Catechetical Letter

 

January 18, 2005

St. Athanasius & St. Cyril

 

  Catechesis: Wed 9:30

  Great Vespers: Sat 6pm

  Hours/Typica: Sun 9am

 

 

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  – St. James

 

 

 

The Holy Apostle Paul to the Hebrews  Chapter 12, 1-15.

 

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

 

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

 

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

 

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

 

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

 

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

 

But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

 

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

 

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

 

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

 

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

 

And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

 

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

 

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

 

 

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I am one of the goats, but as for the sheep, God alone knows who they are.  -- Sayings of the Desert Fathers

 

Mutual Confession and Self-Accusation

 

It is good to confess our sins to one another, if we can bear to do so. It is good to admit our faults. I am striving to learn to always be ready to admit my faults and, when I cannot see a fault, to accuse myself with my accusers, so I don’t fall into the most dangerous sin of pride.  While justifying myself before my brethren, I may lose that quiet of conscience that comes from vulnerability and contrition before God. How will I hear, if he corrects me in my brethren? If the Lord corrected St. Anthony in the desert, how am I above correction in the midst of the luxuriant wellspring of men? It is good to listen for God.

 

It is easier for me to admit sins I have committed, though, than to accuse myself when others wrongfully accuse me. Can I bear to say, “I am guilty” whenever another says that I sin? Can I say, “I remember it differently, but perhaps you are right,” when I am falsely accused – misquoted or misrepresented? If I can bear insults, as the Lord teaches, can I bear unjust insults, slander, attacks on the dignity of my character? Can I bear to be thought of in a different way than I think of myself? Can I accept being wronged? Can I accept it without railing at it? Can I go to slaughter without resistance? Can I keep humility, if I am wronged, without welling up with pride that knows my innocence? Can I bear being misunderstood and presumed upon? Can I bear it from brethren, and not only from the world? If I cannot, am I not then right in saying, “I am guilty.”?

 

The Imaginary Foe

 

My godchildren and my hope, without whose prayers I cannot hope to be saved. Rather routinely, and following as best I can the holy fathers, I share with you pitfalls I’ve experienced. I am not like a staretz or even an abbot or one of the fathers, except that Christ has pleased to make me your father in leading you into the faith as much as I can, with dread and trembling, sharing with you the unique filial bond that makes Anastasia and I your parents in the Lord, and you our most beloved children, who remain brothers and sisters and friends. It is to you I write, while Anastasia sends love.

 

I know several kinds of psychosis that can afflict those who have powerful imaginations. Two close friends have spoken to me of some of them, so that I know I am not alone in occasionally struggling with the effects of death on so powerful an organ. One such problem begins with seeing another person in the mind’s eye – though it is not so much seeing him as seeing what I think he is. The person argues with me, and won’t listen, and attacks. And we wrestle together in my imagination. And when I have finished daydreaming, I have confirmed the justice of my own attitude and the injustice of his, and now have a sense that I know his failings.

 

In truth, the events of the daydream have never actually happened; they are not real. But my passions and the enemy’s power over me have given them a kind of false reality in my perceptions. Now, then, when I see this person next, I respond as though I know his thoughts, motivations, attitudes, responses, and what he will do in a given situation. I know the daydream is not actually true, but I act as though its conclusions are real ones. I treat him with the expectation of his imagined failures. This is great delusion infested with all manner of passions – the blindness of pride and of judgment – costing the Spirit of grace and humility.

 

In truth, this one is not now my enemy, but rather I have become both his enemy and mine. Lord have mercy. I then fight with myself inside and with my brother outside, conflating two foes, though I am to blame for it all. What then can I do? If I cannot find humility in my heart, and the grace to prefer this person to myself, and if I am caught up in the presumption that judges him, then I must adopt the attitude that his prayers are my only hope.

 

Especially when struggling with this, and indeed at all times, I must guard my tongue, my conscience, my thoughts, and perceptions. I must work to see how this person is more righteous than me. I must strive to see this person as one of the sheep while I am one of the goats, this person as likely to be saved and I to be condemned, and I must ask the Lord to have mercy on me for my sins, to deliver me from harmful fantasies, and to save me by this person’s prayers. Then I can develop the tender spirit toward him that sees only my wrongs to him, and not any wrongs of his. And if I love, forgive, and prefer my brother whom I can see, then perhaps God whom I cannot see will save me along with him.

 

Unworthy to Teach

 

My flaws as a catechist occur to me frequently. I wonder if I communicate clearly that I am flawed and know it, and pray only that all I say to you, whether in speaking or writing, is taken less with regard to my unworthy example, and more after the example of the One I am describing. It is Him I am also striving to reach, with your help, and if I say anything about Him, it is because I have met Him and know Him in however small a way, and desire that you would know Him too, and would likewise teach me how we may be examples to each other.

 

I call you ‘my catechumens’ out of affection and devotion, to keep myself in mind of my responsibility with fear, but there is only one Catechist, one Father, one Teacher, one Evangel. I dare, with dread of judgment, to teach you and speak to you of the glories of Christ, the richness of the fullness of the Church and pieties of the Saints: partly because I cannot contain myself – His mercies endure forever; partly because I see your hunger and your need – He is True Food; partly because, my beloved godchildren, I desire your fullness in the fullness of Christ – He Who fills the hearts of men as Heavens. I offer words because you are my true friends, for whom I will risk so much, and my godchildren, whose very breath I hold precious and so give you what I have to give. And in the end, I offer you my life, in the form of this vocation, that your prayers to Christ may stand for me at the Judgment as I have stood for you in prayers at your induction as catechumens, praying for you still. You are my hope of mercy and the reward of Heaven, if you save me by your prayers.

 

For my part, I have taught you nothing of use to your salvation if it is not to follow the example of our holy fathers, those who are with Christ in glory. If I have not led you to the example of humility and dispassion in Our Champion Leader, the all-blameless all-holy Ark of Our Salvation. If I have not directed your attention to the altar of the One Holy Church, where Christ is, the uncontainable God. And to the heavens where the angels gaze upon us and the Saints surround us with cheers, swift to aid, strong in prayer, fierce in battle, and ever directing our attentions to Christ the Life of all flesh. If I have not laid before you the infallible councils of the only Church, the concert witness of the venerable Fathers, the example of the mighty athletes in the desert. If I have not introduced you to Christ, ever humble for us, who desires you for his own, as precious ones, as friends, as little children. I have nothing in myself to teach, nor any original words of any great importance. I can only, as a flawed worker in the fields of my Master’s pasture lead you to the flawless Shepherd. He is our Life and prime example. Do take my hand, likewise, and lead me to Him, and don’t forget me when I falter.

 

Glory to God for His handmaiden, Anastasia, my wife and your godmother in the Lord, who teaches me how to give thanks to the God who lives, and instructs me with all humility in childlike faith, governing my passions by the example of gentleness. Glory to God for my godson, the catechumen of Christ, who restores my soul through sincerity and faith and fidelity, strengthens me through perseverance and teaches me humility. Glory for the goddaughter and child of my heart, catechumen of Christ and beloved daughter to lighten me with her brightness in Him, who teaches me to struggle for humility at great cost, instructs me in hope and lovingkindness, teaching her teacher well. Glory for the servant of God, my friend, who informs my heart how love keeps the truth inviolate. Glory for the one who first taught and led me and so has given me gifts for my beloved. Glory to God for Matthew, and by his prayers save me, the unworthy. Remember in your prayers the child Charles with an affliction of the eyes since birth, and me if you should think of me.