A Discipline of Confession

Second Monday in Great Lent

Kathisma 4 (Psalms 24-31)

“Because I kept silence, my bones are waxed old through my crying all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me, I was reduced to misery whilst the thorn stuck fast in me… I said: I will confess mine iniquities before the Lord against myself.” (Psalm 31)

Confession is hard. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who said they just loved to go to Confession. I’ve never met a person yet who likes to go to the dentist, either. I hate it, but I sure am glad we have dentists. If we didn’t have dentists, our teeth would be rotting out of our heads! That doesn’t make me like going any more, though. I can say the same about Confession. I don’t really enjoy going, but I am very happy that we have this mystery in the Church.

The Psalmist admits that he had some unconfessed sin, and look at what it did to him. It made him miserable. He calls his unconfessed sin ‘a thorn stuck fast in him.’ Unconfessed sin does that to you. It sits there and festers. It poisons you. The longer you leave it there, the worse it gets. The longer you leave it untreated, the harder it gets to treat it. Just like a thorn will fester and become even more tender and swollen and hard to remove, unconfessed sin will make your spirit defensive and hard where the thorn is concerned. You’ll justify it and ignore it and convince yourself it isn’t really a thorn at all. No, it’s something wonderful. Yeah, that’s it. Wonderful. What’s more? The Psalmist knew the whole time what was making him miserable, and he knew what to do about it; he just didn’t want to.

A friend of mine said this about going to Confession: “I always go to Confession nervous and mourning, but I always leave unburdened and singing. If I didn’t know how I’d leave, I’d never go.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that last part, because I feel the same way. My friend just gave me words for it. That is the faith part of repentance. It is only because we are confident that we will encounter a gracious and merciful Lord in Confession that we are able to go in the first place. It is only because we know how it ends that we are able to begin.

You know how it will end: with freedom, forgiveness… relief. Don’t live with a festering thorn in you. Don’t let your bones waste away because some unconfessed sin is eating away at your spiritual life and spoiling your Lenten discipline. Just go to Confession! It won’t be fun to go, but you’ll be glad you did.

Is Christ Divided?

Sunday of Orthodoxy

“For if mine enemy had reviled me, I might have endured it. And if he that hateth me had spoken boastful words against me, I might have hid myself from him. But thou it was, O man of like soul with me, my guide and my familiar friend, Thou who together with me didst sweeten my repasts; in the house of God I walked with thee in oneness of mind.’” (Psalm 54)

Today we speak the anathemas of the Church against the unbelievers and the heretics. We declare those who deny the intercessions of the saints, those who disallow the veneration of the icons, and countless other heretics to be, well… heretics.Sunday of Orthodoxy

Don’t be surprised if your friends who share these heretical beliefs and practices are offended. After all, today the Church violates that most sacred commandment – not of God, but of every pluralistic society: be nice. That is what most people mean when they say they are ‘ecumenical.’ They are nice. Where they have differences with others, they’d prefer not to address them. ‘Let’s just concentrate on what we have in common,’ is their cry.

Well, that isn’t going to work for us. You see, this stuff is personal. Those who have wandered from the True Faith are not strangers or enemies. If that were the case, maybe it would be easier to ignore it. No, these folks who have separated themselves from the Church are those who once went to the altar with us. They were our brothers and sisters and we once walked in oneness of mind. But no more.

That is why we take this stuff very seriously. That is why we are truly ecumenical. We know that we’ll never truly be reunited by ignoring our differences and pretending we don’t have some serious issues to work through. The only way we can restore unity is by recognizing the disunity that exists. The only way forward is through humility and repentance, but a false ecumenism, a ‘nice’ ecumenism, will never bring that about.

So we speak the anathemas. It isn’t a day to pat ourselves on the back. It is a day to look around with sorrow. After all, if St. Paul asks us, ‘Is Christ divided?’ either way we answer will be painful. Either He is divided, and that would be a cause for pain, or He is not, and that would be a cause for pain, because it would mean that all those outside the Orthodox Christian Church are simply not Christians. Speak the anathemas. Listen to the anathemas. Put faces on the anathemas – faces of friends and family, and with humility and sorrow, pray. Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and every division ceases, pray for true unity.

A Table Prepared

First Saturday in Great Lent

Kathisma 3 (Psalms 17-23)

“For though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me. Thou hast prepared a table before me in the presence of them that afflict me.” (Psalm 22)

Mystical SupperThis Psalm is part of the Preparation of the Eucharist. Christians have traditionally understood Psalm 22 to be speaking of Christ and His Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist. But what is it that He prepares this table before me in the presence of them that afflict me?

It is the nature of the Church to participate in something future and eternal – the Eternal Kingdom of God and the endless Day of the Lord – right now. We use a Greek word to describe it: prolepsis. It means literally ‘to receive something beforehand,’ but it is usually translated into English as ‘now but not yet.’

The Eucharist really is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end, and in the eternal Day of the Lord, there will be no enemies around. Part of the mystery of the Eucharist (and of all the Mysteries), however, is that Christ has made that future Day to dawn ahead of time in Himself and in His Church. Because of this mystery, we are able to sit at the Table prepared for us unto eternity, and we are able to sit at that table now, even while we are surrounded by enemies.

Look around. See all the works of evil men, of devils, of death and decay. This world and age is collapsing. The shadow of death hangs like a pall over this present age. While the old is falling apart, though, the new is breaking in. Christians who are new creations gather together to participate in a mystery that transcends time. Eternity invades time and Christians gather with all the angels and archangels and all the host of the heavens to celebrate and offer up the great thanksgiving.

Tomorrow morning we will eat and drink at the table prepared in the presence of our enemies, and in the valley of the shadow of death, the Life of the World will give Himself to us. Countless martyrs throughout the ages have praised God in chains and have sung hymns as they died. They were participating in the endless worship of the Lord’s Day, given to them as a gracious gift out of time. They received eternity before they received it. Now and not yet. Tomorrow you too will join in that worship and receive it out of time. Don’t take it for granted; Christ has prepared the Table for you.

Victory Over Enemies

First Friday in Great Lent

Kathisma 3 (Psalms 17-23)

“He will deliver me from mine enemies which are mighty and from them that hate me, for they are stronger than I… I shall pursue mine enemies and I shall overtake them, and I shall not turn back until they fail.” (Psalm 17)

Who are your enemies who are mighty and hate you? Who are your enemies who are mightier than you? St. Paul tells the Church that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness and against the evil spiritual forces of the supernatural realms.’ (Ephesians 6:12) The devils are your true enemies, and it is with these enemies that you struggle during Great Lent.

The desire that fuels and drives our Lenten disciplines is the desire to know Christ better, to deepen our relationship with Him, to live in Him; the very opposite desire drove the demons to rebellion and their warfare is directed toward hardening your heart, destroying or misguiding your desire, and drawing you to share their willful separation from the Lord.

It is a struggle. It is warfare, and ‘war is hell,’ but don’t lose heart! The Holy Scriptures are absolutely full of the assurance that, even though it may look like we are losing the battle, we will win the war. This is arguably the very theme and message of the Apocalypse: it looks like evil is going to win, but God and His saints emerge victorious in the end. As Great Lent plunges toward the mystery of the three-day entombment of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, imagine how complete the defeat appeared on Holy Friday! This is the heart of our hope and faith: the Lord is victorious!

St. John Climacus writes: “Join to your breathing the word of him who said: ‘When devils plagued me, I put on sackcloth, humbled my soul with fasting,and my prayer stuck to the bosom of my soul.’” (Ps.34:11)

It is to this we cling during Great Lent – during our own ascetic struggle with the devils, with death, and with all these enemies that are mightier than we. In Christ (and union with Christ in Holy Baptism is the historic end of the Lenten Fast), we are confident and grow in confidence in our own resurrection with Christ. With the Lord, we will suddenly turn the tables on our enemies. In resurrection we will rise up like Ezekiel’s host (Ezekiel 37) and pursue our enemies. We will overtake them, and we will not turn back from them until every last one of them has been destroyed!All Saints

When the devils plague you, read the Psalms to them. Say with boldness: ‘See your end! On the Last Day, I will be the one to pursue you!’ With the martyrs, let us ‘destroy the devils’ strengthless presumption!’

Is God Paying Attention?

First Thursday in Great Lent

Kathisma 2 (Psalms 9-16)

“How long, O Lord, wilt Thou utterly forget me? How long wilt Thou turn Thy face away from me?” (Psalm 12)

While talking with some atheist friends, they brought up this “slam dunk” argument against God’s existence/involvement: Why is there so much evil in the world? It sure looks like the evil prosper and the good suffer and that’s that.

What amused me was their smug attitude while suggesting such a thing… as if I were only a Christian because this particular fact of life had never occurred to me. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “The Psalter – the hymnbook of the Church – is absolutely FILLED with that very problem!” Christians who read/chant/pray the Psalter basically sing this very complaint several times during the course of a week. Hey, God! Where are You? I look around me and all I see are wicked people prospering, their bellies are filled, they are comfortable, confident, secure, and unafraid of anything as they trample the people around them. What is going on?

If you are immersed in the Psalter, you can up the ante on folks like my atheist friends. The problem isn’t only that these wicked people are stealing, killing, and destroying ‘people;’ the problem is compounded when you see that the ‘people’ being downtrodden are more specifically God’s people! So why isn’t He doing anything about it?

That is the question asked again and again in the Psalter, and that means it is a good question. It is an acceptable question. If you are a Christian asking this question, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or tell you to ‘turn that frown upside down.’ You’re in better company with all the saints of the ages asking the question than you’d be pretending you didn’t feel the way you do.

It is a good question, but the Christian Faith expressed in the Psalter isn’t only faith for the present day; it has an element of hope for the future. Faith that is seen is no faith, says St. Paul. Faith waits, anticipates, and trusts. God has promised that the problem we have identified, while a legitimate problem, is only a temporary one.

If you pay close attention to the movement of prayer in this Kathisma (Psalms 9-16), you’ll see that especially from Psalm 12 to the end of 16 this question is addressed. Read through it. Pray through it. You’ll finish with these words: ‘They have satisfied themselves with swine and have left the remnants for their babes. But as for me, in righteousness shall I appear before Thy face; I shall be filled when Thy glory is made manifest in me.’