Archives For Eastern Orthodoxy

housekeeping1I actually enjoy some parts of “keeping” the house. I’ve always shared the tasks whether growing up, or in a house of guys or with my own family. (I have a running joke with a friend of mine who consistently stops by when I’m cleaning or vacuuming, troubled that I’m making him look bad!)

Haven’t you noticed a measure of satisfaction – or even a “smile” from God when the house (or car) is shining, or your office desktop becomes visible, or you just clean up your own mess? There is something about housekeeping chores that “keeps” US grounded and helps push back laziness, apathy, and self-indulgence.

This all became more alive for me as I was reading a chapter in a book on early Christian spiritual life by a local Brown professor, Susan Ashbrook Harvey. (It’s called To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early ChristianityHarvey is an Orthodox Christian and scholar in the exploding field of Early Christian Studies. I met with her a few years back, so when I spotted it in the new books section of the URI library, I checked it out. The title of her chapter is Housekeeping: An Ascetic Theme in Late Antiquity. Here are just a few excerpts:

“My purpose is to ask how housekeeping as opposed to housebuilding – contributed (to) … sustained self-maintenance (in the Christian life.)

The Scriptures frequently use household imagery (e.g. 1 Cor. 3 & 6.) The human body is spoken of as the Temple of God – “a holy place in which the Holy Spirit should dwell, and which ought accordingly to be kept clean of defilement and worthy of its purpose.” Jewish writers spoke of adorning and preparing our “house” for God in greater ways than we would for the entertainment of Kings!

The texts of the early Church Fathers and Mothers stressed continual discipline often using the household images: “The housekeeping cited in these texts is not the light maintenance work of daily dusting and sweeping, but rather the hard drudgery of a thorough spring cleaning. It represents the periodic effort to take serious stock of one’s condition: to take everthing apart in the cleaning process in order to put it back together again with shining freshness. The ascetic self, engaged in a daily discipline, could yet acquire the buildup of unwanted sentiments or emotions or passions. A thorough, harsh cleaning scrubbed the ascetic back to a fine and proper dwelling for divine habitation. (p.152)

One comment noted in the essay: John Chrysostom (4th cent.) challenges male monks and celibate households to do their own hard work of housekeeping rather than hire women to do it for them!

[NOTE: A somewhat more accessible and similar read is by Kathleen Norris – The Quotidian Mysteries. It’s short and is also included as a chapter in her larger book, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.

Q – How may God want to use the daily, ‘housekeeping’ activities in  your life to draw attention to the disciplines of discipleship?


RX 2This week I re-read the 4th century letter of Athanasius of Alexandria written to a man named Marcellinus on the importance and use of the Psalms. It is often available as part of the his famous work, On the Incarnation. It should be in every Christian’s library.  The edition I have has an introduction by C.S. Lewis that is also classic. [The Kindle edition is on Amazon for $.99 !]

A good part of the letter is given to detailed “prescriptions” – Psalms to read in every situation. I’ve listed them out here. I look forward to taking more time to read the Psalms in this way to supplement my monthly reading of the Psalms. The entire letter is wonderful and can be accessed on-line.

in the Psalter… you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.

Let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need.

He also recommends chanting or simply singing the Psalms as the way to “unify” the head and heart and body. For the most part, I chose not to change or paraphrase the writing.

Here is the list of 80+ Prescriptions for most every situation!

[NOTE: use the numbers in parentheses – the traditional Hebrew numbering in our English Bibles.
The first number listed is from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, read in the early church. ]

1. Suppose, then, for example, that 
you want to declare any one to be blessed; you find the way to do it in Psalm 1, and likewise in 31 (32), 40 (41), 111 (112), 118 (119), and 127 (128).

2. If you want to rebuke the conspiracy…against the Saviour, you have Psalm 2.

3. If you are persecuted by your own family and opposed by many, say Psalm 3;

4. and when you would give thanks to God at your affliction’s end, sing 4 and 74 (75) and 114-115 (116).

5. When you see the wicked wanting to ensnare you and you wish your prayer to reach God’s ears, then wake up early and sing 5;

6. and if you feel yourself beneath the cloud of His displeasure, you can say 6 and 37 (38).

7. If any plot against you, as did Ahithophel against David, and someone tells you of it, sing Psalm 7, and put your trust in God Who will deliver you.

8. Contemplating humanity’s redemption and the Saviour’s universal grace, sing Psalm 8 to the Lord; and with this same Psalm or the 18th (19th) you may thank Him for the vintage.

9. For victory over the enemy and the saving of created things, take not glory to yourself but, knowing that it is the Son of God Who has thus brought things to a happy issue, say to Him Psalm 9; and, if any wishes to alarm you, the 10th (11th), still trusting in the Lord.

10. When you see the boundless pride of many, and evil passing great, so that among men [so it seems] no holy thing remains, take refuge with the Lord and say Psalm 11 (12).

11. And if this state of things be long drawn out, be not faint-hearted, as though God had forgotten you, but call upon Him with Psalm 26 (27). Continue Reading…

cairns -sufI preached on  Suffering Well last Sunday.  I later heard that upon hearing my sermon theme, my daughter whispered in my wife’s ear, “Wow, ‘Suffering Well‘ – –  Happy Mother’s Day!”
Suffering is indeed part of the joy of Christian Discipleship. It is, as Luther said, a way we grow – along with the Scriptures and Prayer. One essential for that growth to take place, is saying to the Lord with an open heart:
   “What do you have for me in this (present suffering?)”
   “Help me to see not only the END of my suffering, but the ‘END’ for which this  suffering may be USED in my life.
Simone Weil wrote, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” (Gravity and Grace)
Scott Cairns, closes his small and beautiful book, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain, with this quote and a poignant benediction:
“May our afflictions be few, but may we learn not to squander them.”
Q – Are you and I ready to ask what God has for us in times of trouble and suffering?

A follow-up to the teaching, Will All Be Saved in the End? in our Tough Questions Series

I had the privilege at North Park University of speaking with Kallistos Ware, elderly Orthodox bishop and scholar from England. I had read his essay called, Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All? (I found it on the web here.) I asked him about his views. He said that the freedom of the human will as part of being in God’s image, was for him (as for C. S. Lewis) a decisive point. There must remain, despite God’s love and the victory and future restoration of all things in Christ, the possibility of choosing to refuse God’s gift. His article is worth reading to understand how Christians through the centuries have addressed these issues.

Here are some C.S. Lewis’ quotes on this subject that are insightful and provocative.

To enter hell is to be banished from humanity.  What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains.”To be a complete man, means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God…hell was not made for men…It is in no sense parallel to heaven. (from The Problem of Pain)

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, chose it.  Without that self- choice there could be no Hell.  No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek, find…” The Great Divorce

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them?  They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.

ONE MORE resource for deeper study that I’ve appreciated is an important alternative to some western views of heaven and hell that often come more from Dante’s Inferno and Greek mythology than from biblical teaching. It is linked here: Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife According to the Bible, by Peter Chopelas, an Eastern Orthodox writer.  Though the writer sees this understanding as being counter to both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, I would say that many evangelicals, including myself, increasingly accept the basic premise of this line of study. Certainly Lewis was on this train.

What Questions are raised for you by this discussion?

Resurrection Icon

Resurrection Icon

Holy Week and Easter Sunday were glorious times for our church. In the sermon Sunday, (available here) I used, as I have for many years, the icon of the Resurrection, originating in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Christ has smashed the gates of Hades (or death) and fashioned them as a bridge over the pit of hell. Below, the locks and keys lie broken. In one, Satan himself is bound, powerless to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.

The song we sang that comes from an ancient Paschal hymn says, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death…”

Christ stands over the tomb pulling Adam and Eve (as representative humanity) up and out. We don’t see Jesus raising two individuals. We see him raising the entire human race from bondage to sin and death.

This year I discovered a detail I never saw before. (Further study confirmed it is a standard requirement of all versions of this icon.) Jesus is pulling the man and woman up BY THE WRIST. They have no power to stand on their own. They don’t even have much power to reach out their hands to Jesus. The wrist image is a graphic way of proclaiming, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13, ESV)

Glory to God!

Lent Image-40daysThe “Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian” has become part of my regular prayer life. As I have done several times in the past – I “commend” it to you for your prayer (and repentance). The wording of the prayer is my latest version from much reading on the history of the prayer.  The commentary that follows is adapted from a commentary in Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent. (See my previous post on Lent)

Two practices that I am doing – and invite you to do – this Lenten season:
* to pray this prayer each morning or evening.

* to read and meditate through the letter of 1 Peter (which we will be preaching through at Christ Church starting next week).  Each day, I’ll post the short passage for the day on Twitter.  Feel free to “Follow” me here – or click the Twitter button on the right.

Here is the prayer – followed by the very insightful commentary:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!

Continue Reading…

Lent Image-40daysThis week is the beginning of Lent in the Western Churches. As a Christian and as a church, I believe there are many things, such as the Christian seasonal rhythms, that we need to rediscover or re-energize with true meaning. Sometimes this means some un-learning of old thinking. For example:

Lent is NOT about ‘giving up’ things, whether substantial (like Facebook) or small (like Twitter?) Lent involves fasting but it’s not just about food and externals.

Lent is NOT about self-improvement by self-flagellation. It is practicing the spiritual disciplines in earnest – like spring training is to the whole season.

Lent is NOT a Roman Catholic idea – and therefore to be avoided by non-Roman Catholics. It is an early church practice observed by the Eastern Orthodox, many Western churches of all stripes, including the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I am a part.

Lent is NOT about legalistic, empty-headed rules. Though these have appeared at times in history, it is not inevitable that a sacred season become desecrated.

Enough of the power of negative thinking!  What is the antidote to shallow stereotypes of Lent?Alexander Schmemann puts it beautifully in his book, Great Lent, Journey to Pascha. (pp. 31-33)

“This ‘something else’ can best be described as an ‘atmosphere,’ a ‘climate’ into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit, which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden thirst and hunger for communion with God.”

He spoke of Lent as a ‘bright sadness.’
“…the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.”

I’m reminded of Scott Cairns poem on repentance (Greek: Metanoia or ‘change of heart’).

The heart’s metanoia
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time!

(from Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia, in Compass of Affection, Poems New and Selected)

Here is a thread of some previous posts on Lent and related topics:
Here is a PDF full of articles and resources to understand and practice the season.
How will you and I enter these 40 days – to prepare again to ‘take in’ the Good News of Christ’s passion and victory through the disciplines of discipleship.
Let me urge you to prayerfully plan how you will fast and pray and read Scripture and be alert to the acts of compassion the Lord directs you to. The resources above can provide guidance.  Speak with your pastor or other spiritual guide or friend to help you.  “Keep yourself in training for a godly life!”
(1 Timothy 4:7b, GN)