Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sense of Faith

When I read "What Is a Miracle" on the Two Natures blog, I was reminded of something I had thought about before: What if faith was a faculty, similar to the other senses, which gives us a different impression or understanding of the world we live in? For instance, the sense of touch gives us one understanding of something, whereas, the sense of hearing, a totally different impression altogether. The sense of sight expands our understanding of physical reality even further.

As an analogy, imagine a world where everyone is blind; where no one has ever known sight - they have no idea what light or color is . They wouldn't know that when your foot hit a stone, it was an object set in a certain place, or if you suddenly felt warmth on your face, it was the sun which had broken through clouds unknowingly hanging miles above them in the sky. If someone came along and could see, it would seem like much of his behavior was miraculous. He would never bump into things, and he would consider the technologies of this blind world as needless weights - he wouldn't need them to maneuver through this world.

In a physical sense, hearing is much lower on the frequency spectrum than vision. And the amazing freedom of movement that comes with the ability to "pick up" or "sense" the higher frequencies is exponentially greater. Our understanding and depth of insight is phenomenally enlarged by the capacity to "see".

So, with sight comes an enlarged view of reality. With being able to perceive the higher frequencies comes a higher understanding of the physical nature of things.

What then would happen if our capacities were enlarged even further? If we had a sense to perceive higher frequencies? The same result would ensue. Our interpretation of the world would completely change based on this new way of perceiving the world around us.

Maybe this is the faculty of faith. Instead of seeing reality as static and immovable, reality suddenly becomes the playground of faith where all things are possible. Perhaps that may be why Christ could walk on the water. To us it was a miracle; to him it was perfectly natural. That may be why the many amazing and miraculous things Christ did were too numerous to count - He was acting on his natural understanding of the world through the sense of faith.

He knows we are weak, so he says, "Ask anything in my name and it shall be done for you". When we exercise our faith in Christ, we are revealed to be children of God, and creation is liberated from its bondage. When we are blind, we bump into the rock. When we are sighted, we walk around the rock, and as children of God, we say to the rock, "Be thrown into the sea", and it obeys us. We rule over the earth and subdue it.

As you look at all of our marvelous technologies, you suddenly realize they are like white canes for the blind - we need them to navigate through our world of unbelief. Think about this in contrast to a world perceived with the sense of faith where all things are possible to him who believes.

As I said in my comment to the blog mentioned above, this is just a crude analogy and part of what makes blogging fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Saved By Faith Or By Works?

During a recent conversation with a Baptist acquaintance of mine, we compared notes on how we view salvation. The general perception in the Protestant world is that Catholics and Orthodox alike are 'works' oriented. I only reinforced this perception when I told him I did not believe in 'once saved, always saved'. He immediately replied saying, "So, salvation is a crapshoot then."

He had withdrawn from the faith back in his college days but has been strongly living out his Baptist faith since then. We had to end our conversation abruptly because I had to get back to work - but I sent him this reply to assure him salvation is not a crapshoot...

It was great talking to you this morning - I wish we could have had more time to fill in the details of this engaging topic, but I couldn't just leave you with the impression that salvation is a "crapshoot" in the Orthodox world. So, I am sending you this email to hopefully clarify things.

Salvation is a gift. It is the most wonderful gift ever. It is also an incredibly expensive gift. As one of my pastor friends put it, "Salvation (grace) is free, but not cheap". With this gift comes responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. The parable of the talents emphasizes this point. Jesus also emphasizes this point in another passage -

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes...Remain in me and I will remain in you..."(John 15:2ff)
This passage goes on to say "if you remain in me..." and "if you obey my commands...".

We are responsible. We are to remain in Christ and feed on Him. We are then loved by the Father and bear much fruit. He is our salvation. Bible study and reading are important, but it isn't our salvation - Christ is our salvation. We feed on Him in the Eucharist, through purposeful and intentional prayer, through fasting to identify with his sufferings and to continually soften our hearts toward Him, and through repentance and confession to purge our souls of pride, to "prune our branches". These "touch points" of grace, of God's Presence on the earth, are what empower us to love, to give, to obey His commandments and bear much fruit. This is why the Orthodox Church places heavy emphasis on regular church attendance, keeping the church fasts and following a disciplined prayer rule. This is what keeps you on the path, what keeps you humble and in obedience to God's perfect will. If you stop doing these things, then it is a crapshoot, because you have left the well-trodden path laid out before you to assure your growth and to bear much fruit.

Grace, from an Orthodox perspective, is God's empowering life and energy. So, to be saved by grace means appropriating that life and energy toward good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do. To neglect this empowering life and energy is to neglect our salvation -
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:1-4)

So, yes, we can stray from the path, and it is a dangerous place to be. Thank God that he put you back despite your wanderings. There is a sure road to salvation, and not everyone who calls Jesus "Lord" is on it. It isn't a crapshoot, but a path of discipleship, obedience and humility in Christ and in the Church He established to produce saintly beings whose lives bring Him glory in this age and in the age to come. You stay on this path, then your salvation is assured, but if you leave it, only God knows whether you will be saved, as it is not up to me, or my priest, or anyone else to judge someone in that regard.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite New Testament passages that summarizes this theme perfectly. It is 2 Peter 1:2-11:

"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Since Peter states that we should be eager to make our calling and election sure, it emphasizes how important our responsibility is to stay on the path.

As always, it was great talking to you. I hope this clarifies why our salvation is neither a crapshoot, nor something to take for granted.

God's peace my friend,


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Day, New Stuff

Ok, a new year has started and it is time to take blogging a little more seriously. As I look back, I think about why I have procrastinated posting anything. I guess I was hoping each blog would be a masterpiece or have something profound to say. This year, I am simply going to make it more random and laid back - simply talk about life and God and Orthodox stuff. I am not a deacon, a priest or a bishop, therefore the pressure of being perfect in my blogs should not be so severe. At the same time, I never want to misrepresent the Faith and cause a seeking person to reject Orthodoxy because of something I've said. Lord have mercy.

I have missed not posting more frequently, and I have missed not responding to other blogs. God willing, I will be out there amongst you, fellowshipping in cyberspace and hopefully contribute a random thought that strikes a chord in your beautiful soul.