Category Archives: love

Joachim and Anna, and Love.

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos on December 9th. Following from the fact that Christ received His human nature from his mother, she is of supreme importance in our salvation history.

Father Thomas Hopko writes in The Winter Pascha: In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

I had to keep pushing that last sentence to the front of my mind as I tried to think and write a little more about the mystery of our salvation…

The icons of this feast tell the story of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna, who had been unable to have children until late in life when Anna became pregnant with the child who would become the mother of our Lord. “Iconreader” has an article on the festal icon with links to related articles and discussion about its theology, and why the icon has been so popular in Russia.

From that article on A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: The icon of the Conception of the Theotokos is very simple. Joachim and Anna tenderly embrace, standing before a bed. Without being explicit, it is boldly confessed that, whilst a miracle granted to a barren couple, the conception of St Mary happened through natural means. This can be compared with Icons of the Annunciation, which could be described as the Conception of Jesus Christ: in those icons Mary is not shown with Joseph; Mary remained a virgin.

And from the Orthodox Church in America , an excerpt from an article on the feast that discusses beliefs about original sin: The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although she committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, she would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.

There is so much to think about here! I would like to read these articles more carefully and thoughtfully, to stretch my mind toward the theology of “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7) Whenever I think about theology as a field of study, it brings to mind these words about theology and prayer from Bishop Kallistos Ware, and they help me refocus on the example of Mary, who said to the angel, “Be it unto me according to your word.”:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St. Maximus puts it, is the theology of demons. The creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’ This exactly expresses the Orthodox attitude to Tradition. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him.

At Christmas, the Truth that ties everything together is (I John 4:19):

We love him, because he first loved us.

What became of the stowaway.

Only in the 21st century was St. Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) officially recognized a saint by the Orthodox Church. He was born in 1907 and in this brief story of his life it is told that as a young boy he was inspired to go to Mount Athos, and stowed away on a boat to get there.

He wrote a book titled Wounded by Love. [correction: He did not write a book, but others compiled his sayings.] Just that phrase speaks something essential to my heart, and sort of sums up for me the example of the saints who shine the Light of the Savior into the world. The book I haven’t read yet, though it is featured in our parish bookstore and when I’m on duty I have once or twice looked inside the cover.

St. Porphyrios’s feast day is December 2, and while I have posted quite a few quotes from him on my blog in the past, I don’t think I have mentioned him on his day until now; here is a word of exhortation from, and to commemorate, this shining elder.

Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].  — St. Porphyrios

[Update next day: I have seen a video just now on YouTube of St. Porphyrios’s life, very well done, with scenes from Greece and stories from many people of his clairvoyance and healings. Fascinating.]

Love stands weakly at the border.

It is said by some that God has no boundaries regarding us, that He is God and may do with us (and to us) whatever He wills. This, of course, is true in an abstract sense. However, it is not true of God as He has made Himself known in Christ. Christ is a God who “asks.” He is the God who allows a freedom so great that it can kill Him. 
-Fr. Stephen Freeman in “Love and Freedom.”

I had just returned from a talk on the Holy Trinity when I read Fr. Stephen’s article quoted above. Our lecturer told us that the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, developed the Trinitarian theology of the church from their answers to questions raised by their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew ideas of God. One idea, from the Greeks, was that God is forced by overflowing love to create man, and they did not believe that God is forced to do anything.IMG_0083

So why did He? Because He wanted to give humans the opportunity, the freedom to respond to His love, and by communion with the Holy Spirit to be transformed into true persons .

In another article Fr. Stephen wrote: The knowledge that comes through communion is not a fact to be considered, rather, it is a knowledge that in the very act of knowing becomes part of you. The knower and the known share some manner of common existence.

A last snippet from Love and Freedom: When I have written that Pascha is at the heart of everything (and I believe this faithfully represents the teaching of the Church) this weakness born of love is its consequence. It is the love of God that surrounds us and calls us to be His friends. It seeks us, face to face, even searching for us when we hide. But it is a love that stands weakly at the border of our freedom, and waits for our invitation.

Primal moods and movements.

From George MacDonald’s year-long Diary, a few stanzas from the section “September”:

4.  In the low mood, the mere man acts alone,
Moved by impulses which, if from within,
Yet far outside the centre man begin;
But in the grand mood, every softest tone
Comes from the living God at very heart—
From thee who infinite core of being art,
Thee who didst call our names ere ever we could sin.

8.  Poor am I, God knows, poor as withered leaf;
Poorer or richer than, I dare not ask.
To love aright, for me were hopeless task,
Eternities too high to comprehend.
But shall I tear my heart in hopeless grief,
Or rise and climb, and run and kneel, and bend,
And drink the primal love—so love in chief?

25.  Lord, loosen in me the hold of visible things;
Help me to walk by faith and not by sight;
I would, through thickest veils and coverings,
See into the chambers of the living light.
Lord, in the land of things that swell and seem,
Help me to walk by the other light supreme,
Which shows thy facts behind man’s vaguely hinting dream.

-George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul

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