Praying with Zossima and Dostoevsky

My favorite author is Fyodor Dostoevsky (aside from Saint Athanasius and the authors of the Bible). I highly recommend that you read, at minimum, two of his novels: The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment (note: the two links are FREE Kindle downloads, and Kindle apps are available for free on computers and phones! You have no excuses!) In these two books you find amazing theological themes of sin, grace, justice, mercy, salvation, etc. Reading Dostoevsky is truly a spiritual exercise for me and I wish I could devote more of my time to reading his works. In the Brothers K, Father Zossima is the character who gives many words of Orthodox wisdom — especially to Alyosha, one of the Brothers who is told to live the life of a monk in the world by taking a wife. I wish Dostoevsky had survived long enough to finish the sequel to this book so that he could explain the latter part of Alyosha’s life! However, Fyodor’s time came to an end on February 9th, 1881. I wish to share an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov (p.293). In this quote, Father Zossima teaches us on the necessity of prayer, I hope that it brings you hope and encourages you to pray:

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education. Remember too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, “Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.” For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they knew you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for you have had pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.

Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love….

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it….

My friends, pray to God for gladness. Be glad as children, as the birds of heaven. And let not the sin of men confound you in your doings. Fear not that it will wear away your work and hinder its being accomplished. Do not say, “Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from being done.” Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.

Do Nativity Scenes Help us Worship God?

On December 24, 1223 Saint Francis of Assisi made the very first living animal nativity scene in an Italian grotto. I imagine that Saint Francis made a live nativity because he loved animals so much (note the picture). This tradition carries on today; however, do living nativity scenes actually help us worship God come in the flesh? My wife and I visited her family last weekend and we went to the local church’s live nativity scene. I had never seen an actual nativity scene acted out like this, where there were literal animals. It was pretty intense, this Church went all out. Living animals, a choir, young girls as angels, men as wise men, little boys as shepherds, a young man and woman as Mary and Joseph, and the little baby Jesus being acted out by an anonymous newborn child.

My question still remains, do nativity scenes like this actually help us worship God come in the flesh? Saint Francis of Assisi would have said yes. As I reflect upon the nativity scene my wife and I witnessed, it is very hard to say. I was partially distracted by the 4 year old girl who kept waving at everyone and the wise men who had denim pants and sneakers underneath their robes, and the fact that there were horses eating hay…I always pictured more sheep, cattle, and camels in the real version.

The narrator read parts of Matthew and Luke, and the choir responded with songs of worship, including most Christmastime favorites (all of which were centered on Christ, nothing like Rudolph).There were several attending the nativity scene who were not a part of the Church, and the pastor invited them to join for their Sunday gatherings. After the nativity, people gathered together in the church building for more hot chocolate and cookies. This Church obviously saw this as a huge ministry and outreach, taking it very seriously.

At the end of the day, I have to say that attending the living nativity scene did bless my soul. My wife and I were able to wear our pea coats and scarfs, drinking hot chocolate underneath a portable heat stove, while singing worship songs and laughing with the little kids’ short attention spans and being able to spend time with old friends whom we had not seen for over 6 months. Praise God that He came in the flesh so we could worship Him, recalling His birth on that evening.

When is the last time you went to a living nativity scene? did it help you worship God Emmanuel?

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so

The genius and theologian, Karl Barth, was asked if he could summarize his Church Dogmatics. He pondered momentarily, then began singing the child’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Can you picture it? Church Dogmatics is 6 million words long, and he summarized it by singing “Jesus loves me,” that is profound. How I long and pray for all of us to truly see the simplicity of the Gospel. Barth (May 10, 1886 – December 10, 1968) contributed so much to theology, and had he been a Catholic or Orthodox Christian, there is no doubt they would already have given him the title of a Saint. He is a blessing to the Church and I thank God for this man, today may we remember this man after God’s own heart. The following is taken for Church Dogmatics:

The first statement, namely, that Christ is in the Christian, has the further meaning that Christ speaks, acts and rules ­and this is the grace of His calling of this man ­ as the Lord of his thinking, speech and action. He takes possession of his free human heart. He rules and controls in the obedience of his free reason (2 Cor. 10:5). As a divine person it is very possible for Him to do this in the unrestricted sovereignty proper to Himself and yet in such a way that there can be no question whatever of any competition between His person and that of the Christian, whether in the attempt of the latter to control His person, or conversely in its suppression or extinction by His person. It is very possible for Him to do it in such a way that the human person of the Christian is validated and honoured in full and genuine freedom, in the freedom of the obedient children of God. That Christ is in the Christian means, then, that as the Mediator between God and man He does not exist merely for Himself and to that extent concentrically, but that in His prophetic work, in the calling of His disciples and Christians, with no self-surrender but in supreme expression of Himself, He also exists eccentrically, i.e., in and with the realisation of the existence of these men, as the ruling principle of the history lived by them in their own freedom.

The second statement, namely, that the Christian is in Christ, has not only the local but also the higher meaning that his own thinking, speech and action has its ruling and determinative principle ­ and herein it is the work of his gratitude corresponding to grace ­ in the speech, action and rule of Christ. His free human heart and reason and acts are orientated on Him, i.e., on agreement with His being and action. In the power of the Word of God which calls him, and therefore in the power of the Holy Spirit, this orientation is his only possibility, already in process of realisation. Again, there is no rivalry between the human person and the divine. There is thus no danger that the former will be overwhelmed by the latter. There is no danger that it will necessarily be destroyed by it and perish. Rather, the human person, experiencing the power of the divine, and unreservedly subject to it, will necessarily recognise and honour it again and again in its sovereignty, finding itself established as a human person and set in truly human and the freest possible movement in orientation on it. That the Christian is in Christ means mutatis mutandis for him, too, that as one who is called by the one Mediator between God and man in the exercise of His prophetic office he cannot exist for himself and to that extent concentrically, but that, without detriment to his humanity, awakened rather to genuine humanity, he also exists eccentrically, in and with the realisation of his own existence, being received and adopted as an integral element in the life and history of Christ.

This, then, is the Christian’s unio cum Christo. We recall that in this high view and doctrine we are not presenting a climax of Christian experience and development in face of which the anxious question might well be raised whether we have reached the point, or will ever do so, where in respect of our own Christianity we can sincerely say: “Christ in me, and I in Christ.” On the contrary, we are presenting the last and most exact formulation of what makes us Christians whatever our development or experience. We have seen that Paul particularly in the New Testament does not think of restricting his insight in this regard to himself and a few other Christians of higher rank, but that as he speaks of himself he also speaks of the generality of Christians, not excluding the very doubtful Christians of Galatia and Corinth and not excluding the doubtful nature of their Christianity. If, as we have attempted in concentric circles, we think through what it means that the goal of vocation, and therefore of Christianity as divine sonship, is always attachment to Christ, coordination and fellowship with Him, discipleship, appropriation to Him with the corresponding expropriation, life of and by the Holy Spirit, then we are infallibly led at last to the point which we have now reached and described, namely, that a man becomes and is a Christian as he unites himself with Christ and Christ with him. And we remember that from the purely material standpoint this is the starting-point for everything else which is to be thought and said concerning what makes the Christian a Christian.

(Church Dogmatics; Vol. IV, Part 3.2, “The Doctrine of Reconciliation.” Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1988)

Would the Real Saint Nic please stand up?

May I have your attention please? Would the real Saint Nic please stand up, please stand up? So many people have tried to impersonate this person throughout history, but who in fact is the real Saint Nic? After seeing so many people pretending to be him, it is easy to begin wondering if Santa Clause was real? It turns out he is! And yes, he stood up and he even “decked the halls” when he punched Arius in the middle of a Church council in the year 325! The following is the real story of Saint Nic taken from the Prologue of Ocrhrid, I hope you enjoy it:

 “This glorious saint, celebrated even today (sometimes celebrated on Dec 5, but usually on Dec 6) throughout the entire world, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of the city of Patarain Lycia. Since he was the only son bestowed on them by God, the parents returned the gift to God by dedicating their son to Him. St. Nicholas learned of the spiritual life from his uncle Nicholas, Bishop of Patara, and was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of New Zion founded by his uncle.

“Following the death of his parents, Nicholas distributed all his inherited goods to the poor, not keeping anything for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charity, even though he carefully concealed his charitable works, fulfilling the words of the Lord: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matthew 6:3). When he gave himself over to solitude and silence, thinking to live that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: “Nicholas, for your ascetic labor, work among the people, if thou desirest to be crowned by Me.” Immediately after that, by God’s wondrous providence, he was chosen archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock.

“During the persecution of Christians under Diocletian and Maximian, he was cast into prison, but even there he instructed the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea [325] and, out of great zeal for the truth, struck the heretic Arius with his hand. For this act he was removed from the Council and from his archiepiscopal duties, until the Lord Christ Himself and the Most-holy Theotokos appeared to several of the chief hierarchs and revealed their approval of Nicholas. A defender of God’s truth, this wonderful saint was ever bold as a defender of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from an undeserved sentence of death. Merciful, truthful, and a lover of justice, he walked among the people as an angel of God.

“Even during his lifetime, the people considered him a saint and invoked his aid in difficulties and in distress. He appeared both in dreams and in person to those who called upon him, and he helped them easily and speedily, whether close at hand or far away. A light shone from his face as it did from the face of Moses, and he, by his presence alone, brought comfort, peace and good will among men. In old age he became ill for a short time and entered into the rest of the Lord, after a life full of labor and very fruitful toil, to rejoice eternally in theKingdomofHeaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles and to glorify his God. He entered into rest on December 6, 343.”

The Word Became Flesh

This year I have been celebrating Advent by posting daily scripture readings and usually posting an excerpt pertaining to the Nativity or Birth of Christ. Doing this has been a wonderful reminder of the importance of God becoming a man. I pray that these reflections are helping you reflect upon God incarnate. Today happens to be Day 7 of Advent, the Church readings for the day are from Isaiah 30, Psalm 147, and Matthew 9. These selected readings are at the end of the post.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH

A Sermon by St John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) on the Nativity of Christ

The Word became flesh; that is, the Son of God, co-eternal with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, became human – having become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. O, wondrous, awesome and salvific mystery! The One Who had no beginning took on a beginning according to humanity; the One without flesh assumed flesh. God became man – without ceasing to be God. The Unapproachable One became approachable to all, in the aspect of an humble servant. Why, and for what reason, was there such condescension [shown] on the part of the Creator toward His transgressing creatures – toward humanity which, through an act of its own will had fallen away from God, its Creator?

It was by reason of a supreme, inexpressible mercy toward His creation on the part of the Master, Who could not bear to see the entire race of mankind – which, He, in creating, had endowed with wondrous gifts – enslaved by the devil and thus destined for eternal suffering and torment.

And the Word became flesh!…in order to make us earthly beings into heavenly ones, in order to make sinners into saints; in order to raise us up from corruption into incorruption, from earth to heaven; from enslavement to sin and the devil – into the glorious freedom of children of God; from death – into immortality, in order to make us sons of God and to seat us together with Him upon the Throne as His royal children.

O, boundless compassion of God! O, inexpressible wisdom of God! O, great wonder, astounding not only the human mind, but the angelic [mind] as well!

Let us glorify God! With the coming of the Son of God in the flesh upon the earth, with His offering Himself up as a sacrifice for the sinful human race, there is given to those who believe the blessing of the Heavenly Father, replacing that curse which had been uttered by God in the beginning; they are adopted and receive the promise of an eternal inheritance of life. To a humanity orphaned by reason of sin, the Heavenly Father returns anew through the mystery of re-birth, that is, through baptism and repentance. People are freed of the tormenting, death-bearing authority of the devil, of the afflictions of sin and of various passions.

Human nature is deified for the sake of the boundless compassion of the Son of God; and its sins are purified; the defiled are sanctified. The ailing are healed. Upon those in dishonour are boundless honour and glory bestowed.

Those in darkness are enlightened by the Divine light of grace and reason.

The human mind is given the rational power of God – we have the mind of Christ (Cor. 2, 16), says the Holy apostle Paul. To the human heart, the heart of Christ is given. The perishable is made immortal. Those naked and wounded by sin and by passions are adorned in Divine glory. Those who hunger and thirst are sated and assuaged by the nourishing and soul-strengthening Word of God and by the most pure Body and Divine Blood of Christ. The inconsolable are consoled. Those ravaged by the devil have been – and continue to be – delivered.

What, then, O, brethren, is required of us in order that we might avail ourselves of all the grace brought unto us from on high by the coming to earth of the Son of God? What is necessary, first of all, is faith in the Son of God, in the Gospel as the salvation-bestowing heavenly teaching; a true repentance of sins and the correction of life and of heart; communion in prayer and in the mysteries [sacraments]; the knowledge and fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Also necessary are the virtues: Christian humility, alms-giving, continence, purity and chastity, simplicity and goodness of heart.

Let us, then, O brothers and sisters, bring these virtues as a gift to the One Who was born for the sake of our salvation – let us bring them in place of the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought Him, as to One Who is King, God, and Man, come to die for us. This, from us, shall be the most-pleasing form of sacrifice to God and to the Infant Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Reading 1: Is 30:19-21, 23-26

Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.He will give rain for the seed
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
On the day of the great slaughter,
when the towers fall,
The light of the moon will be like that of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater
like the light of seven days.
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power:
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.

Gospel: Mt 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

Saint John of Damascene

This Sunday is the feast day of Saint John Damascene, Doctor of the Church (676 – 4 December 749). He is most famous as one who defended veneration – not to be confused with worship! – of sacred images and icons. His writings in the Eastern Church are comparable to St Thomas Aquinas in the West. There are so many of his writings I would love to share; but, today I will simply leave you with two examples of his work, one is a prayer:

No one stands between Son and Mother. Accept, then, my good-will, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, Cure our diseases, Help us out of our difficulties, Make our lives peaceful, Send us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son’s glory, rejoicing forever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him who worked our salvation through thee, Christ the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen. (from Sermon 3 on the Dormition)

So, then, He had by nature, both as God and as man, the power of will. But His human will was obedient and subordinate to His divine will, not being guided by its own inclination, but willing those things which the divine will willed. For it was with the permission of the divine will that He suffered by nature what was proper to Him. For when He prayed that He might escape the death, it was with His divine will naturally willing and permitting it that He did so pray and agonize and fear, and again when His divine will willed that His human will should choose the death, the passion became voluntary to HimFor it was not as God only, but also as man, that He voluntarily surrendered Himself to the death. And thus He bestowed on us also courage in the face of death. So, indeed, He said before His saving passion, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me , manifestly as though He were to drink the cup as man and not as God. It was as man, then, that He wished the cup to pass from Him: but these are the words of natural timidity. Nevertheless, He said, not My will, that is to say, not in so far as I am of a different essence from You, but Your will be done, that is to say, My will and Your will, in so far as I am of the same essence as Thou. Now these are the words of a brave heart. For the Spirit of the Lord, since He truly became man in His good pleasure, on first testing its natural weakness was sensible of the naturalfellow-suffering involved in its separation from the body, but being strengthened by the divine will it again grew bold in the face of death. For since He was Himself wholly God although also man, and wholly man although also God, He Himself as man subjected in Himself and by Himself His human nature to God and the Father, and became obedient to the Father, thus making Himself the most excellent type and example for us. (Exposition of the Faith, Book III, Chapter 18)

Advent – Day 2

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 8:5-11

I have also found a wonderful sermon on the Nativity of Christ; I hope you enjoy it.

“THE MYSTERY OF LOVING-KINDNESS”

A Sermon by St John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) on the Nativity of Christ

“Great is the mystery of piety: God is manifested in the flesh.” (I Tim. 3, 16)

It is on this day that, throughout the entire inhabited world, the Holy Church brings to our remembrance and observes that most majestic and sublime of mysteries: the Incarnation of God the Word from a Most-pure virgin through an outpouring of, and an overshadowing by, God’s Holy Spirit. Wondrous, inexpressible, and awesome is this mystery, both for the exalted and all-contemplating celestial minds of those who dwell in the heavens: the ranks of the angels, – and for the minds of men, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Imagine: the unoriginate God from Whom everything received the commencement of its existence: the Angels, and the human race, and the entire world, both visible and invisible, – takes a beginning in His humanity. He Whom the heavens cannot contain – is contained in a virginal womb. God – becomes an infant, and is borne upon the arms of a Mother. He Who nourishes every breath – is nourished by paps.

The science of astronomy has learned and affirms that, in the order of creation, our earth is but a barely-noticeable point; that millions of worlds around our own fill up the vastnesses of space. And, lo! this single point, this barely-noticeable globe of God’s creation, being inhabited by men, – has been accounted worthy of the inexpressible honour of bearing upon itself God-in-the-Flesh, the God-Man, Who did deign to dwell amongst men, to teach erring mankind the knowledge of God, to work innumerable miracles of good, to preach repentance and complete forgiveness of sins; to suffer and to die as an holy Sacrifice for the sins of the world, to be resurrected through the power of Divinity from amongst the dead, – having vanquished death, which is natural to all men, – and to make a gift of resurrection to the entire human race.

Not a single one of the visible worlds, save the earth, has been deemed worthy of this greatest of all honours: for it was only upon the earth that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the heavenly Father, had a Virgin-Mother, and He alone was Her Son by way of humanity. Why was the earth given such preference? Why was it only on earth that God appeared in the flesh? – This is a great Divine mystery, a mystery of immeasurable loving-kindness and of God’s condescension to perishing mankind.

Thus, God did appear in the flesh: rejoice and be exceeding glad, O earth; rejoice and celebrate, ye earth-born. The Creator Himself did come to you, in order to create you anew; to restore you, who were corrupted by transgressions. To you did He come: the almighty Physician Himself, – powerful to treat all the inveterate afflictions of sin, – in order that He might heal all the passions of the soul and all the infirmities of the body, – all of the which He truly did do, as we know from the Gospel and from the history of the Church.

Thus, greet Him joyfully – with pure minds and hearts, with bodies chaste and restrained by fasting and abstinence, which the Holy Church has thoughtfully instituted prior to this great feast in order to prepare us worthily to meet the heavenly Tsar’, Who comes to us in order to abide in us.

He came to us with the mercy and good will of His heavenly Father, – and from us He demands mercy toward our neighbours; He is the righteous Tsar’ – and He demands of us all righteousness; for He, too, as a man, fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3,15), showing us an example and providing us with grace and the strength to carry it out. He Himself did suffer for us, having borne the cross; and He taught us to deny ourselves, – or our sins and our passions, – and to follow after Him, doing what is holy out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7, 1).

He came to heal our souls, ailing from sin, and commanded all to repent; let us ever, then, be earnestly contrite, correcting ourselves and striving toward holiness and perfection. The holy Angels, at the Nativity of the God-man, did declare peace unto the world; and unto men – the good will of the Heavenly Father. Let us then, ourselves, have within us a peaceful conscience, and let us be at peace with everyone, if possible. Be at peace and be holy with all, sayeth the apostle, – for without this shall none see the Lord. (comp. Heb. 12, 14).

Amen.

Mothers of the Church

To be a Mother of the Church does not necessitate being a “Mother,” in fact, very few women in this list ever had children, most remained virgins for God throughout their lives. A Mother of the Church is a woman who has displayed the love of God and helped further his kingdom on earth. Three of the women in this list are “Doctors of the Church.” To be a doctor of the Church, one must have contributed a significant piece of doctrine, theology, or spirituality to the Church and be recognized by the Pope or an ecumenical council. This list of women is very brief; I simply want to give honor to these ladies and would love to hear your thoughts regarding them. Do any of these Mothers stand out in particular to you? Who would you add to this list?

Saint Macrina the Younger. She was the sister of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. This was an amazing family! She helped contribute to her brothers’ spirituality immensely. Gregory portrayed her as the ideal Christian philosopher and teacher, he even said her philosophy was further advanced than that of Socrates! She is the virgin philosopher par excellence. She was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, of whom I have also written about in previous entries.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. (Mother Teresa, 26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997). She founded Missionaries of Charity and ministered to the poor, sick, dying, orphaned, and widowed for over 45 years. She felt the call to leave her convent in 1946, “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” All of us today are indebted to her humanitarian work and she inspired many to follow her footsteps.

Saint Monica. (ca. 331-387) She was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo (Doctor of the Church). Augustine wrote extensively about his mother, speaking highly of her life in Confessions. (Wonderful book, you should read it if you have not!). Augustine humbly recalls that the tears his mother shed for his spiritual birth far outweighed the tears she shed for his physical birth (Monica’s faithfulness reminds me of my mother, Karen, to whom I am forever grateful). Had Monica not been a faithful servant of Christ, her son would not have been there to help unite the Church inNorth Africa and inspire millions of believers in later generations.

Saint Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431). Beginning life as a peasant girl, she had visions and dreams and helped leadFrance to victory many battles during the Hundred Year’s War. For various reasons, she was led to an inquisitional tribunal. One question asked her was “if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” Had she said “yes” she would have convicted herself of heresy – for no one can know this for certain; had she said “no” she would have confessed her own guilt. The inquisitors were speechless. Days later they burned her at the stake for wearing men’s clothing when asked not to – they gave her no choice though, for they took away her maiden clothing and only gave her men’s clothing while imprisoned. They burned the 19 year old virgin of Christ at the stake, and then two more times for good measure so her bones could not be collected as relics. Thankfully, the Catholic Church later repented of this act, calling her a martyr and Saint in 1920. Her last words were “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!!!”

Mary, the Blessed Virgin and Theotokos. As a young Jewish girl, she was called to give birth to God the Word. The Catholic and Orthodox Church believe her to have remained the Ever Virgin Mary – so did Protestant Reformers; that view has only changed in the last 200 years or so. Nonetheless, she is ever blessed, most pure, and the Mother of our God. Without defilement she gave birth to God the Word.

Saint Catherine of Siena. Doctor of Unity (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380) In 1376, she helped bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in Avignon. “In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. Just as the Spirit gave new life to the infant Church on Pentecost, Catherine sought to bring a spirit of reconciliation to the divisions of her time.” Saint Catherine is one of the blessed 82 persons known to have carried the stigmata ad she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Teresa of Ávila. Doctor of Prayer (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582) At age 7 she ran away from home hoping to become a martyr for Christ, her uncle stopped her. Her life was one of Christian mysticism; she was a theologian of the contemplative life through mental prayer. She was also a prolific writer during the Counter Reformation. Yes, the Catholics actually fixed the problems which the Protestant Reformers noticed and Saint Teresa helped in this effort. During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded 17 convents. Her last words were, “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.” She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Thérèse of LisieuxDoctor of Confidence and Missionaries (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897) She is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus,” one only need look at her picture to see why. She took vows and never set foot outside her Carmelite cloister after the age of seventeen. In her simplicity, she went to the essence of Christianity: God is love, suffering love, and all he asks of us is that, moment by moment, staccato second by staccato second, we purposefully open our hearts to his action within us. Her Little Way, with its radical insistence upon childlikeness and absolute love, constitutes an original and profound elaboration of gospel principles. More than 2500 churches worldwide are named in her honor. Thérèse was the most beloved patroness of the French troops in the trenches of World War I, and was declared the patroness of France, the eldest daughter of the Church, coequal with St. Joan of Arc. Therese of Lisieux is one of the patron saints of the missions, not because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of missionaries. This is reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing, that it is the little things that keep God’s kingdom growing. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

Saint Cecilia. On her wedding day to Valerian, she sang in her heart to the Lord and she knew she was to remain a virgin; her husband consented to this request. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ca. 161-180), there were persecutions and Cecilia was number among the martyrs. Officials attempted to smother her with steam, she did not die. Then they proceeded to try and cut off her head, she did not die. While she lay, she in blood she was singing praises to God. She refused to die until she received Holy Communion. She is celebrated in allMajorChristianChurcheson November 22 and is one of seven women, excluding the Theotokos, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron saint of Musicians and Church Music. Saint Cecilia reminds me of my wife, in that she sings in her heart constantly.

I would love to also mention by name the following: Saint Olympias, Saint Melania the Elder, Saint Marcella, Saint Paula, Saint Felicitas, Saint Perpetua, Saint Agatha, Saint Lucy, Saint Agnes, Saint Brigid of Ireland and Saint Anastasia. These ladies and many others truly are the Mothers of the Church. How blessed we are to have had all of them live their lives in full devotion to the Triune God! Who would you add to this list? Please let me know and share your thoughts as to why.

A Declaration of Faith

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (ca. 213-270, also known as Gregory of Neocaesarea, Gregory of Pontus, Gregory the Wonderworker, or simply The Wonder Worker) is memorialized on November 17. When he become Bishop of Caesarea, there were only 17 Christians. When we died, there were only 17 pagans left in that region. As his name states; there were many Wonder Workings done by the Spirit through Gregory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa said that Gregory of Thaumaturgus was the first person known to receive a vision of the Theotokos (Mary, the Mother of God). In that vision, the Theotokos and the Apostle John gave him a statement of doctrine on the Trinity. That statement is here re-told:

There is One God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and power and Eternal image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.

The is One Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of the Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.

And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect Life, the cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.

There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever. 

 

St Augustine on Sustainability

Did you know that Saint Augustine was into sustainability? He was green before it was in style.

“…Grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again…”

St Augustine of Hippo (ca. November 13, 354 – August 28, 430) did everything he could to maintain a reconciled and unified Church. He was constantly urging Christians to follow the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. Part of his teachings which I find most encouraging are centered around, what do we do with “bad members” in our Churches? The following is an excerpt from Sermon 223:

Don’t be surprised, either, at how many bad Christians there are, who fill the church, who communicate at the altar, who loudly praise the bishop or priest when he preaches about good morals…They can be with us in the Church of this time; but in that Church which will come into being after the resurrection, they will be unable to be gathered in with the saints.

The Church of this time, you see, is compared to a threshing-floor, having on it grain mixed with chaff, having bad members mixed with good; after the judgment it will have all good members, without any bad ones….as the gospel states, “He will have a winnowing fan in his hand, and will cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat together into the granary, while the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.17).

You older faithful, you listen to what I am saying. Any of you who are grain, rejoice with trembling, and stay where you are, and don’t leave the threshing-floor. Don’t attempt on your own judgment, to shake yourselves free, as it were, from the chaff; because if you separate yourself from the chaff, you won’t be able to stay on the threshing-floor. And when that one comes who distinguishes infallibly between grain and chaff, he won’t carry up to the granary anything he doesn’t find on the threshing-floor. So it will be no good at that time for grains to boast about the ears of wheat they came from, if they have left the threshing-floor. That granary will be filled and closed. Anything left outside will be gutted by fire.

So then, dearly beloved, if you are good, you must put up with the bad; if you are bad, you must imitate the good. The fact is, on this threshing-floor grains can degenerate into chaff, and again grains can be resurrected from chaff. This sort of thing happens everyday, my dear brothers and sisters; this life is full of both painful and pleasant surprises. Every day people who seemed to be good fall away and perish; and again, ones who seemed to be bad are converted and live. “God, you see, does not desire the death of the wicked, but only that they may turn back and live” (Ezekiel 18.23).

Listen to me, grains; listen to me, those of you who are what I desire you to be. Don’t let the mixture of husks depress you; they won’t be with you forever. How much, anyway, is the pile of husks that is covering us? Thank God, it’s very light. We only have to be grains, and however big it is, it won’t crush us. “God, after all, is faithful, and he will not permit us to be tempted or tried beyond our capacity, but with the trial will also provide a way out, so that we can endure” (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Let the husks listen to me too; wherever they are, let them listen. I hope there aren’t any here; but let me address them all the same, in case there are perhaps some here. So listen to me, you husks; though if you do listen, you won’t be husks anymore. So listen. Let God’s patience stand you in good stead. Let your association with the grains, and their advice and admonitions, make you too into grains. You are not denied the showers of God’s word; don’t let God’s field in you be barren. So, grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again. The one who sowed you, after all, wished to find full ears of corn, not empty husks.

I thank the Lord for Saint Augustine, he has helped propel so many followers of Christ forward in their journey along The Way. I pray as he did, that the Church would be unified, reconciled, and welcoming. As I said earlier, Augustine was truly into sustainability: he did not want to throw people away, and he saw that God is able to renew them in a better re-creation. I hope these words give you encouragement. I would love to hear any and all thoughts. Happy Birthday, St Augustine!