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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fast Disappearing?

As the Church moves into the heart of Great Lent the unusual quality of her witness becomes increasingly apparent. The Roman Catholic Church has largely abandoned fasting in ordinary parish life although it still features in stricter monastic observance and in some "specialised" lay societies. Independent evangelicals still fast with prayer but can hardly be said to consider Lent as a special time for this practice.

None of this should cause Orthodox to indulge in pharisaic pride. Fasting is a secret thing, a tryst between God and Man whereby we prioritise His jealous love for us in the totality of a surrendered life. If we step back and admire our zeal in keeping the commandments then we have already broken all of them by a single act of pride.

So is the Fast disappearing in Orthodoxy? Well, that must depend partly on the individual state of each soul upon which only God may judge. However, we must rightly ask whether or not fasting is not succumbing to a narrow minded legalism on the one hand and an extreme laxity on the other. The legalists would have us debate endlessly the difference between vegetable oil and olive oil; whether it is proper to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday and so on. Those sliding into non-observance are also legalists in that they still think of a "duty" to be somehow "argued around."

In order that the spirit of our actual fasting might match the ideals of the season we perhaps need to take stock again of the primary reason for fasting. Raising money for the poor, knowing what it feels like to be hungry and such are only secondary and derivative effects. The primary focus must be the redemption of whole personality, body and soul.

A measure of self discipline in my life enables my will to be strengthened and my passions to be rendered subject to the work of the Holy Spirit for salvation. Fasting is the key which opens up my God-given potentiality to be His servant without any other competing claim. Fasting purifies my soul and my body so that my entire personality becomes radiant with the presence of the Living Christ. This is my entrance into the joyous victory of Pascha which is my liberation from the tyranny of death, evil and sin. This is why we fast.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Christ the True Light

The Meeting of Our Lord (Candlemass - 2 February)

Luke 2
29 “ Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; 30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is technically a feast of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church corresponding to the day on which St. Mary, according to Jewish law, attended a ceremony of purification 40 days after giving birth, making our celebration of course on 2nd February. It was then normal for the child to be presented to God in the Temple, which here happened to our Lord. The blessed Simeon and prophetess Anna rejoiced to see the long awaited Messiah whom they immediately recognised in the Christ Child. It is in the song of praise of St. Simeon that we hear that Christ is a light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people, Israel. It is on this feast, therefore, that we bless candles, a tradition common to both the Christ east and the Christian west, signifying that Christ is the Light of the World and that his followers are called to receive and reflect this Light in their own lives.

I have assembled 12 key texts from the Scriptures to show just how important the belief in God as light is in the Holy Scriptures:-

Genesis 1:3
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 36:9
For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.

Isaiah 9:2
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.

Isaiah 60:1
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.

Matthew 4:16
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

Matthew 17:1
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

John 1:4
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it ….9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

John 8:12
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

2 Corinthians 4:6
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:5
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

Revelation 21:23
The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

It is fitting therefore that we bless our candles this night for in lighting them we affirm our faith in God as OUR Light and that by His Light we shall be guided, illumined, transfigured.

A consideration of the properties of natural light may help us to appreciate why the Uncreated, who is God, chose to reveal Himself in a way analogous to the properties of created light. In making this comparison though we would do well to remember that it is only an approximation we are dealing with as the Uncreated Light of the Trinity is entirely different to any created light although, after St. Gregory Palamas, we insist on the visibility of both.

Created light has a speed no one may exceed. So spoke Einstein and this law has been proved exhaustively countless times since his day. In like manner God may not in any way be exceeded. His Light, being Himself in his energies is far more glorious and excellent than any created light.

Created light comes in little packets of energy or quanta. These have the extraordinary property of being both waves, that is electromagnetic radiation, and particles or photons. Moreover, being pure energy these quantum packets are without mass. In like manner God is both One and Trinity. The Fathers sometimes described God analogously in terms of the sun together with its heat and light. Science tells us that in the physical world tells us that things can be more than one things at once … so why do Unitarians have so many problems with the Trinity and other heresies with person of Christ? Be that as it may even the mass-less quality of the photon can instruct us. God is without heaviness; simple in Himself and all pervading … just like light. So, the Uncreated has certain affinities in essence and character with the created, in this case with the glorious light!

If this were the whole story of God as Light we might marvel but there would be no implication for our own being. As it is our faith takes us much further and deeper than this. Whether it is in the famous conversation between Nicholas Motovilov and St. Seraphim of Sarov when the saint shone like us the sun amidst the falling snow or in the famous encounter between the two desert fathers, Abba Joseph and Abba Lot, when we read that believers may also become “all flame,” in God, it becomes clear that we are called to shine with the Light of Christ, a lamp that must be placed on the stand and not be hidden.

So at this feast of Candlemass when we receive Christ the True Light let us take care to cleanse the lamp of our souls and bodies that they might become transparent to the burning Light of Christ within, for in this we shall be saved when we become, All-Light.

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