St Nicholas MA II

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Meditations

st nicholas orthodox church
126 morris street southbridge, ma 01550
508 764-6226


CHRISTIAN HOLINESS IS LOVE

"Christian holiness is love; lack of love is lack of holiness. The nature of love is unfathomable, because it is divine; but we do know one thing, if there is pride there is no love. Love is a humble disregard for oneself, a giving up of oneself for others, for God, and for God's children.
"Sin, on the other hand is "remembering oneself" and forgetting others. It is self-satisfaction, sometimes coarsely sensual, sometimes spiritually refined. Therefore all sins are, in a greater or lesser degree, a renunciation of love, a greater or lesser pride and conceit"
(Sergei Fudel, Light in the Darkness, pp. 64-65)

I am always amazed when I look at anger in myself; it is almost always the result of some kind of struggle for power—whether it is being angry at another driver for “cutting me off” or at another person for “being defiant”. Both emerge from a terrible pride of place—an assumption of superiority and precedence, whether of position or authority. Anger almost always has its roots in pride.
Of course, I am referring to the anger that emerges out of one’s ego. There is such a thing as holy, or, righteous anger which exists on behalf of someone wronged, but that is a very dangerous place to go. We often pretend that our anger at someone or some situation is the result of a wrong being done that needs being fixed when in  reality we are only asserting ourselves (“remembering oneself”, as Sergei Fudel puts it).
Whenever there is a struggle for power we can be sure that evil is present, the more so when it is portrayed as a struggle for righteousness. Power struggles and the anger that accompanies them are always based in fear. We are afraid of what will become of us if we back off and let go. We fear that we will be “walked on” and suffer disrespect from our enemies (though, out of pretence, we may not be honest enough to refer to our antagonists as enemies).
True righteousness, grounded in true love, is never concerned with power, per se, and it is never concerned with “self”. True righteousness, grounded in love, is fearless and, therefore, it is selfless. To be “angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26) is to remember that we “belong to one another” (Ephesians 4:25) and that without one another we are empty.
Power struggles exist in the world because of the malice and pride of the evil one reflected in ourselves. Power struggles in the Church are never “of the Church” and never “of God”; they are always satanic and everyone who participates in them is participating in the devil—not Christ. This is true on the parish level and on the grander level of the dioceses and national churches. We must remember that such things are never “of the Church” even though they may take place within the “Church enclosure” (again, a very clear image from the writings of Fudel). Insofar as we partake of them, we abandon communion with Christ; insofar as we repent of them and reconcile with one another, we partake of Christ and are restored to love. It really is that simple.

THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

An acquaintance of mine, a Protestant woman, who was well disposed towards Orthodoxy once told me that she had no problem at all with Orthodox theology except in two areas--the veneration of the saints and the kissing of icons. She said that no matter how hard she tried to understand it, it still looked idolatrous to her.

I responded by asking her what she felt when she looked at a picture of her (long deceased) parents.

She asked me, in turn, whether I had misunderstood what she had said. I said, "No, I heard you just fine, but in order to really answer your question I need to know what you feel when you look at a picture of your parents--or for that matter your grandchildren."

"Well, love, I suppose--but what has that got to do with saints and icons?"

"When you look at those pictures do you find yourself thinking about the paper and ink?"

"No, of course not! But what are you trying to say?"

"When you look at those pictures and feel such strong emotions toward the people represented in them it isn't because they are printed on Kodak paper or were taken with a digital camera or whatever. The medium that was used to print them is the last thing in your mind. It is what they re-present that matters. It is the reality behind them that draws your attention and inspires those feelings of love. Well.... that is exactly what icons do for us Orthodox. They remind us of people we love, members of our family who have gone before us but who are still very much with here with us."

"I never thought about it like that before.... That's quite interesting. But still, you pray to those people in your icons!"

"No. We ask them to pray for us. There is a big difference between praying to someone and asking their prayers. We Orthodox pray to God alone, but we freely ask for the prayers of the Mother of God and all the other saints."

"That's not scriptural. You can't expect the dead to hear you....why it's almost pagan!"

"I think Jesus put an end to that when he spoke of in St. Mark's Gospel where He said that God is the God of the living, not the dead."

"But wasn't He speaking of the Resurrection?"

"Yes, but He was also speaking of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--who had not yet risen from the dead. The point is that the dead are alive in the Lord. And I think that it is safe to say that the veil between this world and the next is much thinner than we sometimes think. At any rate, our relationship with the saints and our kissing of their images in icons is a family relationship--a communion between those of us here on earth and those who have gone ahead of us. The saints we venerate are great examples of Christian virtue and faith, but they were--and are--human just like us. We ask for their prayers in the same way that we ask for prayers from one another in this world and we love them in the same way that we love one another here. It is all very real to us. Those icons are not idols--they represent real people--and the God who became a human being for our salvation."

"Well, I'm not convinced...but it certainly puts things in a different light to think of it that way."

"That great cloud of witnesses that St. Paul writes about in his letter to the Hebrews really are all around us--those are the very words of scripture. So, when we paint them on the walls of our churches and put them on our iconostases and put them up in our homes--all we are doing is confirming what the scripture itself teaches."

"Maybe I'm half convinced--but it’s hard to forget a lifetime of being taught that icons and statues are idolatrous."

"Just look at those pictures of your parents and grandkids when you get home....you'll understand."


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