Staff Book Pick | Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas: Remembering the Future

Staff Book Pick | Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas: Remembering the Future

Recommended by Jacob Sparks

By: John D. Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon This long-awaited, posthumous book by Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, with an insightful and heartfelt prologue by Pope Francis, is a comprehensive exploration of eschatology and its profound implications for theology and ontology. It is divided into five chapters, each addressing a specific aspect of eschatology and its relationship with various theological themes. Through rigorous analysis and theological insight, the book explores how eschatology shapes our understanding of existence, purpose, and ultimate destiny. This scholarly work offers a deep dive into the theological and philosophical aspects of the Eschaton, providing readers with valuable insights into the Christian understanding of the future and its implications for the present. With meticulous attention to detail and a rich array of topics, this book is invaluable for theologians and scholars seeking a deeper grasp of eschatological thought. It is written for those who have accepted the fact of the Resurrection of Christ and are interested in the “logical” consequences that follow the acceptance of this fact: “credo ut intelligam”.

>> On Amazon

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Of the multitude of saints in the Orthodox Church, only three are given the title of “Theologian”. St. Symeon’s intimate experience of God, as detailed in his Hymns of Divine Love, grants him this honor. To learn more about St. Symeon’s life, please read this month’s There’s a Saint for That. Today, we will be discussing his twenty-fifth hymn.

We recommend sharing this recording of St. Symeon’s pre-communion prayer with your OCF chapter. The choir, whose parish is dedicated to this saint, brings out the beauty of St. Symeon’s poetry.

Text

But, O what intoxication of light, O what movements of fire!

O, what swirlings of the flame in me, miserable one that I am, coming from Thee and Thy glory!

The glory I know it and I say it is Thy Holy Spirit, who has the same nature with Thee and the same honor, O Word;

He is of the same race, of the same glory, of the same essence, He alone with Thy Father and with Thee, O Christ, O God of the universe!

I fall down in adoration before Thee.

I thank Thee that Thou hast made me worthy to know, however little it may be, the power of Thy divinity.

I thank Thee that Thou, even when I was sitting in darkness, didst reveal Thyself to me, Thou dost enlighten me, Thou dost grant me to see the light of Thy countenance that is unbearable to all.

I remained seated in the middle of the darkness, I know, but, while I was there surrounded by darkness, Thou didst appear as light, illuminating me completely from Thy total light.

And I became light in the night, I who was found in the midst of darkness.

Neither the darkness extinguished Thy light completely, nor did the light dissipate the visible darkness, but they were together, yet completely separate, without confusion, far from each other, surely, not at all mixed, except in the same spot where they filled everything, so it seems to me.

So I am in the light, yet I am found in the middle of the darkness.

So I am in the darkness, yet still I am in the middle of the light.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does this passage demonstrate how we interact with God on earth?
  2. In what ways does St. Symeon’s experience of Christ compare with that of the apostles?
  3. How does St. Symeon’s twenty-fifth hymn explicate St Athanasios famous maxim, “God became man so that man may become God”?
  4. What are ways in which our souls are covered by darkness and how can rationalization sometimes relate to that darkness? 
  5. The Old & New Testaments as well as another prayer said before Holy Communion refers to God as Fire: 

Behold, I approach the Divine Communion. O Creator, let me not be burnt by communicating: For Thou art Fire, consuming the unworthy. But, rather, purify me of all impurity. (St Symeon Metaphrastes)

What is it about light and fire that causes them to be some of the primary ways we refer to both God and the Mysteries of the Church?

Guided Discussion: The Experience of Love in St. Symeon the New Theologian

Guided Discussion: The Experience of Love in St. Symeon the New Theologian

Introduction

Everyone knows St. John the Theologian as the author of the Gospel of John, and most Orthodox Christians know of St. Gregory the Theologian as a member of the Cappadocian Fathers and the Three Holy Hierarchs, but very few are familiar with St. Symeon the Theologian, a 10th and 11th century Byzantine diplomat turned monastic. St. Symeon is one of only three saints to be universally given the title of “Theologian” by the Church. Who is this man that the Church so reveres, and why should we care about who he is and what he said?

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. 

Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: Experience

Reflection

St. Symeon lived during a time when the great empires of the world had official court theologians to help them keep their doctrine straight, and the Byzantine Empire was no exception in this regard. As a highly educated member of the imperial nobility, Symeon could have easily become one of these court theologians while still enjoying nearly every material pleasure that could have been offered to him at the time – food, wealth, social status, comfort, etc. However, Symeon rejected all of these things because of a single encounter he had with a monk as a teenager. The monk was from the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople, and his name was also Symeon. 

Young Symeon the Theologian became convinced that this Studite monk was a saint due to the  direct experiences the monk had of God. He decided that the possibility of also having that direct experience was worth more than all of the wealth that his position among Byzantine nobility could afford him. By the time he reached his mid twenties, Symeon forfeited all of his wealth and property to also become a monk at the Stoudios Monastery and for the rest of his life he wrote prolifically about the importance of seeking a direct experience of God and learning to do so from those who have that direct experience. For example, in one of the saint’s beautiful poems, Symeon the Theologian says:

Listen only to the admonitions of your father,

give to him humble answers,

and tell him your thoughts as to God,

even mere temptations, and may you hide nothing from him,

nor do anything without his opinion…

Therefore do not be led astray, nor suppose that you have found,

before you have acquired spiritual eyes,

and before the ears of your heart have been cleansed

by your tears that wash out the filth,

before all your senses begin to be changed,

and you begin to see and to hear spiritually.

For you shall gaze upon many things beyond telling,

and you shall hear extraordinarily more things,

which you cannot express with your tongue. 

And so to hear spiritually is a spine-chilling wonder

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 4

St. Symeon’s words are reminiscent of St. Paul the Apostle who says, “though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15) and that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). St. John the Theologian speaks similarly when he  writes of the day when we “shall see Him [Christ] as He is” (1 John 3:2). With these things in mind, Symeon sought out a relationship with a spiritual father and endeavored to become pure in heart, because he knew that the pure in heart will see God (cf. Matt. 5:8).

Discussion Questions

  • Christ often says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (cf. Matt. 11:15). How does one acquire “ears to hear,” or in the words of St. Symeon, how does one cleanse “the ears of your heart”?
  • If we are spiritually blind because of our sins, how do we learn to see?
  • Do you have a spiritual father? What role has your spiritual father played in your life?
  • St. Symeon says that to hear spiritually is “a spine-chilling wonder.” Would anyone be willing to share their own experience of God?

Part II: Love

Reflection

“The greatest of these is love.” -1 Corinthians 13:13

What St. Symeon saw in his direct experiences of God was the fire of God’s love for all humanity and the entire world. But beyond God’s general love for the world, Symeon knew deep in his bones that God loved him specifically, just as he loves and creates each human person distinctly. Symeon uses profound and (at times) shocking and embarrassing language to describe his thoughts and experiences about the union he shares with Christ:

For if you also wish, you shall become his member,

and thus every member of each one of us

shall become a member of Christ, and Christ our members,

and He shall make all shameful things decent

by the beauty of his divinity and by his glory He shall adorn them,

and when we are united to God we shall at the same time become gods,

not looking upon the indignity of the body at all,

but completely made like Christ in the whole body,

and each of our members shall be the whole Christ.

For while we become many members He remains one and indivisible,

and each part is the whole Christ himself.

And so thus you well know that both my finger and my penis are Christ.

Do you tremble or feel ashamed?

But God was not ashamed to become like you,

yet you are ashamed to become like Him?

“I am not ashamed to become like Him.

But in saying He is like a shameful member

I suspect that you speak blasphemy.”

So then, you suspected badly, for there are no shameful members!

They are hidden members of Christ, for they are covered,

and on account of this they are more revered than the rest, 

as hidden members of Him Who is hidden, they are unseen by all,

from Whom seed is given in divine communion, 

awesomely deified in the divine form,

from the whole divinity itself, for He is God entire…

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 15

Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), St. Symeon emphasizes that one must feel and experience God’s love to even begin to speak of God. Indeed, Symeon goes as far as to say that love is the divine essence itself, that by which everything else can be comprehended:

All that is incomprehensible [in God] ignites my love,

And all that is comprehensible is personified love,

For love is not a name, but the divine essence,

Both participable and yet incomprehensible, but totally divine

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 52

Having dedicated his life to repentance, St. Symeon experienced this love himself. Therefore he was truly able to say along with St. Paul that “Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8).

Discussion Questions:

  • Have you experienced God’s love? What is the best way you can describe that experience?
  • How can we learn to love ourselves in the same way that God loves us?
  • How can we learn to love others, even our enemies, in the same way that God loves them?
  • St. Symeon describes even his “shameful members” as Christ. What does this say about God’s love for us in the incarnation?
  • In what ways does learning to love God strengthen our ability to love others, and in what ways does learning to love others strengthen our ability to love God?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meeting with this prayer by St. Symeon from his Hymns of Divine Love:

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,a
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 15

The Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian – There’s a Saint for That

The Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian – There’s a Saint for That

St. Symeon, born in Galatia in the year of 949, is one of three saints in the Orthodox Church to have received the venerable title of ‘theologian’. During his childhood, he encountered Elder Symeon the Pious at the Studion Monastery, influencing his decision to aim his life towards Christ and monasticism. Under Elder Symeon’s care, St. Symeon became incredibly familiar with the writings of St. Mark the Ascetic and regarded his teachings as extremely important for spiritual growth. He cared for the people that he lived with, praying until midnight after the completion of his physical duties.

Seven years before St. Symeon entered the monastery, he experienced a blinding light during his prayer. A second light was present, and St. Symeon seemed to see Elder Symeon the Pious.

At the age of twenty-seven, St. Symeon entered the monastery, but was later sent to the Monastery of Saint Mamas in Constantinople after facing false accusations from other brethren. In the year 980, St. Symeon was made Abbott of that monastery, attaining a high spiritual level and spending time reading the Holy Scriptures. He served in this position for twenty-five years, establishing a strict monastic discipline for those monks around him. However, a few of the monks resented St. Symeon for his strict discipline and attacked him one day after Liturgy. St. Symeon begged for their pardon and they were permitted to live in the world without any punishment from the civil authorities. In 1005, St. Symeon stepped down as Abbot, and lived for the next sixteen years composing theological works that would eventually end up in the Philokalia. St. Symeon described the importance of striving towards spiritual perfection, while battling worldly passions with prayer. St. Symeon did not invent these ideas per se, but he did uncover them for those who had forgotten. St. Symeon fell peacefully asleep in the Lord in 1021 in the monastery of St. Makrina.

The life of St. Symeon was documented by St. Nicetas Stethatos, his cell-attendant.

Feast Day: March 12 or October 12 (depending on when Lent begins)

Learn his Troparion

Since you received divine enlightenment within your soul, O Venerable Father Symeon, / you were shown to the world as a most radiant light, / driving away its darkness, and persuading all to seek the grace of the Spirit which they had lost. / Earnestly intercede with Him to grant us great mercy

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8INPa-PeELI

How can St. Symeon intercede for us?

St. Symeon is known for his embodiment of heroic struggles in renewing the Church while facing opposition from his brethren. Much like St. Nektarios, he can be invoked for intercession when being slandered or persecuted.

Pray to him:

Since thou hadst received within thy pure soul God’s enlightenment, O righteous Father, thou wast shown to the world as a blazing light which drove away its thick darkness and moved all men to seek the grace of the Spirit which they had lost. O all-holy Father Symeon, intercede with Him to grant great mercy unto us who honor thee.

From the apolytikion to St. Symeon the New Theologian

Discussion Questions

  1. St. Symeon faced many false accusations during his time in the monastery, yet reacted to these accusations with grace and compassion. How can we be more like St. Symeon when faced with false accusations, especially with those who are close to us? Why is it so countercultural for us to not make a big fuss for something that is ‘unfair’?
  2. St. Symeon saw the uncreated light of God in a vision along with his spiritual father, Elder Symeon the Pious. Have you had any direct experiences of the grace of God? What are they and what was it like?
  3. St. Symeon was recognized for his teachings regarding ceaseless prayer and spiritual struggle. What struggles in our lives prevent us from praying without ceasing? What small things could we implement in our lives as college students in order to allow for deeper prayer?
Guided Discussion: The Mysticism of Human Communion: St. Maria of Paris

Guided Discussion: The Mysticism of Human Communion: St. Maria of Paris

Introduction

Of all the Saints who bore witness to Christ in the twentieth century, Saint Maria of Paris is one to remember, as she had a true understanding of the Gospel  which she proclaimed to everyone she encountered. Her emphasis was love for her neighbor—she insisted that the love of God could only be lived through a radical love for the struggles of those around us. What follows here is an introduction to the beauty and wisdom taught by Saint Maria. We pray that her words provide some counsel for you and encourage you to serve your neighbor authentically and unconditionally.

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence.

Take this chance to come into the presence of God and His saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: Emptying Ourselves for One Another

Reflection

It is crucial for us, as Orthodox Christians, to face the needs, sufferings, and hopes of our neighbors. It is just as important for this care to be established in the right way—on the solid foundation of God’s love that can be poured into the lives of each person we face. Christ-like love begins with self-emptying, as there is an absolute need to transfigure the drab moralism the world presents into a mystical and spiritual communion with our Lord- beginning with the emptying of ourselves. 

To begin to understand this endeavor, let us look to our Lord as the ultimate example of sacrificial love, through the words of Saint Maria:

“In His worldly obedience He emptied Himself, and His emptying is the only example for our path. God who became a child, God who fled into Egypt to escape Herod, God who sought friends and disciples in this world, God who wept from the depths of His spirit over Lazarus, who denounced the pharisees, who spoke of the fate of Jerusalem, who drove out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, who finally, and most importantly, gave His Flesh and Blood as food for the world, lifted up His Body on the cross between two thieves– when and at what moment did His example teach us about inner walls that separate us from the world? He was in the world with all His Godmanhood, not with some secondary properties. He did not keep Himself, He gave Himself without stint. ‘This is my Body, which is broken for you’—that is, given without stint. ‘This is my Blood, which is shed for you’— shed to the end…Christ’s love does not know how to measure or divide, does not know how to spare itself.” – Mother Maria, Essential Writings

Who or what can compare to the sacrificial and fulfilling love of our Lord? Saint Maria believed that the idea of sobornost gave a full understanding of our Lord giving Himself to the world. Attributed to nineteenth century Russian writers, sobornost expresses the unity and fellowship of human beings that acknowledges the uniqueness of each person in service to all. This is not a theological concept that is only for those who reach a certain level of spiritual maturity, but it is a way of life that we are all called to live. We hear it time and time again: each person is made in the image and likeness of God. But let each of us immerse in this: every single person we lock eyes with, argue with, smile at—their soul is worth more than the whole world to our great and loving God.[1] 

“Who, after that, can differentiate the worldly from the heavenly in the human soul, who can tell where the image of God ends and heaviness of human flesh begins! In communing with the world in the person of each individual human being, we know that we are communing with the image of God, and, contemplating that image, we touch the Archetype—we commune with God.” – Mother Maria, Essential Writings

Authentic communion with God is found in communion with our neighbor. This communion is not accomplished solely with our best friends or our fellow parishioners but also with those who disagree with us and those that hate us. In the depths of human fallness, we must find the light of Christ. When Christ asks each one of us if we fed Him, visited Him in hospitals and prisons, and loved Him, we must be courageous enough to have acted in a way that we can honestly answer yes. If we truly believed that in every person we met, Christ Himself is approaching us, we would treat others differently. Sacrifices must be made in our time, energy, and in our own egos. In this moment of meeting, we are given a real opportunity to authentic communion with Christ through our neighbor.

Discussion Questions

  • There are many popular social trends claiming to teach us what love looks like. What are some that you’ve encountered? How do they compare to St. Maria’s vision for self-sacrificing love?  
  • What are some practical ways to encounter Christ in our neighbor?
  • What is the difference between self-emptying and being taken advantage of? How do boundaries and self-care relate to our calling  to emulate Christ’s love??

Part II: Liturgy Outside the Walls of the Church

Reflection

How many times have you heard someone say, “Liturgy must continue after we leave the church?” Fascinatingly, the basis of this expression is hidden in plain sight in the celebration of the liturgy. For instance we hear, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess…” and, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” Who are these “others” that we are to love with one mind? Is it simply those who are with us celebrating the liturgy? All Orthodox Christians?

Certainly not, the walls of the church are not meant to cage up our love. And as the priest proclaims our offering unto Him, on behalf of all, it is indeed all—all encounters with our neighbors sent to us by God. We believe that the sacrament of communion offers up the Body of Christ as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and “…being in communion with this sacrificial Body, we ourselves become offered in sacrifice, “on behalf of all and for all.” – Mother Maria, Essential Writings

“In this sense, the liturgy outside the church is our sacrificial ministry in the church of the world, adorned with the living icons of God, our common ministry, an all-human sacrificial offering of love, the great act of our God-manly union, the united prayerful breath of our God-manly spirit. In this liturgical communion with people, we partake of a communion with God, we really become one flock and one Shepherd, one body, of which the inalienable head of Christ.” – Mother Maria, Essential Writings

During each of the services, the priest not only censes the icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and all the saints. He also censes the people in attendance, recognizing the image of God in each person. As each one of us leave the church building, the image of God remains in us, an image that is worthy of being venerated. The liturgy must be translated into our lives outside the church building.  In fact, adorning each of our neighbors as we adorn the icons in our room, expecting to encounter God in those around us, and making personal sacrifices on behalf of the whole world is a reflection of our own unity with Christ, the God-Man.

Now, you may be thinking: how am I to actually do this? The hustle and bustle of life with classes, work, social life make this almost impossible! Saint Maria challenges each of us who may think in this way.

“It is our own sinful distraction that distracts us and our own sinful bustle that devours our concentration. We get from the world and from man what we count on getting from them.”- Mother Maria, Essential Writings

Through our own self-reflection and confession, we must confront the reality that we are letting sin cloud our ability to make space for our neighborIn small, everyday changes and honesty with our own self-centered distractibility, we will slowly be able to give more from our own selves. Not only this, we will receive more in abundance as our communion with others leads to a deepening of our communion with Him.

Let us strive to find a small beginning to our ultimate goal, something that we can all attempt to do in each of our unique lives. Guided by the words of Saint Maria:

“..Each of us is given a destiny which is no way smaller and no less tragic because it is given to us in Paris and not in Moscow. It was given to each of us to be born, to love, to have friends, to thirst for creativity, to feel compassion, justice, a longing for eternity, and to each of us will be given death. We stand before the truth of the Lord and want to fulfill its commands.” – Mother Maria, Essential Writings

Discussion Questions

  • What part of the liturgy inspires you to live differently throughout the week, especially in your interactions with others?
  • How does Saint Maria’s statement about distractions and bustle relate to our ability to see people for who they really are? What do you think she means about getting from the world and from man what we count on getting from them?
  • Some may say that they cannot love others fully if they cannot relate to them, based on the fact that there may be too many differences that drive people apart. What do you think of this? Can one truly love another without relating to them at all? Is love the same as tolerance[2] [3] ?
  • Saint Maria states that “It is necessary to build our relations to man and to the world not on human and worldly laws, but within the revelation of the divine commandment.” What do you take from this, as a young person living in today’s society?

Closing Prayer

O Holy Saint Maria of Paris, after years of doubt you found the pearl of great price. Understanding this gift of True Faith to be more precious than all else, you took up the monastic life to carry your neighbors Cross without fear of earthly consequences. Instill in our hearts also this unshakeable, curious Faith which you held in your heart to the point of martyrdom. Through your intercessions and the prayers of all the saints, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us, Amen.


Can you show how sobornost relates to your first paragraph about starting with sacrificial love?

Are these too many questions at once? lol

I just don’t think it’s super related to the reflection. I don’t know that we have a paragraph or quote that really challenges them to think in a new way about love v tolerance

St. Maria of Paris: Curated Discussion

St. Maria of Paris: Curated Discussion

Quotes taken from Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Introduction

Mother Maria led a very inspirational life. Reading the biography on her life during World War II and the kindness she shared with the suffering can be incredible inspiration to us young Orthodox Christians. She left the Faith as a young adult but came back to the Church later in life with a deeper understanding of who Christ is (something many of us share). Mother Maria attained exceptional empathy and embodied Christ’s love of neighbor to the fullest.

Our discussion today will revolve around 5 quotes from St. Maria’s Essential Writings. We’ll be tackling the topics of love, illumination, and living in the world as an Orthodox Christian (really useful stuff, yeah?). We encourage you to take this time to sit with what Mother Maria has written; there is so much beauty in the simplicity of her words.

May St. Maria pray for us all!

Questions for Discussion

We cannot see the Church as a sort of aesthetic perfection and limit ourselves to aesthetics swooning — our God-given freedom calls us to activity and struggle. And it would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. She tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There instead of lukewarm you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed, instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ.’ (p. 115)

  1. The church can be a haven in different ways–a hospital for the sick, comfort for the troubled, or joy for the grateful. Mother Maria highlights the role of the church as a catalyst for spiritual discomfort, igniting a desire for our souls to grow spiritually and seek Truth. What role does the church currently play in your life, if any, and is this a relationship you would like to change?
  2. Aesthetics seem to take over our lives. Living in the 21st Century, we are constantly bombarded with shallow beauty, seeing how others live their lives through media and how we should ‘be like them’ (what I eat in a day, morning routine, etc.) Discuss the ways in which we view life with only the priority of ‘aesthetics’. How does this damage our lives, both spiritually and practically? How can aesthetics impact our view of the Church?

But if at the center of the Church’s life there is this self-giving Eucharistic love, then where are the Church’s boundaries, where is the periphery of this center? Here it is possible to speak of the whole of Christianity as an eternal offering of a Divine Liturgy beyond church walls … It means that we must offer the bloodless sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-surrendering love not only in a specific place, upon the altar of a particular temple; the whole world becomes the single altar of a single temple, and for this universal liturgy we must offer our hearts, like bread and wine, in order that they may be transformed into Christ’s love, that he may be born in them, that they may become “God-manly” hearts, and that He may give these hearts of ours as food for the world…” (p. 185)

  1. Christ gives us the Eucharist to feed our souls and help us grow closer to Him. Mother Maria describes our hearts as “food for the world.” In other words, we can be the Eucharist that feeds the world with Christ’s love. What can we give to the world to bring it closer to Christ? How can we bring the Eucharist into a world that sometimes seems far removed from Him?
  2. “The Liturgy begins when we walk out of church.” This quote reflects on how the true Liturgy does not happen within the walls of the church, but rather in our interactions with the world. St. Francis of Assissi instructs us to “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” The Gospel should be our way of life. How can this thinking reorder your life? Do you see this sentiment in any writings from the Church Fathers?

Non-possession teaches us not only that we should not greedily seek advantages for our soul, but that we must not be stingy with our soul, that we should squander our soul in love, that we should achieve spiritual nakedness…There should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love to those who need it. Spiritual non-possession is the way of the holy fool. It is folly, foolishness in Christ. It is the opposite of the wisdom of this age. It is the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit. It is the outer limit of love… (p. 181-182)

  1. Mother Maria instructs us that “there should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love.” Is there anything in your life you would not be willing to give up, if asked to do so? What is holding you back?
  2. “We should squander our souls in love.” Through everything we do, we should aim to cultivate our soul and feed it with spiritual nourishment. However, it can be hard to do this when spiritual nourishment doesn’t always have tangible, instant results. How can we cultivate a desire to feed our souls rather than get caught up in tangible pleasures of the world?
  3. Thinking back to Adam and Eve: how could ‘spiritual nakedness’ play on Old Testament themes, if any? What should we clothe ourselves with if we are called to be spiritually naked?

However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ —only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden. (p. 19)

  1. We are to love one another “without exceptions.” In which instances do you find it hardest to love? How do we love someone who does not love others, or who does not love us?
  2. Contemplate how disordered love, or even absent love, could cause a person’s life to be a burden.
  3. Mother Maria defines love in the purest forms, stating that it ‘illumines’ life and results in life not being a burden. How does our world try to corrupt the true meaning of love? In what ways can we practice this sort of love that St. Maria references?

Such terrible times are coming, the world is so exhausted from its scabs and sores, it so cries out to Christianity in the secret depths of its soul, but at the same time it is so far removed from Christianity, that Christianity cannot and dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself. It should scorch the world with the flame of Christ’s love, it should go to the cross on behalf of the world. It should incarnate Christ Himself in it. (p. 186)

  1. The world is damaged, but the Church “dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself.” How do we seemingly rectify this juxtaposition? Does St. Maria actually contradict herself by saying that the world needs Christ, but that it needs to be in a certain way?
  2. We are called to shine light in a world that seems dark, hopeless, and despairing at times. How can we bring Christ into a world that deeply desires Christianity but refuses to accept it as such? How can we incarnate Christ in a society that refuses to accept the Incarnate Christ?
  3. “It should incarnate Christ Himself in it.” This quote is a heavy one and deserves some contemplation! Take about two minutes of silence with your chapter, reread quote 5, and discuss the ways that we can practice this kind of thinking that Mother Maria presents.

Closing Prayer (https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/)

You became an instrument of divine love, O holy martyr Maria,

And taught us to love Christ with all our being.

You conquered evil by not submitting yourself into the hands of the destroyer of souls.

You drank from the cup of suffering.

The Creator accepted your death above any other sacrifice

And crowned you with the laurels of victory with His mighty hand.

Pray fervently that nothing may hinder us from fulfilling God’s will

Because you are a bright star shining in darkness!

St. Maria of Paris

St. Maria of Paris

How can St. Maria intercede for us? 

St. Maria was someone who experience many of the very same temptations and struggles which we may face in our lives. She did not practice the Faith in her youth and was swept away by political ideology, both of which are temptations many young Orthodox Christians experience today.

She had to learn to love the “least of the brethren” around her, in the faces of the poor, the homeless, alcoholics, the mentally ill, and during the Holocaust, the Jews. Mother Maria was persecuted by those in power in order to do what she knew was right, by working with Fr. Dimitry to forge baptismal certificates for Jews. Through all of her earthly sufferings, St. Maria is all the more fit to intercede at the throne of the Lord on our behalf.

She can be prayed to during times of temptation, doubt, faithlessness, and persecution for our faith.

The Life of St. Maria

Mother Maria was born in Latvia in 1891. Like many of the pre-Revolutionary Russian intelligentsia, she was an atheist and a political radical in her youth, but gradually came to accept the truths of the Faith. After the Revolution, she became part of the large Russian émigré population of Paris. There she was tonsured as a nun by Metropolitan Evlogy, and devoted herself to a life of service to the poor.

With a small community of fellow-believers, she established “houses of hospitality” for the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic. She was also known to visit Russian émigrés in mental hospitals. In 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy sent Fr. Dimitry to serve Mother Maria’s community. Fr. Dimitry proved to be a partner, committed even unto death, in the community’s work among the poor. 

When the Nazis took Paris in 1940, Mother Maria, Fr. Dimitry, and others in the community chose to remain in the city to care for those who had come to count on them. As Nazi persecution of Jews in France increased, the Orthodox community’s work expanded to include protection and care of the most helpless. Fr. Dimitry was asked to provide forged certificates of baptism to preserve the lives of Jews and always complied. Eventually, this work led to the arrest of Mother Maria, Fr. Dimitry, and their associates.

Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, while Fr. Dimitry was sent to Buchenwald. After great sufferings, they both perished, along with others from their community who followed them.

It is believed that Mother Maria’s last act was to take the place of a Jewish woman who was being sent to death in the gas chambers, voluntarily dying in her place.

Mother Maria and her companions were glorified by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2004.

Feast Day: July 20th

Want to learn more? Read this incredible biography as a chapter

Discussion Questions

  1. As a young woman, St. Maria was caught up in the ideologies of her day and lost her faith in Christ. How do we safeguard ourselves from becoming caught up in the passing ideologies of our day? How do we discern how to engage in civil society and culture while still remaining faithful to St. Paul’s advice in his letter to the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ”?
  2. The work of St. Maria and her associates to forge baptismal certificates for Jews in Nazi controlled France brings up the interesting question of civil disobedience for the sake of one’s moral duty. How do their actions in this situation correlate to a situation in our lives as Orthodox Christian college students? When might we be called to civil disobedience for the sake of the Gospel?
  3. Consider this quote from St. Maria, “Our neighbor’s cross should be a sword that pierces our soul. To co-participate, co-feel, co-suffer, with our neighbor’s destiny – this is love.” What do you think this quote means? What does it look like to love our neighbor according to St. Maria’s definition?

Learn her Troparion

“Through the sufferings which the saints have endured for Your sake, O Lord, we beseech You to heal all of our infirmities, O Good Friend of Man.” (Mode 1)

Pray to her

O Holy Saint Maria of Paris, after years of doubt you found the pearl of great price. Understanding this gift of True Faith to be more precious than all else, you took up the monastic life to carry your neighbor’s Cross without fear of earthly consequences. Instill in our hearts also this unshakeable, curious Faith which you held in your heart to the point of martyrdom. Through your intercessions and the prayers of all the saints, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us, Amen.

Related Saints

St. John Maximovitch

St. Sophia

St. Argyre

St. Xenia

Go Back to the Full List

Interview with Archbishop Alexander (Golitzen): Curated Discussion

Interview with Archbishop Alexander (Golitzen): Curated Discussion

Archbishop Alexander (Golitzin) was born in Burbank, CA in 1948 and raised attending Saint Innocent Church, Tarzana, CA. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Divinity degree from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He spent seven years pursuing doctoral studies at Oxford University in England. His doctoral work on Dionysios the Areopagite was supervised by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. During his doctoral studies, Golitzin also spent two years in Greece, including one year at Simonos Petras Monastery on Mount Athos. His time at Simonos Petras, under the guidance of its archimandrite, Elder Aimilianos (Vafeidis), was decisive in shaping his understanding of mystical experience. In his own words, on Mount Athos he found that “the holy man was not a distant ideal or a literary topos — something out of an eight-century manuscript or a Paleologian icon — but a reality.” 

After receiving his D. Phil. from Oxford, he returned to the USA, where he was ordained to the diaconate and later the priesthood. In 1986, he was tonsured to monastic orders by the Elder Aimilianos at the monastery of Simonos Petras and received the monastic name of Alexander. 

In 1989, Golitzin took up a permanent faculty position in the Theology Department at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, over the next two decades, he established himself as a leading expert on Jewish and Christian mysticism. Although widely known for his groundbreaking scholarship, he also became an exceptional teacher who was able to mentor a large cohort of doctoral students during his time at Marquette. He was particularly helpful to those students who came to Marquette University from the Eastern Orthodox tradition by giving them a clearer understanding of their own theological and spiritual legacy. He retired in 2012.

On Saturday, May 5, 2012, he was consecrated Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Saint George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio. On March 30, 2016, he was elected Bishop of Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese. During the 2017 Spring Session of the Holy Synod, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.

Part I: Interview with Archbishop Alexander

Watch the following interview with Vladyka Alexander about why college students should study the Church Fathers and what we can learn from St. Dionysios specifically.

Part II: Discussion Questions

  1. What does Vladyka Alexander say about the problems that the Church Fathers address in comparison to modern times? How does this affect our ability to read and study their works?
  2. What did you take away from what Vladyka shared about the fact that St. Dionysios sometimes called Pseudo-Dionysios? 
  3. What is your understanding of hierarchy? How do the modern connotations of the word fit with or contradict how St. Dionysios describes it?
  4. How does Vladyka suggest that college students go about reading St. Dionysios? How are his writings and teachings applicable to our daily lives?

Closing Prayer

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Life of St. Dionysios the Areopagite

The Life of St. Dionysios the Areopagite

St. Dionysios lived originally in the city of Athens. He was raised there and received a classical Greek education. He then went to Egypt, where he studied astronomy at the city of Heliopolis. It was in Heliopolis, along with his friend Apollophonos where he witnessed the solar eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ by Crucifixion. “Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end,” Dionysios said. Upon his return to Athens from Egypt, he was chosen to be a member of the Areopagus Council (Athenian high court).

When the holy Apostle Paul preached at the place on the Hill of Ares (Acts 17:16-34), Dionysios accepted his salvific proclamation and became a Christian. For three years, Saint Dionysios remained a companion of the holy Apostle Paul in preaching the Word of God. Later on, the Apostle Paul selected him as bishop of the city of Athens. And in the year 57, Saint Dionysios was present at the repose of the Most Holy Theotokos. According to ancient tradition, he received a martyr’s end (according to some, in Athens itself) about the year 96.

The writings attributed to Dionysios the Areopagite include On the Celestial Hierarchies, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchies, On the Divine Names of God, On Mystical Theology, and ten letters.The book On the Celestial Hierarchies speaks of the Christian teaching about the angelic world. The angelic (or Celestial-Heavenly) hierarchy comprises the nine angelic Ranks. On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchies is a continuation of his book On the Celestial Hierarchies. The Church of Christ, like the Angelic ranks, in its universal service is set upon the foundation of priestly principles established by God.

The book On the Names of God expounds upon the way of divine knowledge through a progression of the Divine Names. And finally, the book On Mystical Theology sets forth the teaching about divine knowledge through unmediated experience. The written works of St. Dionysios are of extraordinary significance in the theology of the Orthodox Church. To learn more about his teachings, check out our other discussion guides this month.

What about Pseudo-Dionysios?

Without going into too much detail, it is important to note that most scholars, including Orthodox scholars, believe that these writings were produced in the 5th or 6th century by an Orthodox monk taking the name of Dionysios, not by the first century convert of St. Paul in the book of Acts. It is likely that this anonymous author wrote under the name of Dionysios not as a means of deception but as a way to honor St. Dionysios and symbolically connect his writings to the spread of Christianity among the Greeks as they draw on the Greek philosophical tradition. Because of this, the previously mentioned writings are often attributed to “Pseudo-Dionyisos” to distinguish this author from the first-century bishop. In its wisdom, the Church does not require us to distinguish between these two men if they are indeed different from one another, but rather, allows us to honor both through the life of the first-century bishop while recognizing the deep significance of the (most likely) later writings attributed to him. As such, this guide will emphasize both the life of Dionysios the Areopagite and the writings given to us in the Tradition of the Church under his name. 

Feast Day: October 3

Life adapted from oca.org.

How can St. Dionysios intercede for us?

St. Dionysios is especially known for guiding us to the experience of God through His creation, through the divine mysteries of the Church,  and ultimately in the silence and mystery of prayer. Ask for his intercessions when you are struggling to see the good in this world, when you are finding yourself disengaged from the liturgical life of the Church, or when you are struggling to keep a rule of prayer or study Scripture.  

Discussion Questions

  1. What daily practices can we cultivate to recognize God in everything as St. Dionysios encourages us to do in his teachings?
  2. St. Dionysios is known for his depth of knowledge and ability to baptize pagan Greek thought and show us how its concepts can be used to express the experience of knowing God. What examples from your own secular education point you towards God? What concepts seem to bear seeds of the full truth of the gospel?
  3. St. Dionysios addresses many of the difficult images of Scripture. When you read Scripture and feel confused, how do you approach difficult passages? Are there any resources you could share with the group that you’ve found helpful?

Learn his troparion.

Tone 4

Having learned goodness and maintaining continence in all things,

you were arrayed with a good conscience as befits a priest.

From the chosen Vessel you drew ineffable mysteries;

you kept the faith, and finished a course equal to His.

Bishop martyr Dionysios, entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Pray with him.

O Lord God, Who art simplex, not compound, and hidden in essence sublime! God the Father, from Whom all paternity which is in heaven and earth is named, Source of Divinity, of those who participate in the Divine Nature, and Perfector of those who attain perfection; Good above all good, and Beautiful above all beautiful; Peaceful repose, Peace, Concord and Union of all souls; compose the dissensions which divide us from one another, and lead them back to an union with charity, which has a kind of similitude to Thy sublime essence: and as Thou art One above all, and we, one, through the unanimity of a good mind; that we may be found before Thee simplex and not divided, whilst celebrating this mystery; and that through the embraces of Charity and bonds of Love, we may be spiritually one, both with ourselves and with one another, through that Thy Peace pacifying all; through the Grace and Compassion and Love towards man of Thine Only-begotten Son; through Whom, and with Whom is due to Thee, glory, honor and dominion, with Thy most holy Spirit. Amen.

Taken from a liturgy attributed to St. Dionysios

Three Paradoxes with St. Dionysios – Guided Discussion

Three Paradoxes with St. Dionysios – Guided Discussion

Introduction

St. Dionysios the Areopagite is often perceived as one of the more difficult Church Fathers to read and comprehend. His writing style and the ideas he presents can be complex, and at the same time, his influence is felt across generations of later Church Fathers. He’s referenced and revered by the likes of St. John of Damascus, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Cyril the Enlightener of the Slavs, and St. Theodore the Studite. St. Dionysios teaches us about many things—about the centrality of the sacraments to the life of the Church, about the responsibilities of clergy, monks, and lay people to one another, and about how we can talk about God, both cataphatically (who He is) and apophatically (who He is not). 

Today’s discussion will focus on three paradoxes or seemingly contradictory things that St. Dionysios employs to teach us about God, the world, and ourselves. We’ve summarized his teachings for you while trying not to oversimplify them or lose the poetic manner of expression he employs. We encourage you to take your time reading and contemplating each reflection.

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. 

Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: All & Nothing

Reflection

God is the cause of all things while being outside of all things, and it is in His ecstatic movement outside of Himself that things come to be. God the Trinity goes outside of Himself to create, and so all creation is outside of and apart from God. And yet, in creating, God imbues all things with Himself in a manner proper to their purpose, their logos. All things thus are intended to reveal God while never encompassing or defining Him. God is the Being of beings who is Himself beyond Being. 

He “neither was, nor will be, nor came to be nor comes to be, nor will come to be; indeed, he is not; but he is being to beings…”

On the Divine Names 5.8

Likewise, He is the life of the living, the wisdom of the wise; He is the cause of every feature of everything. Famously, Dionysios tell us that

God is all in all and nothing in any.

On the Divine Names 7.3

Therefore, we might say that our very purpose is to symbolize God, to reflect the One Who Is. Because while the One remains in Himself as He creates outside Himself, creation is truly imbued with god-likeness to the degree appropriate to each created thing, and in the very same movement, the many things of creation are drawn up into the One through their symbolic nature. So He is the life of the living and all that is living participates in the Life of God; He is the wisdom of the wise, and that which is wise participates in the Wisdom of God. Everything becomes symbols or images of God in a manner appropriate to their being.

The very order of the visible universe sets forth the invisible things of Almighty God…

Epistle 9.2

The entire created order is an unfolding theophany, a revelation of God, and yet God is like nothing in the world. The sensible world, the angelic orders, the words of Scripture, the hierarchy of the Church, the sacraments—all by their very nature point towards the Creator and make Him known. Even that which seems in opposition to God reflects Him in that it shows us what He is not. 

The Evil then is privation and failure, and want of strength, and want of proportion, and want of attainment, and want of purpose; and without beauty, and without life, and without mind, and without reason, and without completeness, and without stability, and without cause, and without limit, and without production; and inactive, and without result, and disordered, and dissimilar, and limitless, and dark, and unessential, and being itself nothing in any manner of way whatever.

On the Divine Names 4.21

Evil is meontic or “without being” in of itself. And yet, because of its very lack, it paradoxically points us back to true being and to the Supraessential One, God who is also “without being” or rather, who is beyond being.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the paradox between God’s presence in all things and the fact that nothing encompasses or defines God respond to common misconceptions about God?
  • How does the understanding of all of creation as theophany validate or challenge your view of the world around you?
  • What does it mean for everything to reflect God in a manner appropriate to their being”? Can you come up with some examples?
  • How would you apply Dionysios’ understanding of evil as having no substance to the evil you see in the world around you and within yourself?

Part II: Revealed & Hidden

Reflection

If God is all in all and nothing in any, Dionysios tells us, then the manner in which God reveals Himself is hidden rather than direct. We come to know God not by seeing His face, but through the symbolic world around us. Dionysios sees in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy continuity with the God-revealing creation. For instance, in Scripture, sensible images are used to describe God and the angels because the sensible realm is the realm of divine disclosure to us, the means by which theophany can occur. 

For it is not possible for our mind to be raised to that immaterial representation and contemplation of the Heavenly Hierarchies, without using the material guidance suitable to itself, accounting the visible beauties as reflections of the invisible comeliness […] things [which] were transmitted to Heavenly Beings supermundanely, but to us symbolically.

On the Celestial Hierarchy 1.3

According to Dionysios, God and the immaterial angelic orders must be described in the Scriptures and depicted by the Church as having form because, at least initially, we can only come into contact with the bodiless beings through symbols. While the images of Scripture, for Dionysios, are a means of divine knowledge, they are not simply didactic, and they do more than just depict historical events for one’s edification and comprehension of Biblical and ecclesiastical events. In fact, images are important largely because they are enigmatic—hiding the mysteries of God in their very revelation of Him:

The cause why forms are naturally attributed to the formless, and shapes to the shapeless, is not alone our capacity which is unable immediately to elevate itself to the intelligible contemplations, and that it needs appropriate and cognate instructions which present images, suitable to us, of the formless and supernatural objects of contemplation; but further, that it is most agreeable to the revealing Oracles to conceal, through mystical and sacred enigmas, and to keep the holy and secret truth respecting the supermundane minds inaccessible to the multitude.

On the Celestial Hierarchy 2.2

In the veiling of the mysteries, they are revealed. Dionysios argues that the divine is revealed more clearly by things that are actually completely different (dissimilar) from it. By describing God through dissimilar comparisons, we avoid making idols out of the things we use to describe God. For example, we might come to think that God is light rather than remembering that while He is the Light of light, He is also beyond light (so much so that later Dionysios will call the experience of God the “Divine darkness”). 

The incongruous dissimilarities, not permitting our earthly part to rest fixed in the base images, but urging the upward tendency of the soul, and goading it by the unseemliness of the phrases (to see) that it belongs neither to lawful nor seeming truth, even for the most earthly conceptions, that the most heavenly and Divine visions are actually like things base.

On the Celestial Hierarchy 2.4

Dionysios here argues that dissimilarity more easily invites veneration of the archetype (or original reality) through the image because it prevents us from becoming attached to the image rather than moving through the image to the One the image reflects. He sees examples of this throughout the Scriptures which use animals and human implements to lift the mind’s eye to divine realities, which are radically different from these mundane experiences.

So what does dissimilarity look like? Take, for example, the style of Orthodox iconography which is traditionally not realistic, prioritizing spiritual realities over physical and historical realities. Having their foundation in the theophany of God’s creation, icons, like the words of Scripture, are a matrix for communion with the divine. First of all, icons reveal God to us through sensible images since we cannot know anything without employing our senses. 

More importantly, however, icons veil in their revelation and reveal in their veiling. As Dionysios has taught us regarding other images, because of their natural hiddenness as divine symbols, icons appear mysterious, confusing, and even foreboding to the uninitiated, and thus are often dismissed as nonsensical, or worse, as detrimental and harmful. But for the Orthodox Christian who prays with icons and experiences them liturgically, the form of the icon is a source of revelation in its mysteriousness. Because we do not look upon images that draw our mind only to the earthly life of a saint or Christ, our intellect is drawn beyond the image to the heavenly reality. The purpose of the icons is to take us beyond the icons to the prototypes and beyond the prototypes to the One who is the source and cause of all things.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you find most important about how Dionysios describes how God reveals Himself to us in a hidden manner?
  • How would you apply Dionysios’ teaching of the image to talk to someone outside of the Church about Scripture, iconography, and symbolism?

Part III: Knowing & Unknowing 

Just as Dionysios is cautious about us becoming attached to an image and not moving beyond that image to the Creator Himself, He is cautious that we not become too attached to our own “knowledge” of God and the language we use to communicate it. It is through the icon of creation that we penetrate into the knowledge of God, but as we move further into the image, we necessarily move beyond it, for God is not to be found in the deepest corners of any icon. 

Dionysios explains that when St. Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor 1:25), he does not only mean that in human intelligence and reason there is always lack and error and changeability which do not exist in God, but that foolishness is a dissimilar image given in the tradition of the Scriptures to signify God’s wisdom beyond wisdom—the ascription of foolishness to God is an attempt to help us understand that His wisdom, just as images of material things reveal the invisible beings in their dissimilarity. We are to understand by “foolishness” that God is wise beyond any wisdom we can ever acquire or encounter in creation. Isaiah 55:8 comes to mind, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”

Any encounter we might have with God is likewise beyond rationality, and though our mind may lead us away from earthly things and toward God, ultimately, our intellectual union with the One who is beyond intellect surpasses the nature of the mind itself. Thus, we participate in God’s foolishness when we approach the limits of our own created wisdom and rationality. And this is why Dionysios refers to knowledge of God as unknowing or ignorance (agnosia). 

And there is, further, the most Divine Knowledge of Almighty God, which is known, through not knowing [agnosia] during the union above mind; when the mind, having stood apart from all existing things, then having dismissed also itself, has been made one with the super-luminous rays , thence and there being illuminated by the unsearchable depth of wisdom.

On the Divine Names 7.3

We cannot be said to know God in the common way we think of knowing a person or object:  the experience is so unlike knowing another creature that naming it by its opposite—by calling knowledge ignorance—more accurately describes its reality.

Dionysios goes on to suggest that this unknowing of God is passive. Once the mind has set aside itself, it is made one with the “super-luminous rays” of God’s energies, not by any effort of itself, but by the effort and grace of the One who unifies. The experience of God is not only unlike the highest wisdom of the world, but it also comes to us outside of our efforts to come to the knowledge of Wisdom. Knowledge is not achieved, but given as a gift.

The gloom of the Agnosia; a gloom veritably mystic, within which he closes all perceptions of knowledge and enters into the altogether impalpable and unseen, being wholly of Him Who is beyond all, and of none, neither himself nor other; and by inactivity of all knowledge, united in his better part to the altogether Unknown, and by knowing nothing, knowing above mind.

Mystical Theology 1.3

Dionysios describes the limitations of language in the realm of this true theology of experience. On the one hand, the use of language in theology necessarily dilutes the actual experience of God and certainly does not come close to describing anything about God in Himself. Language is an interpretation of experience and can never suffice as a replacement for the experience itself. Language is itself symbolic of reality. Therefore, the further one moves from actual union with God, the more words must be used in theological discourse. 

On the other hand, as one approaches real agnosia of God, words become far too limited, meaningless, and lose their importance. Thus, Dionysios tells us that as we enter into the divine gloom, the mystical cloud, we will find the complete absence of both speech and conception, becoming “voiceless” and “unutterable.”

As even now, when entering into the gloom which is above mind, we shall find, not a little speaking, but a complete absence of speech, and absence of conception.

Mystical Theology 3.1

Silence, ultimately, is the most appropriate response to the gift of unknowing God.

Discussion Questions

  • As a college student often focused on the intellect and knowledge, how does Dionysios’ theology of foolishness and unknowing serve to contextualize your academic work? What about your relationship with God?
  • What do you think the connection is between the limits of language in theology and evangelism?
  • This is difficult material. What questions has this conversation raised for you?

Closing Prayer

From the opening of the Mystical Theology:

Triad supernal, both super-God and super-good, Guardian of the Theosophy of Christian men, direct us aright to the super-unknown and super-brilliant and highest summit of the mystic Oracles, where the simple and absolute and changeless mysteries of theology lie hidden within the super-luminous gloom of the silence, revealing hidden things, which in its deepest darkness shines above the most super-brilliant, and in the altogether impalpable and invisible, fills to overflowing the eyeless minds with glories of surpassing beauty.

Staff Book Pick | Devotions: Mary Oliver

Staff Book Pick | Devotions: Mary Oliver

Recommended by Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver presents a personal selection of her best work in this definitive collection spanning more than five decades of her esteemed literary career.

Throughout her celebrated career, Mary Oliver has touched countless readers with her brilliantly crafted verse, expounding on her love for the physical world and the powerful bonds between all living things. Identified as “far and away, this country’s best selling poet” by Dwight Garner, she now returns with a stunning and definitive collection of her writing from the last fifty years.

Carefully curated, these 200 plus poems feature Oliver’s work from her very first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, published in 1963 at the age of 28, through her most recent collection, Felicity, published in 2015. This timeless volume, arranged by Oliver herself, showcases the beloved poet at her edifying best. Within these pages, she provides us with an extraordinary and invaluable collection of her passionate, perceptive, and much-treasured observations of the natural world.

Amazon link >>>

Staff Book Pick | Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat

Staff Book Pick | Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat

Recommended by Ivy Gabriella Tesfay, Ministry Intern

Harp of Glory is a major hymn sounding the praises of the Theotokos, from the heart of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in its Golden Age. It is a text hardly known in Eastern Orthodox or Western churches, even though it is truly a religious and literary treasure of world significance. It approaches closely to the character and genius of the Byzantine Akathist to the Mother of God (which it seems to know in part) but is so profoundly rooted in a different indigenous experience that it surely deserves the title of “An African Akathist.”

This beautiful lyrical poem will be of interest to all who follow the rise of biblical exegesis in the ancient church, and forms of the great devotion to the Mother of God that is characteristic of the eastern churches. It is also an exquisitely crafted love song to the Virgin (troubadour style), from a monk scholar-musician wandering the highlands of Ethiopia.

What is Ours? – Guided Discussion: Almsgiving & Thanksgiving as Reflections of Our Love for God and Our Neighbor

What is Ours? – Guided Discussion: Almsgiving & Thanksgiving as Reflections of Our Love for God and Our Neighbor

This discussion is made up of two parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a portion each week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.

Opening Prayer

Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, I give thanks for your loving kindness and all the blessings You have richly bestowed upon me. I fall down in worship and adoration before You, the King of Glory. I praise You, I glorify You, I bless You and I give thanks to You for Your great goodness and tender mercy. To You I come, my sweet Lord and loving Master. Shine in my heart the light of Your grace. Enlighten my mind, that I may walk uprightly all my life by keeping Your commandments. Glorified and exalted is Your holy name, now and forever. Amen.

Part I: Our Call to Give

Reflection

“The Lord said this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” As he said these things, he cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”[1]

“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.”[2]

It is the beginning of a new year, and for many of us, a time to restart our lives with new goals and new perspectives. We may make goals to improve our health or plans to become more organized in our studies. Some of us even feel inspired to have a more disciplined prayer rule, or to attend more church services. What about goals of almsgiving?

Almsgiving always coincides with prayer and fasting, as it displays our love for God through serving our neighbors. Our call to give does not always mean to give away all of our possessions and live as a hermit, but to serve unconditionally to everyone we encounter.

Questions to Discuss

  • Think about the rich man in the parable in Luke, and how he was so eager to build more storehouses for himself. How can you relate to this man? What are your storehouses?
  • Since we are both physical and spiritual beings, almsgiving should be targeted to serve both of these needs. What are some practical ways we can practice almsgiving for ourselves? If you are by yourself, think of some personal goals. If you are with your OCF Chapter, plan some ideas as a group.
  • In what ways do you currently use your money any differently than you would if you were not an Orthodox Christian? Identify some areas in your life that you can surrender to Christ.

Part 2

“Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same who said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.”  St. John Chrysostom “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”, 50, iii (PG 58, 508)

Almsgiving can oftentimes denote monetary donations or contributions to those in need, but in actuality, giving alms can simply be to show mercy and compassion on our brothers and sisters. In fact, the Greek word for alms“eleemosune”literally translates to actions of mercy and compassion. We see how almsgiving is so interwoven in our worship, our theology, and our faith. We constantly hear the petition “Lord have mercy” during our liturgies, we pray for the Lord’s mercy with our prayer robes, and we frequently recite Psalm 50 in our services. Mercy is at the centrality of our faith. As we pray for the Lord to have mercy on us, we in turn must show mercy on those that hurt us, those that wrong us, and those that need love. Let us learn from the Gospel and a few words of the Saints of the Church.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech, confirming your love for your neighbor.”  (Saint Basil)

 “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” (Saint John Chrysostom)

 As Orthodox Christians and servants of the Lord we are called to love one another faithfully, fervently enduring one another’s sorrows and joys. In Galatians 6:2, Saint Paul states that we are to “bear one another’s burdens”, suffering with one another in brotherly love. Our relations with our neighbors are of utmost importance in our daily life, as we are called to be a living icon, a home for those without shelter, and ultimately a loving and giving force. We are all members of Christ’s body, each presenting different skills and talents that work together to create harmony in the Church. Saying this, all members are called to serve one another. “If one member suffers, the others are sorry for it and help it. If one member rejoices, all the members rejoice; our whole body rejoices.” [3] Ultimately, we are called to bring love and light to each other, to see the image of Christ in every living thing. Almsgiving is more than a transactional relationship to gain mercy from God, but a way to achieve living communion with Him. Christ on the Cross demonstrated the awe-inspiring unconditional love and mercy for the other, and in order to be more like Him, we must show mercy on our neighbor. Our love for one another should be shining on our faces, spoken in our speech, felt in our touch, and embedded in our hearts.

Discussion Questions:

  • We live in a highly materialistic culture, as we are bombarded by new things to eat, more things to buy, and more people to be like. Sometimes it feels as though darkness is all around us in the world. What are a few ways you can combat this, and walk in the light of Christ?
  • Many early Christians would hand over all of their riches and possessions to a community fund and share with any person in need. How are we able to emulate this same charity in our day and age?

[1] Luke 12:16-21

[2] On Wealth and Poverty, 110

[3] 1 Cor 12:26-27

St. Basil the Great – There’s a Saint for That

St. Basil the Great – There’s a Saint for That

The Life of Basil
            St. Basil from Cappadocia, was born into a lineage with future saints like St. Macrina and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Educated in Constantinople and Athens, he imbibed the pinnacle of Greek wisdom. His journey led him to absorb asceticism and piety from hermit saints in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine before dedicating himself wholly to Christ within the monastic realm. As a monk, he authored guidelines governing communal life in monasteries.

Later ordained as Bishop of Caesarea, St. Basil ardently opposed Arianism, even at odds with the emperor. Renowned for his devotion to aiding the needy, he established the hospital, hospice, and shelter for the destitute. His literary legacy encompasses ethical manuals, moral sermons, and extensive correspondences. Many letters revolved around enhancing the Divine Liturgy and refining monastic regulations, topics close to his heart. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, honored on significant feasts and his own, features prayers authored by the reverend bishop. Numerous other prayers, such as the daily recitation of the “prayer of the hours,” are credited to him.

St. Basil’s feast day intertwines with the tradition of vasilopita, or “the bread of St. Basil.” Originating from his charitable practice in the fourth century, St. Basil eschewed the direct distribution of money to the poor, opting instead to commission women to bake bread embedded with gold coins. Distributing these loaves preserved the dignity of the recipients. Upon cutting into the bread, the concealed coins would be discovered, offering financial support. Vasilopita, traditionally baked on January 1st in honor of St. Basil’s feast, contains a hidden coin. Slices are apportioned in honor of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. Basil, followed by portions for family and friends. The recipient who finds the coin in their slice is believed to receive good fortune throughout the year!

Feast Day

1st of January

How can St. Basil intercede for us?

As St. Basil is known for his immense knowledge of the church and love of learning, many students pray to him, along with the other hierarchs Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, for help with their studies.

Discussion Questions

  •  
  • Discuss the significance of St. Basil’s initiatives such as founding the world’s first hospital, hospice, and shelter for the poor in the context of his time. How do these acts resonate in today’s society?
  •  
  • Explore the significance of St. Basil’s contributions to the Divine Liturgy and monastic rules. How have these practices endured and evolved over time?
  •  
  • Reflect on the symbolism and significance of the vasilopita tradition in honoring St. Basil’s life and legacy. How does this tradition connect with his charitable nature?
  •  
  • How can St. Basil’s life and teachings serve as an inspiration or offer guidance in modern times, particularly in addressing societal issues or promoting compassion and charity?
  •  

Learn his troparion

“Thy sound hath gone forth into all the earth that hath received thy word. Thereby thou hast divinely taught the Faith; thou hast made manifest the nature of things that be; thou hast adorned the ways of man. O namesake of the priesthood, our righteous Father Basil, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.” (Mode 1)

Listen to our recording of St. Basil’s troparion

Pray with him

O great and most glorious hierarch of Christ, divinely wise teacher of the Church in all the world, firm confessor and champion of Orthodoxy, all-blessed Father Basil, look down from the heights of Heaven upon us who humbly fall down before you, and entreat the Lord Almighty, Whose faithful minister on earth you were, to grant us a firm and unchanging custody of the right Faith, obedience to the Holy Church, a correction of our way of life, and swift help patience and strength in all our needs, sorrows and temptations.

Bestow your holy blessing upon us, so that, protected by it, we might live every day in a manner pleasing unto God, in peace and penitence, and be vouchsafed together with you and all the saints, in the kingdom of Heaven to hymn and glorify the Life-creating Trinity: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for ages of ages. Amen.

Adapted from an akathist produced by the Moscow Synod Printing House in 1912.

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron  | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Saint Basil the Great is highly revered in the Orthodox Church, being one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Orthodox Church as well as one of the three Cappadocian Fathers. We will begin this guided discussion by listening to this excerpt from the Synaxarion about his life. Along with founding the first recorded monastic rule, St. Basil is known for defending the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the father and the son in his work On the Holy Spirit.

Keeping with the OCF’s theme this year of “Walking in the Light”, we will limit today’s discussion to his text On The Hexameron (‘hexameron’ meaning ‘six days’, which refers to the first six days of creation in Genesis; this is the full text, including other works of St. Basil’s including On the Holy Spirit). Please take turns reading the following text.

Homily II. “The Earth was Invisible and Unfinished.”

4.  “Darkness was upon the face of the deep”.  By “darkness” these wicked men do not understand what is meant in reality—air not illumined, the shadow produced by the interposition of a body, or finally a place for some reason deprived of light… If God is light, they say, without any doubt the power which struggles against Him must be darkness, “Darkness” not owing its existence to a foreign origin, but an evil existing by itself…. “The earth was invisible.”  Why? Because the “deep” was spread over its surface.  What is “the deep”?  A mass of water of extreme depth….  Thus, the deep is not a multitude of hostile powers, as has been imagined; nor “darkness” an evil sovereign force in enmity with good. In reality two rival principles of equal power, if engaged without ceasing in a war of mutual attacks, will end in self destruction.  But if one should gain the mastery it would completely annihilate the conquered. 

Thus, to maintain the balance in the struggle between good and evil is to represent them as engaged in a war without end and in perpetual destruction, where the opponents are at the same time conquerors and conquered.  If good is the stronger, what is there to prevent evil being completely annihilated? But if that be the case, the very utterance of which is impious, I ask myself how it is that they themselves are not filled with horror to think that they have imagined such abominable blasphemies. It is equally impious to say that evil has its origin from God; because the contrary cannot proceed from its contrary. Life does not engender death; darkness is not the origin of light; sickness is not the maker of health. In the changes of conditions there are transitions from one condition to the contrary; but in genesis each being proceeds from its like, and not from its contrary.

If then evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from whence comes its nature?  Certainly that evil exists, no one living in the world will deny.  What shall we say then?  Evil is not a living animated essence; it is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good. Do not then go beyond yourself to seek for evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness. Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice…. Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls. If it were involuntary, and did not depend upon ourselves, the laws would not have so much terror for the guilty, and the tribunals would not be so without pity when they condemn wretches according to the measure of their crimes.

But enough concerning evil rightly so called. Sickness, poverty, obscurity, death, finally all human afflictions, ought not to be ranked as evils; since we do not count among the greatest boons things which are their opposites. Among these afflictions, some are the effect of nature, others have obviously been for many a source of advantage. Let us then be silent for the moment about these metaphors and allegories, and, simply following without vain curiosity the words of Holy Scripture, let us take from darkness the idea which it gives us.

But reason asks, was darkness created with the world?  Is it older than light?  Why in spite of its inferiority has it preceded it?  Darkness, we reply, did not exist in essence; it is a condition produced in the air by the withdrawal of light.  What then is that light which disappeared suddenly from the world, so that darkness should cover the face of the deep?  If anything had existed before the formation of this sensible and perishable world, no doubt we conclude it would have been in light.  The orders of angels, the heavenly hosts, all intellectual natures named or unnamed, all the ministering spirits, did not live in darkness, but enjoyed a condition fitted for them in light and spiritual joy. No one will contradict this; least of all he who looks for celestial light as one of the rewards promised to virtue, the light which, as Solomon says, is always a light to the righteous, the light which made the Apostle say “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”  

Finally, if the condemned are sent into outer darkness evidently those who are made worthy of God’s approval, are at rest in heavenly light.  When then, according to the order of God, the heaven appeared, enveloping all that its circumference included, a vast and unbroken body separating outer things from those which it enclosed, it necessarily kept the space inside in darkness for want of communication with the outer light.  Three things are, indeed, needed to form a shadow, light, a body, a dark place.  The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world.

6.  And the Spirit of God was borne upon the face of the waters.   Does this spirit mean the diffusion of air?  The sacred writer wishes to enumerate to you the elements of the world, to tell you that God created the heavens, the earth, water, and air and that the last was now diffused and in motion; or rather, that which is truer and confirmed by the authority of the ancients, by the Spirit of God, he means the Holy Spirit.  It is, as has been remarked, the special name, the name above all others that Scripture delights to give to the Holy Spirit, and always by the spirit of God the Holy Spirit is meant, the Spirit which completes the divine and blessed Trinity.  You will find it better therefore to take it in this sense.  How then did the Spirit of God move upon the waters?  The explanation that I am about to give you is not an original one, but that of a Syrian, who was as ignorant in the wisdom of this world as he was versed in the knowledge of the Truth.  He said, then, that the Syriac word was more expressive, and that being more analogous to the Hebrew term it was a nearer approach to the scriptural sense.  This is the meaning of the word; by “was borne” the Syrians, he says, understand:  it cherished the nature of the waters as one sees a bird cover the eggs with her body and impart to them vital force from her own warmth.  Such is, as nearly as possible, the meaning of these words—the Spirit was borne:  let us understand, that is, prepared the nature of water to produce living beings: a sufficient proof for those who ask if the Holy Spirit took an active part in the creation of the world.

7.  And God said, Let there be light. The first word of God created the nature of light; it made darkness vanish, dispelled gloom, illuminated the world, and gave to all beings at the same time a sweet and gracious aspect.  The heavens, until then enveloped in darkness, appeared with that beauty which they still present to our eyes.  The air was lighted up, or rather made the light circulate mixed with its substance, and, distributing its splendour rapidly in every direction, so dispersed itself to its extreme limits.  Up it sprang to the very æther and heaven.  In an instant it lighted up the whole extent of the world, the North and the South, the East and the West…. 

The divine word gives every object a more cheerful and a more attractive appearance, just as when men in deep sea pour in oil they make the place about them clear.  So, with a single word and in one instant, the Creator of all things gave the boon of light to the world. Let there be light.  The order was itself an operation, and a state of things was brought into being, than which man’s mind cannot even imagine a pleasanter one for our enjoyment.  It must be well understood that when we speak of the voice, of the word, of the command of God, this divine language does not mean to us a sound which escapes from the organs of speech, a collision of air struck by the tongue; it is a simple sign of the will of God, and, if we give it the form of an order, it is only the better to impress the souls whom we instruct.

Homily VI. The creation of luminous bodies.

1. …Thus, to investigate the great and prodigious show of creation, to understand supreme and ineffable wisdom, you must bring personal light for the contemplation of the wonders which I spread before your eyes, and help me, according to your power, in this struggle, where you are not so much judges as fellow combatants, for fear lest the truth might escape you, and lest my error might turn to your common prejudice.  Why these words?  It is because we propose to study the world as a whole, and to consider the universe, not by the light of worldly wisdom, but by that with which God wills to enlighten His servant, when He speaks to him in person and without enigmas.  It is because it is absolutely necessary that all lovers of great and grand shows should bring a mind well prepared to study them.  If sometimes, on a bright night, whilst gazing with watchful eyes on the inexpressible beauty of the stars, you have thought of the Creator of all things; if you have asked yourself who it is that has dotted heaven with such flowers, and why visible things are even more useful than beautiful; if sometimes, in the day, you have studied the marvels of light, if you have raised yourself by visible things to the invisible Being, then you are a well prepared auditor, and you can take your place in this august and blessed amphitheatre.  Come in the same way that any one not knowing a town is taken by the hand and led through it; thus I am going to lead you, like strangers, through the mysterious marvels of this great city of the universe….

If we are penetrated by these truths, we shall know ourselves, we shall know God, we shall adore our Creator, we shall serve our Master, we shall glorify our Father, we shall love our Sustainer, we shall bless our Benefactor, we shall not cease to honour the Prince of present and future life, Who, by the riches that He showers upon us in this world, makes us believe in His promises and uses present good things to strengthen our expectation of the future.  Truly, if such are the good things of time, what will be those of eternity?  If such is the beauty of visible things, what shall we think of invisible things?  If the grandeur of heaven exceeds the measure of human intelligence, what mind shall be able to trace the nature of the everlasting?  If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand, so rapid in its movement, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe:  if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness?   If the blind man suffers from not seeing the material sun, what a deprivation is it for the sinner not to enjoy the true light!

2.  “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to divide the day from the night.”   Heaven and earth were the first; after them was created light; the day had been distinguished from the night, then had appeared the firmament and the dry element.  The water had been gathered into the reservoir assigned to it, the earth displayed its productions, it had caused many kinds of herbs to germinate and it was adorned with all kinds of plants.  However, the sun and the moon did not yet exist, in order that those who live in ignorance of God may not consider the sun as the origin and the father of light, or as the maker of all that grows out of the earth.   That is why there was a fourth day, and then God said:  “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven.” When once you have learnt Who spoke, think immediately of the hearer.  God said, “Let there be lights…and God made two great lights.”  Who spoke? and Who made?  Do you not see a double person?  Everywhere, in mystic language, history is sown with the dogmas of theology. The motive follows which caused the lights to be created.  It was to illuminate the earth.  Already light was created; why therefore say that the sun was created to give light?  And, first, do not laugh at the strangeness of this expression.  We do not follow your nicety about words, and we trouble ourselves but little to give them a harmonious turn.  Our writers do not amuse themselves by polishing their periods, and everywhere we prefer clearness of words to sonorous expressions.  See then if by this expression “to light up,” the sacred writer sufficiently made his thought understood.  He has put “to give light” instead of “illumination.”   Now there is nothing here contradictory to what has been said of light.  Then the actual nature of light was produced:  now the sun’s body is constructed to be a vehicle for that original light.  A lamp is not fire.  Fire has the property of illuminating, and we have invented the lamp to light us in darkness.  In the same way, the luminous bodies have been fashioned as a vehicle for that pure, clear, and immaterial light.  The Apostle speaks to us of certain lights which shine in the world without being confounded with the true light of the world, the possession of which made the saints luminaries of the souls which they instructed and drew from the darkness of ignorance.  This is why the Creator of all things, made the sun in addition to that glorious light, and placed it shining in the heavens.

3.  And let no one suppose it to be a thing incredible that the brightness of the light is one thing, and the body which is its material vehicle is another.  First, in all composite things, we distinguish substance susceptible of quality, and the quality which it receives.  The nature of whiteness is one thing, another is that of the body which is whitened; thus the natures differ which we have just seen reunited by the power of the Creator.  And do not tell me that it is impossible to separate them.  Even I do not pretend to be able to separate light from the body of the sun; but I maintain that that which we separate in thought, may be separated in reality by the Creator of nature.  You cannot, moreover, separate the brightness of fire from the virtue of burning which it possesses; but God, who wished to attract His servant by a wonderful sight, set a fire in the burning bush, which displayed all the brilliancy of flame while its devouring property was dormant.  It is that which the Psalmist affirms in saying “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.”   Thus, in the requital which awaits us after this life, a mysterious voice seems to tell us that the double nature of fire will be divided; the just will enjoy its light, and the torment of its heat will be the torture of the wicked.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Does St. Basil acknowledge ‘natural evil’ the way that it is understood in Western Theology? Discuss the quote, “Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls”.
  1. What does St. Basil mean when he says, “The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world”?
  1. How ought we approach enigmas we encounter as we observe the scientific reality and beauty of the universe? You may reference Homily VI.
  1. Discuss St. Basil’s choice to refer to Christ as the ‘Sun of Righteousness’. Can you think of any other similarities that Christ has with the sun?
  1. Read the following excerpt from St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit:

Inasmuch as all created nature, both this visible world and all that is conceived of in the mind, cannot hold together without the care and providence of God, the Creator Word, the Only begotten God, apportioning His succour according to the measure of the needs of each, distributes mercies various and manifold on account of the many kinds and characters of the recipients of His bounty, but appropriate to the necessities of individual requirements.  Those that are confined in the darkness of ignorance He enlightens:  for this reason He is true Light.

Discuss what ‘enlightenment’ means within the Orthodox Faith. Can any immutable traits prevent someone from being enlightened by Christ?

After the discussion, additional edifying content can be found by listening to this biography of his sister St. Macrina’s life (written by St. Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa). The OCF chapter may decide to implement this reading into a new or existing book club.

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27

§ 1. This text refers not to the eternal Word but to the Incarnate.

” All things were delivered to Me by My Father. And none knows Who the Son is, save the Father; and Who the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son wills to reveal Him. “

And from not perceiving this they of the sect of Arius, Eusebius and his fellows, indulge impiety against the Lord. For they say, if all things were delivered (meaning by ‘all’ the Lordship of Creation), there was once a time when He had them not. But if He had them not, He is not of the Father, for if He were, He would on that account have had them always, and would not have required to receive them. But this point will furnish all the clearer an exposure of their folly. For the expression in question does not refer to the Lordship over Creation, nor to presiding over the works of God, but is meant to reveal in part the intention of the Incarnation ([τῆς οἰκονομίας]).

For if when He was speaking they ‘were delivered’ to Him, clearly before He received them, creation was void of the Word. What then becomes of the text ” in Him all things consist ” [ Colossians 1:17 ]? But if simultaneously with the origin of the Creation it was all ‘delivered’ to Him, such delivery were superfluous, for ‘all things were made by Him’ [ John 1:3 ], and it would be unnecessary for those things of which the Lord Himself was the artificer to be delivered over to Him. For in making them He was Lord of the things which were being originated. But even supposing they were ‘delivered’ to Him after they were originated, see the monstrosity. For if they ‘were delivered,’ and upon His receiving them the Father retired, then we are in peril of falling into the fabulous tales which some tell, that He gave over [His works] to the Son, and Himself departed. Or if, while the

Son has them, the Father has them also, we ought to say, not ‘were delivered,’ but that He took Him as partner, as Paul did Silvanus. But this is even more monstrous; for God is not imperfect , nor did He summon the Son to help Him in His need; but, being Father of the Word, He makes all things by His means, and without delivering creation over to Him, by His means and in Him exercises Providence over it, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father [ Matthew 10:29 ], nor is the grass clothed without God [ Matthew 6:30 ], but at once the Father works, and the Son works hitherto [ cf.John 5:17 ]. Vain, therefore, is the opinion of the impious. For the expression is not what they think, but designates the Incarnation.

§2. Sense in which, and end for which all things were delivered to the Incarnate Son.

For whereas man sinned, and is fallen, and by his fall all things are in confusion: death prevailed from Adam to Moses [ cf.Romans 5:14 ], the earth was cursed, Hades was opened, Paradise shut, Heaven offended, man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised [ cf.Psalm 49:12 ], while the devil was exulting against us—then God, in His loving-kindness, not willing man made in His own image to perish, said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’ [ Isaiah 6:8 ]. But while all held their peace, the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’ And then it was that, saying ‘Go,’ He ‘delivered’ to Him man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. For to Him, as to a physician, man ‘was delivered’ to heal the bite of the serpent; as to life, to raise what was dead; as to light, to illumine the darkness; and, because He was Word, to renew the rational nature ([τὸ λογικόν]). Since then all things ‘were delivered’ to Him, and He is made Man, straightway all things were set right and perfected. Earth receives blessing instead of a curse, Paradise was opened to the robber, Hades

cowered, the tombs were opened and the dead raised, the gates of Heaven were lifted up to await Him that ‘comes from Edom?’ [ Psalm 24:7, Isaiah 63:1 ]. Why, the Saviour Himself expressly signifies in what sense ‘all things were delivered’ to Him, when He continues, as Matthew tells us: ‘Come unto Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [ Matthew 11:28 ]. Yes, you ‘were delivered’ to Me to give rest to those who had laboured, and life to the dead. And what is written in John’s Gospel harmonises with this: ‘The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand’ [ John 3:35 ]. Given, in order that, just as all things were made by Him, so in Him all things might be renewed. For they were not ‘delivered’ unto Him, that being poor, He might be made rich, nor did He receive all things that He might receive power which before He lacked: far be the thought: but in order that as Saviour He might rather set all things right. For it was fitting that while ‘through Him’ all things came into being at the beginning, ‘in Him’ (note the change of phrase) all things should be set right [ cf. John 1:3, Ephesians 1:10 ]. For at the beginning they came into being ‘through’ Him; but afterwards, all having fallen, the Word has been made Flesh, and put it on, in order that ‘in Him’ all should be set right. Suffering Himself, He gave us rest, hungering Himself, He nourished us, and going down into Hades He brought us back thence. For example, at the time of the creation of all things, their creation consisted in a fiat, such as ‘let [the earth] bring forth,’ ‘let there be’ [ Genesis 1:3, 11 ], but at the restoration it was fitting that all things should be ‘delivered’ to Him, in order that He might be made man, and all things be renewed in Him. For man, being in Him, was quickened: for this was why the Word was united to man, namely, that against man the curse might no longer prevail. This is the reason why they record the request made on behalf of mankind in the seventy-first Psalm: ‘Give the King Your judgment, O God?’ [ Psalm 72:1 ]:

asking that both the judgment of death which hung over us may be delivered to the Son, and that He may then, by dying for us, abolish it for us in Himself. This was what He signified, saying Himself, in the eighty- seventh Psalm: ‘Your indignation lies hard upon me’ [ Psalm 88:7 ]. For He bore the indignation which lay upon us, as also He says in the hundred and thirty-seventh: ‘Lord, You shall do vengeance for me’ [ Psalm 137:8 ].

§3. By ‘all things’ is meant the redemptive attributes and power of Christ.

Thus, then, we may understand all things to have been delivered to the Saviour, and, if it be necessary to follow up understanding by explanation, that has been delivered unto Him which He did not previously possess. For He was not man previously, but became man for the sake of saving man.

And the Word was not in the beginning flesh, but has been made flesh subsequently [ cf.John 1:1 sqq ], in which Flesh, as the Apostle says, He reconciled the enmity which was against us [ Colossians 1:20, 2:14, Ephesians 2:15-16 ] and destroyed the law of the commandments in ordinances, that He might make the two into one new man, making peace, and reconcile both in one body to the Father. That, however, which the Father has, belongs also to the Son, as also He says in John, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine’ [ John 16:15 ], expressions which could not be improved. For when He became that which He was not, ‘all things were delivered’ to Him. But when He desires to declare His unity with the Father, He teaches it without any reserve, saying: ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ And one cannot but admire the exactness of the language. For He has not said ‘all things whatsoever the Father has, He has given to Me,’ lest He should appear at one time not to have possessed these things; but ‘are Mine.’ For these things, being in the Father’s power, are equally in that of the Son. But we must in turn examine

what things ‘the Father has.’ For if Creation is meant, the Father had nothing before creation, and proves to have received something additional from Creation; but far be it to think this. For just as He exists before creation, so before creation also He has what He has, which we also believe to belong to the Son [ John 16:15 ]. For if the Son is in the Father, then all things that the Father has belong to the Son. So this expression is subversive of the perversity of the heterodox in saying that ‘if all things have been delivered to the Son, then the Father has ceased to have power over what is delivered, having appointed the Son in His place. For, in fact, the Father judges none, but has given all judgment to the Son?’ [ John 5:22 ]. But ‘let the mouth of them that speak wickedness be stopped’ [ Psalm 63:11 ], (for although He has given all judgment to the Son, He is not, therefore, stripped of lordship: nor, because it is said that all things are delivered by the Father to the Son, is He any the less over all), separating as they clearly do the Only-begotten from God, Who is by nature inseparable from Him, even though in their madness they separate Him by their words, not perceiving, the impious men, that the Light can never be separated from the sun, in which it resides by nature. For one must use a poor simile drawn from tangible and familiar objects to put our idea into words, since it is over bold to intrude upon the incomprehensible nature [of God].

§4. The text John 16:15 , shows clearly the essential relation of the Son to the Father.

As then the light from the Sun which illumines the world could never be supposed, by men of sound mind, to do so without the Sun, since the Sun’s light is united to the Sun by nature; and as, if the Light were to say: I have received from the Sun the power of illumining all things, and of giving growth and strength to them by the heat that is in me, no one will be mad enough to think that the mention of the Sun is meant to separate him from

what is his nature, namely the light; so piety would have us perceive that the Divine Essence of the Word is united by nature to His own Father. For the text before us will put our problem in the clearest possible light, seeing that the Saviour said, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine;’ which shows that He is ever with the Father. For ‘whatsoever He has’ shows that the Father wields the Lordship, while ‘are Mine’ shows the inseparable union. It is necessary, then, that we should perceive that in the Father reside Everlastingness, Eternity, Immortality. Now these reside in Him not as adventitious attributes, but, as it were, in a well-spring they reside in Him, and in the Son. When then you wish to perceive what relates to the Son, learn what is in the Father, for this is what you must believe to be in the Son. If then the Father is a thing created or made, these qualities belong also to the Son. And if it is permissible to say of the Father ‘there was once a time when He was not,’ or ‘made of nothing,’ let these words be applied also to the Son. But if it is impious to ascribe these attributes to the Father, grant that it is impious also to ascribe them to the Son. For what belongs to the Father, belongs to the Son. For he that honours the Son, honours the Father that sent Him, and he that receives the Son, receives the Father with Him, because he that has seen the Son has seen the Father [ Matthew 10:40; John 14:9 ]. As then the Father is not a creature, so neither is the Son; and as it is not possible to say of Him ‘there was a time when He was not,’ nor ‘made of nothing,’ so it is not proper to say the like of the Son either. But rather, as the Father’s attributes are Everlastingness, Immortality, Eternity, and the being no creature, it follows that thus also we must think of the Son. For as it is written [ John 5:26 ], ‘As the Father has life in Himself, so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself.’ But He uses the word ‘gave’ in order to point to the Father who gives. As, again, life is in the Father, so also is it in the Son, so as to show Him to be inseparable and everlasting.

For this is why He speaks with exactness, ‘whatsoever the Father has,’ in order namely that by thus mentioning the Father He may avoid being thought to be the Father Himself. For He does not say ‘I am the Father,’ but ‘whatsoever the Father has.’

§5. The same text further explained.

For His Only-begotten Son might, you Arians, be called ‘Father’ by His Father, yet not in the sense in which you in your error might perhaps understand it, but (while Son of the Father that begot Him) ‘Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6, Septuagint ]. For it is necessary not to leave any of your surmises open to you. Well then, He says by the prophet, ‘A Son is born and given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Angel of Great Counsel, mighty God, Ruler, Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6 ]. The Only-begotten Son of God, then, is at once Father of the coming age, and mighty God, and Ruler. And it is shown clearly that all things whatsoever the Father has are His, and that as the Father gives life, the Son likewise is able to quicken whom He will. For ‘the dead,’ He says, ‘shall hear the voice of the Son, and shall live’ [ cf.John 5:25

], and the will and desire of Father and Son is one, since their nature also is one and indivisible. And the Arians torture themselves to no purpose, from not understanding the saying of our Saviour, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ For from this passage at once the delusion of Sabellius can be upset, and it will expose the folly of our modern Jews. For this is why the Only begotten, having life in Himself as the Father has, also knows alone Who the Father is, namely, because He is in the Father and the Father in Him. For He is His Image, and consequently, because He is His Image, all that belongs to the Father is in Him. He is an exact seal, showing in Himself the Father; living Word and true, Power, Wisdom, our Sanctification and Redemption [ 1 Corinthians 1:30 ]. For ‘in Him we both

live and move and have our being’ [ Acts 17:28 ], and ‘no man knows Who is the Father, save the Son, and Who is the Son, save the Father?’ [ Luke 10:22 ].

§6. The Trisagion wrongly explained by Arians. Its true significance.

And how do the impious men venture to speak folly, as they ought not, being men and unable to find out how to describe even what is on the earth? But why do I say ‘what is on the earth?’ Let them tell us their own nature, if they can discover how to investigate their own nature? Rash they are indeed, and self-willed, not trembling to form opinions of things which angels desire to look into [ 1 Peter 1:12 ], who are so far above them, both in nature and in rank. For what is nearer [God] than the Cherubim or the Seraphim? And yet they, not even seeing Him, nor standing on their feet, nor even with bare, but as it were with veiled faces, offer their praises, with untiring lips doing nought else but glorify the divine and ineffable nature with the Trisagion. And nowhere has any one of the divinely speaking prophets, men specially selected for such vision, reported to us that in the first utterance of the word Holy the voice is raised aloud, while in the second it is lower, but in the third, quite low—and that consequently the first utterance denotes lordship, the second subordination, and the third marks a yet lower degree. But away with the folly of these haters of God and senseless men. For the Triad, praised, reverenced, and adored, is one and indivisible and without degrees ([ἀ] [σχηματιστός]). It is united without confusion, just as the Monad also is distinguished without separation. For the fact of those venerable living creatures [Isaiah 6; Revelation 4:8] offering their praises three times, saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ proves that the Three Subsistences are perfect, just as in saying ‘Lord,’ they declare the One Essence. They then that depreciate the Only-begotten Son of God blaspheme God, defaming His perfection and accusing Him of

imperfection, and render themselves liable to the severest chastisement. For he that blasphemes any one of the Subsistences shall have remission neither in this world nor in that which is to come. But God is able to open the eyes of their heart to contemplate the Sun of Righteousness, in order that coming to know Him whom they formerly set at nought, they may with unswerving piety of mind together with us glorify Him, because to Him belongs the kingdom, even to the Father Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

St. Athanasios’ On the Incarnation | Guided Discussion Guide

St. Athanasios’ On the Incarnation | Guided Discussion Guide

Introduction 

This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Athanasios the Great. St. Athanasios was the patriarch of the Church of Alexandria. He is most famous for championing the correct when the Church was battling the heresy of Arius. Arius taught that there was a time when the Father was but the Son was not, making Christ a creation of the Father. The true faith persevered and was proclaimed at the first Ecumenical Council, held in the city of Nicaea in 325 AD, which taught that Christ was “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father…”

Even after the council, Arius’ teachings lingered throughout the world and thus, we have one of the most famous pieces of Christian literature ever composed: “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasios. In this masterpiece, St. Athanasios writes in great detail about the purpose and function of the incarnation of the Son of God, while speaking in very plain language so that all the members of the Church can understand the true faith. Today, we will read pieces of this timeless treasure and discuss them together in order that we might more clearly understand Christ and His love for us. 

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: The Creation & Fall of Humanity

St. Athanasios begins his work about the Incarnation of Christ by first speaking about the creation of all humanity.

“Perhaps you are wondering for what reason, having proposed to talk about the Incarnation of the Word, we are now expounding the origin of human beings. Yet this too is not distinct from the aim of our exposition. For speaking of the manifestation of the savior to us, it is necessary also to speak about the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of his descent and that our own transgression evoked the Word’s love for human beings so that the Lord both came to us and appeared among human beings. On the Incarnation 4

He goes on to speak extensively about the different “theories” of creation that were floating around at his time. He lays down the foundation: God created all things out of nothing through His Word. He does all of this in order to remind the reader that Christ is able to save us, to “re-create” us, because He is, in fact, the same one who created us in the first place. 

As we give an account of this, it is first necessary to speak about the creation of the universe and its maker, God, so that one may with us worthily reflect that its re-creation was accomplished by the Word that created it in the beginning. For it will appear not at all contradictory if the Father works at salvation in the same one by whom he created it.” On the Incarnation 1

“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost.’” On the Incarnation 14

Here, we are presented with the most beautiful imagery. God yearned to restore us after our fall when He could have “started fresh” and just destroyed us for our lack of obedience to Him. St. Athanasios presents to us Christ as the one who loves us and comes to save us Himself. He does not send an angel, prophet, or saint to restore us, but rather, comes to us in our state of death and brings life into us once again Himself.

We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Discussion Questions

  1. What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Athaniasus? What do you find most important? Discuss together.
  2. Christ comes to renew us because of His love for us. We might know this mentally but forget this spiritually. How does this impact how you see yourself, those around you, and the entire world?
  3. If you could make one change in light of this impact tomorrow, what would it be?

Part II: Christ our Salvation

St. Athanasios gets to the crux of the matter: Christ comes to restore us through His Incarnation. He spends a good majority of the book expanding on this since he argues that Christ doesn’t simply come to die quietly just to fulfill some obligatory death but rather, He does much more. 

Christ, Emmanual, visits us. “For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes into our realm, although he was not formerly distant. For no part of creation is left void of him; while abiding with his own Father, he has filled all things in every place. But now he comes, condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation” On the Incarnation 8

Christ, the Lamb, is slain for us, putting an end to the law’s judgment over us. “For by the sacrifice of his own body, he both put an end to the law lying against us and renewed for us the source of life, giving hope of the resurrection.” On the Incarnation 10

Christ, our teacher, reminds us once more of the Father. “For what profit would there be for those who were made, if they did not know their own Maker? Or how would they be rational, not knowing the Word of the Father, in whom they came to be? For they would not have differed at all from the irrational creatures if they had known nothing more than the terrestrial animals. And why would God have made those by whom he did not wish to be known?… So, lest this should happen, being good he bestowed on them of his own image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and made them according to his own image and according to the likeness, so that understanding through such grace the image, I mean the Word of the Father, they might be able to receive through him a notion of the Father, and knowing the Creator they might live the happy and truly blessed life.” On the Incarnation 11

Christ, our Savior, redeems us as He destroys death by His resurrection. “Indeed, with the common Savior of all dying for us, we, the faithful in Christ, no longer die by death as before according to the threat of the law, for such condemnation has ceased.” On the Incarnation 21

Christ, our King, protects us. “And like as when a great king has entered into some large city and taken up his abode in one of the houses there, such city is at all events held worthy of high honor, nor does any enemy or bandit any longer descend upon it and subject it; but, on the contrary, it is thought entitled to all care, because of the king’s having taken up his residence in a single house there: so, too, has it been with the Monarch of all. On the Incarnation 9

For St. Athanasios, the entire life of Christ—each and every detail—is purposeful and works to save and restore us. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How does St. Athanasios’ understanding of Christ’s incarnation and work of salvation change how you understand Him?
  2. While many of us are quite intimidated when we hear “Church Fathers”, “Patristics”, “Theology”, etc, how has this exercise of reading all of these quotes been? Discuss. 
  3. What stood out to you about these passages?
  4. What questions has this conversation raised for you?
  5. Is there anything you’re still wondering about?

Concluding Prayer

“The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasios

Thou art Jesus, the Son of the Father, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He who commandeth the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Yea, Amen.

Thou hast existed with the Father in truth always, Yea. Amen.

Thou rulest the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the power of the Heavens, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the crown of the Martyrs, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the deep counsel of the Saints, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He in whom the deep counsel of the Father is hidden, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the mouth of the Prophets, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the tongue of the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus my Life, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus the object and boast of the world, Yea, Amen.

(A.W.T. Budge, Coptic Homilies in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, [The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasios, Archbishop of Alexandria, pp. 1012-1020])

Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas: According to this text, which is based on the personal witness of his Archdeacon, who stood by him at the moment of his departure from the present life, and was uttered shortly before he delivered his sanctified soul to the angels who came down to receive it, recalls the entire course of the divine economy for the salvation of mankind and concludes with a doxology to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Saint Athanasios: Original Research and New Perspectives, pg. 204)”

Copied from https://classicalchristianity.com/2011/10/15/the-dying-prayer-of-st-Athanasios/

Icon by Father Matthew Garrett

There’s a Saint for That: Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria

There’s a Saint for That: Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria

Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasios became known to Saint Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (Commemorated May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasios, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates.

The young Athanasios, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasios and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.

It was as a deacon that Saint Athanasios accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, Saint Athanasios refuted the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasios and persecuted him for the rest of his life.

After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, Saint Athanasios was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. Saint Athanasios guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. Saint Athanasios spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.

There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy.

When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon Saint Athanasios, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, Saint Athanasios guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.

Numerous works of Saint Athanasios have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.

Other apologetic works of the Saint in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Saint Athanasios wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of Saint Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom Saint Athanasios was very close. Saint John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.

The memory of Saint Athanasios is celebrated also on January 18 with Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

Adapted from St. Athanasios the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria

How can St. Athanasios intercede for us?

When reading the life and works of this holy Saint, it may seem somewhat difficult to find ways that through our prayers, he is able to intercede for us. Looking closer, however, reveals there is an application to us as college students. He received an education not just in the world, but outside of it as well. The resulting knowledge gained from the education and upbringing by the hands of St. Alexander led St. Athanasios to be an educated defender of the faith against Arianism and the persecutions of Julian the Apostate. When we are faced with adversity and persecution, we can pray to St. Athanasios to bring about understanding and correct those who speak falsely about the Faith.

Discussion Questions

  1. What surprised you about the life of St. Athanasios?
  2. How might you benefit from getting to know the intricacies of the lives of the saints?

Learn his Troparian

Thou wast Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for thou didst preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus thou didst shame Arius. Righteous Father Athanasios, do thou entreat Christ God that His great mercy be granted unto us.

Source: St. Athanasios the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria

Recording

Ikos 1

O Saint of God, you were raised by the Lord of Glory to confront the greatest heresy of all time, the diabolical lie that the Son of God is a created being. When the impious Arius spread his poison of falsehood throughout Egypt and beyond, you led the defense of the one true Faith and to you, who defeated the devil and annulled the Arians, we cry:

Rejoice, true theologian of the Incarnation!

Rejoice, pious guardian of the Nicene Creed!

Rejoice, godly son of the Son of God!

Rejoice, bright beacon of the Light of Light!

Rejoice, destroyer of the devil’s delusion!

Rejoice, defender of the one true Faith!

Rejoice, O Father Athanasius, Holy confessor and champion of Orthodoxy!

*icon courtesy of the Orthodox Church in America

Saint John of Damascus’ Hymns of Light | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Saint John of Damascus’ Hymns of Light | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Saint John of Damascus expresses the Light of Christ in the poetry of the hymns that he wrote for the Church. Many of his hymns can be found in the Orthodox funeral service, and we will take a deeper look at how amidst the great grief and sorrow of a death, there is hope in eternal life with our Lord. First, read the story behind Saint John’s writing of the funeral hymns here. Next, take the time to focus specifically on these two hymns by Saint John. Soak in the beauty of his paradoxical poetry. 

“What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind. 

“I weep and lament when I think upon death, and behold our beauty created in the likeness of God lying in the tomb disfigured, bereft of glory and form. O the marvel of it! What is this mystery concerning us? Why have we been delivered to corruption? Why have we been wedded unto death? Truly, as it is written, by the command of God who giveth the departed rest.”

Questions For Discussion

  1. In the story, we see how Saint John disobeyed his elder in writing this hymn, knowing that his brother monk was so grieved by the loss of his brother. A quote by Saint Justin Popovich comes to mind: “I will sacrifice myself in order to save the canons of the Church, but in the case of saving one person I will sacrifice all the canons.” What times (if there are any) are we called to abandon rules for our fellow brothers and sisters? What discernment is needed in those moments? Discuss. 
  1. The Greek word charmolypi (χαρμολύπη) translates to “joyful sorrow”, and in Orthodoxy, this pertains to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. What is the joyful sorrow in our own lives? Think of examples of where you may have felt this intense emotion (maybe you didn’t even know how to describe it!), and discuss.
  1. In “An Exposition by the Orthodox Faith”, Saint John states that “since the enemy snares man by the hope of the Godhead, he himself is snared in turn by the screen of flesh.” What do the words of Saint John reveal to us about the unnaturalness of death?  What is this “mystery” concerning us? 
  1. There is a realism and bluntness to the words of Saint John in relation to death, a harsh reality of the inevitable fate for all of us. Knowing this striking reality, how can we gain a more full appreciation for the victorious resurrection of Christ? How does our understanding of death grant us a spirit of gratefulness? 

OCA, Funeral Hymns

2 https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/33043.htm