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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS 1225 ' 1274

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Thirteenth Century 
by Josef Pieper  

From the opening chapter of Guide to Thomas Aquinas | January 28, 2011 | Ignatius Insight


So bound up is the life of St. Thomas Aquinas with the thirteenth century that the year in which the century reached its mid-point, 1250, was likewise the mid-point of Thomas' life, though he was only twenty-five years old at the time and still sitting at the feet of Albertus Magnus as a student in the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Cologne. The thirteenth century has been called the specifically "Occidental" century. The significance of this epithet has not always been completely clarified, but in a certain sense I too accept the term. I would even assert that the special quality of "Occidentality" was ultimately forged in that very century, and by Thomas Aquinas himself. It depends, however, on what we understand by "OccidentaIity." We shall have more to say on this matter.

There exists the romantic notion that the thirteenth century was an era of harmonious balance, of stable order, and of the free flowering of Christianity. Especially in the realm of thought, this was not so. The Louvain historian Fernand van Steenberghen speaks of the thirteenth century as a time of "crisis of Christian intelligence"; [1] and Gilson comments: "Anybody could see that a crisis was brewing." [2]

What, in concrete terms, was the situation? First of all we must point out that Christianity, already besieged by Islam for centuries, threatened by the mounted hordes of Asiatics (1241 is the year of the battle with the Mongols at Liegnitz)—that this Christianity of the thirteenth century had been drastically reminded of how small a body it was within a vast non-Christian world. It was learning its own limits in the most forceful way, and those limits were not only territorial. Around 1253 or 1254 the court of the Great Khan in Karakorum, in the heart of Asia, was the scene of a disputation of two French mendicant friars with Mohammedans and Buddhists. Whether we can conclude that these friars represented a "universal mission sent forth out of disillusionment with the old Christianity," [3] is more than questionable. But be this as it may, Christianity saw itself subjected to a grave challenge, and not only from the areas beyond its territorial limits.

For a long time the Arab world, which had thrust itself into old Europe, had been impressing Christians not only with its military and political might but also with its philosophy and science. Through translations from the Arabic into Latin, Arab philosophy and Arab science had become firmly established in the heart of Christendom—at the University of Paris, for example. Looking into the matter more closely, of course, we are struck by the fact that Arab philosophy and science were not Islamic by origin and character. Rather, classical ratio, epitomized by Aristotle, had by such strangely involved routes come to penetrate the intellectual world of Christian Europe. But in the beginning, at any rate, it was felt as something alien, new, dangerous, "pagan."

During this same period, thirteenth-century Christendom was being shaken politically from top to bottom. Internal upheavals of every sort were brewing. Christendom was entering upon the age "in which it would cease to be a theocratic unity," [4] and would, in fact, never be so again. In 1214 a national king (as such) for the first time won a victory over the Emperor (as such) at the Battle of Bouvines. During this same period the first religious wars within Christendom flared up, to be waged with inconceivable cruelty on both sides. Such was the effect of these conflicts that all of southern France and northern Italy seemed for decades to be lost once and for all to the corpus of Christendom. Old monasticism, which was invoked as a spiritual counterforce, seems (as an institution, that is to say, seen as a whole) to have become impotent, in spite of all heroic efforts to reform it (Cluny, Citeaux, etc.). And as far as the bishops were concerned—and here, too, of course, we are making a sweeping statement—an eminent Dominican prior of Louvain, who incidentally may have been a fellow pupil of St. Thomas under Albertus Magnus in Cologne, wrote the following significant homily: In 1248 it happened at Paris that a cleric was to preach before a synod of bishops; and while he was considering what he should say, the devil appeared to him. "Tell them this alone," the devil said. "The princes of infernal darkness offer the princes of the Church their greetings. We thank them heartily for leading their charges to us and commend the fact that due to their negligence almost the entire world is succumbing to darkness." [5]

But of course it could not be that Christianity should passively succumb to these developments. Thirteenth-century Christianity rose In Its own defense, and in a most energetic fashion. Not only were great cathedrals built in that century; It saw also the founding of the first universities. The universities undertook, among other things, the task of assimilating classical ideas and philosophy, and to a large extent accomplished this task.

There was also the whole matter of the "mendicant orders," which represented one of the most creative responses of Christianity. These new associations quite unexpectedly allied !hemselves with the institution of the university. The most important university teachers of the century, in Paris as well as in Oxford, were all monks of the mendicant orders. All in all, nothing seemed to be "finished"; everything had entered a state of flux. AIbertus Magnus voiced this bold sense of futurity in the words: Scientiae demonstrativae non omnes factae sunt, sed plures restant adhuc inveniendae; most of what exists in the realm of knowledge remains still to be discovered. [6] 

The mendicant orders took the lead in moving out into the world beyond the frontiers of Christianity. Shortly after the nuddle of the century, while Thomas was writing his Summa Against the Pagans, addressed to the mahumetistae et pagani, [7] the Dominicans were founding the first Christian schools for teaching the Arabic language. I have already spoken of the disputation between the mendicant friars and the sages of Eastern faiths in Karakorum. Toward the end of the century a Franciscan translated the New Testament and the Psalms into Mongolian and presented this translation to the Great Khan. He was the same Neapolitan, John of Monte Corvino, who built a church alongside the Impenal Palace in Peking and who became the first Archbishop of Peking.

This mere listing of a few events, facts, and elements should make it clear that the era was anything but a harmonious one. There is little reason for wishing for a return to those times—aside from the fact that such wishes are in themselves foolish.

Nevertheless, it may be said that in terms of the history of thought this thirteenth century, for all its polyphonic character, did attain something like harmony and "classical fullness." At least this was so for a period of three or four decades. Gilson speaks of a kind of "serenity." [8] And although that moment in time is of course gone and cannot ever again be summoned back, it appears to have left its traces upon the memory of Western Christianity, so that it is recalled as something paradigmatic and exemplary, a kind of ideal spirit of an age which men long to see realized once more, although under changed conditions and therefore, of course, in some altogether new cast.

Now as it happens, the work of Thomas Aquinas falls into that brief historical moment. Perhaps it may be said that his work embodies that moment. Such, at any rate, is the sense in which St. Thomas' achievement has been understood in the Christian world for almost seven hundred years; such are the terms in which it has repeatedly been evaluated. Not by all, to be sure (Luther called Thomas "the greatest chatterbox" among the scholastic theologians [9]); but the voices of approbation and reverence have always predominated. And even aside from his written work, his personal destiny and the events of his life unite virtually all the elements of that highly contradictory century in a kind of "existential" synthesis. We shall now speak of these matters at greater length, and in detail.

First of all, a few remarks regarding books.

The best introduction to the spirit of St. Thomas is, to my mind, the small book by G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas. [10] This is not a scholarly work in the proper sense of the word; it might be called journalistic—for which reason I am somewhat chary about recommending it. Maisie Ward, co-owner of the British-American publishing firm which publishes the book, writes in her biography of Chesterton [11] that at the time her house published it, she was seized by a slight anxiety. However, she goes on to say, Etienne Gilson read it and commented: "Chesterton makes one despair. I have been studying St. Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book." Still troubled by the ambiguity of this comment, Maisie Ward asked Gilson once more for his verdict on the Chesterton book. This time he expressed himself in unmistakable terms: "I consider it as being, without possible comparison, the best book ever written on St. Thomas. . . . Everybody will no doubt admit that it is a 'clever' book, but the few readers who have spent twenty or thirty years in studying St. Thomas Aquinas, and who, perhaps, have themselves published two or three volumes on the subject, cannot fail to perceive that the so-called 'wit' of Chesterton has put their scholarship to shame. . . . He has said all that which they were more or less clumsily attempting to express in academic formulas." Thus Gilson. I think this praise somewhat exaggerated; but at any rate I need feel no great embarrassment about recommending an "unscholarly" book.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Fernand van Steenberghen, Le XIIIe siecle. In Forest, van Steenberghen, and de Gandillac, Le Mouvement doctrinal du Xle au XIVe siecle. Fliche-Martin, Histoire de l'Eglise vol. 13 (Paris, 1951), p. 303.

[2] Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (London and New York, 1955), p. 325.

[3] Friedrich Reer, Europaische Geistesgeschichte (Stuttgart, 1953), p.147.

[4] Marie-Dominique Chenu, Introduction a l'etude de St. Thomas d'Aquin (Paris—Montreal, 1950), p. 13.

[5] Gustav Schnurer, Kirche und Kultur im Mittelalter (Paderborn, 1926), II, p. 441.

[6] Liber primus Posteriorum Analyticorum, tract. 1, cap. 1 Opera Omnia. Ed. A. Borgnet (Paris, 1890), tom. 2, p. 3.

[7] C. G. 1,2.

[8] Gilson, History, p. 325.

[9] Joseph Lortz, Die Reformation in Deutschland (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1939), I, p. 352.

[10] Heidelberg, 1956.

[11] Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York, 1943), p. 620. 

The Spirituality of St. Thomas Aquinas
ROMANUS CESSARIO, O.P.
We see Aquinas's spiritual self-understanding reveals his deep personal love for Jesus Christ in the words that he spoke before receiving the blessed Eucharist for the last time: "I now receive you who are the price of my soul's redemption, I receive you who are the food for my final journey, and for the love of whom I have studied, kept vigil, and struggled;

We see Aquinas’s spiritual self-understanding reveal his deep personal love for Jesus Christ in the words that he spoke before receiving the blessed Eucharist for the last time: “I now receive you who are the price of my soul’s redemption, I receive you who are the food for my final journey, and for the love of whom I have studied, kept vigil, and struggled; indeed, it was you, Jesus, that I preached and you that I taught.”

While some categories favored by recent spiritual authors, such as religious experience and community, do not figure as key notions in Aquinas’s writings, both his philosophical and theological treatises provide rich sources of insight about the human experience of transcendence and man’s mystical bond with God. It is customary to identify three strains of mystical teaching that appear in the works of Thomas Aquinas: Being-mysticism, Bridal-mysticism, and Knowledge-mysticism.

BEING-MYSTICISM

The twentieth-century German theologian Josef Pieper once suggested that Aquinas should have been known as Friar Thomas of the Creation. For while St. Thomas, as he himself testifies, did everything out of an unstinting love for the incarnate Son of God, the surpassing riches of Christ never kept him from drawing the full theological implications of St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

As the Catholic faith teaches that the created order witnesses to the existence of a God who entirely surpasses every form of finiteness and contingency, Aquinas can argue that the human experience of transcendence is founded on the causal relationships that bind the created person with the Creator. By appeal to the real distinction in created beings between their specific identity (essentia) and their actual existence (esse), Aquinas unequivocally excludes all forms of pantheism or panentheism.

St. Thomas instead describes an ordering that obtains between intellectual creatures and God and that establishes the basis for a certain kind of justice: Reverence for and submission to an utterly transcendent God are among the dispositions that religion requires of the human person. Of course, to acknowledge an acquired virtue of religion in no way prejudices the fact that the only perfect worship of God remains that which is revealed by Jesus Christ and is practiced in the Church of faith and sacraments.

Aquinas’s appreciation for creation as providing the basis for an analogical knowledge of the supernatural order lies at the heart of his Being-mysticism, for which the most celebrated commentator remains the German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327).

BRIDAL-MYSTICISM

Aquinas also would have merited the title Friar Thomas of the Incarnation. For as commentary on the magisterial documents that affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ, Aquinas’s discussion of the metaphysics of the Incarnation ranks among the best in this genre of Christian literature. Aquinas locates the supreme moment of alliance between God and man in the hypostatic union. In the person of the Son, a human nature comes together with the divine nature, without either one thereby suffering division or mixture.

As the primordial wedding between God and mankind, the Incarnation makes a personal relationship between God and human persons possible; for each member of the human family becomes an adopted son or daughter of God only in the one incarnate Son.

Aquinas’s Bridal-mysticism emphasizes the intimate communication with God that Christ’s mission makes possible for all persons. So while the human person can approach the Creator in a spirit of reverence and submission, only those who are sons or daughters in Christ dare address God using the familiar name: Abba, Father. Aquinas’s explanations about the person and life of Christ — especially his salvific death, his Virgin Mother, his mystical body, which is the Church, and the sacraments — all serve to explain how this privileged form of personal communion with God begins and develops in the Christian believer.

As Aquinas’s own deathbed prayer witnesses, the blessed Eucharist preeminently realizes his Incarnation-centered mysticism, for at the moment of Holy communion the Christian believer is joined with the person of Christ as present under the sacramental signs of bread and wine. The Sienese Dominican Catherine Benincase (1347-1380), who, while herself communicating, received a mystical ring as a symbol of her extraordinary spiritual union with Christ, best represents Aquinas’s Bridal-mysticism. Moreover, her indefatigable defense of Christ’s mystical body points out the ecclesial aspect of communio that Aquinas assumes as the foundation for all true Christian mysticism.

KNOWLEDGE-MYSTICISM

On Aquinas’s account, the theological virtue of faith is first of all a perfection of the human mind. Under the impulse of divine grace, God moves the human will to assent to truths that surpass reason’s grasp and for which God therefore serves as the only source and guarantor. But theological faith also effects a marriage between the human person and God. In one of his short works, the Exposition on the Decretales to the Archideacon of Todi, Aquinas cites the biblical text from Hosea, “I will espouse thee to me in faith,” in order to emphasize the mystical dimension of Christian belief. Thus, Aquinas teaches that this virtue leads the human person not only to a cognitive grasp of revealed truth, but also to an authentic embrace of the divine Persons that such truths represent.

The transformation of the human intellect that faith achieves in the believer is the beginning of the new life that charity establishes in the person. By the gracious condescension of the divine Goodness, charity makes the human person a lover of God, and this love reaches its earthly perfection in the affective beholding of God that Aquinas calls “contemplation.”

For Aquinas, contemplative prayer forms part of the ordinary dynamic of Christian mysticism. The spiritual elitism that characterizes certain European mystics of the seventeenth century, such as the Spanish priest Miguel Molinos (c. 1640-1697) and the French clairvoyant Madame Guyon (1648-1717), finds no support in the works of Thomas Aquinas. On the contrary, as his teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit makes plainly evident, the theological life of faith and charity develops into a form of habitual connaturality that makes the felt experience of God a swift matter of ease and joy. Aquinas himself provides a peerless illustration of this Knowledge-mysticism.

CATCHING UP ON TH ANGELIC DOCTOR

You may have been far away from books by and about St. Thomas Aquinas lately. If so, Crisis suggests the following books, both new and old, to renew your acquaintance with the perennial philosophy and, as Father Cessario points out, its inexhaustible spirituality.

Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings, translated and edited by Simon Tugwell, Paulist Press, 1988: Tugwell’s 150-page introduction to his selection of Aquinas’s texts, stressing the importance of his theological reflection and biblical commentary, is one of the most refreshing essays written on St. Thomas in years. The Summa of the Summa, edited by Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press, 1990: There is no better way to find shortcuts through the Summa than to be led by one of our nation’s leading Thomists and Catholic apologists. Ralph McInerny, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists, University of Notre Dame Press, 1990: McInerny brings both his humor and concision to a volume intended for those who want the arguments of St. Thomas, not biography or history. The latter is included in McInerny’s marvelous St. Thomas Aquinas, University of Notre Dame, 1982. Joseph Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas, University of Notre Dame Press, 1987 (out of print). Along with Chesterton’s Dumb Ox, Pieper’s short masterpiece still makes the most persuasive case for Aquinas’s historical and contemporary importance. St. Thomas On Politics and Ethics, edited by Paul Sigmund, W. W. Norton & Co., 1988: Fascinating combination of newly translated primary texts, historical documents, contemporary interpretations, and debates. Very useful in understanding the twentieth-century importance of Thomism in controversies over natural law and social ethics. The Ways of God: For prayer and meditation, Sophia Institute Press, 1995: Although only apocryphally attributed to St. Thomas, this marvelous handbook of spirituality is now reprinted as a pocket-sized book. In 1273, shortly before his death, Aquinas experienced the utter nothingness of his vast literary output. “I can write no more,” he told his secretary, “for all that I have written seems like straw in comparison to what I have seen.” Perhaps Aquinas’s own biography more forcefully demonstrates how he conceived the immediacy of the mystical experience than do his unsurpassed writings on the Christian life.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Cessario, Romanus. “The Spirituality of St. Thomas Aquinas.” Crisis (July/August, 1996).

Reprinted by permission of the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962.

THE AUTHOR


Romanus Cessario, O.P., is a Dominican and teaches systematic theology at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.
Copyright © 1996 Crisis 


ST THOMAS AQUINAS AND

 ORTHODOXY

AN ORTHODOX THEOLOGIAN SPEAKS

Friday, 24 January 2014

LOVE AND PRAYER: WORDS FROM ST ELIZABETH'S ORTHODOX CONVENT IN MINSK, BELARUS



I WOULD LIKE TO SAY A COUPLE OF WORDS ABOUT LOVE. SORRY IF I SPEAK TOO LOW”

Fragment of a meeting of the monastic sisters on December 2, 2013
Novice Yekaterina: I would like to say a couple of words about love. Sorry if I speak too low. Father, you asked us to think about it and share our thoughts during the meeting.

Father Andrew: Well, please share your thoughts with us, inspire the sisters.

Novice Yekaterina: I have noticed that it becomes more and more difficult day by day for me to attend our meetings and to listen. I often cannot understand why it happens.

I have been going through tough times in my life recently. My strength disappeared and everything was hard to bear. A self-critical thought dawned on me and showed me the way out of that dead-end: “I do not take care of the life of my soul and this is why I waste so much effort in vain.” This was what helped me.

How is it related to the topic of love? Love, as I feel it, is when you work hard to preserve your inner life, and this is how you can let God act through you, through your words and actions.

Father Andrew: In spite of your physical condition or mental state...

Novice Yekaterina: In spite of everything. God's love is when you have the courage to talk about the eternal life even while you are dying. You do not live in full accord with the spiritual truths, but you still “open your mouth” for the sake of the people around you. Or, in other words, you do not live what you preach but you still preach for others' sake. Thus, the Lord miraculously acts within your heart, and your soul can feel the support from above.

As a rule, the monastic sisters hold meetings with the staff of our workshop every Friday. I had to talk during one such meeting last Friday. I felt uneasy because of that. I thought, “I do not want to say anything, I feel empty inside.” First of all, I had to cheer them up, to tell them something positive and good. I did not fully believe in what I “preached”. I told them about trust. In the meantime, I came to realise that these words were aimed at me as well.

A beautiful bird flies high in the sky above the mountain peaks. It looks so nice; one can feel freedom and buoyancy in all its movements! Given all that, if the birds did not have the Godsent talent of proper “navigation”, they would die after hitting rocks and getting lost. I am convinced that a human soul is likewise wonderful and free as long as it hearkens to the divine harmony but as soon as it loses its connection to God, it falls prey to its own mistakes and shortcomings.

Father Andrew: So you were speaking with the people but in fact your words were aimed at yourself?

Novice Yekaterina: Yes, they were. This is perhaps what the spiritual life is all about: when you struggle for the sake of others every day, with every word, accompanying it with attention; when you toil and cultivate your soul. This kind of struggle takes place in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. This is the love that lets one sacrifice their soul for their friends. I used to think that love means actions – acting nicely. I often see that I am incapable of “heroism” today. Anyway, I believe that working hard every day is more difficult in some respect than making a huge leap once. I simply try to be looking for the innermost, alternative reserves of power for the struggle with my sins and passions. First of all, I would like to see God’s image in all people.

I was very affectionate towards my relatives and friends since my childhood. Every single day, a person who is close to you becomes a revelation again. As I was growing up, I was thinking, “Before I endeavour to understand my neighbour, I have to get closer to the depths of my own soul.” The heart is said to be deep. Before we learn to love our neighbour properly, we have to learn how to love ourselves properly.

My obedience includes supply of raw materials to the workshop where I work. This is why I mostly talk with secular people. I would like to see God in them. Sometimes I see something that is too human or sinful in them, and I am very sad because of that. I look for a way out of this tunnel vision and this is when I face the issue of trust as a positive feature in conversation and cooperation. However I look at it, everything depends on me. If I shine from the inside, people will help the Convent, if I pray, grace will surely be made manifest.

Father Andrew: It allows the person to find God with your help and to overcome death and sin, to get straight with his or her life and change everything for the better.

Novice Yekaterina: I see that secular people are much more decent than I am, and they work a lot more. So I consider it nonsense to tell them how to live: it is me who needs to learn from them. However, I have the support of the Holy Church. The fact that the Lord allows me to be here in the Convent, to drink from this fountain of grace and stay close to it must be thanks to God’s Providence. The Lord wants to act through me: ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.

I was thinking about St Seraphim of Sarov and about other great servants of God. Some of their belongings still exist, and people kiss these things as if they are sacred. I am fascinated and inspired by the thought that one’s life with God sanctifies not only his or her flesh, but also even the material objects that they used during their earthly lives.

Father Andrew: Love restores to health. I can testify that when we were on a pilgrimage to Diveevo with some sisters, they showed us the bast shoe that St Seraphim had worn. They told me, “Put it on!” I said, “Come on, are you kidding?” I did not believe that I would be healed. However, I did recover: my leg was swollen but the oedema went away after I wore the Saint’s bast shoe. This is what true love is like: even if you do not believe in it, it still heals you.

Novice Yekaterina: An idea that has just crossed my mind is that the light you have within you enlightens everything around you. I mean, sometimes I feel that life becomes harder and harder for me. Speaking, reading, and sharing what God gives me with others is my refuge.

Father Andrew: Thank you, Sister Yekaterina. Your words were like honey for our souls. God's strength is made perfect in weakness, so everyone can reach out to God.


December 19, 2013


“YOU ARE ALSO IN THIS PRAYER”

Fragment of a meeting of the monastic sisters on December 9, 2013
Sister N.: Father Sophrony (Sakharov) used to ask his elder to pray for him many times but the elder simply prayed the Jesus prayer. Finally, the elder said, “You are also in this prayer.” Father, can you please explain this to me? 

Father Andrew: He prayed both for himself and for that person; he did not dissociate himself from that person. He prayed on behalf of the entire humankind, which calls unto God for help. Father Sophrony also was a part of this prayer. He was young and inexperienced at that time, and such an attitude towards prayer, worship, and obedience showed the excellence of the spiritual life to him, even though there were mistakes and misunderstanding on his way. Remember what St Seraphim of Sarov said? “Acquire peace inside you and thousands will be saved around you.” It does not matter who will happen to be around you: Manya or Tanya – anyone whom God sends to be around you will be saved. 

Moreover, it is said that every good action that you do, each prayer that you say, influences the whole world. However, we do not feel that we live in this eternity, we do not feel that we live globally; we only live in our own cells, doing our own little jobs and never trying to look out of the box. We feel bad even within our small limits: that sister snores, I am fed up with her, give me freedom. What freedom? Freedom from whom? From yourself? If only we lived within the frameworks of the eternity, our life would change drastically; we would no longer search for anything usable in the discarded stuff but look for the real things. In fact, God controls every situation. This is astonishing. The words “have mercy on me a sinner” may be thought of as including the entire humankind. This is the alternative dimension again. It makes one responsible for all other people. If I do not go to church now, if I am lazy or dozy, if I spare myself, how many people would suffer because of my sin, how much pain and evil I would inflict on them! If we realise all this, we are doing it the Orthodox way. This is why a monastic distances himself from his blood relatives in order to be able to accept Africans, Eskimos, Australians, and all nations as his brothers and sisters, or else everything is fake.

December 30, 2013

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Monks from the Kiev-Caves Lavra stand between police and demonstrators in Kiev

  I wonder if the BBC mentioned this incident.   I doubt it.   I am beginning to believe that the BBC lacks integrity when talking about the role of Christians in world affairs.  A couple of days ago,Some stupid woman in her BBC commentary, asked rhetorically about what the Vatican has to do with the Syrian peace talks.   In the same vein, this helpful gesture will be either passed over in silence or will be mentioned when most people will not hear it.   (Thanks to Jim Forest for this contribution.) 


Yesterday morning, monks from the Kiev-Caves Lavra Fr. Gabriel, Fr. Melchisedek, and Fr. Ephraim stood on Grushevsky Street in Kiev with a cross and icons, between the demonstrators and the Ukrainian special police force “Berkut”, and stopped the conflict. They entered the arena as peace-makers, and not in support of one side or the other.

Although they were invited to join the “people”, the fathers only prayed and sang the Paschal troparion: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” wrote the Ramensky deanery of Moscow on its facebook page. The conflict ceased.

As the website Pravoslavie v Ukraine (“Orthodoxy in the Ukraine”) learned, at around 9:00 a.m., clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church came to Grushevsky Street, placed themselves between the warring sides, and began to pray, calling both sides to stop their fighting and repent.

The monks have no intention of leaving until the situation has completely stabilized.

The clergymen are currently continuing their prayer on Grushevsky Street in shifts. Archimandrite Alipy (Svetlichny) wrote in his facebook page at 19:30 yesterday concerning the events:

“I just came home to change my clothes and warm myself. I am writing quickly. That is because at midnight I must return to the Maidan, which has turned all of its aggression to Grushevsky Street. From 14:00 I stood with the brothers of Desyatina Monastery at their prayer post. After 18:00 Fr. Victor, secretary of the diocese, and Fr. Giorgy, press secretary, arrived. They took my place. I am grateful to them for that, because my neck muscles stiffened.

You can’t even imagine how important it is for the clergy to stand there!

So many people came up to us (even people in masks!—secretly) and thanked us for standing there. They were surprised that we were from the Moscow Patriarchate [as opposed to the schismatic “Ukrainian Patriarchate”—ed.]. I will write quickly: my teeth are still chattering, but I have to go back.” Fr. Alipy planned to be there until 6:00 a.m. today.

The violence between the demonstrators and the special forces began on January 19, after the demonstrators made a failed attempt to break through the police cordon and enter the Supreme Rada building. Radical factions among the demonstrators began throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, who in turn took more violent measures against the demonstrators after hearing rumors that new Molotov cocktails contained liquid sodium.
Pravoslavie.ru

22/ 01/ 14



A FIVE YEAR OLD READS THE EPISTLE



Saturday, 11 January 2014

"THE PROOF OF GOD IS BEAUTY," Pope Benedict XVI; JESUS IS EPIPHANY, Pope Francis;

One thing that annoys me is the wide contrast that is drawn between Popes Benedict and Francis.  Before he was called to Rome, Ratzinger's preferred mode of transport was a bicycle; but he wasn't popular, so it was ignored by the press.   When he came to Lima as papal representative,  he went to an official function in Villa Salvador, a poor area of the city, not by car, but by public bus; but he wasn't popular, and it was ignored by the press.   When he worked as a cardinal in Rome, he preferred to walk to his office.   One day, a young couple went up to him and said that they wanted a photograph.   It never occurred to him that they wanted his photograph.  He said, "Certainly," and took the camera from the man and told them to stand closer to one another.   It was only when he had taken the photograph that they made it clear that they wanted to take a photo of him; but he wasn't popular, and such stories were ignored by the press.  Below, he is in a question and answer session with ordinary priests; and it seems to be forgotten too easily how he impressed the English in his visit to the country.   In his interview he is seen to have identical views on evangelisation, attracting people by "the good, the true and the beautiful; and there are many other points at which they hold identical positions.
Of course, there are differences.   If there had been none, one pope would not have resigned and the other taken over.   One is an academic, while the other is a pastor,bearing  the smell of the streets.  One was a major contributor to Vatican II, but had been hurt by the aftermath; while the other was inspired by the work of Ratzinger &Co. in the council.   Perhaps, it seems, the greatest difference was that the Church organisation needed a thorough overhaul according to the mind of Vatican II - collegiality was needed at diocesan, national, regional and universal levels to provide a balance  for the primatial power of the Pope as expressed in Vatican I; and Benedict lacked the inclination, and even possibly the ability to bring this about; while Pope Francis was already an advocate of such a move, as Fr Joseph Ratzinger had been during the Council.   He, therefore, humbly resigned: he saw that the change could no longer be put off.  
 
The whole affair shows the world, not a battle fought between "conservatives" and "liberals" - let us leave that kind of interpretation to the likes of Michael Voris - but the undulating lights and shadows in the "epiphany of holiness" as expounded by the two popes.  - Fr David.
The beauty of art and of music. The wonders of sanctity. The splendor of creation. This is how Benedict XVI defends the truth of Christianity, in a question-and-answer session with the priests of Brixen 





ROMA, August 11, 2008 – Just like every summer, this year Benedict XVI met with priests of the area where he is spending his vacation. For an open question-and-answer discussion. 

The meeting took place on the morning of Wednesday, August 6, in the cathedral of Brixen, at the foot of the Alps, a few miles from the Austrian border. The pope replied to six questions, speaking partly in German and partly in Italian, the two official languages of the region. The meeting was held behind closed doors, without any journalists present. The complete transcript of the conversation was released two days later by the Vatican press office. 

The pope was asked about a wide variety of topics. Some of them were highly charged. One priest asked whether it is right to continue administering the sacraments to those who are clearly far from the faith. In his response, the pope confessed that as a young man he was "rather strict," but he then understood that "we must instead follow the example of the Lord, who was a Lord of mercy, very open with sinners." 

Another asked whether the shortage of priests does not require facing the questions of celibacy, the ordination of "viri probati," the admission of women to the ministries. And the pope forcefully defended celibacy as a sign of "making oneself available to the Lord in the completeness of one's being, and therefore totally available to men." 

Here below, two of the six questions and answers are reproduced. The first is about the connection between reason and beauty, with evocative references to art, music, the liturgy. The second is on the safeguarding of creation. 


1. "All great works of art are an epiphany of God" 


Q: Holy Father, my name is Willibald Hopfgartner, and I am a Franciscan. In your address in Regensburg, you emphasized the substantial connection between the divine Spirit and human reason. On the other hand, you have also always emphasized the importance of art and beauty. So then, together with conceptual dialogue about God in theology, should there not always be a new presentation of the aesthetic experience of the faith within the Church, through proclamation and the liturgy? 

A: Yes, I think that the two things go together: reason, precision, honesty in the reflection on truth, and beauty. A form of reason that in any way wanted to strip itself of beauty would be depleted, it would be blind. Only when the two are united do they form the whole, and this union is important precisely for the faith. Faith must constantly confront the challenges of the mindset of this age, so that it may not seem a sort of irrational mythology that we keep alive, but may truly be an answer to the great questions; so that it may not be merely a habit, but the truth, as Tertullian once said. 

In his first letter, St. Peter wrote the phrase that the medieval theologians took as the legitimization, almost as the mandate for their theological work: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" – an apologia for the "logos" of hope, meaning a transformation of the "logos," the reason for hope, into an apologia, an answer addressed to men. He was clearly convinced of the fact that faith is "logos," that it is a form of reason, a light issuing from the creating Light, and not a hodgepodge resulting from our own thought. This is why it is universal, and for this reason it can be communicated to all. 

But this creating "Logos" is not a merely technical "logos." It is broader than this, it is a "logos" that is love, and therefore to be expressed in beauty and goodness. And in reality, for me art and the saints are the greatest apologia for our faith. 

The arguments presented by reason are absolutely important and indispensable, but there always remains some disagreement somewhere. If, instead, we look at the saints, this great luminous arc that God has set across history, we see that here there is truly a power of goodness that lasts over the millennia, here there is truly light from light. 

And in the same way, if we contemplate the created beauties of the faith, these simply are, I would say, the living proof of faith. Take this beautiful cathedral: it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us on its own, and beginning with the beauty of the cathedral we are able to proclaim in a visible way God, Christ and all of his mysteries: here these have taken shape, and are gazing back at us. All of the great works of art, the cathedrals – the Gothic cathedrals, and the splendid Baroque churches – all of them are a luminous sign of God, and therefore truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God. 

Christianity involves precisely this epiphany: that God has become a veiled Epiphany, he appears and shines. We have just listened to the sound of the organ in all its splendor, and I think that the great music born within the Church is an audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals to Palestrina and his era, to Bach and then to Mozart and Bruckner, and so on... Listening to all of these great works – the Passions by Bach, his Mass in B minor, and the great spiritual compositions of 16th century polyphony, of the Viennese school, of all of this music, even by minor composers – suddenly we feel: it is true! Wherever things like these are created, there is Truth. 

Without an intuition capable of discovering the true creative center of the world, this beauty cannot be created. For this reason, I think that we must always act in such a way that these two things go together, we must present them together. When, in our own time, we discuss the reasonableness of the faith, we are discussing precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end, it does not end in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth, but sees only half of it: it does not see that behind this is the Spirit of creation. We are fighting for the expansion of reason, and therefore for a form of reason that, exactly to the point, is open to beauty as well, and does not have to leave it aside as something completely different and irrational. 

Christian art is a rational form of art – we think of Gothic art, great music, or the Baroque art right here – but this is the artistic expression of a much broader form of reason, in which the heart and reason come together. This is the point. This, I think, is in some way the proof of the truth of Christianity: the heart and reason come together, beauty and truth touch. And to the extent that we are able to live in the beauty of truth, so much more will faith again be able to be creative, in our own time as well, and to express itself in a convincing artistic form. 


2. "The earth is waiting for men who will care for it as the work of the Creator" 


Q: Holy Father, my name is Karl Golser, I am a professor of moral theology in Brixen, and also director of the institute for justice, peace, and the safeguarding of creation. I enjoy remembering the time when I was able to work with you at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. [...] What can we do to bring a greater sense of responsibility toward creation into the life of the Christian communities? How can we arrive at seeing creation and redemption increasingly as a whole? 

A: I also think that there must be new emphasis on the unbreakable bond between creation and redemption. In recent decades, the doctrine on creation had almost disappeared from theology, it was almost imperceptible. Now we are aware of the damage that this causes. The Redeemer is the Creator, and if we do not proclaim God in his total greatness – as Creator and as Redeemer – we also deprive redemption of value. In fact, if God has nothing to say in creation, if he is simply relegated to being part of history, how can he really understand our entire life? How can he truly bring salvation to man in his entirety, and to the world as a whole? 

This is why, for me, the renewal of doctrine on creation and a new understanding of the inseparability of creation and redemption are extremely important. We must recognize again: He is the "Creator Spiritus," the Reason that is in the beginning and from which everything is born, and of which our own reason is nothing but a spark. And it is He, the Creator himself, who also entered into history and is able to enter into history and act within it precisely because He is the God of the whole, and not only of a part. If we recognize this, it obviously follows that redemption, being Christians, or simply the Christian faith always and in any case mean responsibility toward creation. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, Christians were accused – I don't know whether this accusation is still maintained – of being the real ones responsible for the destruction of creation, because the words contained in Genesis – "Subdue the earth" – were thought to have led to this arrogance toward creation, the consequences of which we are experiencing today. I think that we must again learn to understand this accusation in all its falsehood: as long as the earth was considered the creation of God, the task of "subduing it" was never understood as an order to enslave it, but rather as the task of being guardians of creation and of developing its gifts; of actively cooperating in God's work, in the evolution that He set in motion in the world, so that the gifts of creation may be treasured instead of trampled upon and destroyed. 

If we observe what was born around the monasteries, how little paradises, oases of creation, were born and continue to be born in those places, it becomes evident that all of this is not only a matter of words, but wherever the Word of the Creator has been understood correctly, where life has been lived together with the Creator and Redeemer, there one finds efforts to protect creation, and not to destroy it. 

Chapter 8 of the letter to the Romans also fits into this context, where it says that creation suffers and groans because of the subjection in which it finds itself as it awaits the revelation of the children of God: it will feel free when creatures, when men come who are children of God and will treat it beginning from God. 

I believe that this is precisely the reality that we are witnessing today: creation is groaning – we can perceive this, we can almost hear it – and is waiting for human persons to look at it from God's standpoint. The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is not, where the material has become only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate standard, where everything is simply our property, and we consume it only for ourselves. And the waste of creation begins where we no longer recognize any standard above ourselves, but see only ourselves; it begins where there no longer exists any dimension of life beyond death, where we must hoard everything in this life and possess life in the maximum intensity possible, where we must possess everything it is possible to possess. 

I believe, therefore, that real and efficient measures against the waste and destruction of creation can be realized and developed, understood and lived only where creation is considered from the standpoint of God; where life is considered beginning from God, and has greater dimensions – in responsibility before God – and one day will be given to us by God in its fullness, and never taken away: by giving life away, we receive it. 

Thus, I believe, we must try by every means at our disposal to present the faith in public, especially where there is an existing sensitivity toward it. And I think that the sensation that the world may be slipping away from us – because we ourselves are driving it away – and the sense of being oppressed by the problems of creation, precisely this gives us the right opportunity in which our faith can speak publicly and be considered as a constructive contribution. 

In fact, this is not a matter of simply finding technologies to prevent damage, although it is important to find alternative sources of energy and other such things. All of this will not be enough if we ourselves do not find a new lifestyle, a discipline that includes sacrifice, the discipline of acknowledging others, to whom creation belongs just as much as it does to us who are able to make use of it more easily; a discipline of responsibility toward the future of others and toward our own future, because it is responsibility before Him who is our Judge, and who as Judge is our Redeemer, but is also truly our Judge. 

I therefore think that it is necessary, in any case, to put these two dimensions together – creation and redemption, earthly life and eternal life, responsibility toward creation and responsibility toward others and toward the future – and that it is our task to participate to this effect in a clear and decisive manner in public opinion. 

In order to be listened to, we must at the same time demonstrate by our own example, with our own lifestyle, that we are speaking about a message in which we ourselves believe, and according to which it is possible to live. And we want to ask the Lord to help us all to live the faith, the responsibility for the faith, in such a way that our lifestyle becomes a witness, and then to speak in such a way that our words are credible messengers of faith as guidance for our time.

Eight Gems from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium
by STEPHEN BEALE on DECEMBER 9, 2013 · 
my source: Catholic Exchange


If Pope Francis winds up becoming one of our most popular popes, he might also become one of the most misunderstood.

His new apostolic exhortation, Evanglii Gaudium, is a sweeping 224-page meditation on the state of the Church and its role in the world that touches on wide range of topics, from boring homilies and the brutalities of human trafficking to how to lead a true virtue-driven life. But most media coverage so far has seized upon just a few choice lines that have been deemed insufficiently capitalism-friendly, to the expense of his real message.

Evangelii Gaudium outlines Francis’ vision in now-familiar terms. He seems concerned the Church is becoming more judgmental than merciful. He wants a Church that has the outgoing spirit of the pilgrim, always willing to joyfully bring the gospel to the ends of the earth—as opposed to a Church closed in on itself, languishing in the dull ennui of institutional inertia as history passes it by. And he worries that some Catholics have become too attached to the external forms of the faith, while their hearts have grown cold. (We read again about the ‘obsession’ with the ‘disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines’ and the ‘neo-Pelagianism’ of traditionalist Catholics.) Within his treatment of these broader themes, are numerous insights into the spiritual life and the challenges of the modern era. Here are eight:

1. God’s inexhaustible mercy. One of the most important themes of Evangelii Gaudium is mercy, which Francis reminds us was viewed by St. Thomas Aquinas as the greatest of virtues (as far as external works are concerned). Evangelii Gaudium issues a passionate call for us to renew our commitment to mercy. Not only are we called to practice mercy, but also we are urged to not tire of seeking mercy from God: “How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy,” Francis writes, citing Matthew 18:22, where Christ urges His disciples to forgive others “seventy times seven.” It is in this context, perhaps, that we should read the pope’s comments on Holy Communion: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

2. Genuine religion is incarnate. “Genuine forms of popular religiosity are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture. For this reason they entail a personal relationship, not with vague spiritual energies or powers, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with the saints. These devotions are fleshy, they have a face. They are capable of fostering relationships and not just enabling escapism,” Francis writes. This fundamental characteristic of Catholic faith is a vital antidote to the two extremes so common in our culture: on the one hand, the materialist gospel of health and wealth, and, on the other, those forms of spirituality that seek total detachment from the body and deny the good of the created world.

3. Faith is always a cross. “Faith always remains something of a cross; it retains a certain obscurity which does not detract from the firmness of its assent. Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the level of clear reasons and arguments,” Francis reminds us. This powerfully echoes Galatians 2:19, where St. Paul tells us that he has been crucified with Christ so that now it is Christ Who lives in him, and Colossians 3:3 where he applies this to us: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

4. The way of beauty. Those of us distressed by the ugliness of post-Vatican II churches, the crass populism of guitar Masses, and the general crisis in Catholic art, will be encouraged by Francis’ reaffirmation of the importance of beauty in evangelization: “Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.” Let’s hope the pope explores this theme further in the future.

5. The ‘revolution of tenderness.’ Another great theme of Evangelii Gaudium is Francis’ emphasis on our divine call to live in community with others—a message that is sorely needed in a time when so many are drawn into what could be described as the ‘interactive solitude’ of virtual  communities. The fact that we have been created in the image of Trinity—the perfect divine communion—reminds all of us that we are meant to live in communion with others, that no is saved alone, Francis reminds us. This call to community is also rooted in the Incarnation and the crucifixion: “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”

6. Humility before Scripture. An entire section of the exhortation is loaded with tons of practical advice for homilists, including exhortations against sermons that too long or too boring. There’s a lot of wisdom here that speaks to the rest of us as well, particularly in how we ought to approach the study of the Scriptures. Whenever we attempt to discern the meaning of a text, Francis says we are practicing “reverence for the truth,” which he defines as “the humility of heart which recognizes that we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds, and servants.” Scripture should not be portrayed in homilies as a behavioral code of conduct or a catalogue of “abstract truths or cold syllogisms,” he adds. Instead, homilies should “communicate the beauty of the images to encourage the practice of good” so the faithful “sense that each word of Scripture is a gift before it is a demand.”

7. The most vulnerable—the unborn. Francis offers this refreshing (and reassuring) rebuke to those who would emphasis the Church’s teachings on the poor at the expense of its pro-life message: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. … Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. … Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.” He adds: “Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. … This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”


8. The wounds of Christ. Near the end of the exhortation, the pope offers this convicting interpretation of how we can live out devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds in our works of mercy: “Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.”

JESUS IS EPIPHANY: THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD'S LOVE by Pope Francis

Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered on a bright crisp day in St Peter’s Square today, for the recitation of the Angelus Prayer and to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.

In his address, the Pope referred to Pope Benedict Emeritus’s book, 'Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives' which he said “magnificently” recounts the biblical coming of the Magi from the East to Bethlehem to pay homage to the Christ Child. The Epiphany, Pope Francis said, marks the first “manifestation” of Christ to the people and as a consequence, points to the universal salvation brought by Jesus.

In today’s feast, we see a “dual movement,” the Pope noted: of God who comes “towards the world, towards humanity” and of men who seek closeness to God: “the religions, the search for truth, the way of people towards peace, justice, liberty.”

God loves us: “we are His children; He loves us and He wants to liberate us from evil, from sickness, from death, and take us to His home in His Kingdom.” We too, the Pope said, are attracted by “goodness, truth, life and happiness and beauty.”

And as the two sides attract, Jesus is our point of encounter with the Lord.  as His love incarnate. Pope Francis said.

Had the Magi not seen the Star pointing them to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, they would never have left, the Pope mused. “Light precedes us, the truth precedes us, beauty precedes us. God precedes us: it is grace; and this grace appears in Jesus. He is the Epiphany, the manifestation of God’s love.”

Departing from his notes, the Pope appealed “sincerely” and “respectfully” to those who “feel far from God and from the Church” and to “those who are fearful and indifferent: the Lord is calling you too.” The Lord is calling you to be a part of His people and He does it with great respect and love.”

“The Lord does not proselytize; He gives love,” reaffirmed the Pope. “And this love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment do not believe or are far away. And this is the love of God.”

Pope Francis prayed that “all the Church” may be steeped in “the joy of evangelizing” invoking the aid of the Virgin Mary so that “we can all be disciple-missionaries, small stars that reflect His light.”

Following the recital of the Angelus, Pope Francis gave greetings to the Churches of the East who tomorrow will celebrate Christmas. He prayed that all will be “reinforced in faith, hope and charity” and the Lord will “give comfort” to Christian communities and to the Churches undergoing “trial.”

The Pope recalled that the Epiphany is the missionary day for children organized by the Pontifical office for Holy Childhood and thanked young people and children whose “gestures of solidarity” towards other children “widen the horizons of their fraternity.”

Source: VIS

____________ 
Pentecost and Creation by Fr Stephen Freeman



Earth is a wondrous place – no matter where we go – how deep, how far, how high, how hot, how inhospitable – in this place we find life. Everywhere we look on our nearest neighbor – Mars – we find – no life. We want to find life. We hope to find life. We theorize life. But we have yet to find it.

There is something about life, at least in our earthly experience, that is inexorable. Any individual case of life may be fragile, but life itself endures. In the Genesis account we are told that God blessed this planet and said:

Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12 NKJ)

Note that the account does not say that God said “Let there be life!” and life just appeared…(Boom! Trees!) But that He blessed this place and commanded that it bring forth grass… herbs… trees… according to their kind… and it was so!

The feast of Pentecost in Eastern tradition, celebrates the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church as Christians do across the world. However, there is a strange aspect to the Eastern version of the feast (or so it might seem). The Feast focuses as much on the Holy Spirit’s work in Creation as it does on the Spirit’s work in the Church. The Church is decorated in green. In Russian tradition, branches of birch are brought into the Church; fresh green grass is placed on the floor; flowers are everywhere. In Soviet times a secular version of the festival remained, called the Day of Trees.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is not something separate from Creation – nor are the trees a distraction from the Church. They are, together, a proper reminder of the role God’s Spirit plays always, everywhere. He is the “Lord and Giver of Life.”

Just as the Spirit moved over the face of the waters in the beginning of creation, so He moves over the face of all things at all times, bringing forth life and all good things. Though I am frequently assaulted with bouts of pessimism, despairing over various aspects of our distorted civilization, the truth is that like the planet itself, civilization with its drive for beauty and order seem inexorable. The history of humanity is not the story of a fall from a great civilization with increasing instances of barbarism and cave dwelling. Great civilizations have risen and fallen, but civilizations continue to occur. Some may already have begun in the ruins that surround us now.

The story told in Scripture is not the story of collapse and decay. There are certainly dire warnings of terrible trials and great catastrophes. But these things do not reveal the mystery of God’s will. These things are cracks in the pavement while life continues to burst forth:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him (Eph. 1:9-10).

What appeared as tongues of flame upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost was a manifestation of this Divine Purpose at work. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the Holy Spirit filled the room. The fullness of the Church burst into the streets proclaiming the Gospel in a multitude of languages. Being birthed in Jerusalem was the New Jerusalem, where there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Instead there is the fullness that fills all things bringing forth all things in one – in the One Christ Himself.

The voice of Pentecost is the voice of creation’s groans being transformed into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Stones cry out, trees clap their hands and the song of creation rejoices in the One Christ.


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