St. Basil the Great

Many of us spend some time in Christian bookstores, or in the spiritual or Christian section of large bookstores. There is always a great variety of current writing before us. Some of it is helpful, but much of it is not. Some is even harmful, despite the best intentions of its authors. It seems there are hundreds of “Christian” titles every year; it is a major market. Remember, these authors and publishers are out there to make money, ot just educate Christians. It is easy to fall into the trap of reading modern writers, and neglecting first the scritpures themselves, and the venerable fathers who sought to educate early Christians.

It is a modern fallacy that we have become smarter and wiser as the centuries have passed. This may be true in some fields, such as medicine, but it is not true in spirituality and Christian thought. Those closest to Christ in time, those who learned directly from the apostles and the disciples, were enlightened. The Holy Spirit worked mightily in them.  We see through a glass that has darkened considerably since the first five hundred years of the church.

Another modern fallacy is that anyone who “falls” for Christianity is a dupe, ignorant, unintelligent, or insane. People who believe this have not met the patristics. They have not read the work of geniuses such as St. Basil the Great, and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa. Their genius is humbling. Their logic is infallible. They knew not only what they had been taught by their Crhistian masters, but they knew the ancients on philosophy and science, as well. They knew literature of several cultures. They were brilliant minds, and better educated than any of us today.

St. basil, in a letter to Gregory, gave the following advice on the Christian life, and excoriated himself for lassitude: “We must strive after a quiet mind. As well might the eye ascertain an object put before it while it is wandering restless up and down and sideways, without fixing a steady gaze upon it, as a mind, distracted by a thousand  worldly cares, be able to apprehend the truth…Now one way of escaping all this is separation from the whole world, that is, not bodily spearation, but the severance of the soul’s sympathy with the body, and to live so without city, home, goods, society, possessions, means of life, business, engagements, human learning, that the heart may readily receive every impress of divine doctrine.”

He goes on to say that next, we must turn to scripture and prayer for our education and life, to put our trust entirely in God and not in the world and our own abilities.

What excellent, God-fearing advice! But how many of us are willing to take it, and not hold on to a little worldliness? I console myself with the thought that perhaps someday we will settle on a farm again; the Lord has denied this to us so far. But am I expecting what I should not hope for? Are we suited for some other ministry? We shall see; the Lord reveals His divine plan in time.

It is unlikely that thee will find St. Basil in the average bookstore; I encourage thee to look online or in a theological library if possible. Do not slight the fathers because they are not modern. Modernity is a philosphical error; trust in tradition and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The World and The Christian

I’m not sure I like using the word “Christian” here. Most of the time we take it to mean a church-member, or at least someone born into Western culture who is not professing anything else.  Those of us who have made the conscious profession of following Christ, though, know it means something more. Let’s look at St. Paul’s letter to the church at Colossus:

“If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things; for you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

And at St. John’s first epistle: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

These are lessons for the season of Pascha from the Book of Common Prayer, and a good time to be reminded of them, although the original framers of the BCP has no idea what “easter” would become. On Holy Saturday, the eve of Pascha, I was standing in line to buy coffee here at the hospital, and an older woman asked a cherub-faced little boy, “What happens tonight?” And his answer was not, “We remember that Jesus rose from the dead!” but: “The Easter bunny comes!” I almost cried with frustration. (Which, right now, is just where I am anyway, but this is a big frustration!) This child had no concept of the Great Vigil, of the Paschal celebration; the season was just that he received candy. It is heartbreaking.

The world has claimed our festivals and twisted them into horrid travesties of our joy. Someone is sure to say, “Well, didn’t the Christians do that to pagan festivals?” Yes, in a way, the Church claimed the calendar and made it Christian; certainly Christmas (Nativity) is the primary example of that. But Pascha was Pascha first; Israel remembered the Passover from slavery into freedom, and Christians took it on as the remembrance of our liberation from bondage to sin into the freedom of the love of God. Pagans and nonbelievers usurped our feast day and even some of our symbols such as the egg, which symbolizes the empty tomb. Orthodox churches still provide a red hardboiled egg at the end of the Vigil, and it is considered a symbol of faith to eat the egg, and hold up the empty shell. He is no longer here – why do you look for the living among the dead? (And if thee has kept an Orthodox Great Lent, thee knows that the egg is so delicious after weeks of denial, with no eggs, dairy or meat!)

The way of the world is the way of sin and death. The way of the world is desire, ambition, selfishness, greed and competition. It is not the way of Christ. There is no good compromise with the world, which is why we need reminding that we are to be separate, to keep our hearts, our eyes and our hands out of the world, and instead doing the work of God. Our mouths are to speak always of our Lord, and to refrain from silly chatter, gossip and criticism. (It is a good thing to get out of a habit of idle curses, even the mild “Oh my God!” and its silly variant, “Oh my gosh.” Think of the saying, “Do you kiss your mother with that foul mouth?”  and subsititute, “Does thee praise thy Lord with that same tongue?”) End thy conversations with “God bless thee!” and not worldly words such as “See you later!” or worse, “Good luck!” For thee does not know if thee will see anything or anyone later: the Lord may call thee out of this world before then. And what is this “luck,” but a pagan attribute instead of the will of God? Be Christian in all thy words and ways, that others will not be deceived as to the nature that thee has received in the Holy Spirit.

Thy person, thy home, thy work and thy words shall reflect Christ if thee chooses to follow Him closely and be worthy of the name “Christian.”

Tea or Taxes?

Although I live in Canada, I am an American, and I studied American history. I am just not enamoured of the political nonsense I see going on in the States right now. (Nor some of what is happening in Canada, either…) The Boston tEa Party was a protest against taxation without representation, a different matter from too much taxation with representation. But Americans don’t really have a heavy tax burden, compared to other countries. Maybe they should look around a bit and stop being so parochial. My biggest issue with the tax protesters is that they want to stop helping the poorest people, or people who need a hand while in a difficult spot.f They are not protesting the huge amount of money wasted on a foreign invasion that beenfitted no one but the companies that supply the Pentagon. This “war” is not justifiable, and certainly not just. How can we possibly fit this action into a gospel of peace, self-sacrifice and humility? There is no peace, as the prophet said; there is a huge amount of self-indulgence and humility is nowhere apparent in North American politics.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get into political issues, but we live in a political world, and Christians must stand up to injustice and evil. I take my stand beside Jesus Christ, I pray, and the Holy Spirit will guide Christians in their response through these last days.

Now is the time to stand up for what you believe. There may not be much time left, as in the days of Noah.

After Pascha

We missed all the Holy Week, Great Vigil and Pacha celebrations this year, for good reason. Illness is the only valid reason to miss any of this, I suppose. I certainkly did miss it, and then…I didn’t. We have been out of the whole parish cycle for a few years, but not the Lenten cycle that orthodox Christians follow, and Holy Week was a special time of discipline and prayer. And this year, we couldn’t do it, with Nicholas in the hospital, seriously ill. When Pascha arrived, and no church service to attend, I stepped in, borrowed the quiet room ont he floor, and celebrated a spoken eucharist. (Oddly, I had a communion set with me, stowed in my capacious carry-all with our few valuables.) Pascha passed, we were content, and went around saying to friends (and people who didn’t have a clue what we meant) “Krystos Voskres!” Christ is risen! A new paschal awareness crept into my heart. Christ is risen! Always! Forever! We don’t slay Him anew at the altar, we commemorate and celebrate and receive Him, always, forever. Every day is Pacha for Christians. We gave up the pagan fears that the sun would not return, that we would sink into eternal winter, that the gods had to be appeased one more time. No, our God is eternal. We are eternally forgiven. We are eternally loved. Christ is risen! Always and forever!

It’s not Just Patience…

It’s tolerance and charity, too. I am not an extrovert. I am so opposite to an extrovert that I would probably have a social circle of about three people, given my natural ultra-introvert tendencies. Living int he hospital is a great challenge for me. I am constantly annoyed and even a little frightened by what people do and say. People in the hospital environemnt will ask anything, tell anything, act in ways that they probably wouldn’t in the mall or airport. (But I’m not sure about that.) I have had to set some boundaries, most of which seems to involve leaving notes for people to please pick up after themselves, close the window when they leave the lounge, do up their dirty dishes in the hostel sink. This is pretty bold for me, since I usually put up with such behaviours or do the work myself. It takes a lot for me to step up and say, “That’s enough.”

I’ve had to say it to my husband as he recovers from this stroke. He comes up with outrageous ideas of what I’ve been doing, what is going on in the hospital, and my conclusion is that he has dreamed things and then thinks they are real. Well, he can’t spend the rest of his life doing that. I am refusing to accept that he will have a cognitive disability, and end up one of those people who can’t leave their house because they think everyone is against them, or that the town they live in is 1933 Chicago. I’ve called him on it, and he recognizes that he is not always right. It’s a big step.