On Sorrows

Face to Face

Nothing about the human body is as intimate as the face. We generally think of other aspects of our bodies when we say “intimate,” but it is our face that reveals the most about us. It is the face we seek to watch in order to see what others are thinking, or even who they are. The importance of the face is emphasized repeatedly in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, it is the common expression for how we rightly meet one another – and rarely – God Himself – “face to face.”

In the New Testament, St. Paul uses the language of the face to describe our transformation into the image of Christ.

Χώρα-των-ζώντων

The holy icons are doubtless the most abundant expression of the “theology of the face,” and perhaps among the most profound contributions of Orthodoxy to the world and the proclamation of what it truly means to be human. Every saint, from the least to the greatest, shares the same attribute as Christ in their icons. We see all of them, face to face. In the icons, no person is ever depicted in profile – with two exceptions – Judas Iscariot and the demons. For it is in the vision of the face that we encounter someone as person. It is our sin that turns us away from the face of another – our effort to make ourselves somehow other than or less than personal. It is a manifestation of our turning away from God.

In human behavior, the emotion most associated with hiding the face is shame. The feeling of shame brings an immediate and deep instinct to hide or cover the face. Even infants, confronted by embarrassment or mild shame, will cover their faces with their hands or quickly tuck their face into the chest of the one holding them. It is part of the unbearable quality of shame.

Hiding is the instinctive response of Adam and Eve. “We were naked and we hid…” is their explanation. Readers have always assumed that it is the nakedness of their intimate parts that drive the first couple to hide. I think it more likely that it was their faces they most wanted to cover.

In an extended use of the story of Moses’ encounter with God after which he veiled his face, St. Paul presents the gospel of Christ as a transforming, face-to-face relationship with Christ.

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech–unlike Moses,who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:12-6 NKJ)

The veil of Moses is an image of the blindness of the heart and spiritual bondage. Turning to Christ removes this blindness and hardness of heart. With unveiled faces we behold the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and are transformed into the very same image which is Christ.

In Russian, the word lik (лик) can mean face and person. Sergius Bulgakov plays with various forms of the word in his book Icons and the Name of God. It is an essential Orthodox insight. The Greek word for person (πρόσωπον) also carries this double meaning. The unveiled or unhidden face is a face without shame – or a face that no longer hides from its shame. This is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our transformation in Christ. The self in whom shame has been healed is the self that is able to live as person.

We are restored to our essential and authentic humanity – our personhood. We behold Christ face to face, as a person would who looks into a mirror. And, as St. John says, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1Jo 3:2 NKJ).

The sacrament of penance boldly walks directly into the world of shame. Archimandrite Zacharias says:

… if we know to whom we present ourselves, we shall have the courage to take some shame upon ourselves. I remember that when I became a spiritual father at the monastery, Fr. Sophrony said to me, “Encourage the young people that come to you to confess just those things about which they are ashamed, because that shame will be converted into spiritual energy that can overcome the passions and sin.” In confession, the energy of shame becomes energy against the passions. As for a definition of shame, I would say it is the lack of courage to see ourselves as God sees us. (from The Enlargement of the Heart).

This is not an invitation to toxic shame – nor an invitation to take on yet more shame – it is a description of the healing from shame that is given in Christ. That healing is “the courage to see ourselves as God sees us.” It is the courage to answer like the prophet Samuel, “Here I am!” when God calls. God called to Adam who spoke from his shameful and faceless hiding.

Some of the mystical sermons of the fathers speak of Christ seeking Adam out a second time – but this time, in Hades, when Christ descended to the dead. There, Adam, hid no longer, turned to face the risen Lord. And so the traditional icon of the resurrection shows Christ taking Adam and Eve out of the smashed gates of Hades.

The gates of Hades are written in our faces – as are the gates of paradise. It is the mystery of our true self – the one that is being re-created in the image of Christ – precisely as we behold Him face to face and discover that no shame need remain. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Sweet liberty!

Source: glory2godforallthings.com/

Jordan Turned Back

 

 

Ever since the Theophany of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, this miracle keeps happening in the Jordan River, on this Feast Day, only on this day, once a year: the River Jordan Reverses its Flow!  The calm river literally turns back when the Holy Cross is thrust into, parts start bubling up creating waves and the direction of flow is changed. After the crosses are removed from the water, the direction changes back to normal. I have been ‘baptised’ in the Jordan River myself, not on Theophany, so I have not personally witnessed this, but those friends of mine who have been present there on Theophany Day, all attest to it happening! May we acquire at least Nature’s ‘sensitivity’ before Our Master!

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This miracle echoes excerpts from the Orthodox Service for the Great Sanctification of the water, conducted every liturgical year, at the Feast of the Theophany, known as Epiphany:

 

“Today the Jordan is cloven, and its waters shall be held from flowing, the Master being shown washed therein.

The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee; they  were afraid. Jordan turned back when it beheld the fire of the Godhead coming down and descending upon it in the flesh.” 

 

 

 

On Zeal

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A monk must be extremely cautious of carnal and animal zeal, which outwardly appears pious but in reality is foolish and harmful to the soul.

Worldly people and many living the monastic life, through ignorance and inexperience, often praise such zeal without understanding that it springs from conceit and pride. They extol this zeal as zeal for the faith, for piety, for the Church, for God. It consists in a more or less harsh condemnation and criticism of one’s neighbours in their moral faults, and in faults against good order in church and in the performance of the church services. Deceived by a wrong conception of zeal, these imprudent zealots think that by yielding themselves to it they are imitating the holy fathers and holy martyrs, forgetting that they – the zealots – are not saints, but sinners.

When for your labour in the garden of the commandments God grants you to feel in your soul divine zeal, then you will see clearly that this zeal will urge you to be silent and humble in the presence of your neighbours, to love them, to show them kindness and compassion, as Saint Isaac the Syrian has said. 

Divine zeal is a fire, but it does not heat the blood. It cools it and reduces it to a calm state. The zeal of the carnal mind is always accompanied by heating of the blood, and by an invasion of swarms of thoughts and fancies. The consequences of blind and ignorant zeal, if our neighbour opposes it, are usually displeasure with him, resentment, or vengeance in various forms; while if he submits, our heart is filled with vainglorious self-satisfaction, excitement and an increase of our pride and presumption.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

The Arena

Chapter 36

The Butterfly Lesson

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“One day a tiny tear appeared on a cocoon. One man was watching the butterfly trying to push her body through the opening. The struggle lasted for hours. Then it looked as though every activity had ceased. It looked as though the butterfly had done all it could and could not move any further. The man took a pair of scissors and opened up the cocoon. The butterfly moved out easily yet her body and her wings looked withered.

The man continued watching. He was waiting for her to flap her wings, hoping they would slowly grow, strengthen and become able to lift the butterfly to the air.

Yet, the butterfly went through her entire life moving painfully and slowly, harboring a wasted body and withered wings. She never managed to fly away.

What this kind man could not understand was that the restricted space in the cocoon and the struggle the butterfly waged served to force the liquids in her body to move towards her wings, so that she would be able to fly away as soon as she would get out.

Sometimes we too need this kind of struggle.

If we go through life without facing any troubles, we will be wasting away. We would not be as strong as we could be. We would never be able to ‘fly away’.

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I have asked for strength…

I faced trouble so that I could become stronger

I have asked for wisdom…

I was given riddles to solve

I have asked for a good life…

I was given a brain and a healthy body so that I could work

I have asked for courage…

I was given obstacles to overcome

I have asked for love…

I met people in pain so that I could help them

I have asked for favours…

I was given opportunities

I did not receive what I have asked for…

But I did receive what I needed”.

Translated by Filothei

Source: synodoiporia.blogspot.gr/

How a Dead Mother Stopped Her Son From Suicide

Nein!

The most painful NEIN in cinema’s history…

To a person who had to choose between suicide and begging

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St. Velimirovich letter 

29 December 2016

You write that all your worldly goods were sold off to a third party. When you found yourself out on the street with nothing and nobody, you headed to the cemetery, bent on killing yourself. You had no doubts or second thoughts about this. Exhausted by the vexations, you lay down on your parents’ grave and fell asleep. Your mother appeared to you in your sleep and berated you, saying that in the Kingdom of God there were plenty of people who had been beggars, but not a single one of those who had done away with themselves. That dream saved you from suicide. Your beloved mother really did save you, by God’s providence. You began to beg and to live off begging. And you’re asking if, by doing so, you’re transgressing God’s law.

Take courage. God gave the commandment: ‘Don’t steal’. He didn’t give any commandment ‘Don’t beg’. Begging without any real need is stealing, but in your case it isn’t. The general and emperor Justinian was left blind in his old age, with no possessions or friends. He would sit, blind, outside the courtyard of the throne and beg for a little bread. As a Christian, he didn’t permit himself to consider suicide. Because, just as life’s better than death, so it’s better to be a beggar than a suicide. 

You say that you’re overcome with shame and that your sorrow’s deep. You stand at night outside the coffee-shop that used to be yours and ask for money from those who go in and out. You remember that, until recently, you were the owner of the coffee-shop and now you don’t dare go in even as a customer. Your eyes are red from weeping and lamentation. Comfort yourself. God’s angels aren’t far from you. Why are you crying about the coffee-shop? Haven’t you heard of the coffee-shop at the other end of Belgrade where it says: ‘Someone’s it wasn’t; someone’s it won’t be’? Whoever wrote those words was a true philosopher. Because that’s true of all the coffee-shops, all houses all the castles and all the palaces in the world.

What have you lost? Something that you didn’t have when you were born and which isn’t yours now. You were the boss, now you’re poor. That’s not loss. Loss is when a person becomes a beast. But you were a person and have remained so. You signed some papers for certain of your prominent customers and now your coffee-shop’s in the hands of a stranger. Now you look through the window and see everybody laughing, just the way they used to, and you’re wandering the streets with tears in your eyes and covered in shame. Never fear, God’s just. They’ll all have to answer for their misdeeds. But when they attempt to commit suicide, who’s to say whether the merciful Lord will allow their mothers to appear to them from the other world in order to keep them from the crime? Don’t consider them successful even for a moment. Because you don’t know how they’ll end up. A wise man in ancient Greece said: ‘Never call anybody happy before the end’. It’s difficult to be a beggar? But aren’t we all? Don’t we all depend, every hour of every day, on the mercy of Him Who gives us a life to lead? Now you’ve got an important mission in the world: to engage people’s attention so that they remember God and their soul and to be charitable. Since you’re forced to live in silence, delve into your soul and talk to God through prayer. The life of a beggar’s more heroic than that of a boss. ‘For gold is tested in the fire and accepted people in the furnace of humility’ (Sir. 2, 5). But you’ve already demonstrated heroism by rejecting the black thought of suicide. This is a victory over the spirit of despondency. After this victory, all the others will be easy for you. The Lord will be at your side.

Peace and comfort from the Lord!

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