"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

Thursday 31 March 2011


The Prodigal Son - Kallistos Ware

The Inner Meaning of the Eucharist

Mystical Theology: The Nearness and Otherness of God.

How do we enter the heart.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the Ravenna Agreement (A wiity introduction)

Wednesday 30 March 2011

[Irenikon] The beggar and the Pope

From here:
and here:
The following is a true story about Pope John Paul II:
A priest from the Archdiocese of New York was visiting Rome. As he was walking into a church to pray, he noticed a beggar sitting at the front door—not an unusual sight in Rome. But something about this particular beggar bothered him. He didn’t figure it out until he began to pray: he suddenly realized that he knew the man from his days in the seminary.
He immediately went back outside and said to him, "Excuse me, do I know you?" Sure enough, the beggar had been in the seminary with him many years earlier. He had been ordained a priest, but had [in his words] "crashed and burned" in his vocation.
The priest from New York was understandably shaken up when he left the beggar a few minutes later.
That afternoon he was at the Vatican, and had the opportunity to meet the pope and speak with him. He said to him, "Please, Holy Father, pray for this particular man. I went to seminary with him, and he’s now a beggar on the streets of Rome. Please pray for him, because he’s lost."
The Holy Father instructed the priest to go back to the beggar.
He found him—once again—in front of the church, and he said to him, "I have an invitation for the two of us to have dinner with the pope tonight." The beggar said, "No, I can’t." The priest responded, "You’d better, because I’m not going to have dinner with the pope any other way."
So the priest took the beggar to his room, where he provided him with a razor, a much-needed shower, and some clean clothes.
Then they went to dinner. About an hour into the meal, the Holy Father asked the priest from New York to leave the room. He then said to the beggar, "Would you hear my Confession?" The beggar said, "I’m not a priest anymore." The pope replied, "Once a priest, always a priest." The beggar said, "But I’m not in good standing with the Church." The pope shot back, "I’m the pope. I’m the bishop of Rome. I can re-instate you now."
The beggar agreed, and Pope John Paul II proceeded to confess his sins.
The beggar-priest barely got the words of absolution out of his mouth before he dropped to his knees and tearfully asked, "Holy Father, will you please hear my Confession?" He confessed, and was restored to good graces with our Lord and the Church.
The Holy Father then invited the New York priest back into the room, and he asked him at what church he had found the beggar. The priest told him. The pope then said to the beggar-priest, "For your first assignment, I want you to go to the pastor there and report for duty, because you’ll be an associate at that parish with a special outreach to the beggars in that area."
And that’s where he is today, serving God and the poor as a priest.
Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, pleasant highways and bumpy roads. And because of the many trials and temptations we face, it’s relatively easy to get off-track—even when it comes to your vocation. Something got this priest off-track—we’re not sure what it was, but obviously something caused him to "crash and burn," as he put it; husbands and wives sometimes get off-track in their relationships with one another, or in their relationships with their children; young people easily get off-track in their relationships with their parents; teens sometimes get "off track" by getting into drugs or alcohol or violence or sexually promiscuous behavior.
To be "on-track" is to be doing God’s will in your life; to be "off-track" is to be doing your own.
The 4 men we heard about in today’s Gospel story—Peter, Andrew, James and John—got on-track with Jesus by saying "yes" to the Lord’s call. They left their fishing business—and their old way of life—and began to follow Christ as his apostles. And, for the most part, they stayed on-track, although they had many temptations to get off-track. One of the biggest occurred at the end of John 6. Jesus had just given a magnificent sermon on the Holy Eucharist. He told the crowds that he intended to give them his flesh and blood to be their spiritual food and drink. They responded by "freaking out"—to use the colloquial expression. And the Bible tells us that many of our Lord’s disciples left him at that moment—people who had been following him for a long time. They walked away, saying, "This sort of talk is hard to endure. Who can take it seriously?" Jesus then turned to his apostles (realizing that they were facing the same temptation), and he said, "Do you want to leave me too?" Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life." That kept them all on-track, at least for the time being.
From these apostles I would say we can learn 3 lessons for our own lives: we can learn how to get on-track, how to stay on-track, and what to do if we get off-track for whatever reason.
To get on-track—in other words, to discern what God wants you to do in this life—you must develop a personal relationship with Jesus, as they did. (I don’t presume that every Catholic has a personal relationship with Jesus—although every Catholic should!) In today’s Gospel, we hear how the apostles were called by our Lord and how they immediately dropped everything to follow him. That may seem a bit far-fetched, until you realize that this was probably not the first time these men had encountered Jesus. If you read John’s Gospel, it seems they had already met our Lord at least once. So a personal relationship with Jesus had already begun for these men, such that when he called them in today’s story, they responded without hesitation. Based on their previous encounter, they understood that Jesus was anointed of God and worthy of their trust and obedience.
We encounter Jesus in many ways, but most of all through prayer and the sacraments. Consequently, if we want to be like these apostles by getting and staying on track, then prayer and the sacraments—especially Eucharist and Confession—need to be at the center of our lives.
I think it’s safe to say that from this moment when they left their fishing business until the end of their lives, Peter, Andrew, James and John didn’t make any major decision without consulting Jesus—that’s how deep their personal relationships with Jesus were! How do you make important decisions in your life? How do you decide the right thing to do? Do you make an effort to consult Jesus? Do you take it to prayer and get spiritual direction when necessary? Or do you do what "feels" right? Or what the majority tells you to do? If you think you’re called to marriage, for example, have you asked Jesus to bring the right person into your life—the person he knows you should marry? I hope you have, because if you haven’t it’s highly likely you’ll get somebody else!
And here’s something else we learn from the apostles about staying on-track: get the right friends! The apostles had each other; the beggar priest in Rome had his old classmate from the seminary who cared enough about him to speak to the pope about his situation, and he had the pope himself who reached out to him in his need. Whom do you have? What are your friends like? Friends can either get you off-track and keep you there, or they can help get you on-track and motivate you to stay there. St. Paul once said, "Bad company corrupts good morals." If that’s true (and it is), then the opposite is also true: Good company inspires good morals.
And what do you do when you get off-track?—when you get de-railed? You do what the apostles did on Easter after their Holy Week "derailment"—you go back to Jesus! You don’t listen to Satan by giving up hope and staying away! Peter, for example, who had denied Jesus 3 times, professed his love for Jesus 3 times when the Lord appeared to him at the Sea of Galilee. The Lord is not likely to appear to us in that same fashion, but he doesn’t have to! He is just as present to us in the sacrament of Confession, where he absolves us through the priest who acts in his person. Sin de-rails us, but Confession re-rails us. When the de-railed beggar-priest went to Confession to the Holy Father, he was immediately put back on-track. And so it can be for us.  

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Abbot Paul's Sermon at the 3rd Perseverance of a Novice

In English Benedictine monasteries the year's noviciate is divided into four quarters of three months each.   At the end of the first three quarters the novice master reads a written report on the novice to the abbot's council and his progress is discussed.   If the novice expresses the wish to persevere and the abbot's council is in agreement, he then formally makes his intention clear to a meeting of the whole resident community, the abbot gives a homily, half to him and half to the community, and then his perseverance is granted.   This is Abbot Paul's sermon at the third perseverance.  Toward the end of the fourth quarter, the whole community is consulted one by one; and then, if the abbot and council agree, the monks in solemn vows vote on the issue in chapter, using a white bean for "yes" and a black bean for "no".  The details of the vote are secret.

Third Perseverance of Br Patrick Lobo

            This past weekend we all had some difficulty filling in our census questionnaires. Many of the questions simply didn’t apply to the monastic life and yet we were obliged to answer one way or the other. As the “manager” of this establishment, I am still waiting for all the questionnaires to come in so that I can complete online the larger household questionnaire, in which I have to list all those living with me in this shared accommodation as well as give details of how we manage to do this. Monks are such unusual creatures in the modern world and our way of life considered so extraordinary, that we no longer seem to fit into any acceptable category where modern society is concerned. This, of course, is the same on-going experience we are having with our HLF monitor. She’s at home with monastic ruins but she can’t cope with Belmont, where the monks haven’t been dead and buried for the past five hundred years.

            Now, dear Br Patrick, although you’re a born Catholic and deeply imbued with a traditional, parochial spirituality, that is the world in which you lived before coming to the monastery. As a result you are also deeply imbued with the spirit of the modern world and there is much in the monastic life and Benedictine tradition that you find difficult to accept and understand let alone put into practice in your daily life. This is not a criticism but a matter of fact, and it’s something new we are all having to cope with more and more. The gulf between the world and the monastery grows wider every day.

            Today you are making your Third Perseverance on the way to First Profession, which we hope will take place on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul. So it’s an opportune moment to mention a few of these difficulties of inculturation to the monastic life. Please don’t think I’m getting at you, but you did live “in the world”, as they say, until your mid-fifties, so it’s hardly surprising that you should be finding certain things rather difficult, and it’s no different for most of us.

Now inculturation means more than getting used to or putting up with things that go against the grain. It is actually taking on a new mind set, rather like the first Christians who were expected by St Paul to have the mind of Christ. This process of acquiring a monastic mind takes time and effort and not a little sacrifice. It’s not surprising, then, that for St Benedict enemy number one of the monk is his own will. But St Benedict also tells us in the Prologue that “what is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” Nothing, dear Br Patrick, can be accomplished or even attempted without prayer and it is prayer, in my experience, that always carries us through and enables us to persevere. St Benedict also warns the beginner, “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.”

In order to rise above our own will, the Benedictine way of life offers us, in addition to prayer, “the strong and noble weapons of obedience.” Now obedience, which lies at the very heart of the traditional three religions of the Book, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is also the basic and fundamental vow of the monastic life. What would be the point of stability without obedience? It would simply lead to infidelity. How could you live conversatio morum without obedience? That would lead to pride. Our Christian faith and our monastic vocation both ask of us that phrase from Psalm 94 that we repeat often during Lent, “O that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts.”

In Chapter 58 and throughout the Holy Rule St Benedict talks a lot about obedience and obeying. It’s something we can’t get away from, so one of the most important aspects of the Novitiate is learning to obey. That means recognising that there is a higher authority than just myself: the Holy Trinity, the Church and her Magisterium, the Abbot and Community. That all sounds rather grand but it’s also a bit vague, isn’t it? You can say a lot of beautifully spiritual and poetic things about the obedience without, in practice, living them. We can suffer from a kind of monastic schizophrenia, saying one thing and doing the opposite. Br Patrick, you mustn’t fall into that trap. Obedience begins with listening and listening depends on silence.

I think it was Fr Illtud who was fond of comparing obedience to good manners and he was right. I have always regarded it as a matter of courtesy to ask permission of the appropriate superior: Novice Master, Prior or Abbot before planning to do something and not just as an afterthought as you’re about to leave the enclosure. It also means doing what you’re told, not like a naughty child but as a responsible adult, when asked to do something by the superior. “Obedience without delay,” St Benedict calls it. Sometimes we can be asked to do something we’re not happy about or disagree with. It’s important to remember on such occasions the words of Jesus, “I did not come to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me,” or the words of the Psalmist, “Here I am, O Lord, I come to do your will.” We believe that the Abbot represents Christ in the monastery and we know that the Abbot shares that authority with his officials. But St Benedict also talks about mutual obedience. This vertical and horizontal obedience form the Cross that we must take up and carry every day of our monastic lives. All this is far removed from the ways of the world, from the mind of the world, but we are here, you Br Patrick are here, to leave behind the ways of the world and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, who “was obedient unto death, death on a cross.”

When you became a novice you were given the English Benedictine habit, a sign that you have been stripped of the old man, of everything that was your own. As you prepare now for profession you must consider whether you are really willing to go the whole way and give up not only your material possessions but also your most cherished possession and that is your own will.
Giving up your will also means giving up your independence, but it’s no different to being married, or having a job and working for someone else, under rules you didn’t write yourself. It’s not easy, least of all today, and even less for a man of your age, but, Br Patrick, I can assure you that it’s worth it. I have never regretted taking up God’s invitation to become a monk and I never stop thanking him for the gift of a monastic vocation. It is the way that God has chosen for each one of us, that we might grow to the full stature of Christ. In granting you your Third Perseverance it is the hope and prayer of the Community that you will persevere and find true happiness and salvation among us as a monk of Belmont.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Posted: 26 Mar 2011 11:41 AM PDT

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

In the services for this Sunday the Holy Church glorifies the Holy Cross and the fruits of the death of the Savior on the Cross. She will carry out the Holy Cross into the middle of the temple for veneration, and is why the Sunday is called the Veneration of the Cross. In the hymns for this day the holy Church, inviting us to honor the holy cross, tenderly appeals: "Now the angelic hosts gather in reverence and bear aloft the honored Wood, and calling together all the faithful for the veneration. Come therefore and illumined by the fast, let us fall down before it with joy and fear". "Cleansed by abstinence let us draw near, and with fervent praise let us venerate the all-holy Wood on which Christ was crucified, when He saved the world in His compassion". "Come, faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving tree, on which Christ, the King of Glory voluntarily stretched out his hands. He raised us up to the ancient blessedness, whom the enemy despoiled of old through pleasure, making us exiles far from God. Come, faithful, and let us venerate the tree whereby we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invisible enemies. Come, all kindred of the nations, let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord". Glorifying the most Holy Cross, the Holy Church sings: "Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, the beautiful Paradise of the Church, the Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory", "The indestructible foundation, and the victory of kings and the praise of priests". "Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, piety of invincible victory, door to paradise, foundation of the faithful, protection of the church: through you the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation". "Rejoice, O Cross, complete salvation of fallen Adam! Glorying in you, our faithful kings by your might laid low the people of Ishmael. We Christians kiss you now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed on you, we cry aloud: O Lord, Who was crucified on the Cross, have mercy on us, for Thou art good and loves mankind."

The purpose of instituting the Holy Cross in the service on the third Sunday will be revealed as a beautiful comparison by the Holy Church to the tree of life in paradise, the tree which sweetened the bitter waters of Marah, the tree with the canopy of leaves under whose shade tired travelers seeking the eternal promised land may find coolness and rest. Thus, the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for spiritual reinforcement to those going through the ascetic effort of the fast, just as food, drink and rest serve as bodily reinforcement. This spiritual reinforcement is given as the representation of the love of God to man for whom the Son of God turned Himself over to death on the Cross. It is especially necessary in the middle of our effort because now our ascetic efforts already have lost much of the freshness of its power and however yet cannot hopefully enliven itself for the near and successful ending of our ascetical effort. Having concentrated all that is the most severe and sorrowful in the worship services of the previous weeks, especially during the first, that may both frighten the sinner and apparently touch the hardest of human hearts, now in the middle of the large and difficult arena of the Holy Forty Day Fast the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for great comfort and encouragement as needed for raising the flagging strength of those fasting. Wherefore nothing can console, encourage, and inspire the fatigued, or perhaps even the Christian weakened in spirit so much as the presentation of the eternal divine love of the Savior who turned Himself over to the struggle on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.

For such a purpose the Holy Church offers the Cross on the third Sunday of Great Lent from of old. Many hymns of praise for this Sunday were composed by Joseph and Theodore of the Studite Monastery. Everything in the worship service of this day: the most Holy Cross solemnly carried from the altar to the middle of the temple, the singing of the stichera for venerating the Cross, the Epistle recounting the suffering of the Savior on the Cross as the means of our reconcilement with God, the Gospel reminding the Christian about everyone’s duty to bear their cross in life, following the Crucified One on the Cross, - everything that promotes the deep stamp of the Cross of Christ on the heart of the believer, as a sign of our salvation, as our mighty, God-given power, saving us on earth and opening to us the entrance to the high place of our fatherland, as the highest and more powerful reinforcement of believers among the ascetics of the Holy Forty Day Fast. If the Lord suffered on a Cross for our sake then we also should practice asceticism unceasingly in fasting, prayer and other efforts of piety for His sake, discharging from ourselves and destroying in ourselves all that interferes with these efforts. With the aim of our greater enthusiasm for patience in efforts of piety, the Holy Church on the present day comfortably reminds us beforehand about coming nearer "to the light of the peaceful joy of Pascha", hymning in the troparia of the canon the holy cross and the suffering of the Savior on it, together with His joyful resurrection and inviting the faithful "with pure mouths" to sing "the song of joyfulness" (Irmos of Holy Pascha).

According to the Church hymns: "In the middle of the Fast, the all honorable Tree calls in worship" all those who "worthily follow through their passion the passion of Christ", who in the first half of the Holy Forty Day Fast have fervently practiced asceticism in fasting and prayers, in repentance and cleansing from all impurities, in acts of love and good works. For those, the Holy Cross of Christ really serves with the most comfort and strongest encouragement for the continuation of their Lenten efforts, "easing their lenten time".

But how and for what will they approach the life-giving Cross of Christ in the course of the holy days of "the soul-pleasing Forty Day Fast" when they lead the usual sinful, vain, sensual life which, perhaps, even after Holy Confession and Holy Communion remain the same as before, with the same passions and with the same insensitivity and hardness of heart? How will they kiss the Holy Cross when during the holy days of the fast they strayed to the way of vice and yet have not taken the way to true repentance, the real struggle against their passions? How will they touch the pierced side of Christ, who in their heart and during the days the Lenten tenderness did not cease to be the source only of "evil desire, theft, usury, insult, cunning, temptation, shunning, abuse, arrogance, and foolishness"? How will those touch the Holy Tree, when their impure mouth opened only for idle talk and malicious gossip, for condemnation and slander, for grumbling and indignation? How will they look on the stretched body of Christ hanging on the Cross, who with cowardice yielded to any need of the flesh, satisfied all whims, and were afraid to give up for themselves even the excessively fashionable food and clothes? Will they even worship the Crucified One on the Cross? But then will their acts of worship be distinct from those genuflections, with which the warriors of Pilate fearlessly greeted the condemned Jesus on the cross? Will they even kiss the wounds of Christ? But would these kisses be better than the kiss of Judas?

So the negligence of people and the very saving suffering of Christ can turn into condemnation, and the word of comfort cross changes to a word of bitter accusations! So from the one cup of the eternal covenant, the Christian, faithful to his name, vigilant about his salvation, or renewed by true repentance, sings of life eternal; but those uncaring about salvation, insensitive to the voice of the grace of God sings eternal condemnation! But the Holy Church offers the life-giving Cross of Christ also to the careless in hope that the beneficial power of the Cross will also touch their heart and will urge them away from the deep sleep of the sinner. "They will respect my son" said the owner of the vineyard, sending his only son to the tenants who were grumbling against him (Mt. 21:7). "They will respect the wounds of the Son of God", as if thus the Holy Church speaks about her prodigal and disobedient children, offering them the sight of the life-giving Cross of Christ. She hopes that the sight of the Divine Sufferer will remind the sinners, that as they were baptized into the death of Christ, they promised to serve the Lord instead of the world and the devil, to please God instead of their flesh, to obey the will of God instead of their lusts and passions.

The Holy Church hopes that souls will be found though guilty, but not fallen into the depths of evil, not going towards the edge of hardness, by which a look at the instrument of the suffering of the Son of God will shakes the conscience, will prick the heart, will make the saving change of thoughts and feelings so that they will return from the temple as many returned from Golgotha, "beating their breasts" (Lk. 23:48), and in their life from now on will go by the way of faith, repentance and Christian piety. (See details in "Full Collection of the Sermons of Demetrius, Archbishop of Chersonese", vol. 4, pages 324-326). They, as Ambrose of Milan teaches, should "grieve and cry, however not pushing to despair, because the One who has enlightened the eyes of the man blind from birth (Jn. 9), can make them both zealous and firm in His service if only they want to return with a pure heart. Therefore, let them recognize they are in their blindness and let them run to the Physician who can enlighten them."

Posted: 26 Mar 2011 11:26 AM PDT

"The Cross abolished idolatrous adulation, enlightened the whole universe, gathered all the nations into one Church and united them with love. The Cross is the resurrection of the dead. The Cross is the hope of Christians. The Cross is the staff for the lame. The Cross is comfort for the poor. The Cross is the deposing of the proud. The Cross is the hope of those who despair. The Cross is food for the sailors. The Cross is haven for the bestormed. The Cross is the father for orphans. The Cross is comfort for those who mourn. The Cross is the protector of children. The Cross is the glory of men. The Cross is the crown of elders. The Cross is light for those sitting in darkness. The Cross is freedom for slaves, wisdom for the ignorant. The Cross is the preaching of prophets, the fellow-traveler of apostles. The Cross is the chastity of maidens, the joy of priests. The Cross is the foundation of the Church, the establishment of the universe. The Cross is the destruction of idolatrous temples, temptation for Jews. The Cross is the cleansing of the lepers, the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. The Cross is bread for the hungry, a fountain for the thirsty. The Cross is the good hope of monks, clothing for the naked.

By this holy armor of the Cross Christ the Lord has terminated the omniconsuming bowels of Hades and blocked the many snares in the mouth of the devil. Having seen the Cross, death trembled and released everyone whom she possessed with the first creature. Armed with the Cross, the God-bearing apostles subdued all the power of the enemy and caught all peoples in their dragnets, and gathered them for the worship of the One Crucified. Clothed in the Cross as in armor, the martyrs of Christ trampled all the plans of torturers and preached with plainness the Divine Cross-bearer. Having taken up the Cross for the sake of Christ, those who renounced everything in the world settled in deserts and on mountains, in caves and became the fasters of the earth.

But what language is worthy to praise the Cross, this invincible wall of the Orthodox, this victorious armor of the Heavenly King?! By the cross the Almighty One bestowed unspeakable blessings on humanity!"

"Therefore on the forehead, and on the eyes, and on the mouth, and on the breasts let us place the life-giving Cross. Let us arm them with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light. Let us open paradise with this armor, with this support of the Orthodox faith, with this saving praise of the Church. Neither in one hour, nor in one instant, let us not forget the Cross, nor let us begin to do anything without it. But let us sleep, let us arise, let us work, let us eat, let us drink, let us go on our way, let us sail on the seas, let us go across the river, let us adorn all our members with the life-giving Cross. And let us not be frightened 'by the terror of the night, nor by the arrow that flies by day, nor by anything roaming in darkness, nor by any calamity, nor any noonday demon' (Ps. 90:5, 6). If, O Christian, you will always take up the Cross of Christ on yourself as a help, then 'evil shall not come towards you, nor any scourge come near your habitation': for the opposition power seeing it trembles and leaves."
Posted: 26 Mar 2011 11:11 AM PDT

"The Cross of the Lord is unpleasant and sorrowful to the ear, but it consists of joy and gladness. It is the originator not so much of suffering as much as of passionlessness. For Jews the Cross is temptation, for pagans it is madness, but for us believers it reminds us of our salvation. When in church one reads about the Cross and one is reminded of the sufferings on the Cross, the faithful are indignant at the Cross and let out a plaintive wail and murmur not at the Cross but at the crucifiers and unbelievers. For the Cross is the salvation of the Church, the Cross is the praise of those who hope on it. The Cross has released us from the evil that possessed us and is the beginning of the blessings received by us. The Cross is the reconcilement of His enemies with God, the promise of sinners to Christ. For by the Cross we were freed from enmity and through the Cross we have become amiable to God. The Cross delivered us from the authority of the devil, the Cross saved us from death and destruction. The Cross changed human nature to the angelic, having released it from all that is corruptible, and have found lives worthy of immortality."

"How great is the power of the Cross! How great is the change made by it in the human race! How from the deep darkness it has led us to the boundless light, from death it has restored us to eternal life, from corruption it has transferred us to incorruption. What good is not accomplished for us by means of the Cross? Through the Cross we learned piety and learned the properties of the Divine essence. Through the Cross we learn the truth about God, through the Cross we who were far from Him are united to Christ, and we become worthy of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Through the Cross we learn the power of love and we are taught to die for others. Through the Cross we are scorned and all what we do is not temporal, we search the blessings of the future and we accept the invisible as if seen. The Cross is preached, and the faith in God is confessed, His truth is spread throughout the universe. The Cross is preached, and the faith in the resurrection, the life and the kingdom of heaven is made without a doubt. What is more precious than the Cross and what is more saving for the soul? The Cross is the triumph over demons, the armor against sin and the sword with which the Lord has struck the snake. The Cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Only-begotten, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the ornament of angels, the protection of the Church, the praise of St. Paul, the protection of the Saints, the lamp of all the world."

"See, however desired and deservedly amiable the Cross is made today, it was the most terrible and shameful sign of the cruelest execution in antiquity! And the Cross makes the best ornament on the imperial crown, the most precious in all the world. The image of the Cross is now found on you, both masters and servants, both wives and husbands, both maidens and married, both slaves and free. All place the sign of the Cross on the noblest part of their body, daily carrying this sign on their forehead, as on a depicted pillar. It shines on a sacred meal, on the clothes of the priest and together with the Lord's body at the mystical supper. You see it lifted everywhere: on houses, in market-places, in the deserts, on the paths, on mountains and hills, on the sea, on ships, on islands, on boxes, on clothes, on armor, in the halls, on golden and silver vessels, in pictures, on the bodies of sick animals, on the bodies of the demon-possessed, in war, in the world, in the afternoon, at night, in festal assemblies and in the cells of the ascetics. Already no one is ashamed and does not blush at the thought that the Cross is a sign of a shameful death. To the contrary, all of us honor this as an adornment for ourselves, which has surpassed crowns and diadems and precious stones. Let us not run, let us not be frightened, but let us kiss and honor it as an invaluable treasure."

Saturday 26 March 2011


Chapel of the Seminary
Friday, 4 March 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very glad to be here at least once a year with my seminarians, with the young men bound for the priesthood to form the future presbyterate  of Rome. I am  delighted that this happens every year on the day of Our Lady of Trust, the Mother who day after day accompanies us with her love and gives us the confidence to journey on towards Christ.

“In the unity of the Spirit” is the theme that guides your reflections during this year of formation. It is an expression found, precisely, in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians that has been presented to us, in which St Paul begs the members of that community to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (4:3). The second part  of the Letter to the Ephesians begins with this text, the so-called “paranetical” or exhortatory part, and begins with the word “parakalo”, “I beg you”. However, the same word also comes at the end, “Paraklitos”, thus it is an exhortation in the light, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle’s exhortation is based on the mystery of salvation which he had presented in the first three chapters. In fact, our passage begins with the word “therefore”, “I therefore… beg you…” (v. 1).

The behaviour of Christians is the consequence of the gift, the realization of all that is given to us, every day. Yet, if it is simply the realization of the gift given to us it is not an automatic effect, because with God we are always in the reality of freedom hence — since the response and also the realization of the gift is freedom — the Apostle must recall it, he cannot take it for granted. Baptism, as we know, does not automatically produce a consistent life: this is the fruit of the will and of the persevering commitment to collaborate with the gift, with the Grace received. And this commitment costs us effort, there is a price to pay in person. This may be why St Paul refers here to his actual condition: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you…” (ibid.).

Following Christ means sharing in his Passion, his Cross, following him to the very end, and this participation in the Teacher’s destiny profoundly unites us to him and reinforces the authoritativeness of the Apostle’s exhortation.

We now reach the heart of our meditation, encountering a particularly striking word: “call”, “vocation”. St Paul wrote: “lead a life worthy of the calling, of the klesis to which you have been called” (ibid.). And he was to repeat it a little later, affirming that “you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (v. 4). Here, in this case, it is a question of the vocation common to all Christians, namely, the baptismal vocation, the call to be in Christ and to live in him, in his Body. In these words an experience is inscribed and the echo resounds of that of the first disciples, which we know from the Gospels: when Jesus passed along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and called Simon and Andrew, then James and John (cf. Mk 1:16-20); and even earlier, at the River Jordan after his Baptism, when, noticing that Andrew and the other disciple were following him Jesus said to them: “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). Christian life begins with a call and always remains an answer, to the very end. And this is in the dimension of believing and that of doing: both the faith and the behaviour of the Christian correspond to the grace of the vocation.

I spoke of the call of the first Apostles, but the word “call” reminds us above all of the Mother of every call, of Mary Most Holy, the Chosen One, the One Called par excellence. The image of the Annunciation to Mary portrays far more than that particular Gospel episode, despite its fundamental character: it contains the whole mystery of Mary, the whole of her history, of her being; and at the same time it speaks of the Church, of her essence as it has always been; as well as of every individual believer in Christ, of every Christian soul who is called.

At this point we must bear in mind that we are not speaking of people of the past. God, the Lord, has called each one of us, each one is called by name. God is so great that he has time for each one of us, he knows me, he knows each one of us by name, personally. It is a personal call for each one of us. I think we should meditate time and again on this mystery: God, the Lord, has called me, is calling me, knows me, awaits my answer just as he awaited Mary’s answer and the answer of the Apostles. God calls me: this fact must make us attentive to God’s voice, attentive to his word, to his call for me, in order to respond, in order to realize this part of the history of salvation for which he has called me.

Then, in this text, St Paul points out to us several concrete elements of this answer with four words: “lowliness”, “meekness”, “patience”, “forbearing one another in love”. Perhaps we could meditate briefly on these words in which the Christian journey is expressed. Then at the end, we shall once again return to this.
“Lowliness”: the Greek word is “tapeinophrosyne”, the same word that St Paul uses in his Letter to the Philippians when he speaks of the Lord who was God and who humbled himself, he made himself “tapeinos”, he descended to the point of making himself a creature, of making himself man, obedient even unto death on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8). Lowliness, then is not just any word, any kind of modesty, something… it is a Christological word. Imitating God who descends even to me, who is so great that he makes himself my friend, suffers for me and dies for me. This is the humility we must learn, God’s humility. It means that we must always see ourselves in God’s light; thus, at the same time, we can know the greatness of being a person loved by God but also our own smallness, our poverty, and thus behave correctly, not as masters but as servants. As St Paul says: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). Being a priest, even more than being a Christian, implies this humility.

“Meekness”: the Greek text uses here the word “praütes”, the same word that appears in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). And in the Book of Numbers, the fourth Book of Moses, we find the affirmation that Moses was the meekest man in the world (cf. Num 12:3) and in this sense he was a prefiguration of Christ, of Jesus, who said of himself: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). So this word “meek”, or “gentle”, is also a Christological word and once again implies imitating Christ in this manner. For in Baptism we are configured to Christ so we must configure ourselves to Christ, we must discover this spirit of being meek, without violence, of convincing with love and kindness.
“Patience” [magnanimity], “makrothymia”, means generosity of heart, it means not being minimalists who give only what is strictly necessary: let us give ourselves with all that we possess and we will also increase in magnanimity.

“Forbearing one another in love”: it is a daily duty to tolerate one another in our own otherness, and precisely to tolerate one another with humility, to learn true love.

And let us now take a step further. This word “call” is followed by the ecclesial dimension. We have now spoken of the vocation as a very personal call: God calls me, knows me, waits for my personal response. However at the same time God’s call is a call to a community, it is an ecclesial call. God calls us to a community. It is true that in this passage on which we are meditating the word “ekklesia”, “Church”, is not found but the reality is all the more evident. St Paul speaks of a Spirit and a body. The Spirit creates the body and unites us as it were in one body. And then he speaks of unity, he speaks of the chain of being, of the bond of peace. And with these words he refers to the word “prisoner” at the beginning: it is always the same word, “I am in chains”, “chains will bind you”, but behind them is the great, invisible, liberating chain of love.
We are in this bond of peace which is the Church, it is the great bond that unites us to Christ. Perhaps we must also meditate personally on this point: we are called personally, but we are called to a body. And this is not something abstract but is very real.
At this time the Seminary is the body in which your being on a common journey is brought about in practice. Then there will be the parish: accepting, supporting, enlivening the whole parish, the people, those who are likable and those who are not, becoming integrated into this body. Body: the Church is a body so she has structures, she really has a law and this time it is not so simple to integrate. Of course we want the personal relationship with God, but we often do not like the body. Yet in this very way we are in communion with Christ: by accepting this corporeity of his Church, of the Spirit who is incarnate in the body.

However, perhaps we frequently feel the problem, the difficulty of this community, starting from the actual community of the Seminary to the large community of the Church, with her institutions. We must also keep in mind that it is really lovely to be in a company, to journey on in a large company of all the centuries, to have friends in Heaven and on earth and to be aware of the beauty of this body, to be happy that the Lord has called us in a body and has given us friends in all the parts of the world.

I said that the word “ekklesia” is not found here, but there is the word “body”, the word “Spirit”, the word “bond” and in this brief passage the word “one” recurs seven times. Thus we feel that the Apostle has the unity of the Church at heart. And he ends with a “scale of unity”, until Unity: God is One, the God of all. God is One and the oneness of God is expressed in our communion, because God is the Father, the Creator of us all and so we are all brothers and sisters, we are all one body and the oneness of God is the condition for and also the creation of human brotherhood, of peace. Let us therefore also meditate on this mystery of oneness and the importance of always seeking oneness in the communion of the one Christ, of the one God.

We may now go a step further. If we ask ourselves what is the deep meaning of this use of the word “call”, we see that it is one of the doors that open on to the Trinitarian mystery. So far we have spoken of the mystery of the Church of the one God but the Trinitarian mystery also appears. Jesus is the mediator of the call of the Father that happens through the Holy Spirit.  

The Christian vocation cannot but have a Trinitarian form, both at the level of the individual person and at the level of the ecclesial community. The mystery of the Church is enlivened throughout by the dynamism of the Holy Spirit, which is a vocational dynamism in the broad and perennial sense, starting with Abraham who was the first to hear God’s call and to respond with faith and action (cf. Gen 12:1-3); until the “behold” of Mary, a perfect reflection of that of the Son of God at the moment when he accepted the Father’s call to come into the world (cf. Heb 10:5-7).

Thus, at the “heart” of the Church — as St Thérèse of the Child Jesus would say — the call of every individual Christian is a Trinitarian mystery: the mystery of the encounter with Jesus, with the Word made flesh, through whom God the Father calls us to communion with him and for this reason wishes to give us his Holy Spirit; and it is precisely through the Spirit that we can respond authentically to Jesus and to the Father within a real, filial relationship. Without the breath of the Holy Spirit the Christian vocation simply cannot be explained, it loses its vitality.
And finally the last passage. The form of unity according to the Spirit, as I said, calls for the imitation of Jesus,  configuration to him in the concreteness of his behaviour. The Apostle writes, as in our meditation: “with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love”, and then adds that the unity of the Spirit should be maintained “in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).
The unity of the Church does not come from a “mould” imposed from the outside; rather, it is the fruit of a harmony, a common commitment to behave like Jesus, by virtue of his Spirit.

St John Chrysostom made a very fine commentary on this passage. Chrysostom comments on the image of the “bond”, the “bond of peace”. He says: “a glorious bond is this; with this bond let us bind ourselves together with one another and unto God. This is a bond that bruises not, nor cramps the hands it binds, but it leaves them free, and gives them ample play and greater courage” (Homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 9, 4:1-3).

Here we find the evangelical paradox: Christian love is a bond, as we said, but a liberating bond! The image of the bond, as I told you, brings us back to the situation of St Paul who is a “prisoner” and is “in chains”. The Apostle is in chains because of the Lord, just as Jesus made himself a servant to set us free. If we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit we must impress upon our own behaviour that humility, meekness and patience to which Jesus witnessed in his Passion; it is necessary to have hand and heart bound by the bond of love that  he himself accepted for us by making himself our servant. This is the “bond of peace”. And St John Chrysostom says further in the same commentary: “if you would attach yourself to another [your brother] ... these thus bound by love bear all things with ease…. thus also here he would have us tied one to another; not simply that we be at peace, not simply that we love one another [to be friends], but that all should be one, one soul” (ibid.).
The Pauline text, a few elements of which we have meditated on, is very rich. I have only been able to convey to you a few ideas, which I entrust to your meditation. And let us pray the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Trust, to help us walk joyfully in the unity of the Spirit. Thank you!
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Thursday 24 March 2011

[Irenikon] The Fast, the Violin, and the Jackhammer

The Fast, the Violin, and the Jackhammer

Imagine that to one side of you a musician is playing the violin, and on the other side, a worker is running a jackhammer. Do you hear the violin music? Or do you only see the bow scratching across the strings? The violin music is the inspiration that is born in the soul when you think about God, the sounds of the spiritual world that move the soul to live a pure and chaste life, the reflections of paradisal beauty observable in nature that witness to the Heavenly Father. The jackhammer is the noise of the outside world and the clatter of our passions, which deafen the soul with their unbearable howling, depriving us for a time of spiritual hearing. All the outward vanity, hustle-bustle, impressions, worldly pleasures, and our own sinfulness do not allow us to hear the sounds of spiritual music, feel the paradisal harmony, and return to the Heavenly Father.
In order to stop the jackhammer of passions and free us of the noise of daily vanity, the Church offers Christians Lent—a special time when we have the opportunity to turn away from the outer noise, try to overcome our passions, and find harmony in our personal lives in communion with God.
People who have not fully entered the life of the Church will sometimes say that they do not fast because if they do, they will ”fall apart”—their hemoglobin count will go down, they will get dizzy, and their bodies will weaken. That is, they look at the fast from the angle of its physiological benefit. It is understandable that from this point of view, it is easy to find an excuse for not fasting. Of course, some pastors cite other examples. These are quite viable situations when, for example, a person suffered from some illness that precluded fasting, but they took a blessing to fast anyway, and finally became absolutely healthy (it goes without saying that this sort of fast is not for everyone). Nevertheless, we would like to talk about something else. The fast is not a diet or temporary vegetarianism. The fast is first of all a spiritual activity by which we attempt to bring our soul and flesh into submission. Fasting teaches us to control our nature, rule over desires that arise, and through this, to achieve the most difficult victory—victory over our own selves.
We recall the Cossacks in Gogol's novel, ”Taras Bulba.” Although Sech, the Cossack camp, prayed in church and was ready to defend Orthodoxy to the last drop of blood, it did not want to hear about fasting and abstinence. As a result, the Cossacks' inner spirit turned out to be weak, which became manifest in Bulba's son's betrayal and the Cossacks' final defeat. St. Ignatius (Brianchininov) says, ”O proud man! You dream so much and so highly of your mind—but it is in total and constant dependence upon your stomach.” Truly, about what will a person who is used to pampering his belly think during a time of hunger or meager nourishment? If we have not learned to rule over our bodies, we will be pathetically, slavish dependent upon it. This not only regards the stomach, but also man's sexuality, in which the most disorderly desires can arise; and to our senses of hearing and sight, when we find it hard to tear ourselves away from popular music, television serials, and computer games. After all, satiety can be not only in food, but also videos, games, hanging around with friends, and even sleep. Can such a soul find harmony?
Lent is when we get the opportunity to achieve victory over our nature, to put our inner life in order. The Fast is a special, more sober, repentant disposition of soul, abstinence from worldly merriment, attentive preparation for confession, increasing our prayer rule. As the spring sun warms the earth and melts the snow, so the Fast warms the soul with spiritual warmth, taking away from it the ice of sins and vices. There have been many cases when people were able during the Fast to overcome their bad habits such as smoking, cursing, or drinking. Through the services, prayers, and personal effort, the Christian's attachment to sensual pleasure is extinguished, and he ascends to the apprehension of spiritual truths. Therefore, after patiently going through the walk of the fast, regular attendance at the long services, sincere confession, and frequent Communion of the Holy Mysteries, the soul experiences ease, freedom, and consolation.
By fasting, the Christian limits his intake of animal products, and even the amount of food he eats. Why is this necessary? Our souls are in close contact with our bodies, and therefore the state of the body directly influences the state of the soul. If man's soul reigned over the flesh when he was in Paradise, now the flesh rules over the soul. That means that we need to learn how to submit the flesh to the soul. ”When the king prepares to take an enemy's city,” explains St. John Kolov, ”he first of all stops its supply of provisions. Then its citizens, pressed by hunger, submit to him.  The same thing happens with fleshly desires: if a person will spend his life in fasting and hunger then improper desires will fade away.” It is known from ancient times that every form of food and drink has it own effect upon the organism. Food is able not only to support our activity, but also to obstruct it. We all know dishes and beverages that please and stimulate, or relax and weigh down the organism. When the stomach is full, the mind becomes lazy, and the heart grows coarse. Can one really purely and sincerely pray to God in such a state?
Satiety brings hardness, pomposity, and various passionate desires to the soul, while fasting humbles it. The feeling of hunger that fasting brings frees a person from self-satisfaction and self-opinion, reveals his infirmity, and makes him remember God more often. The prayer of one who fasts becomes especially strong, is pronounced not superficially but from the very soul, from the depth of the heart, directing and raising him to God. Vegetable foods have a lighter effect upon the organism and do not provoke the movement of natural lower, coarser passions. To express it graphically, a light vessel sails the sea more speedily, while one weighed down with extra cargo can sink into the depths of the sea.
Furthermore, fasting is not only physical abstinence. St. John Chrysostom adjures us, ”Let not only the lips fast but also the sight, hearing, legs, arms, and all the members of our bodies. Let the arms fast, remaining innocent of theft and covetousness. Let the legs fast, ceasing to walk toward illicit acts. Let the eyes fast—sight is the food of the eyes. It would be foolish to refrain from food while the eyes devour what is forbidden. You do not eat meat? Do not devour sensuality with your eyes. Let your hearing also fast—the fast of the hearing is not listening to evil gossip and slander. Let the tongue fast from cursing and swearing, for what good is it for us to abstain from fowl and fish while we bite and devour our brothers? An evil gossiper devours the body of his brother, and tears at the flesh of his neighbor.” To put it more exactly, fasting is refraining from all that prevents us from being with God and binds our spiritual and moral yearnings to the earth. It is the fast that raises man's nature to paradisal harmony, in which all our senses and bodily desires are in full submission to the soul.
Man's body can be compared to a musical instrument, and the soul to the musician who should know how to play his instrument. If the musical instrument is damaged, or its strings are out of tune, the musician cannot play a harmonious melody. But if the musician himself is also insufficiently trained, his success is even less likely. The Christian fast is the education of the soul in spiritual skills, and the cure of the body from sinful passions, so that one's natural humanity might serve God through a harmonious spiritual life.
This is why we have been given the fast—so that we could make our soul become like a wondrous violin that produces the beautiful music of spiritual life, and not turn into a jackhammer, always dully rumbling, tearing into the exhaust-fumed asphalt. May God grant that we all use the time of the fast to overcome those weaknesses and sins in ourselves that most obstruct our spiritual life, and that we may find that paradisal harmony, in which all the senses and desires of the body are in full submission to the soul.
Valery Dukhanin
Translated by OrthoChristian.co

Wednesday 23 March 2011

St. Paul would say to the philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to attain the Divine. That is why all pre-Christian philosophy is theological at its summit.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Byzantine Frescoes of Ancient Philosophers

During the Ottoman occupation (15th-19th cent.) many churches and monasteries throughout Greece served as "secret schools" (Gr. "κρυφό σχολειό") where the writings of the ancients were studied in a private environment and taught by either monastics or clergy. Often these schools were in the narthex of churches, which is why these frescoes are often found in this area of the church. Because many ancient philosophers are said to have foretold the coming of Christ as well, they were revered by Christians for their wisdom, though not as saints (hence their depiction without halos).

The Wise Solon (ca. 638 BC – 558 BC) in the Great Lavra of Mount Athos.
The Wise Solon (c. 638 BC – 558 BC) in the Monastery of Prophet Elias in Siatista.

The Wise Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) in the National Library of France dating to 1342.

The Wise Sybil is found at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.

The Wise Plato is found in the dome at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.

In the main gate of the Monastery of Vatopaidi, the visitor is greeted by the Wise Apollonius on the right pillar and Thales the Greek King of Egypt on the left. They were painted in 1870.

The Wise Apollonius painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery ("ἐγώ γὰρ ἐφετμεύω, τρισένα μόνον ὑψιμέδοντα θεόν· οὗν λόγος ἄφθιτος ἐν ἀδαή κόρη ἔγκυμος ἔσεται·")

The Wise Thales painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery ("Ὁ πατήρ γόνος καὶ ὁ γόνος πατήρ, ἄσαρκος σαρκικός γέγονε, θεός ὑπάρχων.")

The Wise Sybil painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery ("Ἥξει οὐρανόθεν βασιλεύς αἰώνων, μέλλων κρῖναι πᾶσαν σάρκα, καὶ κόσμο ἅπαντα.")

The Wise Sophocles painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery ("Ἔστι θεός ἄναρχος ἀπλοῦς τῇ φύσει· ὅς οὐρανόν ἔτευξεν ἅμα καὶ χθόνα.")

The Wise Plato painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery (Gr. "Ὁ παλαιός νέος καὶ νέος ὁ ἀρχαίος, ὁ πατήρ ἐν τῷ γόνῳ καὶ ὁ γόνος ἐν τῷ πατρί. Τό ἕν διαιρείται εἰς τρία καὶ τά τρία εἰς ἕν." Eng. The old is new and the new is ancient. The Father is in the Offspring and the Offspring is in the Father, the One is divided into Three, and the Three constitute One.")

The Wise Aristotle painted in 1858 by Nikephoros in Vatopaidi Monastery (Gr. "Άκάματος φύσει Θεοῦ γέννησις ἐξ αὐτοῦ γὰρ ὁ αὐτός οὐσιοῦται λόγος." Eng. The begetting of God is by nature inexhaustible, for the Logos derives His substance from Him.")

The Wise Plutarch as depicted in the narthex of the church at the Monastery of Philanthropinon in Ioannina. The Monastery was founded in 1272 and painted in 1542.

The Wise Aristotle as depicted in the narthex of the church at the Monastery of Philanthropinon in Ioannina. The Monastery was founded in 1272 and painted in 1542.

Various ancient Greek philosophers depicted near the geneological tree of Christ in Saint Paraskevi Church in Siatista of Kozani. The church was built in 1677.

The Wise Plutarch in Saint Paraskevi Church in Siatista of Kozani.

The Wise Aristotle in Saint Paraskevi Church in Siatista of Kozani.

The Wise Plato and the Wise Aristotle in Saint Paraskevi Church in Siatista of Kozani.

The Wise Solon and the Wise Thucydides in Saint Paraskevi Church in Siatista of Kozani.

The four kings prophesied by Daniel the Prophet, among whom is Alexander the Great. Saint Achilleos Church in Kozani built in 1740.

Hippocrates holding the words to his oath.

From Irenikon
@ 40 ° 54' 21.5" N,  77 ° 52' 23.3" W

Monday 21 March 2011

Lent and the Transfiguration A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 20, 2011 | Carl E. Olson

• Matt. 17:1-9
What words come to mind when you think of Lent? Some that pop into my head include repentance, reflection, testing, growth, fasting, giving, and prayer. Why, then, does today’s Gospel focus on the Transfiguration? During this season of spiritual examination, why do we hear of a mysterious, dramatic, and glory-filled episode on a mountain?

Saint Thomas Aquinas, in answering the question, “Was it fitting that Christ should be transfigured?” (Summa Theologica, 3, 45, I), wrote, “I answer that, Our Lord, after foretelling His Passion to His disciples, had exhorted them to follow the path of His sufferings (Matthew 16:21-24). Now in order that anyone go straight along a road, he must have some knowledge of the end: thus an archer will not shoot the arrow straight unless he first see the target.” Although the glory of the Transfiguration might seem to be far removed from the challenges of Lent, it actually provides us the hope and direction we need in order for this season to truly be about becoming more closely conformed to the likeness of Christ. If Lent is a journey through the desert, the Transfiguration provides the light to walk the path and the end toward which we direct our steps.

Another related connection can be found in how the Transfiguration revealed, in stunning splendor, the divinity and holiness of Christ. This revelation came, as it were, while the disciples were struggling with blindness about the mission undertaken by Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel describes how, not long before the Transfiguration, Jesus had rebuked Peter when the head apostle vehemently rejected the notion that his Lord would have to soon die (Matt 16:21-28). True life, Peter and the disciples were told by their Master, consists of taking up the cross and dying to oneself. “Truly, I say to you,” Jesus told them, “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
The Transfiguration was a vividly experienced foretaste of the Kingdom. It demonstrated to the disciples that the words of Christ were true, and that the beloved Son knew exactly what He was doing, as His heavenly Father confirmed: “Listen to him.” During Lent—or during any trying time in our lives—we may begin to doubt the words and ways of God and wonder if He really knows what He is doing. The Transfiguration is a reminder that the glory and presence of God is indeed with us, even when we struggle through days wet with tears and nights filled with sorrows.
What the disciples witnessed on the mountain was also an illuminating glimpse into God’s plan of salvation. Although Moses had seen God and spoken to Him on Mount Sinai, he couldn’t look God in the face or gaze upon the fullness of God’s glory (Exodus 33:18-23). Elijah, while on the mountain, hid from the presence of God (1 Kings 19:1-14). Man can only be saved by God, but is unworthy to look upon His face. By becoming man, God approaches man and draws him into the divine life. “But only on the mountain of the Transfiguration,” the Catechism notes, “will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought” (CCC 2583).
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, each of which gives witness to Christ, who is the new lawgiver and new prophet of the new and everlasting covenant. He is also, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “our savior Christ Jesus who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). The Transfiguration of the Son of God points to the reality of our own transfiguration, by the work of Christ—especially through the Eucharist (CCC 1000)—into sons and daughters of God.
In the desert of Lent we seek, by God’s grace, to meet the Savior face to face and to be transformed by His Transfiguration, all of the darkness of our souls destroyed by the light of His face.

(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the February 17, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

Hans Urs von Balthasar Quotes
Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

But the issue is not only life and death but our existence before God and our being judged by him. All of us were sinners before him and worthy of condemnation.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize, in spite of, or in fact in, its being wholly other.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

If one does away with the fact of the Resurrection, one also does away with the Cross, for both stand and fall together, and one would then have to find a new center for the whole message of the gospel.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

It is, finally, a word is untimely in three different senses, and bearing it as one's treasure will not win one anyone's favours; one rather risks finding oneself outside everyone's camp... Beauty is the word that shall be our first.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Not longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Prior to an individual's encounter with the love of God at a particular time in history, however, there has to be another, more fundamental and archetypal encounter, which belongs to the conditions of possibility of the appearance of divine love to man.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

St. Paul would say to the philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to attain the Divine. That is why all pre-Christian philosophy is theological at its summit.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation. In the trinitarian dogma God is one, good, true, and beautiful because he is essentially Love, and Love supposes the one, the other, and their unity.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The first attempt at a response: there must have been a fall, a decline, and the road to salvation can only be the return of the sensible finite into the intelligible infinite.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The inner reality of love can be recognized only by love.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of Being, because they surpass all the limits of essences and are coextensive with Being.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The work with which we embark on this first volume of a series of theological studies is a work with which the philosophical person does not begin, but rather concludes.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Thus it is necessary to commence from an inescapable duality: the finite is not the infinite.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

To be sure, the response of faith to revelation, which God grants to the creature he chooses and moves with his love, occurs in such a way that it is truly the creature that provides the response, with its own nature and its natural powers of love.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

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Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

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