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Preparatory Contemplation for the great fast of Holy Lent

What is the purpose of the Christian life?

Ask this question and you are sure to get a variety of answers, as varied as ‘Go to Church’, ‘Pray to God’, or ‘Do the commandments’ or even ‘Do good’.   Fasting, prayer, vigil and other spiritual disciplines are not the sum aim of the Christian life but the means to an end.

The true aim of the Christian life is this – the acquisition of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God.  This is the path of discipleship of Christ, to become ‘Christ-like’, which is why we venerate the holy martyrs first and foremost amongst the community of saints for their self sacrifice.  Fasting, prayer, almsgiving and good deeds done – for Christ’s sake – are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit.  Of course I am speaking to the Christian community who has undergone the light of illumination by entering into the sacramental mysteries, particularly Baptism and Chrismation.

Ephesians 4:25 ff

25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour”, for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin” do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.’

The holy apostle Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us that our Christian virtue is our identity, and we must not corrupt ourselves because in doing so we grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom we were ‘sealed’.  I want to comment on the term – sealed.  Cain was marked on his forehead as a warning to the people of his murderous crime against the holy and righteous Abel.  Alternatively, Christians in the Orthodox Church are marked with cross during the sacrament of Chrismation, one of the eastern Churches actually refers to this as ‘sealing’ in their liturgical acclamations.  Unlike the mark of Cain, this sign is the sign of victory and blessing, the sign of the true messianic community.  This is the sealing of the Holy Spirit on a believers life, and yet it is evident that His grace can be grieved and even leave us should we chose to forsake His path, which is why we are taught in our daily prayers to pray for mercy, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’

All we do that is not done for the sake of Christ brings no reward in the future life or the grace of God in the present – even if it is an apparently good act.  We are reminded that the path to destruction is broad compared to the way of life…

Thank God then, that his love and mercy are infinite!  Recently, we celebrated the fast and feast of Jonah the holy prophet.  The people of Nineveh, upon hearing the prophetic warning of doom responded in a most unusual fashion – as a nation of gentiles, they repented, en masse, and covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes, including their livestock.  Of course, this is a sign to us that the message of repentance and the path to salvation would be opened up to all nations and peoples.  Did you ever hear of such repentance in all of Israel?

Perhaps, Israel came close in the time of the forerunner Saint John the Baptist.  He brought a message of condemnation for sin and invoked people to repentance, and indeed his fame as a holy man was known through all the land.  He baptised a nation, excepting the temple authorities, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees who treated him with jealous contempt.  However, even they would not dare to bring accusation against him in the sight of the people, in whose hearts his authenticity as a prophet was true.  He taught people, to fear God…

It is common in society to portray the ancient Churches as promoting fear of God to maintain some kind of totalitarian rule over ignorant masses.  However, the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, because it leads to the pursuit of holiness in our life, which is the act of purifying ourselves in the majestic light of divinity – which ultimately is an experience of the love of God!

Back then to deeds, it is actually Christ our Lord Himself, who makes our deeds living!

Hebrews 6:1

‘…let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…’

The inference here is that there are works which are dead, and those which are living.  Those committed for Christ’s sake are then those which are living.

In the Church Fathers there is a teaching that ‘There is a way which seems good at the beginning, but it ends at the bottom of hell!’  We may see this as a warning against making bad decisions and being trapped into thinking we are progressing spiritually in what seem good deeds.  This is the danger of those who would try to lead their own spiritual path without the wisdom of the Church.

Saint Anthony, the great instigator of monasticism taught in his letters the following.

We are influenced by three wills.  Firstly, God’s all perfect and all saving will.  Secondly, our own will, which if not destructive is neither, saving.  Finally, there is the Devil’s will which is completely destructive.  The third will prompts no good deeds, or for them to   be committed for vanity.”

It is vital then for the spiritual life that we follow the example of the Gospel and commit ourselves to live out the commandments of Christ.  There is a warning in one of the parables of the danger of forsaking this urge to practice good deeds for Christ.

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins awaiting the bridegroom is the perfect example from the mouth of Christ our Lord Himself.  Oil is symbolic and the means by which God’s grace and Spirit are transmitted in both the Old and New Testaments.  The acquisition of the Holy Spirit then is like the oil the foolish virgins lacked, and so they went out into the marketplace (the world) trying to find some and in doing so missed the coming of the bridegroom.  They are foolish then because they forgot the fruit of virtuous deeds.

On this point I want to share a point from Saint Isaac the Syrian.  Indeed, some modern commentators have contemplated whether Saint Isaac the Syrian was Enoch walking the earth again, bathing in the light of eternal glory due to the immense depth of his teaching.   Regardless, he is one of the most loved spiritual writers of all ages amongst a broad spectrum of apostolic Churches.

When we commit works with purity as their goal for the sake of Christ, we do not shake off or erase blameworthy deeds committed in the past, but they do take away the grief of the memory from our minds….The whole sum of deeds of mercy brings the soul into the unity of God.”

Clearly there is transformative power in following the directions of the Gospel.  I would like to encourage all of you to work at this and increase our time in prayer and reflection.

I want to share with you a spiritual practice I hope I can work at this lent – Reading the Holy Scriptures.  We should not read the Holy Bible as we read any other book.  It is sacred text, which reveals God to us – Emmanuel, the Logos.  It is not a text to be ’investigated’, as is common amongst many so called experts who approach it, but rather we are to put the text above our minds and read it (aloud) with careful, prayerful diligence, submitting ourselves to its meaning allowing God to inspire us through His word.

On the feast of the presentation of the Lord in the temple which has just passed, it is the Coptic Orthodox liturgical tradition after the reading of the Gospel for the priest to take the Gospels and after a procession around the altar, he stands at the royal doors, the entrance to the heykal – sanctuary  (a symbol of both the heavenly temple, a reminder of the elder Symeon holding the incarnate Christ), and the people come forward to take the blessing of the Gospels as a symbol of the incarnate Logos.  How blessed we are for the rites of the ancient Church!

Spiritual memorisation, through prayerful study, is a Divinely inspired spiritual practice which reveals deep truths from the Holy Scriptures, as opposed to the intellectual path of analytical investigation prevalent amongst protestants and other western groups.  Whilst historical study is useful, it is not the way to approach the books as the key to unlocking their secrets, which is essentially a form of Gnosticism.  The ancient monastic method of studying the Holy Bible prayerfully is the inspiration of the great theological contemplations of the early Alexandrian Fathers in particular; thus the mind is open to the text allowing the Holy Spirit to be our teacher.

 John 14:26

 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

God gives us this understanding, a promise from Christ our Lord, and when we are truly inspired we don’t just remember a verse but there is an irresistible wisdom and spiritual power revealing the glory of the verse and the power of God within it.

This is the opposite of using the Holy Bible as a source of proof texts and verses, for the ‘Words I spoke to you are Spirit and life…’ JOHN 6:63

Revelation 19:10

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” and this is especially true of the sacred Gospels, for these books are spiritual, and cannot be fathomed by purely intellectual pursuits.  In fact, if you are living outside of it you cannot possibly understand them, which is why they belong at the heart of the Orthodox liturgy and worship.  Our understanding increases according to how much we follow and carry out its commandments.

Let us increase our spiritual and prayerful reading of Scripture this great fast of lent, and if you are attracted to anything in this contemplation it is because the teachings come from the fathers as our received tradition, without which we have nothing.

Glory be to the Holy Trinity…

New Years Bombing in Egypt

FatherJames
Our hearts are saddened by yet again another fundamentalist New Years present to the suffering Coptic Christians of Egypt. Those who are killed like sheep for no reason other than they were Christians coming out of Church are most definitly true martyrs of Christ and are now under His throne praising Him.

All Australian brothers and sisters of the Coptic Orthodox Church offer their deepest condolences to the relatives of the New Martyrs of Alexandria, to HH Pope Shenouda III, The Coptic Holy Synod and all Bishops, Fathers and lay people of the blessed Coptic Orthodox Church and to Mrs Ghaly of Melbourne for the loss of multiple members of her family in Alexandria, Egypt.

 

 
 ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – A powerful bomb exploded in front of a crowded Coptic Christian church a half hour into the New Year early Saturday, hitting worshippers emerging from a holiday Mass in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and killing at least 21 people in an attack that raised suspicions of an al-Qaida role.

The attack came in the wake of repeated threats by al-Qaida militants in Iraq to attack Egypt’s Christians. A direct al-Qaida hand in the bombing would be a dramatic development, as Egypt’s government has long denied that the terror network has a significant presence in the country. Al-Qaida in Iraq has already been waging a campaign of violence against Christians in that country.

Police initially said the blast came from an explosives-packed car parked outside the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port city. But the Interior Ministry later said it was more likely from a suicide bomber who blew himself up among the crowd…

 

The Four Incorporeal Creatures Mission stands in solidarity and love with the families of all who have been killed and injured in this heinous act.  Our love, support and prayers are with our brethren in Alexandria at this time.

Please remember to consider these families in our prayers, and we hope you are comforted by the message of Christ revealed to St John the Evangelist in the book of Revelation –                                                                                                                                                                                

 
REVELATION 16:4 Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying:

“ You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
Because You have judged these things.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”

7 And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

In the Apocalypse, the murderers shall be made to drink the fruit of their evil as the waters turn to blood as they did in the day of Moses. The reply from the altar is the voice of the martyrs crying out for the just judgement of the Living God – the call to DIVINE JUSTICE. THE UNJUST SHEDDING OF BLOOD SINCE THE DAY OF ABEL VIOLATES THE COSMIC ORDER OF GOD’S CREATION.

Genesis 4:10 (God is talking to Cain) “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”

So it was that the earth shook and the heavens darkened at the crucifixion of the Holy One of Israel – and He will return on that great and terrible day of the LORD to execute judgement on all mankind – may God have mercy on us.

 

“The day will come when they will Kill you thinking they do God a service.” Jesus Christ…

St Antony said these words in the 300’s AD. “The day will come when those who are insane shall call you insane for not being like them.”

 
 

The Perpetual Virginity of St Mary in the founders of protestantism

Perhaps this is the only time you will find quotes from protestants on this site but nevertheless it is a pointed reminder that the notion St Mary had Children apart from our Lord except by adoption is a modern innovation and misunderstanding of Scripture, that was not even considered by the founders of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) who rejected tradition.  Our Lord gave St Mary to St John the beloved from the cross as his mother because she had no other children… The holiness of St Mary is evident in apart from the Lord’s prayer the most beautiful prayer in Scripture which reveals the humility of St Mary Luke 1:46ff…

 

Famous Protestants on the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos

Martin Luther: “It is an artcle of faith that Mary is the Mother of the Lord and still a virgin…Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” (Works of Luther, V. 11, pp319-320; V. 6, p 510) See also this article.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Matthew 1:25: “And knew her not This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.”

John Wesley: “I believe that [Christ] was… born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”


Letter to a Roman Catholic, July 18, 1749.

 The Church of God has always considered St Mary as the second Ark of the Covenant,

for truly what dwelt within Our Blessed and Holy Mother was greater than the

tablets of stone which Our Lord God wrote on in the Ark of the Covenant.  So we call

her the Most Holy Theotokos or God bearer because we uphold the doctrine of the

incarnation that God the Word became man uniting Dininity and Humanity in the one person,

which was the statment of faith that Christ told St Peter he would build the Church on…

    Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

Matthew 16:13 xNow when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say yJohn the Baptist, others say zElijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, a“You are bthe Christ, cthe Son of dthe living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, e“Blessed are you, fSimon Bar-Jonah! For gflesh and blood has not revealed this to you, hbut my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, iyou are Peter, and jon this rock2 I will build my church, and kthe gates of lhell3 shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you mthe keys of the kingdom of heaven, and nwhatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed4 in heaven.” 20 oThen he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. x

For ver. 13–16, see Mark 8:27–29; Luke 9:18–20 y ch. 14:2; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7 z Mark 6:15; Luke 9:8; [ch. 17:10; Mark 9:11; John 1:21] a John 11:27 b See ch. 1:17 c See ch. 14:33 d Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Dan. 6:20; Hos. 1:10; Acts 14:15; 2 Cor. 3:3; 1 Tim. 4:10 e [ch. 13:16] f [John 1:42; 21:15–17] g 1 Cor. 15:50; Gal. 1:16 (Gk.); Eph. 6:12; Heb. 2:14 h 1 Cor. 2:10; 12:3; [ch. 11:25; John 6:45] i [ch. 10:2; John 1:42] j Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14; [ch. 7:24] 2 The Greek words for Peter and rock sound similar k Job 38:17; Isa. 38:10 l See ch. 11:23 3 Greek the gates of Hades m [Isa. 22:22; Rev. 1:18; 3:7] n [ch. 18:18; John 20:23] 4 Or shall have been bound … shall have been loosed o Mark 8:30; Luke 9:21; [ch. 17:9]; See ch. 12:16 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Mt 16:13-20

 

 

Take off your SHOES!!!

                                                                             Icon.MosesAndTheBurningBushEXODUS 3:1

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

 

 

This is perhaps one of the greatest known events in history.  The Fathers are quite unanimous in saying that this revelation of the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the burning bush was in fact the pre-existent Word, the Son of God.  This event points us to his incarnation, and that beautiful Scripture that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).  Yet the Holiness of God’s presence was such that Moses was commanded by the Angel of the Lord to take off his shoes for even the ground where he stood was holy.

Later on in time after the repose of the great Arch-prophet Moses, Joshua entered the promised land…                                      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

  

joshua smallJOSHUA 5:13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”
14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
15 Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Amongst the Fathers of the Church there is difference on opinion of whether the Commander of the army of the LORD was an angel or Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Origen taught that this was indeed the Lord Jesus Christ,  ‘for who else is chief of the army of the powers of God except our Lord Jesus Christ?”  Origen also went on to contemplate “And in what manner is Jericho holy ground since it is retained by the enemies?  This indicates, and not by accident, that the chief of the army of the power of the Lord sanctifies every place to which he comes, for Jericho itself was not a holy place.  But because the chief of the army of God came there, the place is said to be holy.  I also dare something more and say that even the place where Moses stood was not holy through Moses himself but because the Lord stood with him.  The presence of the Lord had sanctified the place; and on that account, it is said to him, ‘loosen the latchet of your sandal, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”   (From Origen’s homilies on Joshua). 

Interesting that the presence of God sanctifies and hallows the physical location in where He is present.  The enormity of these historical events is in a way incomprehensible by the human mind, for who can comprehend the depth and majesty of the Holy Trinity?  Yet, we know what we have been taught and in Christ Jesus our Blessed Lord we have the exact image of God in whom the fulness of divinity dwelt bodily (Col 2:9).  Further, these important historical events pointed to the coming of Christ who was truly Emmanuel – God with us – spoken of by Isaiah the prophet. 

The holiness of God’s presence is revered in the exact same manner to this day throughout the Coptic Orthodox Churches of the world.  When we come to worship at the foot of the altar where the Prescious Body and Blood of our Lord ARE, the sanctuary and Church is indeed sanctified by the presence of Divinity.  So too, we take off our shoes in the Church, and importantly they are not to be worn into the altar under any circumstances.  Finally, the Latin Father and exegete Jerome taught that likewise in the “Kingdom of Heaven we will have no place for sandals as protection against the world as we follow the Lamb who has been slain for us.”  As people who live in expectation of our end in Christ we follow this ancient tradition as a sign of the coming Kingdom, and in reverence to the presence of God, as like Joshua the son of Nun, we bow down and worship our glorious Lord…

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