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. Dionysius 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

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  • 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?
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  • Explore the significance of St. Basil’s contributions to the Divine Liturgy and monastic rules. How have these practices endured and evolved over time?
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  • 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?
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  • 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?
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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

Illumined Through Iconography: St. John of Damascus | Guided Discussion Guide

Illumined Through Iconography: St. John of Damascus | Guided Discussion Guide

Introduction

This month, we are learning to “walk in the Light” with Saint John of Damascus. Saint John had a true devotion to Christ and His Church as he defended the faith against the heresy of iconoclasm that was ever present during his time. Saint John shows us that there is a dimension to iconography that reveals the true light of our salvation—Jesus Christ. Today, we will use his writings to explore icons as “the window of heaven” through which the Light that springs from the Holy Trinity can be revealed. 

Before our discussion begins, let’s have 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: Icons Communicate the Light of Christ

Reflection

Saint John of Damascus penned some of the most vital arguments in favor of icon veneration through the lens of Christology, or our understanding of who Jesus Christ is. According to Saint John, our relationship to icons unfolds from the nature of Christ, who is both fully man and fully God in one Person. The Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate, taking on flesh and therefore making the invisible God visible. Thus, icons reveal to us the Incarnate Christ—in which both humanity and divinity are manifested without confusion, division, mixture, or change.

“I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by its union with him, it is changeless. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is brought to life by a logical and reasoning soul. I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me.”

Here we see Saint John conveying how the icon communicates the incarnation of Christ without leading us to worship created things. Icons are neither simply portraits nor are they idols meant to draw our attention away from the Creator, but rather, icons portray the unity of humanity with God in Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you summarize Saint John’s thoughts on the defense of icons, specifically looking at the difference between worship and veneration? Discuss with one another. 
  2. Icons are unlike any painting of Picasso or Monet, as they call us to something deeper, something not of this world. How are icons a union between the visible and invisible worlds?

Part II: Icons Reveal the Goodness of Creation

Reflection

Saint John adresses the fact that the origin of icons lay in the Incarnation of Christ, as this was a sign of perfect love for the purpose of salvation for the world. In each icon, the awesomeness of God becomes accessible to our very eyes, a true way to reveal the glory of God. Let us read the words of Saint John, as they so beautifully describe the icon as it transcends the detachment between the created world and the kingdom of God.

“The invisible things of God have been made visible through images since the creation of the world. We see images in creation which remind us faintly of God, e.g. in order to talk about the holy and worshipful Trinity, we use the images of the sun and rays of light, a spring and a full river, the mind and speech and the spirit within us, or a rose tree, a sprouting flower, and a sweet fragrance.”   

“I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is.”

Here, Saint John states that we are not to despise matter.” It is true that in the Orthodox Church, we venerate icons and hold them with dear reverence. We are careful with them at all times, and do not damage them in any way. Why is this? As Saint John emphasizes, icons are images of the light of Christ, and are to be treated with great care and honor. Just as we hold icons to be matter that is venerated, we must too hold our own brothers and sisters to this same standard of honor and care, as each one of us are icons of Christ. If we are to “honor all matter and venerate it” as Saint John voices, we must be ready to honor and venerate our neighbors with the very same carefulness. Imagine if we ran and kissed our neighbors the same way we run to kiss an icon of the Theotokos. We are all created by God as a reflection of His holiness, and thus, we should treat each with that very belief, running to hug and kiss one another as we run and kiss the very icon of Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it very easy to love and venerate an icon but at times, so difficult to love our neighbors? 
  2. Saint Paisios once said “The grass is an icon; this stone is an icon; and I can kiss it, venerate it, because it is filled with God’s grace.” In today’s day and age, we see trends of neo-paganism on the one hand and rejection of physical realities on the other. What do St. John and St. Paisios teach us in regards to how we should approach the material world? How is it different from approaches you see others take?
  3. We are constantly being called to be ready to defend our faith at all times. If asked, how would you defend the veneration of icons in the Church? 

Icon by Father Matthew Garrett

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

St. John was born in Damascus around the year 680 into a Christian family. His father was well-respected in the city since he served the Muslim caliph as a high-ranking financial official. Thus, St. John received an exceptional education that included studying Christian, classical Greek, and Muslim texts. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and easily absorbed anything he was exposed to from his various areas of study such as astronomy and music. In fact, in his later life, he would go on to produce a number of well-known pieces of hymnography including the Paschal Canon!

Despite growing up in a Muslim society, St. John remained steadfast in the faith. This was a direct result of his parents’ commitment to Christ and the guidance of the monk Cosmas, who was ransomed by St. John’s father from captivity to tutor his sons. Upon his father’s death, St. John assumed his position in the Damascene court as city prefect. However, only a few years into his service in 726, he stepped down to become a monk at the Mar Saba monastery in Palestine.

In his new role, St. John had the unique opportunity to prayerfully defend the Orthodox faith in a number of ways when it was most needed. Muslim society did not force Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, but conversion opened doors and allowed people to be exempt from the Jizya tax. Further, the Islamic faith presented an explanation of Jesus as a prophet for Jews and a compromise for Christians who were uncomfortable with the idea of God becoming man through Christ. In response to these worrying trends, St. John authored a 3-part defense of Christianity which included one of the first philosophical defenses of the faith. The unique thing about this defense was the insight St. John’s deep knowledge of the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and many other relevant topics provided him. He was able to address the Quran directly and provide a Christian response to the increasingly popular religion of the day.

A few years before St. John became a monastic, Leo III was instated as Byzantine emperor. He took a deep interest in involving himself in church matters, and one of his adopted stances was the belief that icon veneration invited sinful idol worship into the Christian life and that the Byzantine empire’s recent misfortunes were due to this practice. He formalized this view in the form of a royal edict in 726. As part of the pushback against the heretical Iconoclast movement, St. John authored a series of 3 treatises in defense of the veneration of icons. Since he was not under Byzantine jurisdiction, Emperor Leo forged a letter supposedly written by the saint to the emperor, offering his help in overthrowing the Muslim Caliphate in Damascus. When the letter was intercepted, St. John was thrown into prison and had his right hand cut off. Our Tradition holds that the Theotokos miraculously restored the saint’s hand, which caused the caliph to repent and release St. John from prison.

Following these events, St. John entered the monastery of Saint Savva as a novice and led an ascetic lifestyle, completely humbling himself in spite of his renowned background. He spent much of his later life producing spiritual books and hymns, which still nourish us as Christians today. St. John remained humble and steadfast in his faith throughout his life despite his impressive education and harsh trials. He provides us with an example of how we can live in a world that goes against our beliefs and values, yet not conform to it. Christ can and will give us the strength if we truly desire to do so, just as he did for St. John.

Feast Day: December 4

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnCPQsjl1k4

How can St. John of Damascus intercede for us?

During our time as college students, we are surrounded with opportunity and flooded with ideas of what our future can be. St. John of Damascus was also faced with many opportunities possessing a background as a government official, scholar, musician, poet, and apologist among other things. He could have pursued many different paths, but the key is that he maintained his focus on Christ and proclaimed the Truth of our faith without fear of the consequences. He lived in a Muslim society but remained ardently Christian.

In every Christian’s life and especially college students, we have to process many different ideas thrown at us and make sense of them in the context of our faith. St. John can intercede on our behalf so that we might have the wisdom to discern what is right and wrong and the courage to stand up for the Truth. In this way, we can strive to follow St. John’s example and remain close to Christ, regardless of the choices we make in life.

Because of his great contributions to Christian hymnography, St. John is also regarded as the saint we can pray to for help in the study of church music. Pray to Christ for us, St. John, that we may always use our talents to glorify God and we may have the wisdom and courage to remain steadfast in the Truth.

Discussion Questions

  1. As one of the great Christian apologists of his time, St. John was unafraid to speak the Truth in a tolerant yet opposing society. What are some ways we can be keepers of the Truth like St. John on campus and everywhere? Are these things easy/comfortable to do and why or why not?
  1. In his piece An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John says, “He who longs always after God, he seeth Him: for God is in all things.” The saint longed after God to the point of becoming a monastic, but he maintained this commitment even during the parts of his life when he was surrounded by opposing views or hardship. Why is it difficult to see God in every situation even when we know we want to serve Him? What action/commitment will you take today to remain as committed to the Faith as St. John?

Learn his troparion.

Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,

The enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs:

All-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.

Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/troparia/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus#:~:text=Troparion%20%E2%80%94%20Tone%208,God%20to%20save%20our%20souls.

Pray with him.

From a passage in the Divine Office by St. John of Damascus

Lord, you led me from my father’s loins and formed me in my mother’s womb. You brought me, a naked babe, into the light of day, for nature’s laws always obey your commands.

By the blessing of the Holy Spirit, you prepared my creation and my existence, not because man willed it or flesh desired it, but by your ineffable grace. The birth you prepared for me was such that it surpassed the laws of our nature. You sent me forth into the light by adopting me as your son and you enrolled me among the children of your holy and spotless Church.

You nursed me with the spiritual milk of your divine utterances. You kept me alive with the solid food of the body of Jesus Christ, your only-begotten Son and our God; you let me drink from the chalice of his life-giving blood, poured out to save the whole world.

You loved us, O Lord, and gave up your only-begotten Son for our redemption. And he undertook the task willingly and did not shrink from it. Indeed, he applied himself to it as though destined for sacrifice, like an innocent lamb. Although he was God, he became man, and in his human will, became obedient to you, God his Father, unto death, even death on a cross.

In this way you have humbled yourself, Christ my God, so that you might carry me, your stray sheep, on your shoulders. You let me graze in green pastures, refreshing me with the waters of orthodox teaching at the hands of your shepherds. You pastured these shepherds, and now they in turn tend your chosen and special flock. Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people. I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that. Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through which I have seriously transgressed. Purify my mind and heart. Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path. When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say. By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready. Stay with me always and keep me in your sight.

Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me. Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path. Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.

Staff Book Pick | The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians

Staff Book Pick | The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians

Recommended by Ivy Gabriella Tesfay, Ministry Intern

From the author, Frederica Mathewes-Green:
When I look back at the process of writing 
The Illumined Heart, I’m amazed all over again at how God directed it. I wrote the whole thing in a week, the week before Christmas, in fact, which is so typically congested with last-minute errands, unpredicatable weather, aches and sniffles. For Orthodox Christians, it’s also a week that we fast from meat and dairy, adding another ball to the juggling act. Yet somehow I started writing the book on Monday morning and completed it Sunday night, just fourteen minutes after the Christmas Eve service began. (I kept wondering where in the week I’d dawdled and lost that fourteen minutes.)
It’s no wonder that I look at 
The Illumined Heart as the one out of all of my books that felt the most God-directed. Mostly, he told me when to shut up. For a cup-runneth-over writer like me, starting a book is like moving into mid-pregnancy and putting on those stretch-front trousers for the first time; they’re like a license to eat. And knowing that I have room to write on and on, whatever comes to mind, makes for abundant, wandering prose. Yet The Illumined Heart is quiet, proportional, just-enough; it’s like a jewel. It’s no wonder that this is a personal favorite among my own books, and the one I must urge people to read. I’m pleased by the amount of good work it’s done so far, and hope that it will continue to do much more.

Staff Book Pick | The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death

Staff Book Pick | The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death

Recommended by Peter Mansour, Ministry Coordinator

By returning to the practice and methodology of the early Church, Fr John Behr, a renowned patristics scholar, invites readers to approach the mystery of Jesus Christ in the same way that the first disciples learned their theology. His vision of Christian theology, written in a systematic manner, offers a way out of the problems that have beset theology and scriptural study in recent centuries.

There’s a Saint for That: St. Ignatius of Antioch

There’s a Saint for That: St. Ignatius of Antioch

The Life of St. Ignatius of Antioch

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14

Holy tradition tells us that when Christ spoke these words, it was St. Ignatius of Antioch who was sitting on His lap. Otherwise known as Theophorus “God-Bearer”, St. Ignatius sought the kingdom of heaven as a disciple of the Apostles and later as a Bishop by ordination of St. Peter.
Most of what we know about St. Ignatius is in seven letters preserved by St. Polycarp. During his on-foot journey to Rome, he wrote to the churches and left for us a snapshot of early Christian life, practice, and faith. Of his written teachings, he emphasized the place of the Eucharist in our lives as the source of healing and true presence of Christ.
Dying a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius was killed in the Roman arena by beasts, depicted in icons as lions, under the rule of Emperor Trajan on December 20, 107. Before his repose, he boldly expressed: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” In the spirit of these words and of his martyrdom, many early Christians were encouraged to continue struggling in the pursuit of God.
The path of righteousness that St. Ignatius walked and on which he emboldened so many to join was one that required endurance through persecution. Knowing what obstacles they would have to face, he implored that they would pray “without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness” (1 Epistle to the Ephesians). We can draw inspiration from St. Ignatius’ extreme humility towards God and towards others.

Feast Day: December 20th

Adapted from St. Ignatius of Antioch | Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

 

How can St. Ignatius intercede for us?

As young adults and especially as college students, many of us can recall examples of times we’ve experienced unkindness for our faith. Perhaps it was someone who didn’t want to be friends after finding out we were Christian, or a mocking professor, or maybe some of us have felt the alienation that comes when we have to stand up for what we know to be true.
The first thing that we can take comfort in is knowing that we are not alone. Christ God was incarnate for our sake and was mocked, beaten, scourged, and rejected before His ultimate triumph over sin and death. For nearly two thousand years, the martyrs and Saints who have come before us have experienced all manner of persecution and oppression, but they knew that true freedom and peace can only come from the Creator of all. St. Ignatius knew this peace in the face of trial, and we can look to him in moments of adversity, that he’d lift our eyes towards heaven and plead with Christ that He would dwell in us as our Strength. Through his intercessions, may we boldly and humbly live out faith.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Matthew 16: 24-26

Learn His Troparion:

Tone 4
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

St. Ignatius Troparion - Tone 4

by Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to endure suffering for Christ’s sake? Consider how St. Ignatius approached his execution in Rome. How or with what posture of heart should we approach the persecutions we endure in our own lives?
  2. Look back at the quote from St. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. In modeling the love of Christ for those who crucified Him, St. Ignatius calls us to pray for those who commit evils against us. Is it easy or difficult to pray for those who’ve wronged us? Why? How might we begin to do so?

Pray to him.

Ikos 4
Hearing thy confession, the faithful people glorified God; but Trajan, gnashing his teeth, again demanded: “Why art thou called God-bearer?” And thou sayest: “For I bear my God in my heart.” Wherefore, we chant to thee:
Rejoice, faithful warrior of the King of heaven!
Rejoice, invincible champion of the faith!
Rejoice, good shepherd!
Rejoice, advocate for our souls!
Rejoice, for, enlightened by the divine Spirit, with pastoral boldness thou puteth the savagery of the tyrant to shame!
Rejoice, for, guiding the flock of Christ, thou illumineth many with the light of knowledge divine!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!

Kontakion 5
Considering all the beauties of the world to be as dung that thou might acquire Christ, O Ignatius, thou crieth: “Who shall separate me from the love of God? Tribulation is sweet to me; the bonds I bear for Him Whom I desire are pleasant; persecutions are dearer to me than my homeland, and pangs are more delightful to me than health of body!” And we, honoring thy glorious memory, cry out to God: Alleluia!

Ikos 5
Seeing thee to be an invincible confessor of the Faith of Christ, the ungodly Trajan condemned thee to death; but thou didst cry out, rejoicing: “For me it is more pleasant to die than to live! Christ, and to die for Him, is gain! Unto Him do I go; Him do I love; Him do I hope to receive!” Wherefore, O holy Ignatius, we bless thee:
Rejoice, thou whose desire it was to depart and be with Christ!
Rejoice, pure sacrifice to God!
Rejoice, imitator of the sufferings of Christ!
Rejoice, for thou wast crucified with Christ!
Rejoice, for thou didst shed thy blood for Christ!
Rejoice, for by thy blood thou adorneth thy hierarchal vesture!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!

Excerpt sourced from Akathist to Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer (holyascensionofchrist.org)

 

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St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

The theme for OCF this year is “Walking in the Light”. We will be doing just that today with St. Ignatius of Antioch. We will watch a short video explaining his life and read parts of his epistles that he wrote on the way to his death.

We encourage you to watch the whole video.

While reading his epistle to the Ephesians, focusing on chapters 3, 8, and 10

Questions for Discussion

  • In the video we hear how the writings of St. Ignatius are among the first writings just after the Apostles and were, historically, read alongside the New Testament. What do you find most important about the writings of the early church? What has been your experience with them in the past?
  • In another of St. Ignatius’ letters, he writes that we should not just call ourselves Christian, but rather BE Christian in reality. In chapter 3, “Exhortations To Unity”, St. Ignatius writes that we must “run in accordance with the will of God.” If you could make one change in your life tomorrow in light of this quote, what would it be?
  • Holy Tradition tells us that St. Ignatius sat on Christ’s lap when he was young and Christ said “you must be like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Later in his letters, the Saint tells his followers to not try and rescue him from persecution. He had accepted his fate and did so with eagerness and love. He maintained a childlike love for Christ up until his brutal death. Do you think he was scared? What is your key takeaway from St. Ignatius’ boldness here?
  • What are your reactions to Chapter 8? Discuss.
  • In chapter 10, “Exhortations To Prayer, Humility” St. Ignatius talks about the importance of how to deal with people who do us wrong. Does being a student and living in the college environment make it more or less difficult to have humility? In what ways can we practice humility in our everyday lives?

Life in Death in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch | Guided Discussion Guide

Life in Death in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch | Guided Discussion Guide

Introduction

This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius was the disciple of the disciples! His writings give us one of the earliest glimpses into the faith of the earliest Christians. St. Ignatius is known for his famous letters, sent to the communities he cared for, and written on the way to his martyrdom. As St. Ignatius shared with them to meet their needs, we can pull similar lessons from his writings which are just as relevant to us today in our walk as Orthodox Christians.

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: Living by Dying

The most notable thing about the letters of St. Ignatius is that he’s writing them on his way to be martyred. As St. Paul before him, St. Ignatius is writing in chains (Philippians 1:12-13). One would think that he’d be writing to ask for their help, pleading with them to come to his aid. We find the exact opposite. Rather, he “implores the Christians at Rome not to interfere with his own coming martyrdom:”

“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. The pains of birth are upon me. Suffer me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Do not give to the world one who desires to belong to God, nor deceive him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being. Suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God.”

Epistle to the Romans

“Pains of birth are upon me…hinder me not from living…do not wish me to die.” St. Ignatius has turned everything upside down (Acts 17:6)! He sees his coming death as his way to be born. He begs that they don’t put a stop to his martyrdom lest he die from being kept from death! St. Ignatius, seeing things with heavenly clarity, describes to us a reality where laying down our life in Christ is the source of living and not a loss at all (Philippians 1:21).

Discussion Questions

  • What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Ignatius? Discuss together.
  • The majority of us won’t have the opportunity to “die” in Christ in the same way as St. Ignatius, and yet, his clarity and wisdom seem to pour out beyond the bounds of martyrdom. How might we apply his lessons of life through death to our own lives?
  • St. Ignatius mentions that when he has met his martyrdom, he shall then become a human being. Each of us would typically consider ourselves human beings—what’s the difference here? How might his understanding of a human being differ from ours?

Part II: Living As Lights

St. Ignatius sees that his journey to perfection lies in his martyrdom but for his flock, he does not lay the same heavy burden. Rather, he spends his letters encouraging them to walk in the light of Christ. He exhorts them to live lives of holiness so that they might experience the power and beauty of God. He also reminds them that the way they live their lives matters because they must shine the light of Christ on everyone they meet. He takes extra care to remind them that what we profess with our lips must be lived out through our actions and that our actions are a witness (martyria) to all those they come in contact with.

“Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply.”

Letter to Polycarp

“Pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.”

Letter to the Ephesians

“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach if he who speaks also acts.”

Letter to the Ephesians

“Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.”

Letter to the Romans

Discussion Questions

  • St. Ignatius emphasizes the importance of prayer and setting an example through our actions. How do these practices relate to his “Life Through Death” theme?
  • If you could make one change tomorrow that would have a significant impact on your ability to “Live as a Light”, what would it be?
  • St. Ignatius highlights the importance of silence which is a common theme in many of the writings of the saints. St. Arsenius, the Egyptian desert father is famous for saying, “Many times have I repented of having spoken, but never have I repented of having remained silent.” Have you ever been in a situation where it would have been much wiser to stay silent than to speak?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meeting with this prayer of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

I am the wheat of God
and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts,
that I may be found the pure bread of God.

I long after the Lord,
the Son of the true God and Father, Jesus Christ.

Him I seek, who died for us and rose again.
I am eager to die for the sake of Christ.

My love has been crucified
and there is no fire in me that loves anything.

But there is living water springing up in me
and it says to me inwardly,
“Come to the Father”

Amen.