Archive for January, 2011

Money is power?

Money is power? The Rich Man and Lazarus

by William J. Gall

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

(The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1971, St. Luke 12:15)

This saying of our Lord Jesus Christ stands as a challenge to the dream, the goal,  of  “striking it rich, ” as the saying goes in America, where it is asserted that any person can, by hard work and ingenuity, become rich. But often that ingenuity is being manifested simply as shrewdness, as can be seen in the U.S. financial industry, where many of the so-called best and brightest have concocted complex financial instruments that have allowed a few to amass enormous profits at the expense of people who misplaced their trust in them. After being bailed out by the government, these same predators have directed some of their substantial assets to flood the nation with campaign literature to elect politicians who would order the common life of our nation to their benefit, to lighten their tax load and to make toothless the new regulations that would prohibit these kind of financial devices, which have led to the impoverishment of many people and damaged the economic well-being of the nation. And their efforts bore fruit. Money is power; or so it would seem.

Priestmonk Christodoulos, in his book Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Holy Mountain, 1998) devotes a chapter to the Elder’s teachings on Divine Justice (pp. 61-67). On the basis of Christ’s example in the Gospels and His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, Elder Paisios warns against reliance on human laws and justice, on insistence on one’s rights, in favor of trust in Divine justice and charity, by which one suffering under injustice patiently waits and confidently hopes in the sure vindication of God, holding forth hope also for the repentance of the one who is defrauding or oppressing him, in obedience to the Lord’s command to love one’s enemies. Priestmonk Christodoulos writes,

Justice is like a cork; no matter how hard we press it to the bottom of the sea, it will always come back to the surface. Therefore, we should endure with pleasure any kind of injustice done to us for the sake of Christ. He [Elder Paisios] urged us to always seek God’s justice and “all these things will be yours as well” (St. Matthew 6:33)

Saint John Chrysostom explored these matters in his sermons on Lazarus and the Rich Man. In his first sermon, St. John vividly describes Lazarus’ plight in great detail, as well as the rich man’s hardness of heart, which St. John says added to Lazarus’ sufferings, as he saw the rich man’s hardheartedness accompanied by a pleasant, easy life, which was incongruent with justice. St. John adds that Lazarus, living before the resurrection of Christ, had no hope of anything beyond the utter misery he was experiencing in this life. St. John sees and describes great virtue in Lazarus: “he strengthened himself with wisdom like dew continually refreshing a person lying in a furnace.” (St. John Chrysostom: On Wealth and Poverty, tr. Catherine Roth, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1984, 32.) As to the rich man, and greedy persons in general, St. John speaks at length of the agonies their conscience afflicts on them in this life. He exhorts his listeners to count those who amass wealth unjustly not as fortunate, but as miserable because of what awaits them: the judgment of God.

In his second sermon St. John declares,

The rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions, but the one who needs few possessions; and the poor man is not the one who has no possessions but the one who has many desires.” (On Wealth and Poverty, 40)

In this sermon he describes the plight of the rich man in Hades, and advocates the remembrance of death, quoting Proverbs 24:27, “Prepare your work for your departure, and get everything ready for the road.” Some might understand this proverb to refer to the pre-planning of funeral arrangements, including, perhaps, a sturdy, water resistant casket. How far this would be from St. John Chrysostom’s meaning! Saint John compares the rich to actors. An actor may play a king, but in everyday life is a rope-maker. The lavish furnishings and clothes of the rich are illusory, like the masks of actors; they are fleeting, unreal. Riches only truly become one’s own when they are distributed to the poor- without scrutinizing the poor person’s worthiness, St. John adds. Then they become permanent- heavenly riches.

St. John, in his third sermon, explains the meaning of Abraham words to the rich man, “You have received the good things due to you.” One’s eternal destiny hinges on one’s response, alternately, to the tribulations and the blessings one receives in this present life, such that a life of grinding poverty, with very limited opportunities, and a life of abundance with great possibilities, will be weighed differently on Judgment Day; suffering and hardship will mitigate, to a degree proportionate to its intensity, one’s sins, and one’s blessings and personal gifts in this life, in their lesser or greater proportion, will be counted as part of one’s reward for good deeds, as well as increasing the strictness of God’s judgment.  St. John insists, based on numerous scriptures, that no one will enjoy a life of ease both in this life and the next. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, and Jeremiah are brought forward as witness to this. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (St. Matthew 7:14) And each will be judged on the basis of his own deeds; that one’s father was a martyr will not help, unless his example is followed.

Even the rich man’s plea for Lazarus to visit his brothers to spur their repentance proved futile, Saint John says, in his fourth sermon on Lazarus and the rich man, for visitations from the departed could be discounted in many ways; for one, the devil could send false visions after this pattern, and a real visit could be erroneously discounted as from the evil one.  Instead, St. John commends the authority of the Scriptures and the persistent testimony of the conscience, recounting the confession of Joseph’s brothers in Egypt, which occurred many years after their mistreatment of him- toward self-condemnation and tears, confession and complete repentance, fasting and self-control, almsgiving and charity, so that “we may become able to put away our sins in this life and to depart to the next life with full confidence.” (On Wealth and Poverty, 96)

A period of time after these first four sermons, St. John powerfully reiterates his central themes concerning Lazarus and the rich man. He speaks hypothetically of a man who “enjoys honor and authority,” (On Wealth and Poverty, 102) “who strips  orphans of their property and oppresses widows,” living a pleasant and prosperous life, as most unfortunate, as one for whom sorrow must be felt, because of the fearful judgment that awaits him. Again he says,

The present world is a theater, the conditions of men are roles: wealth and poverty, ruler and ruled, and so forth. (On Wealth and Poverty, 109)

Office, authority, and power, St. John Chrysostom says, all mean nothing- only one’s works count. St. John declares,

. . . – give me your deeds … if you are a slave but nobler that a free person, if you are a woman, but braver than a man. When all the masks are removed, then the truly rich and the truly poor are revealed. (On Wealth and Poverty, 110)

There is also a final sermon in this book comparing the wide and the narrow ways of which Christ spoke, with the rich man and Lazarus exemplifying the opposite paths. St. John illustrates how the wide, easy way becomes, at its end, narrow and burdensome, and how, conversely, the narrow, hard way opens up, finally, into a broad and bountiful place. Conventional expectations which seem reasonable are upended in God’s economy.

In all these homilies St. John Chrysostom shows how Divine justice will upend the failures of human justice. This truth, however, is not to lead us to a passive acceptance of the injustices we see inflicted on others. As Lemuel, King of Massa, says, in Proverbs 31:8-9, (The Holy Bible, RSV)

Open your mouth for the dumb [or, mute], for the rights of all who are left desolate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy.

What we may endure ourselves, trusting in Divine justice, becomes a sin of omission when we see it done to our neighbor, for whom we must do what we can. And, in light of Divine justice, we can do this with confidence, trusting the results to God, as did the prophet Jeremiah in Israel in a time of persistent, stubborn unfaithfulness and widespread injustice.

We can do this with the calm assurance of the prophet Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree do not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

He makes my feet like hinds feet,

He makes me tread upon my high places.

(The Holy Bible, RSV, Habakkuk 3:17-19)

These prophets spoke out against injustice; Jeremiah especially is seen to have struggled long and hard to communicate the word of the Lord first to the king and princes of Judah and then to the people left in the land after the deportation to Babylon, to no avail. They refused to listen to him, and, for a time, he is thrown down into a deep, miry pit.  According to St. Nikolai Velimirovic’, he was “stoned to death by his countrymen.”  (The Prologue of Ohrid, Saint Nikolai, Velimirovic’, Serbian Archdiocese of Western America, 2002, P. 446) But his prophesies came to pass, and he is forever venerated in the Church and the Kingdom of God.  The truth of the Lord endures forever.

Just as there is Divine justice, there is a Divine economy; we are promised that just as the sparrows are fed and the lillies clothed, we will certainly be cared for; the Kingdom is given to those who receive it as the little children do. In this Kingdom, authority and power are given for service; the one who would be greatest must be the servant of all.  There is a reckoning for those who exercise their wealth, authority, and power in ways contrary to these permanent realities testified to by Elder Paisios, St. John Chrysostom, the prophets and our Lord Himself.

May the Lord grant us repentance for misused gifts.

LITERATURE CITED

Ageloglou, Christodoulos. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Mount Athos: Holy Mountain, 1998.

Roth, Catherine P., Trans. St. John Chrysostom: On Wealth and Poverty.Crestwood, New York:  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984.

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1971.

Velimirovic’, St. Nikolai. The Prologue of Ohrid: Lives of Saints, Hymns, Reflections and Homilies for Every Day of the Year, Volume 1: January to June. Serbian Archdiocese of Western America, 2002.

___________

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. (St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter one)
http://www.biblegateway.com/
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A Monastic reflects on having Alzheimer’s

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has a discussion list on which the following was recently shared. Since it relates to what I wrote about how most of us will experience disability at the end of our lives in this world I decided to share it, omitting the names aside from the first initial.

It is a piece of priceless sanctified thinking. Think about it- would you rather die suddenly without reflection concerning your life and stance toward God or experience a disability which gives you time to reflect, especially on how fleeting the “treasures” of our present life are (which include our own human abilities given to us by God)?

Will we say with Job, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord?” Or will we, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “rage against the dying of the light?” (from the poem, Do Not God Gentle Into That Good Night)? Fr. A. shows the way to the never-ending sunrise:

This is a copy of a message I sent to good friends here who were
inquiring about the status of my Alzheimer’s Disease and were
wondering if it is even even appropriate to ask. After I wrote it I
though I would share it with you and a few others, and you may
share it with anyone you think might also be interested. Here is the message, below:

It’s quite all right for you to ask. I am very open about my illness, as is Gerondissa, and we do not hide anything or keep any secrets. And I have very little false pride about my limitations any more–I’ve already been through “that phase” and have been able to embrace my disease in the shadow of the Cross. More than that, I have begun the slow process of climbing up onto the Cross with our Lord, and sharing now
in His Passion. This is incredibly sanctifying; I don’t know how else to describe it. So although I don’t talk much about my illness, it’s not out of secrecy or pride or sensitivity, but only because I am keeping the Lord on the cross as close to my heart as I can. And He will get me through. It has frankly become as much a spiritual experience as a mental one.

So, I want to take this opportunity to share with you and Tim, since we haven’t really talked about it much. I have discussed it on several occasions with Dennis and Justina, and they are wonderfully and appropriately sympathetic and helpful. They are more than relatives; they are good friends. I will talk more about it with my other siblings when we have a family reunion this summer. My children are completely on the same page with me already, but for them it is too painful to talk about much.

This illness is the oddest feeling of being somehow detached and experiencing a slow metamorphosis from being one person into another; not dramatic, but disconnected, and yet still able to pray, read, do email, recognize others (although my short term memory and my malapropisms have gotten worse over the last week). But at the same time it’s oddly not depressing. (I went through the depressingstage last year.) In fact, I woke up this morning with Finn having crawled up and curled into my left arm, and at the same time I had the most intense longing for heaven, which made me very happy.

The neurologist told me some time ago that there is a small
percentage of AD victims who in some way consciously “know,” all the way through, what is happening to them, and he thinks I am one of them. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or not, but I do think it’s a blessing that I can share with others the various stages of this illness as long as possible. That sharing is helpful to me, and perhaps for others if they see that there is a spiritual way to “do” something that is otherwise so awful.

As you and Tim know, Alzheimer’s is a long and slow process, for which reason it’s called “the long goodbye.” But I read Patty Davis’ fine book about her father, President Reagan, “The Long Goodbye,” and she said that he remained cheerful, happy and polite as a three year old, right to the end. And I also know about the Alzheimer’s of some great and holy Elders of our time, who were able to serve Liturgy and say the Jesus Prayer right to the end, even when they nolonger recognized anyone else. So Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be grueling and ugly, the way it is so often portrayed. I think that the perceived “terribleness” of this disease is at least in part a reflection
of our incredibility morally and spiritually bankrupt culture.

With drugs and medical help, and very good care from Mother
T., I have had three years of relatively slow deterioration,
and I think that “slowness” will continue yet for some years. Right now is a different phase, though. I am very blessed to be in monastic life and here with Mother and the Fathers and Brothers just down the road, who also stay in contact and are very affectionately supportive. I feel safe and well cared for. There are many in my condition who cannot say that. Mother is a good friend, caretaker, intellectual and spiritual companion, but you and Tim will have to help her to harden her heart as time goes on and my symptoms become worse. I have
already spoken to her about this, too. She is very tender-hearted and quietly suffers over my illness, although she’s no drama-queen about it, as you can well believe. That’s not her style. She only quietly says, “I don’t like it,” and that, coming from her, actually says a great deal.

From a purely spiritual standpoint I want to share with you the insight I believe God gave me from the time of my diagnosis. My greatest and overriding sin — indeed, even vice — has always been pride. Pride of mind, of “knowing better” and judging others inappropriately, sometimes thinking of them as being less than I am. This is a most grievous sin, and one that many people don’t even recognize in themselves, but it is the one sin that will, above all, consign us to hell if we don’t overcome it! It was the sin of Satan, the sin of Adam and Eve.

I understand fully how I got this way. I have throughout my life beeninordinately proud of my mind, my intellect, my ability to thinkclearly about difficult and complicated things, to speak and write well, understand, process, and explain difficult things, etc. Growing up, I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t attractive to the ladies, I couldn’t dance, I was an intellectual bookworm and loner, I had no other skill than my brain, and I used it and developed it as far as I possibly could, although actually I wasn’t particularly academically brilliant, as all of
that just seemed like some kind of superficial “game” to me. But that was my path in life. And although I have put these gifts to the service of Christ and the Church, as best I could, the pride has still been there.

Now the Lord has offered me a chance to mortify and humble down that pride, by accepting without complaint the slow crumbling of my mind. And I do accept this, with my whole heart, even if with the occasional tear, as a gift from Him for my salvation. So it sometimes “feels” as though this dying of various parts of my mind is also a dying of self, a dying of ego, a dying to pride. And isn’t that the purpose of spiritual life, after all, anyway? The Lord looked down and saw that I wasn’t going to do it any other way, and so, because He loves me very much (unworthy as I am) and wants me to be with Himforever, He offered me this incredible opportunity to die to self. I see
this as a great, if sometimes painful, blessing!

Well, these are my few thoughts about it. Never hesitate to ask mehow I’m doing. I will tell you honestly. But never feel sorry for me,or pity, as I do not for myself, but rather rejoice for me that I am on a sure path to the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe this with all my heart.

– Fr. A

St. Giles †710

Another Saint who has received a designation as a patron saint of persons with disability is St. Giles.

Now this comes from a Roman Catholic list, but St. Giles, it notes, was born in Athens, Greece. He died in France. That would make him both and Eastern and Western Saint!

Born wealthy, when his parents died St. Giles gave his inheritance away and went to live in a cave in France. He became known as a miracle-worker, and many would come to him for help, including many persons with disability, hoping for alms from the pilgrims. One frequent visitor was the French King, who built a monastery nearby; St. Giles became the abbot.

From the account here’s a poignant detail:

On their passage to Tyburn for execution, convicts were allowed to stop at Saint Giles’ Hospital where they were presented with a bowl of ale called Saint Giles’ Bowl, “thereof to drink at their pleasure, as their last refreshing in this life.”

St. Giles, pray for us to the Lord, for He Is good and loves mankind, and you are the speedy helper and intercessor of our souls.

See St. Giles, Abbot 

 Source: http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-giles/

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Giles 

Picture from Cacina.wordpress.com 

Saint Gerald of Aurillac †909

 In comparison to the Orthodox Church, in the Roman Catholic Church there is more focus on asking certain specified Saints for prayers concerning various, specific needs (for instance, the needs of persons with disability). This is not emphasized as much in the Orthodox Church, though one can find, online, mention of this in Orthodox Christian websites here and there.
Now since the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church were in communion before the schism, Orthodox Christians may choose to ask the intercessions of pre-Schism Western Saints.
Some of the Saints which the Roman Catholic Church has designated as special intercessors for persons with disability lived before the Schism, and are therefore especially worthy of consideration as intercessors for Orthodox Christian persons with disability, as well as for their families and friends who relate to them.

(Most post-schism Western Saints would also  be worthy of consideration. In that we are separated by this tragic schism, though, it would be more fitting to concentrate on the pre-schism Saints who have been designated as intercessors for persons with disability. )

One such Saint is Saint Gerald of Aurillac. Saint Gerald was frequently ill as a child, and later in life he became blind. He was a nobleman and also a layman, as his bishop recommended. He practiced prayer, chastity, and almsgiving. As a nobleman, he had the reputation of being unusally conciliatory and peaceful, as well as merciful to adversaries and criminals. He also spearheaded the establishment of a monastery.

St. Gerald of Aurillac, pray for us.

Here are some websites on St. Gerald of Aurillac:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_of_Aurillac – lots of references to other sources as well as a brief account of his life.

http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-gerald-of-aurillac/ – a sparce record; at the bottom, though, are the specific personal areas for which he is an intercessory patron saint.

http://www.vlib.us/medieval/lectures/gerald.html – a critical, academic account.

http://www.diocesephoenix.org/disability/Disabilities.html – source of the icon. Interestingly, it is the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Office for the Evangelization with persons with disabilities.

Blessed Matrona, pray for us!

Blessed Matrona

Blind, paralyzed … a prophetess and healer. Blessed Matrona pray for us!

The anonymous blogger refers to The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints concerning her. Excerpts:

blind from birth, her eyes lacking pupils, she bore this infirmity with humility and patience, and God, in his turn, made her an elect vessel of grace. At the moment of her baptism, the priest saw a light cloud above the child, which shed forth a sweet fragrance as a sign of divine favor. From the age of six or seven, she exhibited an extraordinary gift of insight, discerning sicknesses of soul and body in the many people who visited her, revealing to them their secret sins and their problems, and healing them through prayer and wise counsel. . . . .

When she reached the age of seventeen, she was seized with paralysis and was unable to walk from then on. Knowing that this was God’s will, she never bemoaned her state but thanked the Lord. . . . .

One day when some visitors commiserated with her about her disablement, she replied: “A day came on which God opened my eyes, and I saw the light of the sun, the stars and all that exists in the world: the rivers, the forests, the sea and the whole of creation.” . . . .

Saint Matrona led the ascetic life on her bed of pain. She fasted constantly, slept little, her head resting on her chest, and her forehead was dented by the innumerable signs of the Cross that she made. Not only the Muscovites but also people from afar, of all ages and conditions, thronged around her to ask her advice and her prayers. In this way she truly became the support of the afflicted people, especially during the Second World War.

Before falling asleep in peace on 2 May/19 April 1952, she cried out: “Come close, all of you, and tell me of your troubles as though I were alive! I’ll see you, I’ll hear you, and I’ll come to your aid.” Miracles were multiplied at her tomb . . . .

For her story: http://ishmaelite.blogspot.com/2009/05/blessed-matrona-of-moscow.html

Image from http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/05/st-matrona-of-moscow.html

Scriptures that impelled me into the Orthodox Church (5): Foundations for decisive biblical interpretation

Foundations for decisive biblical interpretation

The revised version can be found at the following online site:

 (5a) Foundations for decisive biblical interpretation http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/5a-foundations-for-decisive-biblical-interpretation/ 

(5b) Foundations for decisive biblical interpretation http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/5b-foundations-for-decisive-biblical-interpretation/ 

(5c) Foundations for decisive biblical interpretation http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/5c-foundations-for-decisive-biblical-interpretation/ 

“The Mind, the Heart, & Mystery” http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/the-mind-the-heart-mystery/ 

Scriptures that impelled me into the Orthodox Church (4)

Salvation as Communion: as His body, in His Body and Blood

The revised version can be found at the following online site:

(4) Salvation as Communion: as His body, in His body and  blood http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/4-salvation-as-communion-as-his-body-in-his-body-and-blood/

“Orthodoxy is nothing less than a relationship with God.” http://scripturallyorthodox.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/orthodoxy-is-nothing-less-than-a-relationship-with-god/ 


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