Archive for October, 2017

Good Science and Good Religion cannot be in Conflict.

I do not believe that there is any real conflict between good science and good religion. There can’t be. If both science and religion genuinely seek truth and God is truth, they both seek the same thing. They are two sides of the same coin. The problem arises when either science or religion becomes entrenched and dogmatic in a theory or idea. This is where the conflict arises: Bad science and/or bad religion. The classic case is the Roman Catholic Church against Copernicus and Galileo and the heliocentric solar system. “You say the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth? Heresy, I say!”, said Pope.  That was pretty stupid. But, to be fair, both sides have been guilty of arbitrarily turning speculation and theory into hard fact without total understanding or certainty.

In our contemporary world, it seems to me that science is often times doing better theology than the theologians. This is especially true in the field of Physics, including astro-physics, radio astronomy, and small particle physics. Let’s look at three examples:

Example 1: The Big Bang and the Voice of God

The Big Bang model is the prevailing cosmological theory of the origin of the universe. It postulates that the universe began as a very small, very dense, and extremely hot “ball” anywhere from the size of an atom to that of an orange. When this dense extremely hot “ball of fire” exploded it produced a “Big Bang” expanding outward in all directions, expanding into what our universe is today.

But, from where did this Big Bang come from? Theology had already provided an answer. In the beginning when God created all things he simply spoke—and it came forth from the word of his mouth! “And GOD SAID, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen 1:3). The writer of Hebrews informs us that “The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). In other words . . . God SPOKE, and BANG, it was!

But, back to science. Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1960. It was part of a very early satellite transmission system. Two employees of Bell Labs had their eye on the antenna. Arno Penzias, a German-born radio astronomer, joined Bell Labs in 1958. He knew the Holmdel antenna would also make a great radio telescope and was dying to use it to observe the universe. Another radio astronomer, Robert Wilson, came to Bell Labs in 1962 with the same idea.

When they began to use the Holmdel antenna as a telescope they found there was a background “noise” (like static in a radio). This annoyance was a uniform signal in the microwave range, seeming to come from all directions. Everyone assumed it came from the telescope itself, which was not unusual. Penzias and Wilson had to get rid of it to make the observations they planned. They checked everything to rule out the source of the excess radiation. It wasn’t urban interference. It wasn’t radiation from our galaxy or extraterrestrial radio sources. It wasn’t even the pigeons living in the big, horn-shaped antenna. Penzias and Wilson had to conclude it was not the antenna and it was not random noise causing the radiation.

Penzias and Wilson began looking for theoretical explanations. Around the same time, Robert Dicke at nearby Princeton University had been pursuing theories about the Big Bang. He had elaborated on existing theory to suggest that if there had been a Big Bang, the residue of the explosion should by now take the form of a low-level background radiation throughout the universe. Dicke was looking for evidence of this theory when Penzias and Wilson got in touch with his lab.
They didn’t realize it, but with their discovery of background cosmic microwave radiation in 1965. . . Penzias and Wilson were perhaps listening to the echoes of the creational voice of God! They won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for their discovery.

Example 2. Empty Space or a Relational Universe.

The second example also comes from Physics. Science believes that only about 5% of the universe is made up of “normal” matter. But, the remaining 95% of the universe is not empty. Scientists speculate that the balance of the universe is made up of what they describe as “dark energy” (~68%) and “dark matter” (~27%). They aren’t sure exactly what either of these are, but they know they exist because of the measurable effects of the relationships between them and “normal” matter.

Scientists are finding that the energy is in the space between the particles of the atom and between the planets and the stars. They are discovering that reality is absolutely relational at all levels.

This is exactly what Christian mystics have been telling religion and the rest of the world for two thousand years. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Example 3. More “Dimensions” Than We Thought

The last example comes to us from small particle physics. The “M theory” of small particle physics indicates (mathematically) that in addition to our classic four dimensions of spacetime (three dimensions in space: up/down, left/right, and forward/backward, and one dimension of time: later/earlier) there may be as many as seven additional dimensions we virtually know nothing about; for a total of 11 dimensions in theoretical spacetime.

Perhaps one or more of those seven additional dimensions of spacetime might be “spiritual” dimensions. Or perhaps all eleven dimensions may be evidence of the Divine Triune perichoresis, or circle-dance, which manifests in our spacetime yet also transcends it into the other dimensions that we just don’t have the “eyes” to see.

Regardless of the propensity of both science and religion to claim false certainties, I firmly believe that scientists and theologians alike are climbing different sides of the same mountain.

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Palamas: “Theosis, the Uncreated Thaboric Light”

St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.

 

“Since the Son of God, in his incomparable love for man, did not only unite His divine Hypostasis with our nature, by clothing Himself in a living body and a soul gifted with intelligence… but also united himself… with the human hypostases themselves, in mingling himself with each of the faithful by communion with his Holy Body, and since he becomes one single body with us (cf. Eph. 3:6), and makes us a temple of the undivided Divinity, for in the very body of Christ dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), how should he not illuminate those who commune worthily with the divine ray of His Body which is within us, lightening their souls, as He illumined the very bodies of the disciples on Mount Thabor?  For, on the day of the Transfiguration, that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies, it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by an intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within.”  ~St Gregory Palamas, from Triads I.iii.38.

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Palamas: “In Mystical Contemplation Man Sees God’s Light with the Spirit”

St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.

 

st_gregory_palamas“In mystical contemplation a man sees neither with the intellect nor with the body, but with the Spirit; and with full certainty he knows that he beholds supernaturally a light which surpasses all other light. But he does not know through what organ he beholds this light, nor can he analyze the nature of the organ; for the ways of the Spirit, through which he sees, are unsearchable. And this is what St Paul affirmed, when he heard things which it is not lawful for man to utter and saw things which none can behold: ‘ … whether in the body or whether out of the body, I cannot tell’ (2 Cor. l2:3) – that is, he did not know whether it was his intellect or his body which saw them. For he did not perceive these things by sensation, yet his vision was as clear as that whereby we see the objects of sense perception, and even clearer still. He saw himself carried out of himself through the mysterious sweetness of his vision; he was transported not only outside every object and thought but even outside himself.

This happy and joyful experience which seized upon Paul and caused his intellect to pass beyond all things in ecstasy, which made him turn entirely in upon himself, this experience took the form of light – a light of revelation, but such as did not reveal to him the objects of sense perception. It was a light without bounds or termination below or above or to the sides; he saw no limit whatever to the light which appeared to him and shone around him, but it was like a sun infinitely brighter and larger than the universe: and in the midst of this light he himself stood, having become nothing but eye. Such, more or less, was his vision.”  ~ St. Gregory Palamas in Triads, I.iii. 21

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Met. Kallistos (Ware): “On the Jesus Prayer”

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia –  (b. 1934) is a titular metropolitan of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966-2001, he was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, and has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox faith.

 

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“There is a Trinitarian dimension to the most dearly-loved of single-phrase Orthodox prayers, the Jesus Prayer, an ‘arrow prayer’ used both at work and during times of quiet. In its most common form this runs: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. This is, in outward form, a prayer to the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the other two persons are also present, although they are not named. For, by speaking of Jesus as ‘Son of God’, we point towards his Father; and the Spirit is also embraced in our prayer, since ‘no one can say “Lord Jesus”, except in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:3). The Jesus Prayer is not only Christ-centered but Trinitarian.

Let us now consider what it has to tell us about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and about our healing by and in him.

There are in the Jesus Prayer two ‘poles’ or extreme points. ‘Lord … Son of God’: the Prayer speaks first about God’s glory, acclaiming Jesus as the Lord of all creation and the eternal Son. Then at its conclusion the Prayer turns to our condition as sinners- sinful by virtue of the fall, sinful through our personal acts of wrongdoing: ‘. . . on me a sinner’. (In its literal meaning the Greek text is yet more emphatic, saying ‘on me the sinner’, as if I were the only one.)

So the Prayer begins with adoration and ends with penitence. Who or what is to reconcile these two extremes of divine glory and human sinfulness? There are three words in the Prayer which give the answer. The first is ‘Jesus’, the personal name conferred on Christ after his human birth from the Virgin Mary. This has the sense of Saviour: as the angel said to Christ’s foster-father St Joseph: ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).

The second word is the title ‘Christ’, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’, meaning the Anointed One – anointed, that is, by the Holy Spirit of God. For the Jewish people of the Old Covenant, the Messiah was the coming deliverer, the future king, who in the power of the Spirit would set them free from their enemies.

The third word is ‘mercy’, a term that signifies love in action, love working to bring about forgiveness, liberation and wholeness. To have mercy is to acquit the other of the guilt which by his own efforts he cannot wipe away 1 to release him from the debts he himself cannot pay, to make him whole from the sickness for which he cannot unaided find any cure. The term ‘mercy’ means furthermore that all this is conferred as a free gift: the one who asks for mercy has no claims upon the other, no rights to which he can appeal.

The Jesus Prayer, then, indicates both man’s problem and God’s solution. Jesus is the Saviour, the anointed king, the one who has mercy. But the Prayer also tells us something more about the person of Jesus himself. He is addressed as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God’: here the Prayer speaks of his Godhead, of his transcendence and eternity. But he is addressed equally as ‘Jesus’, that is, by the personal name which his mother and his foster-father gave him after his human birth in Bethlehem. So the Prayer speaks also of his manhood, of the genuine reality of his birth as a human being.

The Jesus Prayer is thus an affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ as alike truly divine and fully human. He is the Theanthropos or ‘God-man’, who saves us from our sins precisely because he is God and man at once. Man could not come to God, so God has to come to man – by making himself human. In his outgoing or ‘ecstatic’ love, God unites himself to his creation in the closest of all possible unions, by himself becoming that which he has created. God, as man, fulfils the mediatorial task which man rejected at the fall. Jesus our Saviour bridges the abyss between God and man because he is both at once. As we say in one of the Orthodox hymns for Christmas Eve, ‘Heaven and earth are united today, for Christ is born. Today has God come down to earth, and man gone up to heaven’.”   ~Met. Kallistos (Ware), from The Orthodox Way, p.48, 90-92.

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Praying the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer (Greek: Η Προσευχή του Ιησού, i prosefchí tou iisoú); or “The Prayer” (Greek: Η Ευχή, i efchí̱ – literally “The Wish”) is a short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The prayer has been widely taught and discussed beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries.  It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχάζω, isycházo, “to keep stillness”). The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition (see Philokalia) as a method of opening up the heart (kardia) and bringing about the Prayer of the Heart (Καρδιακή Προσευχή). The Prayer of The Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:17).

 

Methods and Steps


Practical Steps for the Jesus Prayer

1. Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place.
2. Recollect yourself.
3. With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention.
4. Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me
5. Quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently.
6. As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in.
7. Be patient and peaceful.
8. Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep.
9. Learn to love silence.
10. Read the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer.
11. As much as possible avoid distracting occupations.

(From the “Life of Abba Philemon” (6th Century book about Paul’s disciple))


Spiritual Levels of Prayer

Level 1
It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation defined as a verbal expression. Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s heart and mind.

Level 2
As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. At this point, the mind is focused upon the words of the prayer, speaking them as if they were ones own.

Level 3
The third level, is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer, which is a gift of the Spirit, is to return to the Father as did the prodigal son. The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)

(From the “Reflections of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))


Stages of Growth in the Prayer of the Heart

1. Try to…enclose your thought in the words of the [Jesus] prayer. If on account of its [the mind’s] infancy it wearies and wanders lead it in again. The mind is naturally unstable. But He Who orders all things can control it.

2. The beginning of prayer consists in banishing the thoughts that come to us at their very appearance…

3. Quantity is the cause of quality. The Lord gives pure prayer [prayer of the mind in the heart] to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention.

4. …the middle [of prayer] is when the mind stays solely in the words pronounced vocally or mentally…If, therefore, you tirelessly train your mind never to stray from the words of the prayer, it will be there even at mealtime.

5. The spiritual land of a man pure in soul is within him…Try to enter the cell within you and you will see the heavenly cell. They are one and the same…The ladder to the Heavenly Kingdom is within you. [Luke 17:21]

(St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867) relating the teachings of St. John Climacus (d. 606) in “On the Prayer of Jesus”)


Using a Prayer Rope (Komboskini or Chotki) with the Jesus Prayer

…those who excelled in prayer, in order to avoid being subject to this self-deception, invented the prayer rope, which they proposed for the use of those who seek to pray not with written prayers, but on their own. They used it as follows:

1. They said, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” and moved one knot with their fingers;

2. Then, they said this again and moved another, and so on;

3. Between each short prayer they made a bow from the waist** or a prostration,* as desired, or…

4. Between small knots they made a bow from the waist and at the larger knots or beads a complete prostration.*

(From the “Letters of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))


Notes:

* A prostration consists of dropping to both knees and leaning forward on the hands until the head touches the ground.

** Saint Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (d. 1779) suggested the Sign of the Cross: …hold it [prayer rope] in your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’

Copyright 2016 Ancient Christian Foundation

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St. Pachomius: “Prayer Rule for Monks and Nuns”

Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, Coptic: Ⲡⲁϩⲱⲙ ca. 292–348) – was an early and important Desert Father.  He is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic (communal) monasticism. By the time Pachomius died (c. 345) eight monasteries in Upper Egypt and several hundred monks followed his guidance. Within a generation, cenobic practices spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe.

 

The Prayer Rule of St. Pachomius

Note: This order was given to Desert Father St. Pachomius of Egypt in the 4th Century by an Angel, and was the rule he used at each hour of the day and night . It is a prayer rule that especially lends itself to memorization, and as such is one that can be done in situations in which it is impractical for one to pray using a prayer book.


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Coptic Icon of St. Pachomius

Introductory Prayers
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3X) >Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins. O Master, pardon our iniquities. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.

Lord have mercy. (3X)

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in the Heavens, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Lord, Have mercy. (12X) >Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.
O come, let us worship God our King.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

Psalm 50
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.

The Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures; And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life; Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets. In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. Amen.

The Jesus Prayer
O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (100X)

The Dismissal
It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most blameless, and Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. (3X)

O Lord, Bless.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.

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Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer in 4th-5th Century Desert Fathers

 

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Desert Fathers Icon

Hesychasm (from the Greek for “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”) is a mystical tradition and movement that originated with the Desert Fathers and was central to their practice of prayer.  Hesychasm for the Desert Fathers was primarily the practice of “interior silence and continual prayer.” It did not become a formal movement of specific practices until the fourteenth century Byzantine meditative prayer techniques, when it was more closely identified with the Prayer of the Heart, or “Jesus Prayer.”  That prayer’s origin is also traced back to the Desert Fathers—the Prayer of the Heart was found inscribed in the ruins of a cell from that period in the Egyptian desert. The earliest written reference to the practice of the Prayer of the Heart may be in a discourse collected in the Philokalia on Abba Philimon, a Desert Father. Hesychast prayer was a meditative practice that was traditionally done in silence and with eyes closed—”empty of mental pictures” and visual concepts, but with the intense consciousness of God’s presence.

The words hesychast and hesychia were frequently used in 4th and 5th century writings of Desert Fathers such as Macarius of Egypt, Evagrius Ponticus, and of Gregory of Nyssa. The title hesychast was used in early times synonymously with “hermit,” as compared to a cenobite who lived in community. Hesychasm can refer to inner or outer stillness, though in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers it referred to inner tranquility.  ~Wikipedia “Desert Fathers”

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