The clay and the potter

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every one who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as he is pure.”

1 John 3:1-3

My soul is on fire as if it has been lit by ten thousand candles, and yet I feel a deep calm, an innermost peace, at the same time as this fire. This divine fire which has inflamed my soul is the radiant joy and awe I feel at God’s immediate and immanent presence, which is “everywhere present and fill[s] all things”!

Image

I am in love with every part of God’s creation, all that is on this earth and in the heavens, but most especially, I am struck by the beauty I see in every face, in every person’s countenance. Old and creased with cares, young and carefree, wrinkled from the accumulation of a life’s work, or soft and smooth in youth – every person I see is beautiful, because each person points to the Creator.

Image

Whenever I think on the reality that every single person I will see or meet in my life is a child of God, formed by Him before birth in His image (Psalm 138 LXX), I am almost overwhelmed with awe. Every person, at every stage of his or her life, is a precious vessel of the Holy Spirit, the divine Love, the immanent and active grace of our Lord present in all His creation.

Every person is sacred, and the grace of Him who made us all cannot ever be fully absent from anyone. It is always there; the seed of the divine Image remains imprinted upon each soul, no matter what a person does to deny, shatter, or flee from that grace. For we are as clay formed by a master potter; just like clay vessels which travel to the corners of the earth away from the hands of him who formed them, even if we end up far away from Him who shaped us, we cannot escape the reality of our existence. Impressed upon our souls, our very being, is the reality that we came from, and were generated by, the divine Love of God.

The Scriptures are filled with beautiful verses describing God and man in the language of a potter and his clay. Within Genesis 1:26-28, we read:

“. . .So God created [in Hebrew, the word used here is bara] man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.”.

God created man ex nihilo, but the word bara also signifies that He molded and fashioned man as would a potter out of clay. Bara is a word which occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures only in reference to the creative activity of God. It implies that something new has been brought into existence by divine command.

Further, in Genesis 2:1-7, we read that 

“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed [In Hebrew, the word used here is yatsar] man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [רוח, ruach, or spirit] of life; and man became a living being. . .”.

In Hebrew, “dust” and “clay” are often used interchangeably to refer to soil or earth from the ground. Yatsar, translated in this version as “formed”, literally means to mold as a potter molds clay. The use of yatsar tells us how God formed and sculpted the first of mankind, Adam (אָדָם, whose very name means ‘man’ in Hebrew) and Eve ( חַוָּה, whose name means “living one” or “source of life”). God created man as the summit of His work, the highest of all of His artistic creation, after His own image.

In Jeremiah 18:1-7, we read in the Prophet Jeremiah’s revelation from God a wording very similar to that used in Genesis: “Then the Word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.””

Most beautifully, in Isaiah 64:8, we read:

“Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father;
    we are the clay, and thou art our potter;
    we are all the work of thy hand. . .”

Knowing this by the sweetest and most touching grace of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which imprints Himself upon our souls, we are transformed “by the renewal of [our] mind”, as St Paul writes in Romans 12:2. (Here, “mind”, a latinism, is a very misleading translation of the original Greek word νοός, nous, which is more accurately understood as the eye of the soul or mind of the heart; that spiritual consciousness which makes us aware of God’s immanent presence and grace).

When our noetic faculties are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we become more and more aware that God truly is “everywhere present and fill[ing] all things. . . the Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life”. When we come to look upon every person — no mater their emotional or psychological state or physical appearance or social status — as a fellow child of God, an icon of the Divine image, we see the spark of His love present all around us in everyone we meet and see, each hour of every day. In this, each moment of our life becomes a great blessing.

How can we not love each person as a precious icon of the Holy Trinity, our God who loves us in a way that is beyond our power to rationally describe or conceptually understand? If we know this, once we discern His love for ourselves, then we must realize He loves every other person just as much as He loves us. How can we not but see that the love God has for each of His creatures is a reflection of the perfect love which unites His Three Persons in a unity which transcends our rational understanding?

We read again and again in the Scriptures variations on the reality that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 3, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5, Galatians 2:20, Romans 5:8, etc), which the universal witness of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church has maintained through the centuries. Only by integrating into our daily lives this awareness that our God loves us to the depths of our being, who fashioned each body and soul in His image, may we be transformed and become truly Christ-like Christians, little anointed ones, sons  and daughters of the Most High. What a soul-astounding and glorious challenge this is: to live by love in all things, seeing in the other, in every person you meet and know, the presence of your Creator.

On humility and pridefulness in prayer

Image

On humility and pridefulness in prayer

“If you become proud when you receive what you ask in prayer, then it is obvious that your prayer was not to God, and you did not receive help from Him, but the demons were working with you in order to exalt your heart; For when help is given from God, the soul is not exalted, but is all the more humbled, and she is amazed at the great mercy of God, how merciful He is to sinners.”

-St. Barsanuphius the Great

Barsanuphius of Palestine (+540), also known as Barsanuphius of Gaza, was a hermit of the sixth century. Born in Egypt, he lived in absolute seclusion for fifty years, and then near the monastery of Saint Seridon of Gaza in Palestine.

“. . . chosen by the Holy Spirit to pray for the whole world.”

Quote

“The Saints grieve to see people living on earth and not knowing that if they were to love one another the world would know freedom from sin; and where sin is absent there is joy and gladness of the Holy Spirit. The Saints in heaven though the Holy Spirit behold the glory of God and the beauty of the Lord’s countenance. But in this same Holy Spirit they see our lives too, and our deeds. They know our sorrows and hear our burning prayers. When they were living on earth they learned of the love of God from the Holy Spirit; and he who knows love on earth takes it with him into eternal life, where love grows and becomes perfect. The souls of the Saints know the Lord and His goodness toward man, wherefore their spirits burn with love for the peoples. They were chosen by the Holy Spirit to pray for the whole world.”

-St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938), my patron saint.

A beautiful description of the invisible links which hold together heaven and earth, this world and the next, through the prayers of the faithful to the saints and the saints’ active prayer and unceasing love for us. 

Beginning the New Year with Trust in God

Dec 31, 2012

One year ago today – on December 31, 2011 – His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, offered the following words before serving the annual New Year’s moleben [supplicatory service] in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

kiril

Following established tradition, New Year’s molebens are celebrated in churches of the Russian Orthodox Church on the threshold of the New Year. According to the Church’s Typikon, the year begins on September 1 (Old Calendar), but inasmuch as all our people, the whole country, and the entire world begin the New Year on January 1, the Church offers up special prayers for the coming year at this time.

We offer thanks to God for all the mercies that have been shown us in the past year. There were not only mercies, but there were also punishments – for our loving God also shows His care for people through punishment. Just as loving parents are sometimes required to punish their children in order to avert greater harm, so too does God frequently prevent us from performing more sinful deeds by leading us through trials. This relates to the lives of individuals, to the life of the country, and to the lives of the entire human race. It is enough to read the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, in which Divine Providence – both loving and punishing – is so clearly spoken of.

When we direct our gaze to the future, in human terms we certainly want the coming year to be easier, better, and more successful – and this is our legitimate and natural striving for happiness and well-being. But today very many people do not associate this well-being with God in any way. They think that they – and they alone – are the beginning and end of everything concerning them; they think that whether we will be happy or unhappy, healthy or sick, successful or unsuccessful all depends on us. But an impartial look at history – not just at human history, but at the histories of our own lives – can convince anyone that this is not the case.

We pass through events and trials in our lives during which none of our powers is enough for us to surmount them worthily, to escape misfortune, or to acquire that which our souls are seeking. Thinking people understand that things that are impossible with men are possible with God (cf. Luke 18:27), for He Himself spoke to us of this. Then we turn to the Lord in supplication, and how often He hears our prayer! Once again, it is impossible for us to prove this to people with hardened hearts. But this remains real proof of the power of human prayer, when those who pray receive an answer from God and can witness that God’s power has been shown to them and to their friends and relatives.

In fact, man’s entire religious life is based on God’s answer to our prayers: there would be no religious faith if there were no answer. One does not go to a well that has no water. We would not turn to someone if we knew for certain that he would neither answer nor help – no one would waste their time and energy on this. Would people really turn to God, would they really dedicate their lives to the Lord, if they had not heard His answer?

Here today, on the eve of the New Year, those who believe in God’s power have gathered in this church. In all the churches in our land, as well as beyond its borders, many are praying today that the Lord might incline His mercy to us all and make the coming year a year of His goodness. Let us all pray with firm faith for our relatives and friends, for ourselves, for physical and spiritual health, and for well-being.

Let us pray for our country, that by His mercy the unity of our people might be preserved so that, by joining forces, people might overcome the difficulties our country is presently undergoing.

Our Church will pray for all of historical Russia, because it is present in all its constituent countries.

We will pray that the coming year might be peaceful for all the peoples of Holy Russia, that the Lord might keep our Church in unity, peace, and that spiritual strength that alone capable of imbuing human life with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We believe that the Lord, through His ineffable mercy, will incline His love and His kind providence upon us all. Amen.

Here is the embedded link to the source. For those unable to click on the embedded link, here it is, unembedded: http://www.pravmir.com/beginning-the-new-year-with-trust-in-god/

Thoughts on the grace of God in our lives and the transforming power of His love

How this suffering world would be transformed if we could more freely acknowledge to each other the real presence of God in our lives! Think of how society would be transformed if more of us could understand and connect with each other on this deep spiritual level! These moments, which so deeply transform and illumine us, are little theophanies, moments of revelation of divine love and whisperings of God’s grace by the Holy Spirit.

These manifestations of our Savior’s love for us touch the very soul and warm the heart of the man or woman open to receiving them. It is these moments which serve to convert and orient one’s soul towards her Creator, which can and should inspire us to seek after God with all our being.

How transformational and glorious these manifestations of divine love and grace are in the lives of those who discern them! If men and women felt free to acknowledge to their fellows this abundant grace of God and manifestations of His love in their lives, the whole world would realize how much more united in His love it actually is. They would see how, in the words of St. John of Damascus (675-749), “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God”. The Lord who has created all existence, who has painted this icon of His children whom He has fashioned in His image, works with human soul in tapestries of grace and love, His Spirit like a fire warming the noetic hearts of the faithful.

If only more people in the Church felt that they could share their experiences of divine grace, which can come upon any person at any time when they have opened themselves to receiving it! This grace, always a miracle when it visits a person by the power of the Holy Spirit, is bestowed on the heart and soul of someone who seeks after God daily and at all times, who discerns Him as that which is “everywhere present and fillest all things”. Those who have discerned this grace know what it is to live and believe the words of Blessed Augustine (354-430) even if he or she has never heard them: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance.”

Such a person who truly loves Him and discerns His presence in their life constantly remembers the Lord’s chief command, both to those of the Old and New Covenant, to the blood of the House of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to the new Israel of the New Dispensation, that we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and all our might (Matthew 22:37-40). The person who remembers the Lord’s commandments, truly endeavoring to love God with all their being, is on the path to that mystical union with His divine energies and love which shines in the faces of the saints. Such a person is immersed in the lifelong process of theosis: the miraculous and mysterious awakening and transformation of the noetic inner heart and soul of man in union with God’s loving grace through which he or she is divinized.

“God became man so that man might become God”, wrote St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria (296-373) in his treatise On the Incarnation. St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (130-202), who died almost a century before St. Athanasius’ birth, wrote similarly, “In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is.” This teaching is a universal witness of the early Church, present in all the writings of the earliest Fathers who knew the apostles of Christ or who were trained by their disciples and their disciples’ disciples, and so on.

How can man become God when he is so clearly imperfect? St John Climacus (“John of the Ladder”), St Isaac the Syrian, St Silouan the Athonite, Elder Cleopa (Illie) and so many other holy men and women write of the process of salvation and divinization- for man can only be divinized to the degree that he allows himself to be completely opened to the saving and transformative loving grace of God- as a ladder of gradual, lifelong spiritual ascent. Elder Cleopa (+1998) offers beautifully clear instruction on the ladder of ascent in prayer and spiritual introspection and communion with God here.

The ladders of spiritual growth and increasing discernment through prayer, fasting, repentance and love for God are mutually interconnected to the point of pursuing the same end, reaching for the same transformation in and through and by Christ. First comes the recognition and aversion to sin as anything which separates us from God’s grace and love of the other. Then comes the ceasing of sin and the promptings of repentance, turning away from sinful mindsets and actions, and turning anew to the love of God, With this increasing discernment comes the ability to pray with the lips and the mouth and gradually, the mind; that is, to remember how to pray and what one wants to pray, and to increasingly understand the significance and meaning of what one prayers. Still, this is not the highest level of prayer, which the saints call “prayer of the heart”, the deepest level of communion with God when one’s mental comprehension of what one prays, one’s psyche, descends into the nous, the spiritual eye or the inner heart of one’s soul. Without a lifelong cultivation of ceaseless prayer (1 Thess. 5:17) and repentance, we may mount the ladder rungs again and again, but never truly begin to ascend in prayer.

We cannot become God by our very essence, which is created, no more than a child can ever become identical in essence to its parent, but we are gradually transformed as our noetic heart and soul open more to the energy and promptings of the Holy Spirit. Man can thus mysteriously and miraculously  become united to His Creator by the most intimate adoption of sonship. Insofar as man, a created being endowed by God with an immortal spirit, can be united to Him through immersion and participation in His illuminative grace and love, he can be transformed and made divine.

The ocean of God’s mercy

“We should often, if not daily, examine our souls, and repent of the sins that we find there.” – St Mark the Ascetic

“Let none fear death, for the death of the Saviour has set us free!” – St John Chrysostom

When compared to God’s love for us, our many sins are but rain drops disappearing into the infinite ocean of His mercy.

In baptism, we enter the Christian life through water, as the waves of faith and God’s grace wash over us, embracing us in the sea of His eternal love, pulling us on the tide of our mortal life toward the promise of eternal life with Him.

When we repent, our turning away from sinful paths often manifests physically in the shedding of heartfelt tears as the soul is pierced by the love of her Creator. Just as the ocean of God’s mercy envelops and blots out all our sins, so too are our tear drops of repentance washed away through the cleansing pool of His grace in genuine confession, by which, in obedience to the grace and direction of the Holy Spirit, we may continually be renewed, strengthened, transformed and made righteous anew.

In Christ, the sunrise is a metaphor for both birth, one’s physical entry into this world to begin this transitory life, and for the crowning sun of entry into eternal life through the body’s physical death. Likewise, the sunset heralds both the declining years of one’s human life, and the hopeful approach of life eternal beyond the ‘night’ of the grave.

When, at the end of this transitory life, we have shed countless tears, some of bitterness or despair, many more of repentance, humility and joy, we will then more fully discern the depth of God’s infinite grace and mercy for us. When we have been transformed through God’s grace and our ever-deepening faith, when we have poured out oceans of love for our Creator and all His creation, we feel called to return to His infinite, loving embrace. With radiant faces, joyous hearts, and illumined souls, those made righteous by grace, in faith, fall once more into this infinite ocean, entering unto eternal life as peacefully as gentle raindrops falling into the sea.

“As a handful of sand is thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God. Just as a strongly flowing fountain is not blocked up by a handful of earth, so the compassion of the Creator is not overcome by the sins of His creatures. Someone who bears a grudge while he prays is like a person who sows in the sea and expects to reap a harvest.”
St. Isaac the Syrian (d. c. 700)

In Christ is our hope, our joy, our life- in this world and the next- and our very salvation- mystical and personal union with Him by the grace and power of His Holy Spirit!

“Born of Love”

Quote

BORN OF LOVE

If we find fault in others, our self-indulgent attitude keeps us from having a successful interaction with God. Prayer is born of love, while fault-finding, idle talk and self-indulgence are the death of prayer. Love and prayer are interconnected because both involve God, and if we love God we are given the power to keep our mind on Him both day and night.

Nothing keeps us from Him, and nothing hinders our communion with him. Even the distractions and temptations of the world fade away as nothing, yet as God’s love grows in us, so does love of our neighbor grow.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Photo: At the time Abbot Tryphon wrote the above reflection, the monks at his monastery received a visit from Ethiopian Tewahedo (Oriental Orthodox) friends.

The Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour Orthodox Christian monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.

Discerning “the hidden ways of God”: His open invitation to repentance

Quote

“It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. ‘You fell’, it is written, ‘now arise’ (c.f. Proverbs 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all of your salvation, no matter what happens. So long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation.

‘For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience’, says St. Paul. ‘. . . Yet He saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in His mercy.’ (Titus 3:3,5).

So do not despair in any way, ignoring God’s help, for He can do whatever He wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in Him and He will do one of these things, either through trials and temptations, or in some other way which He alone knows. He will bring about your restoration; or He will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope He will act lovingly towards you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so He will save your shackled soul.

Only do not abandon your Physician, for otherwise you will suffer senselessly the twofold death because you do not know the hidden ways of God.”
-St Peter of Damascus