Catechetical Letter

 

 

 

 

 

January 11, 2005

St. Theodosios the Great, Ven. Michael of Klops

  Catechesis: Wed 9:30

  Great Vespers: Sat 6pm

  Hours/Typica: Sun 9am

 

The Holy Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians.  First Epistle. Chapter 5.

 

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

(continued) à

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;  And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

 

Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

"And The Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" – St. Moses

 

Cultivating Awareness

 

Christ is baptized.

 

Orthodoxy is, in part, about the cultivation of awareness. The ‘little’ things – refusing to eat without honoring the Creator, trimming the lamp, greeting each other with the present Feast and our newborn names, keeping the fasts and the reverences – ensure that Christ is never entirely forgotten.

 

The full calendar, as often mentioned, accustoming our bodies to prayer in our icon corners, training our minds for the giving of thanks at meals, contending with the passions in keeping the fasts with reverence and joy, and keeping time with the liturgies, are ways of cultivating awareness.

 

These things in we neophytes (beginners) lead us to constant thanksgiving and praise, preferring Christ to the world, the Saints to other models for our lives, and other men over ourselves. From these cultivations, we learn to guard our speech, protect our consciences, love those whom we would not naturally love, and fast from passion. We learn union with our Creator and the unity of all men.

 

This sprouting of growth from our cultivation is not instantaneous, nor secured by the keeping of rules but rather by the investment of attention and discipline – ‘taking pains’ over time. The dilettante shies away from this gardening, because the days are long and the rewards gradual. He seeks to arrive at the end before beginning the work, to eat what he has not sown. One cannot skip many steps on a ladder. But theosis is a process. The way is through a kind of desert, and a desert both leads from something and to something, nor is it crossed in the space of a day. Would I be willing to die, in the crossing, setting out with only the assurance that, if I persevere, my Lord will not let my sleep be my end?

 

I could dare to say that the novice moves from the cultivation of awareness, gradually, into constant awareness – transfiguring the attitudes of the soul and the actions of the tongue, overcoming the death in his nature, governing his heart by means of the Holy Spirit. In truth, though, I cannot even really guess what this is like, since I am too long now a novice and certainly not a spiritual director. Of course, beginners let alone catechumens are not actually ready for a spiritual director. Rather, it is necessary, before any significant awareness of Christ that it is the true Christ, and not the manufacture of the world or the passions. Otherwise, awareness becomes vain sentimentality or philosophy – an exercise in histrionics or the theoretical.

 

What then? I propose merely that we begin or, if we have begun, that we continue. As always, I say these things to remind my godchildren and catechumens, to inform enquirers, and because in this same week I am struggling with these things, and find a helpful inner council in preparing lessons.

 

As an example: Think for a moment about the meaning of each part of the prayer to the Holy Spirit:

 

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art in all places and fillest all things

Thou Treasury of Blessing and Giver of Life, Come and abide in us

And cleanse us from every stain, And save our souls, O Good One.

 

Can I begin to maintain awareness of what it is I am saying to God?

Guarding the Conscience

 

My topic is film, books, music and other popular art that exalt suffering and the supernatural – suffering and demonism. Recently, I wrote a review of Sin City, which addressed the way in which its creators intentionally encourage us to enjoy suffering. I addressed the fact that simulations of life, which is partly what art is, fail only when they don’t affect us. They succeed only when they achieve some attitude in us – something beyond sleep. The intended attitudes, far from being morally neutral, are subject to the same kind of evaluation as the attitudes we have that are not inspired by art. We can evaluate whether or not what is encouraged in us are the passions and false views of the world.

 

This is not to say that we should never consume art that encourages such things; that is a choice between the individual, his father confessor or spiritual director, and Christ. However, it is possible to consider some art more dubious than other art. Pornography, for instance, can have artistic production values, but to treat it either as edifying or as morally neutral, or to tempt the soul with it, are dubious undertakings for a Christian.

 

The views I offered could easily be mistaken for a dualistic pietism, which separates secular and religious life into two opposed categories, so that what is left is “Christian art” which contains some semblance of doctrine or the values of Christianized civilization, and “Secular Art” which lacks or challenges these things. We cannot do that, however, and still believe that the world is Christ’s and that, by His Incarnation, He has redeemed all of it.

 

While it would not be my place to determine for another person what art he should or should not consume, or even to presume to know the reasons for it, it is not inappropriate to observe that the Fathers instruct us to guard the conscience, to keep it gentle, sensitive, and vulnerable to Christ. If our reason for being is theosis, and our twin goals are overcoming the passions and seeing God, then we must each make choices about the things to which we subject the conscience. These choices that are not merely ‘personal’, as some would have it; they are made in honesty and vulnerability to our father confessor or spiritual director, and in synergy with the Holy Spirit.

 

If I desire to do all things in union – in synergy – with God, to overcome the passions and to see God, then I must consider not only whether at any given time, I can do so peaceably and easily – whether what I’m doing facilitates this or makes it more difficult.

 

If someone says he is made more rather than less sensitive to the value of other human beings, when their suffering is glorified; if he says that he is moved to contemplation of Christ when the intrigue of occult and demonic experiences are the subject of fascination, I wonder only in that we seem to have nothing in common. But it is perhaps that such a one can remain untroubled in conscience, since all things are pure to the pure. The fruit of our labours, however we labour, will eventually tell if this is so, and this, only Our Lord can finally and truly judge.

 

Let us not forget, however, the constant encouragement of the Holy Apostles and the Fathers, and the words of our own prayers that God may, with our participation, “sanctify our souls; cleanse our bodies; direct our thoughts, and cleanse our minds”.

 

This is especially so, as some of us prepare for Holy Baptism, and the washing of the conscience, and the rest of us to stand with these as always, saying the baptismal prayers. As St. Peter says:  There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  And again, St. Paul: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

 

If you happen to think of me, make the thought a prayer. -- the unworthy