Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
Part Twenty Three
The first stage: The Baptizing Christ.
The stage of purification and
The beginning of the process of spiritual renewal for man
4- New life and the spiritual Struggle (part 3)
B- The power of new life overcomes sin (continued):
It is Christ himself who struggles in us and with us after baptism to defeat the power of sin in us and give us true participation in his resurrection and victory. Therefore it is important for the Christian to fight the good fight and keep his eyes on Christ with trust and faith, always looking with all his heart to the Lord Jesus all the time and calling Him, getting used to call Him constantly, and to divert his attention away from the temptations of sin that fight him by looking to the Lord Jesus. When a person gets used to direct his heart to focus on Christ, Christ will be the One who defeats the power of sin. Also, when a person is being tempted with any sin, he should call the Lord Jesus with all his heart submitting himself to Him that He may take control of the struggle with him and in him. The secret of any victory is that the person looks quickly to Christ inside himself; at which time the power of sin vanishes, its actions are abolished, and Satan is defeated, because of Christ's presence in the heart. It is wrong for man to go into struggle with sin alone because this will result in his defeat. It is the turning of the eyes to Christ that will fortify the heart and mind with divine power, thus bringing victory to the person through Christ, the almighty and the always victorious over the power of Satan and sin, and the only true redeemer of man.
Notice that man usually cannot turn instantly to Christ at the time of trial unless he had a solid relationship with Christ, one of love and faith through prayer. Later, when tribulations come, it will be easy for him to rapidly turn to Christ whole heartedly calling Him and seeing Him on the cross, rising from the dead, overcoming sin and its power through the cross and resurrection. Therefore, it is very important in our spiritual struggle that we constantly stay close to Christ by praying and reading His words in the Gospel to obtain the intimate union of heart with Christ, which is the secret of victory.
C- Keeping steadfast in the new man:
The orthodox tradition presents to us four major ascetic ways to stay steadfast in the new life:
1- Guarding the heart: St. Hesychius of Jerusalem stresses on it and advises us saying, “if you want to achieve custody of heart and control of thoughts, stand quietly and calm your heart with a short prayer like “my Lord Jesus”, binding all your feelings to it, and if your mind goes astray return it again to Jesus' name, and so you will receive grace and great benefit by this prayer. It is the power of the name of the Lord Jesus that controls the heart and prevents it from going astray.
2- Chastity: Chastity was always an important issue in Orthodox Spirituality. It is well known that sexual activity in itself if directed towards the multiplication of the children of God and if controlled by God the “Logos”, our savior, is entirely good. True marriage, including its sexual life – in Christ - can be true perfection, and we'll show, later, how it should be an extension to the Passover grace. But, because of weakness of our human nature after the fall, it is difficult to actually reach that perfection in marriage in most cases. This led the church to look at the way of chastity (continence) as, practically, the safest way to perfection. Additionally, chastity that a person chooses for himself for the love of Christ and following His example, acquires a sacrificial excellence (as great sacrifice of oneself). For these reasons, the whole patristic and ecclesiastical tradition has proclaimed the superiority of celibacy over marriage. The church has rejected the opinion of those who considered celebacy and marriage are two ways of equal value and reduced it to a question of “vocations” or "gifts”. The duty of answering the personal call does not erase the objective scale of values of the church. When Jovinian, of whom Harnack said that he was a protestant before the appearance of Protestantism, taught, about the end of the fourth century, that celibacy and marriage are, in themselves, equally good and meritorious, the Church condemned and excommunicated him (decision of Pope Siricius, approved by St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, and also the by the Synods of Rome and Milan, c. 390 AD). This was the standpoint of the ancient Church, and remains the same standpoint of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches.
This conflicting view (which raises the questions of asceticism and monasticism) divides, probably even more effectively than other doctrinal differences, Orthodoxy from Protestantism and from most Anglicans. The Orthodox Church blesses marriage, just as Christ sanctified the wedding at Cana of Galilee, but she repeats the words of the Lord: “and there be eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:12) The Orthodox Church repeats after Paul: “ but even if you do marry, you have not sinned”, and again she says, “But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord... but he who does not give in marriage does better.” ( 1 Cor. 7:28,32,38) The Church has learned from the book of Revelations that the virgins are those " who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev. 14:4). Also, the apostle Paul advised the married, “Do not deprive one another except be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer." ( 1 Cor. 7:5)
3- Fasting: Another opinion of Jovinian condemned by the Church was that eating thankfully is as good as fasting. The Orthodox Church is very strict about matters of fasting. She remembers the words of the Lord Jesus: “However, this kind (of devil) does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21) and “but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew 9:15). On the other hand, the Church also remembers the warnings of Isaiah the prophet: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6,7).
Thus the Orthodox Church’s tradition presents fasting as one of the ways to stay steadfast in the new life.
4- Acts of mercy: The church does not separate the precept of fasting from the precept of alms-giving. Previously Hermas, in his book, “the shepherd” (in the second century) has already formulated this principle: “cut from your daily portion of food and give it to the widow, the orphan, and the poor, thus you will attain self mortification”.
St. John Chrysostom insists and confirms the great meaning of the acts of mercy. He directs his speech to those who adorn Christ’s table with golden vessels, while Christ Himself, in the person of His poor people, is dying from starvation, and says: "We ought to attend to one and to the other, but to the other (the poor) first. This temple (the poor) is greater than the other temple." (in Matt. hom. L." To those who say, ”I would whole-heartedly receive St. Paul in my house", he answers: "Behold the Lord of Paul can lodge in your house if you want.” (In Act. hom. XLV) And again he says: “This altar (the poor) is seen raised in every place in the streets, and all the time you can present your offering on it…” (In II Cor. hom. XX) (To be continued)
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