Posted by: towardtransfiguration | March 12, 2010

Transfigured in the Renewing of Our Minds

Today my wife and I presented Theophostic Prayer Ministry to the leadership of LAMP, a Catholic organization in New York City, as a possible tool to enhance the organization’s work among the poor. Today was also one of the days on which we celebrate the feast of St. Symeon the New Theologian, an appropriate day to talk about a ministry dedicated, as the name suggests,  to allowing the light of God to penetrate the dark corners of our minds. While preparing for the presentation, I read Romans 12:2 in a new way:

καὶ μὴσυσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς εἰς τὸδοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.

And do not be conformed to this age, but be transfigured by the renewing of your minds for the discerning of what is the will of God: what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

μεταμορφοσις evokes a very special kind of transformation since it’s the same word translated as “transfiguration.” In light of the later themes of St. Symeon and the hesychasts, it evokes holiness and closeness with God, shining with the uncreated light revealed at Tabor to be that of Christ himself. This verse implies that our process of transfiguration in this age is co-extensive with the renewing of our minds from conformity with the σχημα or symbolic-system of this world to the interpreting of the will of God. It’s a switch of how we interpret the meaning of things: according to what we know from the Father of Lies whose distortions permeate this world’s way of functioning as the pandemic symptoms of fear, anxiety, self-preservation, and despair reveal, or towards the Truth that puts all things in light of the Father of Lights and his strange self-emptying love for us as big and burning as the Sun. Since our prudential judgments, desires, and emotions follow our beliefs about the meaning of things, the renewing of our minds according to the σχημα of the Father’s reality allows us to properly taste what is good and pleasing and perfect. In receiving the light of his truth we are renewed in our minds, and in tasting of his love we are transfigured.

We’ve found Theophostic Prayer Ministry a remarkably portable and effective means of mind renewal, and a modern tool deeply compatible with Patristic anthropology: so I hope to argue in my MDiv thesis in a couple of years.

In the meanwhile, I hope that God will open doors in New York for this sort of ministry and that the dialogue we began today shall be the beginning of that. During our mutually encouraging conversation, one of LAMP’s leaders, a veteran of decades of  evangelistic and social ministry among the poor, shared God’s heart in particular for the residents of New York’s homeless shelters who, she said, have often experienced unbelievable stories of addiction, sexual exploitation, degradation, pain, and tragedy. Indeed, my wife Miriam, who has already been working with the lovely people at this organization for a few months now and has visited a few of these shelters, has told me that in many ways she finds the economic and social disparity in New York just as striking as in her native Bombay. Through the prayers of our Holy Father among the Saints Symeon the New Theologian, may God send forth his light into these dark places, both in this city and its microcosm within us, that we may be transfigured in the renewing of our minds.

Posted by: towardtransfiguration | January 8, 2010

Love Will Transfigure Us Like Our Lady of El Warraq

At the end of my last post, I reflected on the way that Mary appeared in the video from El-Warraq: “May we all become as she appears here in this video, transfigured so brilliantly in the light of Christ.”

Her appearing above the church of St. Mary and St. Michael in Warraq, Cairo came at the beginning of the Coptic month dedicated to her. Today, if I’m not mistaken, that month fulfills itself in the feast of the birth of Christ according to the Old Julian Calendar and the use of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Today, I received two words that go along together so beautifully. First, a Copt, Mark Sadek, sends a beautiful quote from that master expository preacher of the 5th century and great father, St. John Chrysostom:

“And thou then, brother, though thou shouldest remain without food, though thou shouldest sleep upon the ground, though thou shouldest eat ashes and be ever wailing, and do good to no other; thou wilt do no great work. For so also those great and noble persons  who were in the beginning made this their chiefest care: examine accurately their life, and thou wilt see clearly that none of them ever looked to his own things, but each one to the things of his neighbor, whence also they shone the brighter. For so Moses (to mention him first) wrought many and great wonders and signs; but nothing made him so great as that blessed voice which he uttered unto God, saying, ‘If Thou wilt forgive their sin,’ forgive: ‘but if not, blot me also out’ (Ex. 32:32).

Moses’ self-sacrificing love brings to mind Paul’s deep love for the Jews, a love that drove him to say in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (ESV) Both are images of the love of God who did not spare his only Son, and of Christ, who himself was willingly cut off, who cried in the agony of abandonment from the cross for love of you and I.

Such is the paradox of the Christian life! He who loves his life will lose it, but he who cuts it off utterly and irretrievably for love of Christ and neighbor will find only life more abundantly. The cross isn’t the path to brightness. The cross is brightness.

The second word comes from Egypt itself. The Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Pope Shenouda, writes an encyclical letter to all Copts outside of Egypt that shows the path to transfiguration with such clarity.

I’ll quote it in its entirety here:

My beloved children in the lands of Immigration, both clergy and laity,

I send to you my sincere love to each one of you, wishing you a joyous life in the lands of immigration. May the Lord keep you without fault, loving one another with true love, that each you be careful to edify his brother, without offence.

I would like to congratulate you all with the start of the New Year, and the Glorious Feast of Nativity. May it be a blessed and happy year, carrying to you what the birth of the Lord carries from inspirations to the soul and also deep spiritual memories.

The Lord Christ came as a Savior to the world, as the angel said to the shepherds: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) And the Lord has said concerning Himself that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

In addition to all of this, He had an important message in teaching, and in leading the people to the knowledge of God, having said to the Father: ” And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). He also said to Him: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Did all of these people not know God, till Christ came to tell them about Him? Of course not, for without doubt they knew His Hebrew name: Elohim, Jehovah, Adonai, that is, the One who is and is to be, God and Lord. But this mere knowledge of the mind is not enough.

They knew that the One God is the Creator of heaven and earth and the only One who works wonders. But they did not have a relationship of the heart with Him, even in their prayers! Therefore God said concerning them: ” …these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me.” (Isaiah 29:13)

They had an outward worship only, without spirit! Prayer without a connection!! For this reason God rejected their prayer. He said to these people: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)

God desired the pure heart that is full of love towards God and people. Thus the Lord Christ said to God the Father: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

The Lord Christ came teaching people about love, through His life and words; so that they will know that God is Love (1 John 4:16); and that every virtue void of love is not accepted before God… Thus He said to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) He also said to them: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) It was said about Him that He “loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)

He taught them to love everyone, even the enemies, saying: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44) He explained this by saying: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)

As long as God is Love, then anyone who is far from love is far from God…

With this we understand the meaning of prayer. It is not merely talking with God, or merely a duty that we perform, instead, prayer is a desire for God, as the psalmist says in the Psalm: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)

The prayer that is distinguished by the love from the heart to God is a spiritual enjoyment, during which the heart enjoys the company of God. The sign of this is that when a person starts prayer, they do not want to finish it, desiring to continue in the enjoyment of talking with God. The ending of the prayer to this person is like snatching the suckling infant from his mothers’ breast…

The Lord Christ offered God to people with a lovely name of heavenly Father. He taught us to call Him saying: “Our Father Who art in heaven…” He is the Father who is full of beauty and compassion, and He is the source of all goodness…

We love God Who gives to us without us asking, and above what we ask. We love Him for He is the Good Shepherd, who makes us lie in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters (Psalm 23). He is the true Shepherd who said about Himself: “I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down … I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick…” (Ezekiel 34:15,16) With all of this the Lord Christ came as a Good Shepherd, giving Himself for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). He gives His sheep eternal life, and they will not perish forever (John 10:28).

Blessed is the Lord in His incarnation, in His love to us, in His care which is sacrificial and redeeming. We thank Him for all of this, and glorify His Name from now and forevermore, Amen.

A blessed season to you all.

Shenouda

Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark January 2010

Posted by: towardtransfiguration | January 7, 2010

Mary Appears Again in Egypt: Another Prophetic Evening

Just a few weeks ago, on December 16, the beginning of the month honoring the Virgin Mary on the Coptic Calendar, the Virgin Mary suddenly appeared over a Coptic Orthodox Church in El Warraq, Cairo. The Cairo paper Al Ahram reports that a Muslim neighbor saw it, called the priest, and said, “What are you doing here, father? I just saw Our Lady Mariam with my own eyes: go and see for yourself.”

After the shock of seeing this, several things occurred to me.

First, during the summer of 2008 God granted that I spend a few weeks travelling throughout Egypt, visiting the fatherless and widow with Coptic Orphans. I felt strongly that the Virgin Mary herself invited me to join the organization back in 2006, so I felt a strong pull to visit the site of her first appearance in Egypt on the dome of a church in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Cairo. God granted that it be so on my last day in Egypt before heading out to join my wife in India. What struck me there was that the church is so much smaller than it appears in pictures. Standing there and feeling as if I could reach up and nearly touch the dome over which she appeared, I realized that God loves us so much that he allowed her to come so close to us at Zeitoun. Once again, he allows her to come close to call us to repentance with that particular closeness that only a child and mother know.

Second, as at Zeitoun, she appeared here to Christian and Muslim alike. How truly she is the mother of us all to call us to Christ without distinction. Her coming to us again in El-Warraq can only signify just how lavishly God gives us his mercy and love–regardless of our beliefs about him– so that we turn to him.

Third, when I joined Coptic Orphans I sensed that the fatherless in Egypt in particular are dear to our Mother’s heart because of the hospitality her son received there. I don’t understand it fully, but it seems that God has designs on Egypt for the future that are related to his providential plan in the past.

Fourth, I tremble when I see this and remember Kibeho and Fatima. Fatima preceded and prophecied a world war. Kibeho preceded and prophecied the Rwanda genocide. The greater the mercy, the greater the trials ahead. Perhaps also God has allowed this knowing what is ahead in Egypt, and has allowed his Most Holy Mother to appear to Christian and Muslim alike as a plea to her Muslim children to turn to God in light of what she, God, and the holy angels only know the future may hold if we don’t all repent, pray, and fast, but what we already see foreshadowed in current tensions.

May we all become as she appears here in this video, transfigured so brilliantly in the light of Christ. And may we make her ever more brilliant with our repentance and fervent prayers for Egypt and the world.

Posted by: towardtransfiguration | January 7, 2010

Returning From Hiatus…

I apologize to all who commented and didn’t see their comments published, and to all who monitored this blog hoping to see more material. The semester became very busy and the blog fell so quickly into the gutter.

I am picking it up now, prodded again by another event that I’ll post on above. This time, I hope to continue publishing regularly.

Posted by: towardtransfiguration | September 22, 2009

A Prophetic Evening

200px-SoftenerofHeartsLast night my wife and I drove north of New York city and across the Tapan Zee bridge to see an icon visiting from Moscow. It was a more powerful experience than we reckoned for. Indeed, the evening was pregnant with prophecy.

 

The church, a small Russian Orthodox church in a picturesque and rocky New York village right on the west side of the Hudson, was filled with Russians in its narrow bosom. It was a beautiful church, with icons and paintings from floor to ceiling, an elaborate icon screen with brass overlays everywhere, and the many-layered architecture you find only in such places.

 

In the middle of the church, underneath brass candle holders filled with beeswax candles dancing with flame, stood a very small icon in a glass case. It is the icon of the Theotokos, or Birth-Giver of God, the “Softener of Evil Hearts.” It’s also called “Symeon’s Prophecy,” since it shows seven swords pointed towards the center of the Virgin’s torso, an allusion to Luke 2:34-25. It’s a miraculous icon, associated with physical healing and miracles, but especially for softening hearts towards God and one another of those who pray before it… and softening the hearts of their enemies, too.

 

What was the icon doing here? On February 2, 2009, the day that the current Patriarch of Moscow Kyrill was enthroned, it miraculously and profusely began gushing pure myrrh. Since then, it’s been on tour.

 

The service was an Akathist hymn, a long string of poetic verses recounting step by step the crucible of discipleship for Mary from the scriptures, and the sufferings that both she and her Son experienced. Afterwards, the priest anointed all of us with the myrrh from the icon mixed with olive oil. Unexpectedly to us, we saw the anointing of the icon at work in the gift of tears.

 

The atmosphere of the church was different: my wife remarked on the way home that people were transfixed in meekness. It was spontaneous. Even the priest briefly lost composure and choked up at certain points while reading the prayers of the Akathist, something I’ve rarely seen a priest do. When we got back into our car afterwards, we spontaneously began praying for a family member, and found ourselves weeping, as well. Tears are only tears most of the time. But sometimes they are qualitatively different.

 

Now what is the meaning of spontaneous tears in a church, and why did an icon associated strongly with miracles of reconciliation and the softening of hearts, and inspired by a Latin devotion, suddenly begin to stream myrrh at the election of the new patriarch of Moscow?

 

Could it signify that Patriarch Kyrill has been ordained in God’s economy for an extraordinary mission in the midst of a movement of repentance in suffering?

 

Let me get bolder: not to proclaim a prophecy, but a possibility.

 

The icon is well known for miracles of softening hearts hardened towards one another in animosity, but it represents reconciliation in another way. The icon is a bridge between East and West, drawing from western piety about the Seven Sorrows and plopping them down squarely in a thoroughly Eastern and Byzantine cultural frame.

 

Could it therefore be that events that have yet to unfold shall thrust Patriarch Kyrill into the place where he shall enact God’s will for the reconciliation of his divided people, Catholic and Orthodox? Church unity, from a human perspective, will take generations… even at the extremest stretch of optimistic imagination. Yet I believe that there is reason to believe that it can happen suddenly and soon. Stay posted further posts to explain that bold statement later.

 

But any sign of the Kingdom that God gives us,he gives us to drive us towards prayer and repentance, and not speculation. So let us take the wonder of this icon as a sign that God has given us a very special opportunity in this present time since the election of Patriarch Kyrill: an opportunity to have our prayers born powerfully heavenward on the wings of the Holy Spirit who rushes to answer when we pray that God will soften the animosity of hearts towards one another and heal his divided Church.

 

Let’s seize this opening in the Heavens and pray as fervently as we can for unity, and for His Holiness Kyrill.

 

Let us also take the occasion to meditate on how the Mother of God suffered for Christ during her earthly life through the slander, animosity, and shaming of others, and allow those swords that Symeon prophesied would lay bear the thoughts and intents of many hearts to pierce our own souls also. Then the Holy Spirit will soften our evil hearts and lead us to true repentance.

Posted by: towardtransfiguration | September 21, 2009

First Weeks at Vlad’s

st vlad'sIt’s now been a couple of weeks as a student at St. Vladimir’s, and I must say that it has been more than I hoped for.

What has impressed me most so far is the commitment of faculty and administration here to formation, not just education. 

At the first moment of orientation, Fr. John Behr stood up and applied biblical language  to emphasize the need of our finding ourselves in Christ in our givenness of being right here, right at this moment: “the hour is come…” He said further that we are orienting ourselves towards Christ, and that we come to study him as a way of sharing in his suffering so that we may know him, not as an object of investigation, but in his Person.  

Knowing him means being formed in him and he in us. The curriculum and structure of life is designed to create space where Christ may be born in us. It can’t be forced by an external facilitating structure, of course, because those structures can only make room for him. Mistaking those externals for the divine Presence himself makes them, by definition, anti-Christ. “A love of externals instead of conversion of heart is the first temptation of seminary life,” our Dean of Students warned us during orientation.

I remember the tremendous swirl of doubt that enveloped us even as we made the journey to New York. It was comforting to come here and hear the faculty and Metropotan Jonah talk about the spiritual journey and its pitfalls during orientation, and comforting to find an icon of Christ in the chapel holding a gospel book with the words: “you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you might go and bear much fruit.”

May this time indeed bear the fruit of Christ in us and in all those here.

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