Strength and Hope

Edification, consolation, aids to Theosis. There are enough Orthodox blogs out there willing to point out in greatest detail what is wrong with this world. Holy Orthodoxy isn't about lamenting over what is wrong so much as rejoicing that what is wrong with this world can be made right, can be deified.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Patience, Mercy, and Hope: Theoleptos of Philadelphia

At the time my foster-father was refuting the likes of Barlaam and Akyndios, the bishop of Philadelphia, Theoleptos was dealing with the containment and healing of the Arsenite schism (a schism that had many of the same underlying objections to the established Church that we've seen expressed by the "True Orthodox" in our own time. The responses of Theoleptos to the schismatics are also quite valid for our own situation.)

Like my foster-father, Theoleptos was a hesychast and ascetic. And also like Pseudo Dionysius, the Cappadocians, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and my foster-father, the hierarch defended and encouraged the laity to participate in the deep and abiding work of the Holy Spirit.

So. What about the faithful who don't have all their waking hours to recite the Jesus Prayer? What if you don't have an elder who you can abandon your will to in all love, so you can let go of everything in this world to lay hold of Christ?

Like Abp. JOHN (Zizioulas) and Met. HIEROTHEOS (Vlachos) of our own time, Theoleptos speaks of communion in Christ in the broader sense. We are the same as the monastics in all the important goals of attaining theosis. We only differ in the practical working out of our common salvation.

Monastics, as I mentioned earlier, can abandon themselves to an elder or spiritual parent in an environment very much protected, almost palpably, by the Holy Spirit. If the Church in this world is a hospital of mercy and grace, the monastery is the sanitarium.

We laity don't have that kind of grace. We don't have an elder. We can't afford to abandon ourselves in all protection so we can die to our carnal nature. We are not taught by those who love us and have our best interests. We are in a world pervaded by the spirit of iniquity. Those around us, generally speaking, aren't looking out for our best interests. We aren't taught by the love of others to attain Christ, we are taught by extortioners, liars, gluttons, drunkards, the debauched, the angry, murderers, thieves. They wear down our will while the Holy Spirit encourages us to always think of pleasing Christ by obeying the Gospel. And like the monastic, we don't do that very well on our own. So both monastic and lay person are able to realize their failure to live by their own strength. The remedy is the same, but how Grace is revealed to heal and strengthen is somewhat nuanced.

For the laity, this means participating in the Divine Liturgy, taking Communion, and being attentive and prayerful in the other services. And this includes prayer at home. There is a dying to self in being attentive to what is said in the services. To contemplate the words of the psalms, to imbibe of the theology expressed in words in our Menaion, the Octoechos, and the hymnody is a deliberate act of watchfulness on our part, an act of will to not have our way by thinking of other things, or being in other places to satisfy our own desires and judgments. This then, makes the local parish the place of our ascesis, the place where we surrender to the will of Christ in safety. This, the local parish, is the place where the benefits and blessings of surrender are dispensed. So in this way Theoleptos tells his flock to let go of everything else to lay hold of Christ.

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