Monthly Archives: April 2015

The new Life

They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”                                                                                                                    (Acts 5: 18-20, NIV)


Once again, I begin writing on a topic about which I feel unworthy to comment. How can I claim to know anything “this new life” (or simply, “the life”) when I myself am still living the old one?

Yet something inside of me longs to write of it.

What has changed that there is now a new life that people need to be taught?

It all seems too much for words. In my last post, I wrote of The risen Lord and the wondrous and mysterious nature of His appearances after the Resurrection. If we now read of the lives of the Apostles after the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, we find something just as wondrous and mysterious.

We read of ordinary men, weak people who doubted, questioned and shrank from the Truth much like the rest of us, acting just like Christ.

They can understand each other, even when speaking different languages. With unwavering certainty, they bring healing to people with diseases and deformities. They cast out unclean spirits – and the spirits obey them. Angels lead them out of prison, without unlocking the doors. They are undeterred by the suffering they encounter in liberating people from their sins.

It is as though these ordinary people are now living the life of the risen Christ.

And, of course, that is exactly what they were doing. The risen Christ showed them the new life, the fully Human life, the life we were created to have before we fell into sin.

Having destroyed our sin and death with His humility and love, Jesus showed them that nothing need block the way anymore to the full living of our true Human-ness. With His Spirit alive within them, His life was their life, their life was His life.

What before they would have thought impossible – or perhaps possible only for Him – they now knew was simply true. What was called a “miracle” was actually how life was made to be. It was sin that had left this unrealized, unknowable to the pre-Christian soul.

Which brings us to the disturbing question: what has become of this new Life?

I could begin a critique of the churches and say how they have failed to teach us well and so on. But the reality is that I must look at myself. Why am I not living this new Life fully? Why is my “Christian” life but the palest shadow of Christ’s, despite having been taught the faith and given of His Spirit?

I doubt very much that I am the only one asking this question.

In fact, I have read various opinions as to why there is so little spiritual healing now compared to the early Church. Some even seem to suggest that these special gifts were needed more then than they are now in order to help build up the early Church.

Yet, if we look at our world today, we can hardly deny that there is a need for spiritual gifts – miracles and grace in any and all forms.

We live in a world that is desperate for God, starving for the healing, understanding and forgiveness of sin that is the heart of the new Life. Surely God is not withholding His gifts.

Indeed, at this moment and within our lifetimes, people have been quietly living Christ’s life. Tumors have disappeared. People have understood each other without speaking the same language. Those crushed by sin, despair and addiction have found liberation through the prayers of the Spirit-filled.

It can happen. It does happen. The new Life has not died.

But I fear that if we asked most people attending Christian churches (much less the droves who have stopped attending) if they ever witnessed or experienced any of these things personally, the vast majority of them would say no.

How can this be? Again, I can only examine myself. How is it that I have lived a “Christian” life for so many years, unaware that I was not truly living the life of Christ?

I have no answer. All I can do now is live this moment in Christ.

And to live His life is not something I know how to do on my own.

Knowing my weakness, I must repent always. I must live a life of repentance – not a gloomy obsession with sin by any means – but a constant awareness of my need to turn my heart toward God. I cannot turn my heart just once. I must turn again and again, for I am so easily distracted that I lose sight of Him before I realize it has happened.

I can only hope to live the life of Christ by the gift of His Spirit. But I must do more than simply pray for His Spirit.

I must do the work of emptying myself.

God gives His Spirit to us freely – He wants us to share in His life and have the strength and comfort of the Advocate.

However, if I am full of human spirit, human preoccupations, desires and ambitions, how can I receive His Spirit?

If all of the rooms in the inn of my heart are occupied, how can I welcome this Guest? Where would I have Him stay?

Again, to empty myself does not mean to take on a gloomy, impoverished life. If the “rooms in the inn” are full of clutter or occupied by scoundrels, emptying them allows their true beauty to become apparent. Even more so as the Spirit fills them.

Any emptying, whether a fast from food or a giving up what I want for the sake of another, initially feels like a deprivation. But as the emptying creates space for Another, the joy received replaces any distress a hundredfold.

In our own small way, we become like the Apostles who rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer “for the sake of the Name” (Acts 5: 41). Being flogged did not humiliate or discourage them. Rather, it emptied them further that the Spirit might live more and more fully through them.

And so, weak creature that I am, I take on my life of repentance. I empty myself in my own small ways, cleaning out one by one the many rooms of my heart.

And I rejoice.

The disciples rejoiced, alleluia, alleluia.                                                                                         When they saw the risen Lord, alleluia, alleluia.  

                         – Evening prayer, Liturgy of the Hours (Catholic)



The risen Lord

How could I possibly write of the Christ, risen from the dead? Surely a mystery too great for me to expound upon, as though I understood it…

Yet something beckons me to write.

There is something so beautiful, so compelling and so mysterious about the accounts of Jesus in His appearances after the Resurrection. It is this Jesus in whom the Truth comes fully alive before us – yet our minds cannot comprehend it.

He is not stopped by locked doors, yet He eats and can be touched. He is not recognized when seen but is known without doubt. He is seen by a few but also by five hundred at once. Yet not everyone sees Him. Not everyone knows.

How can all of this be? What does it all mean?

As many times as I have heard the Scriptural accounts of these encounters, something new stood out to me this year in the Gospels:

“Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples at the sea of Tiberias.” (John 21:1)

I have emphasized the word “revealed” because that is the word to which I was drawn. Jesus did not simply appear, as a speaker makes an appearance in auditorium or as a rainbow appears in the sky. He was present and He revealed the reality of His presence to believers.

As I write this, I have to stop and struggle with it a bit. “Wait a minute,” I say to myself, “are you saying that Christ only revealed Himself to believers? Are you saying that He wasn’t there for nonbelievers to see?”

Yes and no.

Let’s stop and consider the appearance on the road to Emmaus. It seems unlikely that the two disciples who encountered the risen Lord there were the only people on the road. Jesus was well known in the region because of the recent events, as documented by the disciples’ dialogue with Him. What did the other people on the road see?

This was not recorded for us. However, I doubt very much that they saw the disciples talking to no one, i.e. carrying on conversation with an invisible or imaginary person. Yet I also doubt very much that they saw them conversing with a man who looked exactly like Jesus prior to the Resurrection.

(If they had seen either of these things, would that not have drawn a great deal of attention? The former would have caused concerns about ghosts or spirits. The latter would have drawn people to ‘come see that fellow who was crucified a few days ago – look – he’s alive!’)

Hence, what seems most plausible is that they saw the two disciples carrying on a conversation with an ordinary looking man who did not draw their attention. This seems especially probable, given the disciples’ own admission that they did not know it was Him until later.

Much has been speculated about this lack of recognition of the resurrected Jesus, most likely because it makes our logical, Western minds vaguely uneasy. If even His closest friends didn’t know it was Him right away, how can we be sure it really was Him?

This is not a minor detail. We need to know.

Yet the post-Resurrection Jesus could not have appeared looking exactly as He had before he died.

More important than the practical considerations (e.g. some would claim He hadn’t really died after all) is the meaning hidden within the Resurrection itself. If He returned appearing just the same, it would seem to suggest that He was just the same.

In other words, it would teach us that Resurrection was simply a return to the life that we already know. Returning to this life would hardly be salvation, certainly not the Kingdom of God for which we would give up our lives and everything we own.

And so the risen Lord appears. He is seen as human – or perhaps, more accurately Human, the fullness of what we were created for. Having crushed our sin and death with His humility and love, He reveals the new Life in Himself, in a new Body.

When He was recognized by His followers, it was not a recognition of the eye or the mind, but of the heart. He revealed freely and completely but not all could see that it was truly Him.

Some seemed to know Him almost immediately, others took longer. Some, like Thomas, needed quite a bit of help to believe it was true. And the risen Lord freely gave what was needed. He wanted to be known.

Yet not all recognized Him, not all knew Him. Many, perhaps, did not want to know Him – or were afraid.

It took a lot to believe – to know Him risen from the dead. And once knowing, it demanded a lot. It demanded everything.

And it still does.

Knowing the risen Lord, we can no longer live our old lives. The new Life is before us and we have so much to learn and to do.

But our Savior knows that – and He gives us all that we need.


The most powerful weapon

My Catholic heart sings for joy this Easter week while my “Orthodox” heart is still deeply drawn to Holy Week.

And yet isn’t that how it must be for us throughout the year? Regardless of the calendar dates of our commemorations, it is, for us, always simultaneously a dark and wrenching betrayal unto death along side of the glorious destruction of death unto Resurrection.

We cannot know them apart from each other. The former is the legacy we both give and receive. The latter is our hope and our Truth.

Just over a month ago, I wrote a couple of posts on the topics of Spiritual warfare and The weapons of war. These were topics I knew that I would come back to but I had to wait until it was time.

Now it is time.

As we enter more deeply into the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the question returns to my mind: what does all of this mean? How am I saved by what Jesus did?

Many people more wise and learned than me have written volumes on this topic. I do not pretend to know as much or more than them. I will write only of what has been given to me to share.

During this holy season, despite having other intentions, I found myself reading The Enlargement of the Heart by Archimandrite Zacharias and Christopher Veniamin. Though I have not yet finished it, much has been given to me from what I have read – in particular, understanding of the well known words that St. Silouan received from Christ, freeing him from his terrible struggle:

“Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”

{For readers not familiar with St. Silouan, in short, he experienced a vision of Christ during his youth. When he shared this with his spiritual father, the monk made a remark within his hearing, wondering in amazement what he was to become if he had such an experience so early in life. This comment contributed to St. Silouan having great struggle with pride and vainglory for many years.}

When I first read of these words given to St. Silouan, my gut reaction was, “Huh?” This made no sense at all to me. How or why would one keep one’s mind in hell? And how could that conceivably be helpful, even if it were possible?

That was my reaction until, today, when I realized that I belong in hell.

Allow me to explain. If you are thinking that I am exaggerating or engaging in false humility, know that I would have thought that of any “good” person saying the same thing – until today. Bear with me.

First, I must consider what hell is and what it is not. Hell is not a place, as in a geographic location, that people are assigned to go to be perpetually burned alive as a punishment for their sins. Many have been taught such primitive ideas and, sadly, have learned some very wrong ideas about God.

As sin is the turning away from God, hell is the death that, by definition, must occur when I willfully separate myself from the Source of life. If living completely and unreservedly for God is the fullness of life, then living for myself (making myself god) is eternal death.

I cannot disconnect myself from Life and not be dead. I cannot be partially dead. I cannot be temporarily dead. I can only be eternally dead.

I depart from the one true God so that I can be god? I am dead and “in” hell.

I have sinned and turned from God. I belong in hell. Like St. Silouan, I must keep my mind in hell, i.e. I must never forget this truth. I belong there.

But I do not despair. This is where I learn more of the meaning of what Jesus did.

Jesus was executed, put to death in a very vicious, bloody manner that He in no way deserved. But there is nothing in that that makes Him particularly unique. There is nothing in that that saves. Many have been unjustly and brutally killed in our world. What is it that He did?

Yes, we believe that He rose from the dead. But how does that save me? The question still lingers and nags…

There is one part of our creed that not much is taught about in most Christian churches, but it is key: He descended into hell.

What little attention this article of faith is given is often an image of Jesus going to a “place” (Sheol) to proclaim the Good News to the just souls who had died prior to His coming (thus, not really hell). But this, (forgive me, Catholic Catechism) misses the key point.

Let us look at this way: Jesus descended into hell. To say He descended does not mean that he went to a place that is down, but rather than He completely lowered Himself.

Christ went down to the lowest of low places with a humility beyond any human precedent. He who never once turned from God, His Father, and therefore never disconnected Himself from the Source of life, voluntarily entered the eternal death that I came to be in because I did turn away.

This is what it means to say that He took upon Himself our sins or that He became sin for our sake. My turning away has a consequence (I belong in hell) and He who did not belong in hell lowered Himself to accept that consequence for me, with absolute love and utter humility.

It is His humility that saves me.

We use the word “love” so much that we almost forget what it is – that the pure love of the Gospel cannot exist without humility. To fully love other/Other is to be empty of self.

When considered in this light, it is inconceivable that anything but the humility of Christ, of God Himself, could save me from my sin. My sin, our sin, our ancestral sin, is to want to be gods. Pride can only be destroyed by humility.

And our Savior has done just that.

When people question what we mean, “How can you say He destroyed death? People are still dying all of the time,” we know something that is perhaps hard for us to summarize in a few words. It is our Truth – but how can we tell it?

We know we belong in hell. But we are full of hope and joy.

We also know that we are still at war. And that is one reason why so many question whether Christ really accomplished anything. What did He really do? There is still so much sin and suffering and death.

Yes, we are at war. The enemy has not admitted defeat, even in the light of Pascha. How can he not see it? Why does he not give up his effort to control our world?


The sin of our adversary and the root of our own.

In understanding what saves us and why we are still at war, we discover the most powerful weapon we could possibly employ in this spiritual battle: humility.

The weapon the Savior used to free us, now given to us to keep ourselves and others from falling back into the enemy’s hands.

There is no more powerful weapon to use against the evil one – for he cannot understand it. The adversary wants only to ascend, never to descend – and so will never truly harm us as long as we follow the Way of our Master, ever going down into deeper selflessness.

We, of course, do not know how to do this. Humility is very hard for us to learn, so ingrained is sin in our nature. So we keep our minds in hell and despair not.

Of His Spirit He has given us, that we may live as He lives.

To Him be eternal glory.

Hymn to Our Savior

This is one of those occasions when the Orthodox and Roman calendars diverge. Hence, I understand if my Orthodox readers prefer to defer on this post until next week.

To all readers: note that I know nothing about composing music. I have recorded the “music” that came to me with these words inspired by Christ’s death and Resurrection. I’m afraid you will also have to sing them yourself as singing is not one of my gifts. 🙂


The Lord is risen from the tomb,

Out of darkness shines His light.

In Him comes forth our salvation,

Born from His humility.


For He died a shameful death,

Hung upon a criminal’s tree.

Then He went to hell to find us,

Crushing sin and death with love.


All our hope lies in this mys’try.

Life eternal now is ours

This love that He has died to give us,

Now pours freely from our hearts.