“…nothing before His love…”

Ascension174 Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension.  This is the day Our Lord ascended to His Father, Body and Soul.  This day should change how people think of eternity, and how they think of death.  As Christians, we believe Christ rose from the dead after three days.  We believe the account in the Book of Acts when we are told that He spent 40 days among His Apostles.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God…” (Acts 1:1-3).

Ascension IconIn the Book of Acts, we hear of many of the “proofs” given to His followers that He had, indeed, risen from the dead, as He foretold.  We believe this because eyewitnesses tell us, through this written record, but also through faith.  In the west, bells are normally rung at the moment of “transubstantiation,” or the point at which Jesus becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the appearance of bread and wine.  In the east, we take the moment on faith, not delineating exactly when Christ manifests Himself on the altar, but we believe He is present.  We also believe He is equally present in His Word…which is why in the east, there is a procession before the Gospel is read, with the Gospel book held high and bows are made as the priest and deacon walk by with the Gospel, the same as when the Holy Gifts are brought to the altar. We also incense at both points in our Liturgy.  God is present in His people, in His word, and in His Body and Blood during communion – each is equal in many ways for those of us in the east. It is belief that what we do here on earth is mirrored in heaven.  We believe.  We believe it all.

The Ascension, as pictured in an icon above, is about so much more than what was written down.  Christ never set aside the fact or the reality that He was God.  He never set aside the fact or reality that He was Man.  He suffered for us in his Humanity.  He suffered just as we do, in all things except for Sin.  He was the “God made man.”  When He rose after the 40 days He spent instructing and being present to His apostles, He rose fully man, and fully God.  But He rose in the aspect of His Humanity, becoming the Risen Lord, the Lord of Hosts, in His Humanity.  We strive to be like Him.  As Christians it is our goal to become as Christ-like to everyone (and to ourselves) as we can be.  We believe that becoming Christ-like is the one true path to our eternity in Heaven, sharing it with God Himself.  Because we believe all of this, and we have written records of this event, and we have historical anecdotes about this and many of the events in the life of Christ (my minor in college was Biblical archeology – trust me, we have the proofs) we need to take a leap in our logical thinking here.  Take a leap of faith, if you want to call it that.  What is the leap?  It is called, “Theosis,” or becoming like God.  It is a progression we make in our spirituality in that we believe we will be present in eternity with God in our humanity.  That means that God, who resides in the heavenly realms in His Humanity, will welcome us to the same place, in our human bodies.  Christ deified His human form by rising into Heaven in His humanity; we will, as well, be welcomed into heaven in our human forms…we will be deified, too.

So many people freak out when you talk about this. But it is a thread of philosophy running through Christianity that has an actual name – Theosis.  It is such a huge subject and such a hard truth, that if you google it, you will be amazed at how many resources touch on the subject.  One article I enjoyed is linked here: http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature

The goal in life is to be forgiven, to reach the heavenly realms and reside for eternity with God.  For me, if I am allowed through those “Pearly Gates,” I will be thrilled to just be allowed in.  Nosebleed seats work great for me.  The Ascension is a promise that our human nature can participate in the divine nature.  We will be among the saints who have gone before us.  People, just like you and me, who pursued heaven above all else.  In our culture today, that is not the popular thing to say or be a part of; certainly not the subject of any reality show I know of.  And most certainly not tweeting or twittering, instagramming or posting photos of those trying to become saints!  Our children’s heroes are not those struggling with their own demons and personal sanctity; most often they are sports or singing stars.  And we need to hold up the saints as heroes in our homes, rather than the other categories more prominent in our culture.

There is a movement that is based on “your body is a temple,” (and the western aspect of Theosis) and it is called, The Theology of the Body.”  (http://thetheologyofthebody.com/)  The Roman Catholic Church is trying to teach this premise, in order for our young people, and even us older folks, to have a more profound view of their/our bodies.  (http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0058.html)  Our bodies will be deified through our own Resurrection experience through death. And for many people these days, they do not respect others, let alone themselves or one another’s physical bodies.  Theology of the Body promotes this sense of the sacred in humanity, that within each of us, the spark of Godliness resides.  We are children of God and within each of us resides this essence of God (in the east we refer to this as the nous, or nesting place of God present in each of us).  We have the humanity of man before the Fall of Adam and Eve (Original Man); we have the struggle of man through the humanity of and sacrifice of Christ (Historical Man), and we have our own essence of self in the resurrected bodies we present to God in heaven (Eschatological Man).  If we take this theology of Theosis and the Theology of the Body and truly look at them, through the lens of the Ascension of Christ celebrated today, it should cause us to stop in our tracks.  If we become deified and perfected through our faith in the Ascended Lord, how much more should we respect our own bodies (for they will be with us through eternity) and the bodies of others?!  They truly are the Temple of the Lord.

Elder Porphyrios

 

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“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent