The Lord’s Hands

The Israelites’, and mine … , Utter Despair and Bondage

The week before Holy Week I experienced, at the deepest core of my being, the Israelites’ impasse, their despair, helplessness and fear. My pilgrimage had come at a dead end!

The Israelites’, and mine …,  Miraculous Release from Captivity

Bright Week, that is the week immediately after Resurrection Sunday, was sealed with the Israelites’ (and mine) ineffable joy, relief, jubilation at their freedom, miraculous release from captivity and awe at God’s Works! What a reversal of fortune! What a most true Orthodox ‘Easter’, a most literal Pascha! If anybody had told me that I would live to see this, I would have told him “Impossible”! But nothing is impossible for God! Nothing! Glory to God for all things!

Prefiguration of Orthodox Easter, Pascha, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him!

… “Your right hand, O Lord,
    is glorious in power.
Your right hand, O Lord,
    smashes the enemy.

Prefiguration of Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Crossing of the Red Sea Bernardino Luini, c. 1481-1532

Crossing of the Red Sea
Bernardino Luini, c. 1481-1532

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord
    glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
    performing great wonders?
12 You raised your right hand,
    and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Prefiguration of Orthodox Easter, Pascha, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea

Crossing of the Red Sea
Bernardino Luini, c. 1481-1532

… The power of your arm
    makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O Lord,
    until the people you purchased pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
    the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established. (Exodus 15, A Song of Deliverance)

Prefiguration of Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Icon of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea

God’s Hands

These two weeks I have also come to pay attention to God’s Hands!

Have a close look at the Resurrection icon and Christ’s hands! Notice how Christ is pulling Adam from the tomb by the wrist, and not the hand. Why is that so? Have you ever observed this ‘detail’? And if so, has it ever occurred to you that this ‘detail’ might be revealing?

 

Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Resurrection icon

I have to confess that this Pascha was the first time in my life that I noticed how dramatically Christ is shown in the icon pulling Adam, the first man, from the tomb. Probably because I had never felt that badly the need of Someone pulling me along, forcefully, even if roughly.

Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Resurrection icon

In the Icon, Jesus Christ stands victoriously in the centre. Robed in Heavenly white, He is surrounded by a mandorla of star-studded light, representing the Glory of God.  Eve is to Christ’s left, hands held out in supplication, also waiting for Jesus to act. This humble surrender to Jesus is all Adam and Eve need to do, and all they are able to do. Christ does the rest, which is why He is pulling Adam from the tomb by the wrist, and not the hand.

 

Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Resurrection icon

In all Resurrection icons I have seen since, even where Jesus is pulling both Adam and Eve from the tomb, he is always pulling them by the wrist, and never the hand.

Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Resurrection icon

Christ's resurrection, Orthodox Easter, Pascha, Resurrection icon

 

Praised be His name, the Lord pitied me, and indeed he dragged me, hurling me across my Red Sea! Now my home will be Great Britain. Which desert is awaiting for me, what revelations, what Mount Sinai? How are the next ’40 years’ of my wanderings going to unfold? Will I ever reach the Promised Land?

So, I am moving to UK, with my spiritual father’s blessing, trying to follow the Holy Spirit there. Indeed, I try to “dwell in my own country, but simply as sojourner. As citizen, I share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigner. Every foreign land is to me as my native country, and every land of my birth as a land of strangers. …” (cf. The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus)

My Lifestyle of course will NOT change– Suitcases 😃 Lover of the Theotokos, Pilgrim, Traveller, Hermit! 
Ah! The Raptures of Living! 
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Remove The Sandals From Your Feet

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Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.

— Revelation 7:3

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The saints embrace the whole world with their love.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

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Fr. Amphilochios, the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.” Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he insisted, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them a penance, the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. …

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Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and in one of his “prophecies” he stated, “People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. …

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“Love the trees.” Why should we do so? Is there indeed a connection between love of trees and love of God? How far is it true that a failure to reverence and honor our natural environment — animals, trees, earth, fire, air, and water — is also, in an immediate and soul-destroying way, a failure to reverence and honor the living God?

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Let us begin with two visions of a tree. Edward Carpenter, in Pagan and Christian Creeds [records] a partial vision of a tree. “It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early Spring. Suddenly, I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of amazement.”

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… Two things above all are noteworthy in Edward Carpenter’s “partial vision.” First, the tree is alive, vibrant with what he calls “energies” or “electricity”; it is “full of most amazing activity.” Second, the tree is cosmic in its dimensions: it is not “a separate or separable organism” but is “vast” and all-embracing in its scope, “ramifying far into space … uniting the life of Earth and Sky.” Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe. The same sense of wonder and mystery — of the symbolic and sacramental character of the world — is strikingly manifest in Peaks and Llamas , the master-work of that spiritual mountaineer, Marco Pallis.

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Yet there are at the same time certain limitations in Carpenter’s tree-vision. The mystery to which the tree points is not spelt out by him in specifically personal terms. He makes no attempt to ascend through the creation to the Creator. …

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Let us turn to a second tree-vision, which is by contrast explicitly personal and theophanic: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  (Ex 3:1-6)

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Comparing the experience of Moses with that of Carpenter, we observe three things: in the first place, the vision described in Exodus reaches out beyond the realm of the impersonal. The burning bush at Horeb acts as the locus of an interpersonal encounter, of a meeting face-to-face, of a dialogue between two subjects. God calls out to Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” and Moses responds, “Here I am.” “Through the creation to the Creator”: in and through the tree he beholds, Moses enters into communion with the living God.

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In the second place, God does not only appear to Moses but also issues a practical command to him: “Remove the sandals from your feet.” According to Greek Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, sandals or shoes — being made from the skins of dead animals — are something lifeless, inert, dead and earthly, and so they symbolize the heaviness, weariness, and mortality that assail our human nature as a result of the Fall.

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“Remove your sandals,” then, may be understood to signify: Strip off from yourself the deadness of familiarity and boredom; free yourself from the lifelessness of the trivial, the mechanical, the repetitive; wake up, open your eyes, cleanse the doors of your perception, look and see! And what, in the third place, happens to us when in this manner we strip off the dead skins of boredom and triviality? At once we realize the truth of God’s next words to Moses: “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Set free from spiritual deadness, awakening from sleep, opening our eyes both outwardly and inwardly, we look upon the world around us in a different way.

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So we enter the dimensions of sacred space and sacred time. We discern the great within the small, the extraordinary within the ordinary, “a world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour,” to quote Blake once more. This place where I am, this tree, this animal, this person to whom I am speaking, this moment of time through which I am living: each is holy, each is unique and unrepeatable, and each is therefore infinite in value.

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Combining Edward Carpenter’s living tree, uniting earth and heaven and the burning bush of Moses, we can see emerging a precise and distinctive conception of the universe. Nature is sacred. The world is a sacrament of the divine presence, a means of communion with God. The environment consists not in dead matter but in living relationship. The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power and glory. …

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For more Orthodox ecology of Transfiguration, theophanic transparency, pellucid double vision and Zen ‘haeccitas’, read the full article THROUGH CREATION TO THE CREATOR by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

 at http://incommunion.org/2004/12/11/through-creation-to-the-creator/

Love Without Limits

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“Whoever you are, whatever you may be, says the Lord of Love, my hand is resting upon you at this very moment. By this gesture, I am letting you know that I love you and that I call you for my own.

I have never ceased loving you, speaking to you, or calling you. Sometimes it was in silence and solitude. Sometimes it was there, where others were gathered in my name.

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Often you did not hear this call, because you were not listening. At other times you perceived it, but in a way that was vague and confused. Occasionally you were at the point of responding with acceptance. And sometimes you gave me that response without any lasting commitment. You were deeply moved to hear me. You recoiled from the decision to follow me.

Never thereafter did you finally submit, totally and exclusively, to the calling of Love.

Yet now, once again, I come to you. I want to speak to you once more. I want you wholly for myself. Let me repeat: Love desires you, totally and exclusively.

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I will speak to you in secret, confidentially, intimately. I will place my mouth close to your ear. Hear, then, what my lips want to speak to you in hushed tones—what they want to murmur to you.

I am your Lord, the Lord of Love. Do you want to enter into the life of Love?

This is not an invitation to some realm of tepid tenderness. It is a calling to enter into the burning flame of Love. There alone is true conversion: conversion to incandescent Love.

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Do you wish to become someone other than you have been, someone other than you are? Do you wish to be someone who lives for others, and first of all for that Other and with that Other who calls all things into being? Do you wish to be a brother to all, a brother to the entire world?

Then hear what my Love speaks to you.

My child, you have never known who you really are. You do not yet know yourself. I mean, you have never really known yourself to be the object of my Love. As a result, you have never known who you are in me, or all the potential within yourself.

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Awake from this sleep and its bad dreams! In certain moments of truth, you see nothing in yourself but failures and defeats, set-backs, corruption, and perhaps even crimes. But none of that is really of you. It is not your true “me,” the most profound expression of your true self.

Beneath and behind all that, deeper than all your sin, transgressions and lacks, my eyes are upon you. I see you, and I love you. It is you that I love. It’s not the evil you do—the evil that we can neither ignore nor deny nor lessen (is black actually white?). But underneath it all, at a greater depth, I see something else that is still very much alive.

The masks you wear, the disguises you adopt might well hide you from the eyes of others—and even from your own eyes. But they cannot hide you from me. I pursue you even there where no one has ever pursued you before.

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Your deceptive expression, your feverish quest for excitement, your hard and avaricious heart—all of that I separate from you. I cut it away and cast it far off from you.

Hear me. No one truly understands you. But I understand you. I can speak about you such wonderful, marvelous things! I can say these things about you. Not about the “you” that the powers of darkness have so often led astray, but about the “you” who is as I desire you to be, the “you” who dwells in my thoughts as the object of my love. I can say these things about the “you” who can still be what I want you to be, and to be so visibly.

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Become visibly, then, what you already are in my mind. Be the ultimate reality of yourself. Realize all the potential I have placed within you.

No man or woman is capable of realizing any inner beauty that is not equally present within you. There is no divine gift toward which you cannot aspire. Indeed, you will receive all those gifts together, if you truly love, with me and in me.

Whatever you may have done in the past, I will set you free, I will loose your bonds. And if I loose your bonds, who can prevent you from rising up and walking?

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Love Without Limits (orig. Amour Sans Limites), 1971

By A Monk of the Eastern Church

Archimandrite Lev Gillet, who signed many of his books “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” was one of the great Orthodox spiritual guides of the last century. It is difficult to render Fr Lev’s lyrical French into English, but we hope that these efforts will provide readers with something of the spiritual richness and profound theological insight that characterized this humble monk, who was truly a modern Father of the Church.

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Source: http://oca.org/reflections/archimandrite-lev-gillet/love-without-limits