Category: Watchfulness


Mementos

I have known myself snatched away into true compunction of spirit by the death of a brother monk or of a dear friend or relative. Sometimes the memory of my own half-heartedness and carelessness has elevated my soul. No doubt there are countless occasions of this sort, which can rouse the mind, through God’s grace, from its drowsiness and half-heartedness.

~ “First Conference with Abba Isaac,” 26, from the Conferences of Cassian

Tomorrow, it will have been one year since my father died. There is nothing that can make the loss anything other than that—a loss. Death, I believe as a Christian, is unnatural. Part of us all knows deep down that this is not the way things ought to be, even if this is the way things always have been.

But the ascetic tradition of the Church, and the message of the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection, allow us to temper our grief with hope and channel it to virtuous ends. I have tried, when I can, to do that. Continue reading

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Eulogy for My Father

One week ago, and somewhat suddenly, my father passed away. The burial was yesterday, at which I gave a eulogy. I write a lot about the value of memento mori, the remembrance of death, on this blog. It is the one certainty of our futures that we all will one day die. A life lived as if our road did not end there is therefore only fantasy. As a reminder to myself, and in the interest of encouraging a more sober outlook among others, the text of the eulogy follows below: Continue reading

Some Pauline Beatitudes

And when Paul entered into the house of Onesiphorus, there was great joy, and bowing of knees and breaking of bread, and the word of God concerning abstinence (or continence) and the resurrection; for Paul said:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are they that keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God.

Blessed are they that abstain (or the continent), for unto them shall God speak.

Blessed are they that have renounced this world, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.

Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God.

Blessed are they that have the fear of God, for they shall become angels [messengers?] of God.

Blessed are they that tremble at the oracles of God, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they that receive the wisdom of Jesus Christ, for they shall be called sons of the Most High.

Blessed are they that have kept their baptism pure, for they shall rest with the Father and with the Son.

Blessed are they that have compassed the understanding of Jesus Christ, for they shall be in light.

Blessed are they that for love of God have departed from the fashion of this world, for they shall judge angels, and shall be blessed at the right hand of the Father.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy and shall not see the bitter day of judgement.

Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God and shall not lose the reward of their continence (chastity), for the word of the Father shall be unto them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest world without end.

~ Acts of Paul (and Thecla)

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the holy virgin St. Thecla. The account of her meeting with St. Paul and how she miraculously escaped martyrdom several times comes right after these Pauline beatitudes in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a product of the era of the Apostolic Fathers of Christian literature or just after (a late first- or second-century text).

While, of course, one may question the details of the story, there seems to be strong evidence that there was indeed a St. Thecla of Iconium, and St. Paul did in fact travel there and preach there. But I’m not so concerned about historical curiosities as I am about the text itself: Whatever else they may be, writings like this were meant to be didactic, and so we need not be historians to learn something valuable from the text. Continue reading

“Watch and Pray”

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, therefore, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep; lest thou be given over to death, and shut out from the kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

~ “Behold the Bridegroom Cometh,” Bridegroom Matins

Tonight we had our first Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week. One of at least two recurring hymns at these services, which we observe Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night, this hymn highlights the central importance of the discipline of watchfulness: “blessed is the servant whom [Christ] shall find watching.” Continue reading

Thy Will Be Done

[Abba Isaac said:] “To pray, ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’ is to pray that men may be like angels, that as angels fulfil God’s will in heaven, men may fulfil his will instead of their own, on earth. No one can say this sincerely except one who believes that every circumstance, favourable or unfavourable, is designed by God’s providence for his good, and that he thinks and cares more for the good of his people and their salvation than we do for ourselves. It may be understood thus: the will of God is the salvation of all men, according to that text of St Paul: ‘who willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ [1 Timothy 2:4].”

~ Conferences of St. John Cassian, 9.20

The acceptance of all things as God’s will is one of the most common and most difficult teachings of the fathers. In particular, the part where Abba Isaac makes clear this includes “every circumstance, favourable or unfavourable,” is especially hard to swallow. What might we make of this? What good does it do? How does it affect our spiritual practice? Continue reading

Be the Bee!

[T]he monk who desires to gather spiritual honey, ought like a most careful bee, to suck out virtue from those who specially possess it, and should diligently store it up in the vessel of his own breast: nor should he investigate what any one is lacking in, but only regard and gather whatever virtue he has. For if we want to gain all virtues from some one person, we shall with great difficulty or perhaps never at all find suitable examples for us to imitate. For though we do not as yet see that even Christ is made “all things in all,” as the Apostle says; still in this way we can find Him bit by bit in all.

~ St. John Cassian, Institutes, 5.4

My wife Kelly sent me the following video. I’m sure I’m late in seeing it, but I figured it was worth sharing here anyway. Anyone who can make a video about apatheia that kids could actually get into is doing something right in my book. Kudos.

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On Blind Bodyguards

Abba Poemen said: “As a bodyguard is always standing by to protect the Emperor, so the soul ought ever to be ready for the demon of lust.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.8

The fathers, even by many Christians today, are often derided for supposed sexual puritanism (no offense intended to any actual Puritans).

Personally, I’d rather have the fathers who erred on the side of celibacy than what many have today: clergy sexual abusers. Perhaps it has always been this bad—I hope not. Continue reading

Hell is ignorance, for both are dark; and perdition is forgetfulness, for both involve extinction.

~ St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, 62

I confessed in my last entry that I do not think often about hell, despite the fathers’ commendation of the practice. One way to remedy that is to reflect more here. St. Mark the Ascetic offers a radically different view than the common adage, “Ignorance is bliss.” Rather, he warns, “Hell is ignorance.” Continue reading

Abba Evagrius said: … “Weep and lament for the judgement of sinners, bring to life the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget it, whether you are in your cell or abroad. Keep these memories in your mind and so cast out of it the sordid thoughts which harm you.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.3

A necessary corollary from the fact that all die, from a Christian perspective at least, is that all will face the judgment seat of Christ, who “will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). Indeed, while I have focused recently on the logic of asceticism, life—death—resurrection, it is important to remember that, in fact, there are two sorts of resurrection described in the Scriptures, the one to new life and the other to the “second death.” Continue reading

After just writing a reflection on the practice of meditating on the final judgment and how we daily face the choice between rising to new life or the second death, through a glitch in WordPress the post was completely lost. And then I wrote a little post like this, which was promptly lost as well. Surely there is deep goodness and life beneath these daily deaths, if only I have eyes to see it. Blog posts, after all, are mortal and corruptible too. I’ll have to resurrect this one some other time.

Thank God, Christ is risen! Blog posts be damned.