What Can I Do to Grow the Church?

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31

Let us ask ourselves these four questions:

– Do I regularly and dutifully seek the Lord’s True Presence in Word and Sacrament, gathering around His Holy Table in the fellowship of believers?

– Do I have the Lord’s peace in my daily life?

– Do I walk in the fear of the Lord?

– Do I seek and receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit?

We can not grow the church by human means, creative marketing plans and smarter business plans but by building discipleship one soul at a time and converting hearts to Jesus Christ through the grace and the Charisms of the Holy Spirit.

Until our souls crave for the nurture of God’s Word both spoken (Holy Scriptures) and incarnate in Holy Communion (God’s Word made flesh) inviting the Lord into our lives, the church cannot grow by any other means.

Lovingly, Fr. Shnork

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Feast of the Dormition and Assumption of the Holy Mother of God.

On August 12th we will celebrate the blessed feast of the Dormition and Assumption of the ASDVADSADZIN, the Mother of God, and the blessing of the grapes. THEOTOKOS . This is a Greek word that carries the greatest theological and confessional weight that any “church” word can carry in the context of the particular theology of the Orthodox family of churches. The equivalent Armenian word, ASDVADSADSIN pronounced asd-vadz—a—dzin means like the Greek, “Birth giver of God” or “God Bearer.” This word is not jargonistic or “theologeze.” It is neither a metaphor nor is it a simile. It is quite simply a very true and precise name for who we Orthodox Christians believe and confess St. Mary to be—simply, the Mother of God.

The impact of this “confession” is realized in who we understand Jesus, “the fruit of her womb,” to be. He is none other than the “Only- begotten God.” He is God in the flesh, not partly, not symbolically, not as a “holy man” or “God inspired teacher,” but truly the One and Only, Second Divine Person of the Holy Trinity and Son of God the Father, who’s “divinity has no beginning and who’s humanity has no end.” Calling St. Mary the “God Bearer” eliminates any and all confusion about who she gave birth to. She gave birth to GOD! Therefore, all generations will call her “blessed among women” and the Icon of perfect Motherhood.

As Christ is therefore the first fruit of the resurrection and the fruit of Mary’s womb, the Grapes, the first fruits of the yearly

harvest, are blessed on this occasion where the coincidence of the Feast falls in the middle of August where in Armenia the harvest of grapes is unprecedented and without equal.

It is very appropriate to greet all those who bear the name of Mary or any derivative of it with the phrase “ANUNOVUT APRISS” or may you live with your name.

o Holy God Bearer and Mother of God, St. Mary our immaculate Mother,intercede with your most precious Son, our Lord and our redeemer that He might deliver us from every evil and temptation and in His divine mercy grant us pardon for our many sins, through the grace of his sufferings and passion, and keep us under the protection of His Holy Cross in Peace, Amen.

Prayerfully,

Fr. Shnork Souin

Let Your Anger Turn to Joy and Let Darkness be Overshadowed by the Light. The second day of the fast of the feast of Transfiguration.

Romans 15:1-13

[1] We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves;

[2] let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.

[3] For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.”

[4] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

[5] May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

[6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[7] Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

[8] For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

[9] and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles,

and sing to thy name”;

[10] and again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

[11] and again, “Praise the Lord, all Gentiles,

and let all the peoples praise him”;

[12] and further Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, he who rises to rule the Gentiles;

in him shall the Gentiles hope.”

[13] May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

On this the second day of the fast of the feast of Transfiguration I am reflecting on today’s lectionary readings found in the book of Romans.

What a great challenge our Lord puts before his disciples when he invites them to bear with those who are weak and beyond that to go beyond their comfort zone, even to the Gentiles who knew not God and to proclaim the joy of the knowledge of the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.

From our perspective it seems obvious that as Christians we are to bring a testimony of our faith to those around us be they Christian or not. More and more as people become less vigorous in their faith and taking the gift of their membership in the church often for granted, they grow weak in faith, become afraid and are less likely to show any inclination towards devotion and faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. Imagine how much more difficult it would have been for the disciples of Christ who are devout Jews, to separate themselves from those outside Judaism and to go into the world which often despised and persecuted them and to proclaim their joy in Jesus Christ. If in fact we have faith in Christ and our joy comes from the knowledge of his resurrection and the promise that he gives us poured forth in hope and eternal life, then we have no choice but to go beyond our own comfort zone and to be the witnesses to a dark and lonely world. What a great privilege it is for each of us to live His transfigured life and with the light of Christ our Lord shining through us in our thoughts and our words and our deeds to share that with all. I know that at times it seems we don’t do that so well even in our own community, and parish BUT we need to repent from the past, put down our differences, cast off our pride, laying aside the old garment of sin and to be renewed in the Transfiguration of a life in Christ. With that renewal of body, soul and mind even bearing at times the wounds of our Lord, we can then go boldly and steadfastly into a world which is often scary and growing more intolerant against Christianity. Many will reject you but so many others will welcome that joy that you share with them. As our Lord says there is greater joy in heaven over the one lamb that was lost and is now found then in the ninety-nine who stayed by his side.

Praise God among the unbelievers, make your sign of the cross, be bold and be filled with joy, do not recount the wrongs against you, forgive and love everyone. Above all do not hold on to any anger against anybody but pray for your enemies morning, day and night and joy and peace WILL come upon you. I can guarantee that your anger will melt with the love of Jesus and peace will fill your heart.

Come and join me this Sunday for the glorious feast of the Transfiguration when our Lord, Who’s divinity has no beginning and who’s humanity has no end, reveals himself in glory, illuminating his perfect humanity adorned with divine light.

When you receive the Holy Communion this Sunday thank God that he has united you body, soul and mind with the very person of his true and unique Son who shares with you the divine light and who dwells in you and you in him.

God bless you and have a very safe and blessed July 4. We will see you all on Sunday.

In the heart of Christ with love,

Fr. Shnork Souin

Pastor’s Points of Light: Confidence in what we Hope for and Assurance about what we do not see.

Fr. Shnork Souin

Have you ever been asked about your faith? How do you answer such a question? Do you confess an orthodox Christian response, do you get into explanations of your spiritual journey or do you rationalize your ideas about religion based on feelings of nostalgia or on the basis of heritage—(Armenians are Christians)?

Let’s look at how faith is described and what the word itself means. According to the dictionary, faith is understood as either complete trust or confidence in someone or something or a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

Nowhere in the word does it depend on who or what your understanding of God is. Any talk of spirituality, nostalgia, our parents’ practices or heritage have anything to do with Jesus Christ. Any exchange or alternative to true faith, hope in Christ alone is false religion and is an exchange of truth for lies. (Romans 1:25)

True faith must necessarily begin and end with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The biblical explanation of “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) How could anyone put faith in something that they were not completely committed or dependent on? How could you hope in something that wasn’t completely sure? If a person did place any trust in that which was not worthy they would be a fool and their faith would be in vain. Anyone who was reasonable would understand this and would not place their trust on something that was unreliable. Even the faith as small as a mustard seed, if it is placed in Christ, is world without end, greater and more immeasurably grand than a faith placed in that which has no quality, undeserving of the trust we place in it (false religions, new age philosophies, any other spirituality from which Christ is absent)

In the letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says as much when he speaks to the church about resurrection saying, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, the Christ has not been raised either.And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) Look at how he says that if the thing in which you put your trust were not assured or a reality even beyond your understanding then, you are a fool and your faith is futile.  He goes on to state that we would be the most pitiable of all people, placing our trust in something unworthy of it. I’ll never forget a time when I was a young and my neighborhood friends and I wanted to play some hockey on the pond. It was late winter and a pretty warm day. I saw cracks in the ice and felt that the ice had grown thin with a few days of warmer weather. As much as I would have loved lacing on my skates and playing pond hockey for the day, I thought better of it and decided to go home.  The next day, I learned that two of my buddies fell through the ice. Thankfully they were fine and didn’t duffer any ill effects that a few warm blankets, Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup and Hot chocolate couldn’t take care of. I learned that day that in spite of placing great faith in something, if it is unworthy of that faith, you would be disappointed and in the end a fool for depending on it.

Faith is one of the chief gifts of the Holy Spirit of God. Along with Hope and Love, the three comprise the fullness of the baptismal gifts and charisms. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Our Christian faith is firmly founded upon the rock of salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ. The parable of the wise and foolish builder illustrates this lesson well where it says the foolish builder built his house on sand but the wise builder built his house on an immovable and sturdy rock. Our faith must be the same. Only faith in Christ in the solid foundation of faith and nothing else is nearly as firm nor can we place any eternal trust or dependency on it.

A sad reality, that most of us have to learn the hard way, is that a reorientation to true faith, the faith that is trustworthy, never fails nor disappoints and is always dependable comes with crisis. The person devoid of the true life-giving faith sees in times of crisis only doom but for the faithful person it is quite miraculously just the opposite! Imagine who the greatest presidents were. The ones who overcame the greatest crisis and confronted them boldly are as such remembered. Bill Clinton once said in a post presidential lament that he could never be remembered as a great president because he never had to deal with an international crisis over which he was called to preside and overcome.

It is in times of crisis when we are driven into the embrace of the arms of a loving Savior and seek his mercy and salvation. Our cries of “Lord have mercy” resonate and resound with a cry for help, knowing that we are not in control and are helpless over illness, death and failure. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches us that “Illness is a visitation from God.” St. John the Golden-mouthed says that like the paralytic who waited 38 years to be healed, “affliction reveals the charity of God.” (John 5:1-15) The man of false faith says “God where were you when I needed you?” or “why did you let this happen to me?” The man of faith says “Lord, grant me the patience, like your holy saints in heaven whose sufferings far outweigh my own, but grant me the virtue of patience to endure my suffering (either emotional or physical), “although my outer man (physical body) withers and wastes, that through it my inner man (spirit) might be renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Christ is the rock, he is the thick ice n which we skate, he is the one who props us up. No one or nothing else can have anything close to the love, power and might of God who became a true man so that each of us might become like unto God (St. Athanasius-On the Incarnation). Through his sharing in our human suffering and death, his weakness makes us strong and his poverty makes us rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).  This is not speaking of strength and wealth as the world gives “where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19), but the strength of God’s love and victory overcoming the world and the treasures stored up for us in heaven. (Matthew 6:20)

Rejoice in the crises that are inevitable. There is something far worse than not having a crisis to engage. It is having a crisis but not engaging it. The Christian engages it with faith, not a random hopeless faith in that which withers, but the true faith in the one and only God who alone can redeem and exalt us.

When you feel the most desperate, sick, helpless, alone or downtrodden, it is then and there where the majesty and power of Christ’s divine balm of healing avails the person of faith, the one who places her complete trust in Christ without wavering and without doubt. All things must begin and end with Jesus Christ, sealed by the Cross in baptism and sealed by the Cross in the grave, we belong to Jesus from whom, echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, we are “38 convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Amen.

New Sunday – 1st Sunday after the Resurrection

Christ is Risen!

Today on the church calendar we celebrate Nor Giragi or New Sunday. This liturgical celebration always takes place the Sunday after the celebration of the Lord‘s Resurrection.

It’s profoundly intentional that today’s Gospel lesson is found in the Gospel of St. John 1:1-18. This is referred to as the prologue of the Gospel of St. John. It parallels in many ways the first verses of the Old Testament. In it we hear that from the very beginning of eternity the Son of God preexistent and equal to his Father in essence and being became, in time, part of his own creation by taking upon himself a perfect humanity in all things except for Sin.

His absolute perfection as both God and human completed the earthly ministry which was prophetically foretold in the book of Genesis with the creation of Adam and Eve. Where Adam failed to be his wife’s savior and where Eve failed at being obedient to God‘s command, Christ redeemed all in all by being both the Savior and at the same time obedient completely to the will of his Father thereby bringing salvation to mankind.

Just as last Saturday we observed the Sabbath Rest of Christ in the tomb (shapator in Armenian from Hebrew Shabbat which literally means rest, specifically Christ on rest after his passion, crucifixion and death) where he descended into hell and proclaimed victory to the captives.  This Sunday we celebrate truly the new creation and the life in Christ and the hidden mystery of resurrection which will ultimately be revealed at his second coming.

My encouragement for faithful is to take the time and meditate on the great gift that Christ has brought to us and how making all things new. We are like the spring flowers who are just now peaking through the dirt after a long winters nap. We are reminded daily throughout the season and with the spirit of Christ’s resurrection of the new life that awaits us now as I said hidden but ultimately revealed at Christ’s coming. May God bless you and refresh you daily with the comfort and the promise of his good news the Holy Gospel this New Sunday, Amen.

The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in him Psalm 28:7

Easter and the Sacrament of the Sick.

The Armenian Church like all the ancient churches from Rome to all of our sister Orthodox churches of the east have seven official sacraments. The eastern churches call these sacraments the mysteries of the church. Therefore while we have seven official mysteries there are many other rituals which themselves compromise part of the incarnational ministry of Christ who ministers to his church in many and various ways. The seventh so called sacrament or mystery is referred to as the sacrament of the sick. Many people particularly of the Western church refer to this as the last rights or extreme unction. The eastern churches have never referred to the sacrament of the sick as the last rites. The reason for this is quite simple and has more recently been adopted by the Catholic Church in there modern vocabulary. Sacrament of the sick points to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the life of the faithful through the administration of grace by the hands of the ordained clergy who themselves are appointed and set apart for Healing and safeguarding for eternal life and resurrection.
The context of the sacrament includes two vital and complementary effects which are The healing of body, soul and mind as well as forgiveness of sins. These two cannot be separate from each other. As death and suffering came into the world through Adams sin so through Christ’s death comes the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. One easily therefore sees that healing means absolutely nothing apart from the forgiveness of sins. Our aim as a church is to vouchsafe the forgiveness of sins in order to attain the blessed life in Christ both now and in eternity.
The sacrament of the sick begins at the bedside of the sick person with the proclamation of the gospel of St. Mark. In this gospel reading found in Mark 11:22-26, we here how our Lord calls us to Faith saying that “if we do not doubt in our heart we will receive whatever we ask.” He goes on to say that “when we are praying we should forgive anything that we may have against anyone in order that our Father in heaven will forgive also our sins.” He ends with a warning saying “that if we do not forgive others neither will our Father in heaven forgive our sins.” Clearly we see here that what we ask in Christ’s name will be given to us fully within the context of the forgiveness of sins. I have had many experiences where people have asked me to visit hospitals to pray for healing. Understandably most people just want their loved one to be well. I’m not sure that many of them ever considered the need for the forgiveness of sins. I’ll never forget one experience where a gentleman caught up at the mercy meal following the funeral in the church hall and in his words said only that he prays that God forgive his sins and that God also forgive the sins of his departed wife. Some people were taken aback by this statement and even questioned why he would say such things. I explained that to me this was one of the most beautiful and perfectly Christian responses to death. After all How are assurance of heaven and eternal life is only attainable through the forgiveness of sins purchased by Christ himself. Apart from Christ and the anointing of his spirit, transferred through the hand of the priest and the application of the holy anointing, there is no assurance.
Healing is dependent upon the belief that the absolution spoken and applied is true and avails much.
Again, one is inseparable from the other in a fully apostolic Christian understanding. The priest visiting the bedside of the sick person is never merely pleading for healing nor is he there to somehow give permission for the person to die. The priest always goes to the bedside of the sick person in order to appeal to Christ’s mercy for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of both soul and body. What God does for us is unfathomable and hidden within the mercy and mystery of his love for us.
There are many examples in the gospels where our Lord physically touches the sick person and heals them through the power of his personal presence. What he is doing is not only sharing in their suffering but taking upon himself the sin of the world ultimately revealed in his true human death on the cross where he offered his blood and his life and sacrifice. A true incarnation and the fulfillment of God becoming man in order for men to become God. The prayer includes the words which remind us of this stating “Lord you came to this earth and spread your boundless grace upon your creatures and sent your blessed disciples empowering them to heal the infirmities and sickness of your people and saved the universe from sin and healed all the ailments and diseases of your people. He destroyed death and led us to life and immortality .”
The prayer goes on to say that “you O Lord are the physician of soul and body.” This mystery of healing is then transferred by our Lord to his holy apostles and through succession to the entire priesthood until this age. We see this in the second part of the prayer where it states “you sent your holy disciples empowering them to heal all the infirmities and sickness of your people.”
The prayer ends with the laying on of hands by the priest upon the patient who appeals to Christ’s awesome divinity saying “send your almighty power and he’ll be infirmities and illness of this your servant by the sign of your all conquering Cross through which you removed the weakness of men and condemned the enemy of our life and salvation. For you are our God and the physician of souls and bodies and the dispeller of all our infirmities.“
The final prayer to conclude the rite has the words “grant to all perfect recovery by the sign of they all conquering and Victorious Cross through which you removed the infirmity of mankind and condemned the enemy of our life and salvation. You are our life and salvation most merciful God who alone are able to forgive our sins and to dispel disease and sickness from among us.“
We clearly see that in the rite, the mystery of Christ’s own suffering and death, completed through his resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate and contemplate this Holy Week, that our Lord safeguards and insures our place in heaven and the hope of eternal life for the sake of Christ.
My prayer for each and everyone of you this season of resurrection is that you join me and contemplating the great mystery of God’s love for us through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ which in the completion of his earthly ministry has given us the hope of resurrection and eternal life. Christ is risen from the dead, Blessed is the resurrection of Christ. My prayer for each and everyone of you this season of Resurrection is that you join me in contemplating the great mystery of God‘s love for us through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ which in the completion of his earthly ministry has given us the hope of resurrection and eternal life.
Christ is risen from the dead, Blessed is the resurrection of Christ, Amen.
Prayerfully
Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

The Pure in Heart Matthew 5:8-12

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Matthew 5:8-12

By Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor of

Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church

During Lent, I was invited by a local Presbyterian Church to present a talk to their senior citizens about any unique aspect of orthodox theology that may be unknown by most Protestants and western Christians. I decided to speak to them about the little known but distinctive theological doctrine that came about predominantly through a controversy in the 14th century[1] which was centered in the surpassing intention of mankind, the beatific vision promised to the pure in heart.
As Lent is the prescribed period through which we corporately and personally examine ourselves and in repentance, seek that which was lost and turning from the darkness of sin, toward a renewed vision and union with God in the newness of life through Christ, I chose to base my presentation from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, where He says, in the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:8; “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”
To see God, to live in his light, to apprehend true and ultimate wisdom, to have union with the divine! This has been humanity’s ultimate and primordial desire. The restoration of what humanity lost in the Fall—the Beatific Vision.
But, as bishops, priests, deacons, as theologians, as pastors who recognize the challenge with which Satan daily tries to deceive us making this promise seemingly impossible, we may ask ourselves, “who, after all, is pure in heart and who thus can see God?”
On one hand we question the possibility given our human weakness and while on the other hand we are challenged by theological principles which seem to prohibit any such vision. In the biblical tradition, no one could view God’s divine face and live, and no one but a permitted few like Moses ever got to view and talk to God in His divine glory, for as it is written “Never will man see My face and live”[2].
The answer lies in the “little known but distinctive” theology which I referred to. It has been expressed throughout the history of the church from its inception having its roots in the biblical revelation and unpacked theologically by the church fathers. It is our understanding of the distinction between the energy and the essence of God. While some may at first say, “what is the difference and why does it matter?”, the crucial feature of the theology is that some denied and today still deny, that the energies or “supernatural activities” of God manifested in Creation have their origin in creation whereas in orthodox thought we confess that God is manifest through his good pleasure, even in His uncreated energies.
God in spite of being essentially, absolute transcendence, is not alienated from creation. God remains therefore essentially“unchangeable, incomprehensible, unknowable, unsearchable and unfathomable”,truly beyond history and creation spoken of in only apophatic terminology, yet immanent in His uncreated energies. It is through His interaction with humanity and in creation therefore, that there is the possibility and potentiality of divine human union.
The distinction between God’s uncreated essence and energy lies at the root of theological perspectives in East and West. In the East, obviously, we have a deeply entrenched notion of the absolute and concrete historical reality of God’s very Incarnation and thorough union with His creation through the birth, death and resurrection of God the Second person of the Holy Trinity. Through Jesus Christ, complete union, for mankind, with God is made possible. Two perceived incompatibilities, material and spirit, divine and human are made whole and thoroughly united in the Person of Jesus God, our Lord.
Contrasting two spokesmen from east and west, John Calvin, rejecting the apostolic tradition says; Finitude non est capax infiniti –the finite is incapable of the infinite, or in other words, that which is created in time cannot have intimate or indissoluble union with the infinite or the divine. His theory is that the divine and created are like oil and water unable to share in each other’s properties without change and yet, St. Paul making a startling assertion says; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.”[3]
When I was a child, visiting my Nene, I was intrigued by this open socket at the corner of the living room. One day growing bolder and my curiosity getting the better of me, I reached into it. The shock sent me across the room. I didn’t weigh 230lbs at the time but it was still a jolt! Being typical Armenians, seeing that I was still alive and no worse for the wear, my mom and grandmother yelled at me, “Khent!”[4] I learned that day that you don’t have to see the essential character or power of something very real and present to apprehend its energy. This analogy should give pause to our understanding of the experience of Moses on the holy mount before the burning bush, or the apostles Peter, John and James, who hit the deck and cowered before the Transfigured Christ on Mt. Tabor[5]. It is as if Jesus showed them a vision that was a distinct message and privilege- a partial glimpse of His true messianic glory as the God-Man and a foretaste of the heavenly Beatific Vision. Like the Apostles and prophets, we need also to likewise approach God with humility and never arrogantly.
While Jean Calvin’s theological premise was intended to deny Catholic sacramental theology and the doctrine of Transubstantiation, ostensibly, he denied the Incarnation! The infinite God can have no union with the finite, man!
Our champion of orthodox incarnation theology, on the other hand, St. Athanasius confessing the hypostatic union of God with created humanity and the communicatio idiomatum[6] says; in bald contradiction to any Calvinistic notion of ultimate separation between heaven and earth, God and man, finite and infinite says of God’s Incarnation, birth, death and resurrection; “God became man so that man can become god.” Of course this assertion seems preposterous to the Protestant mindset, embarrassing and as foolish an assertion as the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, or even blasphemous and audacious as the trisagial[7] hymn where we confess in profoundly cataphatic language the death of “Holy God, Holy and mighty, holy and immortal God.” These things are absurd to most people and yet, from the very beginning of time, man seeks the vision of and union with God! What is more absurd, a desire for the impossible or the rejection of Christ’s promise, “Blessedare the pure in heart, for they shall see God”?
A couple of years ago, I made a trip to meet a friend with whom I’d become acquainted. Over pizza, our conversation turned to God. I began sensing that her experience of God was a class apart and that she was always in God’s presence. I asked her to describe what her relationship with God felt like, and she whispered in awe-struck amazement, “It feels . . . like there’s no difference between us!”
What was it that she had? I asked her. Her answer was as amazing as the initial assertion. She said that she made a willing effort to fill all her hours, both when she was busy doing her work, when she was with friends, doing charity work in the hospital or in quiet and restful times, with the practice of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. She went on to say, “I ask Him to replace with Himself the stuff that sours my relation with him, to place His Heart in me!”
How can we become like God or to attain theosis, union with God and the beatific vision? Is it in me accomplish this, is it in the will of the flesh? No.
Who after all, can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?[8]
If I examine myself, I come back with one conclusion, like our fathers and saints of the church, “I am a wretched sinner, the greatest of sinners[9],“For out of my heart proceeds evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, blasphemy.”[10] Anything I do or accomplish dependent on my own ability is fruitless, for as says the psalmist,“Surely in vain have I kept my heartpure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.”[11]
The fact is that we are challenged however by a number of things which bind and blind us. Many are the obstacles which blemish the purity of heart distracting our attention to the light of our life. The pressures and concerns for the day. Disorientation, a focus on the material pleasures of life where the devil always tries to divert our focus from God. A withdrawal from God’s time and from his Presence—focusing on the chronos[12] rather than the kairos[13].
The fathers of the church teach us that through a disciplined, modest, ordered and religious life we are able to perfect quietude of body and mind and to arrive at a vision of the Uncreated Light of the Godhead. Within a life of humble prayer, they teach us also that the true theologian is the one who prays and the one who prays is the true theologian.[14] Repentance springs forth from a broken heart which is replaced in Baptism and kept beating through Communion with Christ’s. Jesus through His sacraments and in prayer, can and will “Create in us a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.”[15] Jesus listens to the prayers of the broken hearted.
In repentance and dependence on Christ my brothers, is the divine light and the beatific vision made manifest. In a humble reorientation to the life in Christ, who Himself is the icon, the Divine Image in whom “dwells all the fullness of God”[16]. Not so much in seeking to have Jesus in your heart, like many of our evangelical friends prescribe, but desiring for Jesus to BE our heart, because Jesus IS the Heart of God. He is both the Pure Heart and the Beatific Vision.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus possesses the vision of God. His human intellect was perfected, not only by virtue of the personal union, but by the attainment of the purpose of every human being — to see God and to love him. He tells His followers that this vision is available to them also through fellowship with him, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”[17]
My fathers and brothers, we are privileged beyond comprehension with an ineffable divine promise. Our Lord has come to us in the flesh and continually comes to us in His Holy Eucharist, even revealing himself to us as he did to Cleopas and another disciple on the Road to Emmaus, when “He took bread, and blessed it, and broke, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.”[18] Let us pray that He create in each of us a new heart, and to make His dwelling with us that we might together “taste and see how sweet is the Lord”[19].
The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you all,”[20]“and may the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, now and always and unto the ages of ages, Amen.”[21]

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[1] The Palamite controversy between Barlaam and Gregory Palamas raged in the early 14th century. Barlaam saw education as a higher virtue than prayer and mocked the monks of Mt. Athos who led a life of disciplined and contemplative prayer calling them “Navel Gazers”. Gregory victorious and vindicated for his orthodoxy proved that the “light” of the beatific vision seen by some monks, was the same uncreated light as witnessed by the apostles at Christ’s metamorphosis on Mt. Tabor.

[2] Exod. 33:20

[3] Romans 1:20

[4] fool

[5] Matthew 17:1-6; Mark 9:1-8; Luke 9:28-36.

[6] A technical expression in the theologyof the Incarnation. It means that the properties of the Divine Word can be ascribed to the man Christ, and that the properties of the man Christ can be predicated of the Word.

[7] Thrice Holy

[8] Proverbs 20:9

[9] 1 Timothy 1:15

[10] Matthew 15:19

[11] Psalm 73:13

[12] created, temporal time

[13] Divine, eternal or sacred time.

[14] Evagrius of Pontus, From The Armenian Writings of the Desert Fathers.

[15] Psalm 51:10

[16] Collosians 2:9-10

[17] John 14:7-8 7

[18] Luke 24:30-31

[19] Psalm 34:8

[20] Numbers 6:25

[21] Philippians 4:10