Saturday, June 27, 2015

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Our Lord said, “The eye is the lamp of the body,” teaching that if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be filled with darkness. He further emphasized how great that darkness will be. The first thing to understand is that Jesus was not speaking of physical sight, but of spiritual sight, or what we might call one’s perception of life. One can have either a Christian perception, a Christian “lens” through which he views, interprets, and understands life rightly, or he can have a worldly perception, a darkened lens, which leads him to misunderstand and misinterpret all things in life, including even the Christian faith and himself as a human being. Much of this world’s narrative is driven by a darkened perspective affecting us all. It is a basic Christian teaching that we all initially come to Christ with a bad eye and full of darkness, needing purification that we might be divinely illumined to become children of the light, freed from delusion. Not all who enter the spiritual hospital find this healing quickly. This is often because the darkened perceptions and opinions we have formed through having bad eyes masquerade as “wisdom,” or “our deeply-held beliefs,” or even as merely “just the way things are.” In other words, many of us don’t even know that we are darkened in our thinking. We assume we have a good handle on things and imagine ourselves to be far more Christian in our ideas and practices than we may actually be. This is a serious problem. An extreme example can be seen in those churches that muddy every traditional Christian doctrine and moral teaching, that reject the need of repentance (“Be who you are!”), and that advocate every so-called “progressive” social issue under the banner of inclusiveness and love. The spirit of anti-christ is alive and well in such churches. In our own individual lives, other examples can be found. I’ll divide these into two basic types, the first being wrong opinions and the second being wrong formation. When it comes to opinions, we’ve all got them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing unless our opinions are just wrong and we are unwilling to change them. We can be so prideful when it comes to defending our own personal thoughts and opinions, and it is this pride that often leads into some very unchristian behavior. If we come to the Church for spiritual healing and illumination, we ought first to be willing to lay aside our own ideas and be taught by Christ. A wise man will learn to always mistrust himself and lean not on his own understanding, but on the wisdom of God. If we do hold strong opinions, why not keep them to ourselves rather than inflict them on others? How often do we read in the scriptures—if indeed we read the scriptures—that we should strive to be of one mind with one another, united with God in Christ? How often are we instructed to avoid quarreling and disputes, disagreements and arguments, to lay aside our own self-interests in order to embrace our unity in Christ and in the faith delivered once, for all? Where in the scriptures are we encouraged to be “free thinkers” or to go “against the tide” in the Church, or to “stand up for ourselves” in opposition to one another? The Christian spirit is one of humility and gentleness and submission to one another in Christ. We may hold to some very strong opinions about theology or politics or social issues or even that most volatile issue of all, how to raise our own families. And some of those opinions may be good, and others maybe not. In either case, I would caution us about forming opinions too quickly, too unwisely, or voicing them too loudly. Allow God time to heal your eye, so that your opinions might come from our Holy Tradition and a Christian spirit, and not from a darkened intellect, or from ego, or from the vain philosophies of this fallen world. Embrace humility, listen deeply, speak little, and gain much. Now it could be that I have already offended some who might be thinking, “Father wants us all to think like he does and be good little cookie-cutter Christians!” If that’s the case, you may have misunderstood my meaning. One thing I will add is that in the early stages of our Christian journey, we will all tend to think first in terms of our individualism and our so-called responsibility to ourselves, rather than the Body of Christ and our true responsibility to one another. To get from here to there is a process called right formation. We come to Christ rather badly formed. This is what our Lord referred to as the “darkness” within us. A bad eye leads to bad thoughts and opinions, which in turn leads to bad formation. As we act on the ideas that have little or nothing to do with Christ, we shape our souls in wrong ways, and quite likely the souls of those around us as well. To be properly spiritually formed in Christ should be the desire and pursuit of every person in the Church. However, this is not always the case as some Orthodox people seem to have no concept of spiritual formation. Somehow, and perhaps we know how, it is possible for people to go years in the Church and remain untouched by the experience. Like a marriage that never quite “takes” and the two remain two rather than becoming one, Orthodox Christians can be married to Christ but never be formed in His image, never be truly united to Him. We can remain just as worldly and clueless in our thoughts and actions as any person who doesn’t know the Lord. To paraphrase Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure of formation,” or rather, a wrong formation in accordance with the world, and not a right formation in accordance with Christ. How can spiritual formation fail? Most often because a person never fully engages the faith or lives their Orthodoxy intentionally. That might be because we just don’t pay attention, or it might be because of the little compromises we sometimes make with our faith. We might compromise our prayers, our tithe, the fasts, church attendance, our thought life, our moral actions, our lifestyle choices and so on. We are often so willing to settle for less than for more of God. We might never study our faith or seek to be informed by it. We may flee from the Cross in our lives, always seeking an easier way. Our little compromises can lead up to one big failure in our life, a failure that none of us would choose, if we took the time to think it through. Now of course we are all sinners and fail God in many ways. But the biggest failure of all would be to prevent the formation of Christ within us by negligence or compromise. Fortunately, the solution is easily available. It’s called repentance. Take seriously the instructions the Church gives as if they were the very words of life, falling from the lips of Jesus Himself. Gather them up and take them into your heart and allow them to change you. The daily laying aside of ourselves and a humble obedience to Christ is the medicine that will heal our eyes and fill our bodies with divine and everlasting light. +To the Glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.