effect through the Cross.  /

For the curse of our Mother Eve that fell on all mankind /

is destroyed by the fruit of the pure Mother of God, //

whom all the powers of heaven magnify.


Before Christ, the cross was an instrument of the cruellest punishment, and a symbol of horror. After His sufferings, it became the sign of the victory of good over evil and of life over death; it became the reminder of the limitless love of God and a source of happiness. The incarnate Son of God sanctified the cross with His blood and made it the carrier of His blessings and holiness. Because of these properties, the sign of the cross became an essential component of Christian life since apostolic times, used in all Church services and private prayers. For instance, water is blessed and becomes holy with the sign of the cross, and bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ; in summary, all Sacraments acquire their spiritual power through the sign of the cross. As flies cannot tolerate flame, so demons cannot stand the presence of the cross. The sign of the cross protects a Christian from accidents and misfortunes and attracts God’s help to him. That is why Orthodox Christians revere the cross so much, bless themselves with the sign of the cross, wear a cross on their chest and adorn their homes and churches with crosses.

The “sign of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:30), that is, the Cross, will appear in the sky in order to proclaim the end of the present world and the coming of the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God. Then all the tribes of the earth shall weep, because they loved the present age and its lusts, but all who have endured persecution for righteousness and called on the name of the Lord shall rejoice and be glad. The Cross then will save all who conquered temptations, from eternal perdition by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed afar Christ.


Do not do anything without signing yourself with the sign of the Cross!  When you depart on a journey, when you begin your work, when you go to study, when you are alone, and when you are with other people, seal yourself with the Holy Cross on your forehead, your body, your chest, your heart, your lips, your eyes, your ears.  All of you should be sealed with the sign of Christ’s victory over hell.  Then you will no longer be afraid of charms, evil spirits, or sorcery, because these are dissolved by the power of the Cross like wax before fire and like dust before the wind”
Elder Cleopa (+1998)


However, those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. For “the Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the scourge of demons” (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins).


Categories: Orthodox Feasts