I was re-listening to a recorded lecture I had by Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko the other night to fill my late night insomnia with some light. The next morning, with great relish, I typed out the quotes I found most powerful. I’ll break it into 2 parts. Put on your seat belts, crash helmets and enjoy:
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We enter into communion with God through love, which means love for all around us without exception, and especially our enemies and those who hate us. Until we are ready to love with very love with which God has loved us in Jesus — who is the Son of his love — by the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts, we will never know God. If you allow God’s love to penetrate into the marrow of your bones, you’ll get a fire in your bones and then you can love with his love. Pray every day like a baby bird, wide-mouthed begging, full of absolute trust, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim says that the whole spiritual life is acquiring the Holy Spirit. Ask. Seek. Knock. God can’t resist expectant, trusting, persevering faith.
Be aware! Consolation precedes crucifixions, exaltation precedes humiliations, divinization precedes degradation. That’s St. Isaac the Syrian. And this is the good news! Good because the cross of Jesus ensured that everything life throws at us can become a rung in the ladder to Paradise. God turns our downfall into our rising. Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Kenosis is theosis.
The holy Fathers say you should always pray to God about everything, so when what you seek does not happen you’ll know it’s not God’s will. But if you don’t pray you won’t know that it’s not God’s will, as there are some things God will not grant unless they’re sought in prayer. So not getting things we ask for is a big part of the story. But there’s always some grace seething in God’s answer, even if it seems it’s unbearable; if it seems things are crazy — they’re not crazy — well, actually, you can say that God is crazy as far as this world’s logic is concerned. The cross is a scandal and absurdity and madness — moronic! — but for us who have faith in Christ crucified and risen, at the Father’s right hand with open wounds, he is the power and wisdom of God. But you have to give yourself over to it for it to happen, you can hold nothing back. When you finally give in to him, that’s when his power unleashes. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So then Paul goes on in first Corinthians to boast of all the catastrophes of his ministry — these are the emblems of success. Remember? He says [1 Cor. 11:23-27], “I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” How about putting that on your C.V.? See here, God’s success story!
The holy Scriptures — what can I say? We have to read them, contemplate them and put them into practice more than we breathe. It’s terrible that we like spirituality books, read books on theology and the saints and holy Fathers, but we don’t even know the holy Scriptures. That’s not right! All of the holy Fathers say everything in the Christian life has its foundation on the canonized Scriptures of the Church. St. John Chrysostom said that every cause of discord in Church comes from ignorance of Scripture and the irresponsible way men are made priests and bishops. He said that. Really. A constant theme among the great spiritual authors of the monastic tradition — like St Ignatius Brianchaninov — is trying to convince the monks to read the Scriptures. They’re too often more interested in reading books on spirituality or mysticism or deification than they are in reading holy Scripture. The holy Fathers all say: “This should not be! Repent! Scripture should be your primary love. This only is God’s inspired Word” There’s even a canon in the seventh Ecumenical Council that says a man should not be consecrated bishop if he cannot recite the 150 psalms from memory. Otherwise how can you teach the faith if you don’t know it by heart? The holy Scriptures should be our first love.
I know people who say, “Oh, yes Father Tom, we love to come to church because it makes us feel good, feel uplifted.” Well, okay, sometimes God consoles us in church in times of our affliction. Okay. But we go to church to get lacerated. I mean, if you see a church with a sign that says, “Come for soothing, upbeat, happy worship,” sue them for malpractice. First you have to be brought through the fire. You have to just stand there in church and let God’s purifying fire burn through you. Don’t look around and think critical thoughts, judging people’s outfits or the priest’s liturgical purity or how good you think his sermon was. Let God burn you through, let the Word of God pierce and cut through you and scrub clean your filthy mind and heart. Say, “I am ready to change, O God.” Or better, pray like the publican, with his head bowed low as the Pharisee up front babbles on about all the mistakes of his flawed neighbors — “O God, thank you for not making me like these idiots.” Rather, pray: “O God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Remember your baptism in the church was a plunge into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, not into self-improvement and healing. For us healing means: die and rise. Our festal meal consists of a broken Body and spilled Blood. It’s a pledge, when we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood, a consent to the same dying and rising happening to us, giving us the chance to love God and our enemies. Give it all over, let it all go, renounce yourself and be ready to be hated by all for him. Immerse yourself again and again and again into the Divine Liturgy which plants us firmly on Golgotha.