Those Who Are Merciful Will Obtain Mercy

February 28, 2011

By Eric Simpson

I admit I have a pretty simple understanding of what it means to be merciful. To be merciful is to give attention to another person without judgment, if necessary forgiving the other person, and helping to meet his needs as if they are my own.

The model is Christ, who shows mercy to all through his sacrificial redemption of the world on the cross. He also says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” This follows a progression of spiritual ascension that begins with poverty of spirit, a quality that moves one to mourn and weep when faced with sin and its consequences, death and its multitudinous manifestations, a fire of grief that promotes meekness — which is primarily the loss of self and self-interest in order to be filled with divine love, which originates in a relationship with God that reconnects the human person with the earth, the spirit with the world of matter; moreover, it is a meekness that hungers and thirsts for righteousness, and is satisfied through a life that is permeated with the divine fire of love and expressed in works of mercy.

A Russian Icon of the Beatitudes

The blessing upon the merciful seems to flow directly from the previous beatitude in that the merciful are those who have hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and have been satisfied; in other words, they are made righteous through cooperation with the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ, who shows us what it means to be merciful through his own suffering and crucifixion. As their own lives are justified, they begin to manifest justice in the world, and this is chiefly shown through an expression of mercy. Mercy is love in action.

The merciful do not follow a necessarily easy path. The cross that Jesus carried to his death, whereby he trampled down death by death, was a hard road for Him, so much so that he prayed fervently in the garden of Gethsemane, and sweat drops of blood. Showing mercy to others, like being poor, or mourning, or being meek, or like hunger and thirst, is a quality of soul that necessitates death, self-denial, perhaps even significant personal loss. Similarly, Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘forgive us our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.”

We pay attention to that which we love, and if we love others with the love of God, we will see them not only as being of value because they are made in His image, but as worthy of love because of the person who is there, even if effaced by many sins and distortions of personality. The merciful pay attention to whoever is before them without judging them because of their social status or appearance. St. James has strong words for those who give preference for the rich, while diminishing the poor. And Jesus, speaking of the various judgments people made of him, said that man judges according to appearance, but God judges according to the heart. The merciful give attention to others without condemnation or blame for what they have done or what they do.

Being merciful isn’t contingent upon anything. We cannot say, ‘you did this to yourself; you live in poverty because you are lazy; or, you are sick because you do not eat healthy foods; or, you have cancer because you smoke cigarettes; or you are addicted because you hate your own body; therefore, because of these things, I am under no obligation to help you.” The merciful do not make those kinds of judgments; those are for God alone to make. Our job is to be merciful to all, and thereby obtain mercy.

St. Isaac of Syria writes,

“You have not been appointed to decree vengeance upon men’s deeds and works, but rather to ask for mercy for the world, to keep vigil for salvation of all, and to partake in every man’s suffering, both the just and sinner’s. Instead of an avenger, be a deliverer. Instead of a faultfinder, be a soother. Instead of a betrayer, be a martyr. Instead of a chider, be a defender. Beseech God in behalf of sinners that they receive mercy, and pray to Him for the righteous that they be preserved. Conquer evil men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your goodness. Put the lover of justice to shame by your compassion. Remember that the sins of all men go before them to the judgment seat.”

Being merciful may or may not involve big things. It more likely involves being merciful where I am at right now. In a marriage that means continuous forgiveness, both seeking it from the other and granting it. In a family, it means all the things that constitute the sacrifices of family life — giving up personal time or ambitions or luxuries for those whom we love — but it’s more likely more difficult on a simpler level … for instance, being merciful when your loved one repeats the same annoying habit for seemingly the thousandth time. Small annoyances can blow up fast. Learning to transcend or deal with even really minor annoyances is a beginning, a spark, a movement toward being among the merciful.

Sometimes, of course, such annoyances may be symptoms of larger issues, an elephant in the room, and so learning to love and be merciful in the minor things may help to work one’s way up the chain to resolving more complex problems. I don’t think any of us are ever going to “overcome” the difficulties of living with other people, both major and minor, no matter what that may entail for each one of us specifically, but we can learn to be merciful in whatever situation we live. The fact that we may always be faced with strife, misunderstandings and miscommunication, an uncaught harsh word, bad moods and annoyances just means we have plenty of opportunity set before us to practice mercy, and to obtain mercy according to the promise of Christ.

This article is excerpted from Eric’s podcast, “Seeking Peace“, which may be heard at Ancient Faith Radio.

Reprinted with permission.   Source

A Statement by Metropolitan Jonah

February 27, 2011

The news released Friday that Metropolitan Jonah was taking  time off for a personal retreat has been used by some to spread false rumors. In the video below Metropolitan Jonah makes a personal statement about the situation:

However, due to inaccurate reporting on the Internet stating that I had been deposed, that I had resigned, that I am on a leave of absence, rumors that have spread worldwide and have caused great concern among many. I owe you the faithful of this diocese clarification of the facts.

I am still your Metropolitan. I am still your diocesan bishop. I am still the active primate of the Orthodox Church in America. The reports are not true. I am merely taking a retreat, a time for reflection. (Text from here, which may require a sign-in to Facebook.)

Singing “Holy God”

February 27, 2011

One of my favorite hymns of the Divine Liturgy is when we sing “Holy God” (the Trisagion). There are several melodies for this ancient hymn, reflecting the varied heritage of the Church.

Here, for example, is the choir of St. Luke Orthodox Church in Erie, Colorado:

A bit about St. Luke’s in Erie can be read here.

This is a hymn our family would sing together sometimes (along with other family favorites) while traveling in our car on long road trips. I guess it’s these memories that make the following rendition of “Holy God” by this little girl named Ana so precious! She does a great job and is even joined by one of her siblings:

St. Nikolai Velimirovich and Mahatma Gandhi

February 26, 2011

H/T: St. George Orthodox Church of Prescott

A Letter of St. Nikolai Velimirovich to British Noble “Charles B.”

As a man of faith, you are troubled by the thought — what will Providence do with Gandhi? And what is the meaning of the appearance of this strange person among the statesmen and politicians of our time?

A warning from God. That is surely the meaning of the leader of the great Indian nation. Through that person, Providence is showing politicians and the statesmen of the world, even Christian ones, that there are other methods in politics than skill, wiliness and violence. Gandhi’s political method is very simple and obvious: he does not require anything except the man who cries out and the God Who hearkens.

Against weapons, ammunition and army, Gandhi places FASTING;

against skill, wiliness and violence, PRAYER;

and against political quarrel, SILENCE.

How puny and pathetic that looks in the eyes of modern men, right? In modern political textbooks, these three methods are not even mentioned in footnotes. Fasting, prayer and silence! There is hardly a statesman in Europe or America who would not ironically see these three secrets of the Indian statesmen as three dry twigs pointed on the battlefield against a heap of steel, lead, fire and poison.

However, Gandhi succeeds with these three “spells” of his; he succeeds to the astonishment of the whole world. And whether they want to or not, political lawmakers in England and other countries will have to add a chapter into their textbooks:

“Fasting, Prayer and Silence as Powerful Weapons in Politics.”

Imagine, would it not be to the fortune of all mankind if these methods of the unbaptized Gandhi replaced the methods of the baptized Machiavelli in political science?

But it is not the Indian’s method in itself that is such a surprise to the world, as it is the person using the method. The method is Christian, as old as the Christian faith, and yet new in this day and age.

The example of fasting, prayer and silence was shown by Christ to His Disciples. They handed it down to the Church, along with their whole example, and the Church hands it to the faithful from generation to generation until this day.

Fasting is a sacrifice, silence is inward examination of oneself, prayer is crying out to God. Those are the three sources of great spiritual power which make man victorious in battle and excellent in life. Is there a man who cannot arm himself with these weapons? And which crude force in this world can defeat these weapons? Of course, these three things do not include all of the Christian faith, but are only a part of its rules, its supernatural mysteries.

Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means. The Gospel also tells us that Providence sometimes uses such warnings for the good of the people. Your Grace will immediately realize that I am alluding to the Roman captain from Capernaum (Matt. ch. 8). On the one hand, you see the Elders of Israel who, as chosen monotheists of the time, boasted of their faith, meanwhile rejecting Christ, and, on the other hand, you see the despised Roman pagan who came to Christ with great faith and humility, asking Him to heal his servant. And when Jesus heard it, He was astonished and said to those who followed Him,

“Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.”

The Christian world is the new, baptized Israel. Listen! Is Christ not telling the same words today to the consciences of the Christian Elders by pointing to today’s captain of India?

Peace and health from the Lord to you.

Source: Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich: Letters 1-100, trans. Hierodeacon Serafim (Baltic), Vol. VI in A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality (Grayslake, IL: New Gracanica Monastery, 2008), pp. 171-173.


Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev Lecture in Dallas

February 26, 2011

On February 13, 2011, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev was invited to speak to Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. He used the occasion to reaffirm traditional Christian moral and social teaching. A video of the lecture and text follows:

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in with the bosom of the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

These words have a truly profound and universal meaning. Indeed no human eyes have ever seen God the Father – the invisible God who has neither a physical body nor material form. But for people to strengthen their faith in God and to know that He not only exists in reality but also hears their prayers and is ready to come to their aid, the Father sent His Only-Begotten Son who became God incarnate and revealed to us His invisible Father.

Only after the incarnation of the Word, when God became one of us, lived a human life, suffered and died on the cross, was raised from the dead to open for us the way to the Heavenly Kingdom and to raise us together with Himself, did human beings come to know God in the real sense.

Before Christ’s coming, people did not know that God could become so close to them and be in full solidarity with them. They did not know that He loved human beings so much that He was ready to accept suffering and death for each one of us. He Himself bridged the abyss that separated us from Him – a chasm which we could never have overcome on our own.

There is no clearer evidence of God’s love for humans than the cross on which God incarnate Himself was crucified. And there is no greater sacrifice that could have been offered by the Lord for the sake of humanity.

But do we not we accept this, the greatest of Sacrifices, too easily? Have we not grown accustomed to it?  Haven’t the shock and the confusion of this Sacrifice vanished from us because of our spiritual laziness? I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:19).

This is the stance in life that has made the Church invincible throughout centuries and millennia notwithstanding the all-pervading enmity and temptations of the external world.

We have been redeemed by His blood but we should also be His companions – co-travellers on His path to the cross.

How dignified and sublime is this state of the spirit – the state in which the apostles, martyrs and all the saints dwelt. And how different it is from the petty inner world of modern man who, having lost all spiritual guidelines, has become a blind servant to his own passions and to the opinions of others.

Humanity today is not only godless, it is also anti-human. Inhumanity, indifference towards the suffering of others, unwillingness to help or come forward for help, egocentrism and egoism have today reached truly universal dimensions.

It is ever more difficult to meet a true human being in the desert of the modern world.

Everywhere people live as though they will not be called to account for their sins, as though there is no God who set commandments, established laws and ordained moral rules for His people. Many live as if there is nothing beyond the threshold of death. They live only for themselves, for their own pleasure; they live to gratify their human lusts.

Regrettably we can direct these bitter words not only to non-believers but also to the spokesmen of certain trends in modern Christianity. As such, in the presence of this erosion of the moral foundation of Christian civilization, we are faced with the paramount spiritual problem of our time.

Today we can state with deep consternation that the frontier of confrontation among the various Christian confessions lies not so much along lines of theological dispute, but rather in what hitherto seemed unthinkable, namely, marked differences among Christians in their understanding of moral law.

A few decades ago disputes about what is sin and what is virtue were rare – after all, what was there to argue about? Everyone agreed that the Bible stated everything in absolutely clear terms.

But now there has surfaced a desire to revise, or, to be more precise, to adjust the unambiguous commandments of God to any manifestation of human fancy: a trend that has spread out with the speed of a cancer.

Ideological and ethical dividing lines have now come to lie not between believers and non-believers but actually within the community of those who call themselves Christians. This is even evident within one and the same confession.

Recently, a few months ago addressing members of the Nicean Club of the Anglican Church, I noted that differences in views held by the liberal and conservative wings of that Church are greater than between Anglicans and adherents of other confessions.

Never before has the world faced ethical problems of such severity as in our times. Technological progress has not alleviated the problem of moral choice but rather has exacerbated it. To the horror of thinkers and philosophers, the situation that emerged in the mid-20th century, when humanity proved capable of destroying not only itself but all life on earth, heralded a serious era of moral trials. Nuclear arms became the visible sign of force, and resources were set free by a human rationale not yet ready for such tests.

In the light of fearful evidence, ongoing terrorist acts point to the existence of a dramatic tension between the sight poles of humanity. Having encountered naked aggression, social thinking has taken the easiest and therefore the worst-considered path.

By exalting an all-pervasive pluralism of opinion and making it the foundation of a new world view, we not only fail completely to placate the acuteness of the conflict but instead increase the distance between the poles of confrontation.

The faithful of various religions have at least one common quality, which is a commitment to principles, and in this they can find a place for mutual respect.

But dialogue between a believer and a person void of principles is impossible. Between the two rests a misunderstanding that is neither religious nor ideological, but psychological and almost biological. Here lies the uttermost divergence of the poles.

In order to cope with evil we ourselves must stand firmly on the side of goodness rather than that of abstract pluralism. But how is it possible to speak of a firm moral stand when the very foundations of morality are diluted – and that not without the approval of Christian leaders?

Our task should be to unite the efforts of those Christians who hold fast to the Word of God without allowing any erosion of its moral imperatives to humour the spirit of the time.

If in a community calling itself Christian, practising homosexuals are consecrated as ‘bishops’, if a rite of blessing same-sex unions is practised and fundamental biblical norms concerning marriage, family and human sexuality are reassessed, can this community be called a church? It is salt that has lost its savour; it has ceased to be salty and is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Mt. 5:13).

Today’s Christendom is divided along tracks that conform to a few simple yet important questions: the acceptance or rejection of the absolute value of human life and the related attitude to abortion and euthanasia; a commitment to the biblical view of the family and the related traditional view of relations between men and women; and finally, the duty, or simply the courage, to call a sin a sin.

It should now be clear what is really hidden under the masks of liberalizing Christian doctrine and of eroding ethical teachings. Why indeed has this particular aspect of Christian theology (as opposed to any other) become the object in a number of Protestant churches and communities of diverse experimentation and attempts at relativization? Why has a review of Christian ethical norms arisen in these communities at all? What forces stand behind these processes and what purposes do they pursue?

One explanation, but not the only one, is that Christianity preaches abstention, moderation and self-restriction. As such it clearly becomes an encumbrance that affects the rampant growth of consumerism on which today’s market economy is based.

For this reason, there are many who wish to remove Christian ethics from social life. Circles with vested interests oppose the influence of Christian morality on the spheres of economy and business by subjecting everything to their principal market rule: ‘supply should forestall demand’. They also attempt to liberate the exploitation of human sexuality from any public control and above all to deprive Christian Churches of the right publicly to express concerns over this issue.

How can a Christianity that is disunited and riddled with contrary views in theological and anthropological teachings oppose such tendencies?

In our disquiet over the preservation of Christian values, we should in the first place strive to be at one. Liberal tendencies in Protestant and Anglican communities present a challenge to Christians and Churches that have remained faithful to the evangelical principles that underlie doctrine, church order and ethics. We should then seek out allies to combat the destruction of Christianity’s very essence. Finally, we should defend Christian values against the challenges of secularism and relativism.

The Lord has placed each of us in a particular life situation where we are surrounded by people at home, in the university, and at work. We must act among these people as apostles and preachers of Christ’s Truth. Christian spiritual and moral ideals should imbue our entire life. We should be Christians not only in church but also as a family, at work and in every place where people meet us. We should never impose the Christian faith on anybody; no-one can be forced to believe in God. But at the same time we ought to live in such a way that people may be inspired by our example.

Authentic religious life begins not when we provide rational answers to questions of God’s existence but when we begin building our lives in accordance with God’s commandments.

I invoke God’s blessing on all of you who have assembled here.

H/T: Catholic Lane Original Source

Additional reading:

Russian Orthodox Leader Stands for Principle

Science, Creation and the Seeking of Truth in Orthodox Christian Theology

February 25, 2011

Fr. Gregory Hallam, the pastor of St. Aidan’s Orthodox Church in Levenshulme, Manchester, in Great Britain, offers this recording of his lecture “Science, Creation and the Seeking of Truth in Orthodox Christian Theology,” given February 24, 2011 at Manchester Metropolitan University. He comments on this recording:

In this lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University I show how Religion and Science are not incompatible. I propose that the Faith of the Orthodox Church, which is so distinctive and different from all other Christian Churches, has some interesting insights to offer.

This is my first attempt at recording. The quality is average but I have learned lessons for next time!

Despite some technical issues, he gives a thought-provoking lecture on the subject. Transcript of lecture here.  Slides used, audio file, and additional media used can be found here.

Metropolitan Kallistos on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

February 23, 2011

February 20, 2011 — Metropolitan Kallistos Ware delivers his sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son at the Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Westland, Michigan.

I was struck by these thoughts by Metropolitan Kallistos:

God is seeking us far more than we are seeking Him. God does not just come out to meet us half way, He comes out far more. If we take one step towards Him, He takes a hundred towards us. So, today’s Gospel is not just a story of repentance. It is a story of the way in which our repentance is accepted. It is a story of the loving father and how He goes out in search of His child and how He loves both His children, both the one that went astray and returned and the one who remained at home….

Let us notice in the story that the Father does not wait for the prodigal to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son, treat me like one of your hired servants.” The Father will not let him finish the sentence. Immediately, unhesitatingly, He restores the exile to his sonship. Nor is this all. The Father not only accepts his son back, not only restores him to his inheritance, but He accepts him back with an unbounded all-embracing joy.

So what we see — vividly — in today’s Gospel, is not just the repentance of the prodigal, but the love of the Father: love without limits.

The meaning of today’s parable, the message written on every page of Holy Scripture, is this: God loves us.

It is said of the prodigal, ‘while he was yet far off’ — is that not true of us? We are far off from our true home, but God runs out to meet us, He puts His arms round us, He unites us to our home, He invites us into the feast.