fr george morelli
by Fr. George Morelli
Originally published in July 2006
Does any one need any more evidence that brokenness exists in the world? We see it everywhere: in business, government, education; even in churches, synagogues, and mosques. Brokenness also exists among individuals called to noble conduct: judges, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, medical practitioners, military leaders, religious personages, teachers and more. No level of society or occupation is exempt.
What is brokenness? Where does it come from? Brokenness is the term that describes the fundamental disorder that exists in creation that affects a person's relationships and creative activity. We experience it inwardly in a way that St. Paul described as that pull between right and wrong where we know what is good but choose the opposite. Outwardly it is expressed by the scandals of greed, sexual abuse, and other crimes that seem ever more prevalent year by year.
Where does brokenness come from? The Church tells us to look to Scripture, particularly the narrative of creation in the book of Genesis. The source of brokenness does not begin with Adam and Eve, or even with God speaking the world into existence. Rather, brokenness has its source in another creature of God: the angel who at one time was chief of the angelic hosts - Satan and his cohorts.
One does not need to believe in a personal God to hold to this precept. Human beings are constituted toward order, and function with a presumption of an ordered universe whether or not they believe in God. How they perceive that the world is ordered is at question here, and their presuppositions are unavoidably religious even if they eschew any faith in God.
Smart Parenting XX + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Pure of Heart for They Shall See God
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)
In a previous article (Morelli, 2012) I discussed the importance of Christ delivering the Beatitudes while on the summit of the mount. My commentary was based on Forest's (1999) insight that the 'mount" as an object that is high and points to heaven, and was, as such, purposely chosen by Christ. Forest writes: "Mountains are images of earth reaching toward heaven, thus places of encounter between Creator and creature." This is most fitting because it relates to the spiritual preparation needed to "see God."
St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) refers to this symbolism of the mount in his Homily VI on this Beatitude. First, St. Gregory takes the perspective of God's vision, from above, of His creation beneath Him:
When from the sublime words of the Lord resembling the summit of a mountain I looked down into the ineffable depths of His thoughts, my mind had the experience of a man who gazes from a high ridge into the immense sea below him.
In previous Chaplain's Corner articles I have pointed out the futility of making so called "New Year's Resolutions." The are vague, abstract and lack the specific steps to bring resolutions into effect.i Now what is not futile is to cultivating the cure for the illness that inflicts so many of us, that in part make such resolutions useless. This psycho-spiritual disease is called listlessness. It is the inactivity stemming from lassitude, lack of vigor and energy. Its cure is to develop self-discipline.
Self-discipline is an orderly way of life. In contemporary smartphone or tablet terminology it becomes a step by step psycho-spiritual and behavioral 'To-Do' list. As is common among various religious traditions, they focus on similar counsels to attain perfection. Self discipline is one such path. In Hinduism points out: "Turbulent by nature, the senses even of a wise man, who is practicing self-control, forcibly carry away his mind, Arjuna.ii In the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, the last three, focus on the components of self-Discipline: right effort, mindfulness and concentration.iii Islam teaches that to effect such change individuals must take on responsibility for action. "Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people, until they change their own condition."iv
1.1 Historical Christian Spiritual Foundations of Counseling.
Christians trace their founding to Jesus Christ, by His sending (decent) of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on His apostles and disciples. Following St. Paul, we know that the teachings of Jesus were understood by Christians by them being sanctified by this same Holy Spirit. St. Paul did much to spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the Roman world. To one group he wrote: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” [2 Thessalonians 2: 13-15] These teachings of Jesus passed in tradition to His Church: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” [1 Corinthians 11:2] St Paul told the Ephesians “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” (2: 19, 30) St Luke told his readers: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. [Acts 20:28] Following St. Paul, these traditions, oral first and then written, were passed from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests.
There is a well known phrase in the Christian Gospels, the saying of Christ that "…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Lk 18: 25). A superficial understanding of this teaching would have it that to be rich, in and of itself, bars one from God's kingdom. But a deeper spiritual perception would indicate the fallacy in this apprehension.
We might first consider what various religious traditions say about wealth or bounty. In Hebrew tradition, it is the misuse of wealth - a failure to help others that is sinful. The Prophet Amos points out: "Hear this word, ye fat kine [bovine] that are in the mountains of Samaria: you that oppress the needy, and crush the poor: that say to your masters: Bring, and we will drink." In Islamic tradition, Allah blesses the rich who "…feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive" (Koran 79:8). Buddhist writer Ven. Jotika of Parng Loung states, "From [the] Buddhist point of view, good and praiseworthy is one who accumulates holdings in rightful ways and utilizes it for the good and happiness of both oneself and others."i Swami Narasimhananda describes the Hindu teachings on wealth, telling us: "…wealthy people need to share their wealth with the less fortunate."
“But whosoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be to his advantage that a millstone turned by an ass were hung upon his neck, and he were drowned in the deep of the sea." (Mt. 18:6)
In the United States and many European countries as well, we are coming up to the annual festival of the celebration of "All Hallows' Evening." Its roots go back to ancient pagan Celtic tradition Samhain (pronounced: Sah-ween) when villagers would light large outdoor fires and put on costumes to hide from and ward off roaming ghosts of spirits and the dead. The Research Center of the Library of Congress reports: "It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living."[i]
The Celtic region included the area that is now modern Great Britain, France and Ireland. Also part of the pagan banquet was that animals andcrops were placed in the bonfires as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The conquest of the majority of Celtic lands by the Romans in 43 AD added additional pagan elements to the feast. One was Feralia, a late October festival wherein the Romans memorialized their dead. Second, was a day to sacrifice to the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.
Pomona's symbol is the apple. To this day, apples are common in modern celebrations of this festival. The name of this festival has also been changed. It is no longer referred to as "All Hallows’ Evening." All know it by the name "Halloween."
In this day and age it is so easy to dismiss God from our lives. Jesus gives us an insight into the cause of this abandonment of God in society. St. Matthew records Jesus’ words on His Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:21) A contemporary Eastern Church holy father, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), gives a very perspicacious insight as to how this occurs: "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever." (Ageloglou, 1998) In past times one could look around at the beauty of the world and echo the words of King David in the Old Testament scripture: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge." (Ps 18: 1-2) Today we have material goods around us that were completely unheard of a generation ago - dazzling high-definition LED displays, even on smart phones and tablets, and television that intrinsically mesmerizes us. Even the recent Olympics, which in times past focused on sports, now, in 2012, are overshadowed by ceremonies that are extravaganza-style spectacles of laser strobe lights and bombastic sound. Is there any thought or remembrance of God, the creator of Light?
Smart Parenting XVIII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Merciful for They Shall Obtain Mercy
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy." (Mt. 5:7)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954), the Church Father who has written such extensive Homilies on Christ's Beatitudes, instructs us that this Beatitude on mercy, among all of them, points us in a singular way to the core of who God is. He emphasizes that this "Beatitude is the property of God par excellence."
The saint then tells us of the challenge to us that is inherent in this spiritual perception. He asks:
If, therefore, the term "merciful" is suited to God, what else does the Word invite you to become but God, since you ought to model yourself on the property of the Godhead?
Once we have attained being merciful, then we are deemed worthy of Beatitude, because we have attained that which is characteristic of the Divine Nature. Mercy is one of God’s Divine characteristics that He has revealed to mankind. As the prophet David tells us: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies." (Ps 24: 10). And in another psalm David cries out: "O Lord, thy mercy is in heaven, and thy truth reacheth, even to the clouds." (Ps 35: 6). This is beautifully described by St. Isaac of Syria, who in his 1st Ascetical Homily (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us:
Do you wish to commune with God in your mind by receiving a perception of that delight . . .? Pursue mercy; for when something that is like unto God is found in you, then that holy beauty is depicted by Him. For the whole sum of the deeds of mercy immediately brings the soul into communion with the unity of the glory of the Godhead's splendor.
There are many unexpected and sudden difficult challenges that individuals have to face in modern life Many of these may be considered life-changing experiences. Such events may include, for example, abrupt acute-chronic illness, accidental injury, serious financial adversity, sudden unemployment and/or loss of home, severe family-marriage difficulties. Strong dysfunctional emotions such as anger, anxiety depression and a profound sense of dread are often common reactions.
Developing a healthy psycho-spiritual management resilience and hardiness strategies are helpful when coping with such catastrophes. Resilience is a psychological process of adaptation in the face of obstacles, trauma, tragedy and stress that is related to good emotional, physical and spiritual health. One of the resilience strategies favored by scientific cognitive clinical psychologists is the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and the vicissitudes of life. Two essential cognitive shifts are involved in this process. First, framing choices as preferences by using phrases such as "would like,” rather than considering choices as demands by using words that imply “must,” and second, evaluating realistically, that is, seeing the untoward events as less than 100% bad, instead of consistently over-evaluating by labeling them "terrible, awful or the end of the world, more than 100%." Nothing, after all, can be more than 100%.
Looking at Old Testament Sacred Scripture, Esta Mirani asks: "could we understand Exodus as God taking the Jewish People on a journey from weak to strong, from downtrodden to resilient?" She goes on to conclude: "a deeper reading of Exodus is that God guides us on developing personal strength and resiliency. We can persist and overcome adversity and oppression, and achieve security and a sense of well-being.
Members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, in fact those baptized into any of the Apostolic Churches, have a very important responsibility this Fall 2012 season. American citizens will have the opportunity to vote for the President of the United States as well as for any number of other national, state andlocal offices. The mix of religion and politics in issues in this electoral season has made the usual politicking even more contentious and challenging than in past years.
In no manner shape or form is this message meant to support any particular candidate or political party. The only purpose of this message is to serve as a reminder for all to carefully discern the Mind of Christ and His Church on the critical moral issues raised in this election and to let Christ and the teachings of His Apostolic Churches be our guide in our witness by our political words, deeds and votes.
Unfortunately, some candidates want to usurp our right speak up for ourselves on issues. A particularly egregious statement I constantly hear from candidates for office from all political parties in the United States is, "What the American people want is. . . ." To have some modicum of honesty, politicians could at the very least somewhat qualify such arrogant rhetoric by saying: "Some American people want . . . ." I, for example, am one of these "American people." For a candidate to imply that I want something against the teachings of Christ and His Church is to take away the freedom of speech and religion granted to me – and all - by the constitution and, more importantly, granted by God to all to mankind by His making us in His image and giving us free will.
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches--
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8, 9)
At first glance, considering food in the context of Orthodox spirituality and practice may seem inappropriate. But closer examination indicates, in fact, a rather intimate, meaningful connection between the two. We can see this in the quote from the Book of Proverbs that opens this essay. We should eat "the food allotted to us," and which is necessary for our sustenance. To do otherwise is to make ourselves vulnerable to two spiritual dangers.
Problems with Food as a Spiritual Disorder
The first spiritual danger is that we may become so focused on food as an end in itself that it distracts us from what should be our true end: God. In the most basic and first of the commandments, God told us, "I am the LORD your God . . . You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2, 3). This commandment is echoed by Jesus: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." (Matthew 22:37, 38).
What is our treasure: God or food? As Our Lord told us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). As our holy father Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain tells us, "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever" (Ageloglou, 1998).
The recent arrest of local office holder in California for the corporal punishment and name-calling abuse of a child made headlines. Arrest, office holder, politician or not, bullying is always an egregious affront to God and to man whom He made in His image.
Plain and simple, bullying is abuse. Those who bully and those who are bullied are found everywhere. Bullies can be bosses, clergy, military superiors, parents, police, teachers or simply acquaintances etc. Children and adults can be the brunt of bullying. They can be called loathsome names, be belittled, laughed at and/or be ignored. Emotional abuse is one form of bullying that is often most unnoticed because of its ubiquity and subtlety. These practices in our society are so common as to go virtually unperceived. However, emotional abuse but can be equally devastating to the victim as physical and or sexual abuse. Research has shown that victims are susceptible, for example, to clinical depression, suicide and other disorders.
The one who is not with Me is against Me; and the one who gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Mt. 12:30)
Whosoever then shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. (Mt. 5:19)
Most of us are aware of the profound moral courage of Dan T. Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A who had the fortitude to say that marriage should only be between a male and female. It is unusual for me to write a commentary suited for an editorial page, but Cathy's words were so clear and the thousands of Christians who supported him so heartening that I decided to part from my usual practice. Please understand my sole purpose is to affirm the teachings of Christ and how Orthodox Christians should apply them.
This commentary is offered in the spirit of true Christian witness. We are called to model our commitment of Christ and His teachings. I have written frequently on this theme, especially about the necessity of this witness between parents and children. I have recommended using news media stories and open-ended Socratic questions in dialogue to explore the Mind of Christ and His Church on these kinds of issues (Morelli, 2010). Adults can do these between themselves as well.
A message from the President of SSJC-Western Region
by Fr. George Morelli
Even a cursory reading or exposure to the current news media has made the world aware of the new martyrs among the Christians of the Apostolic Churches in Syria. Christians make up merely 10% of the 22 million inhabitants of Syria, with most belonging to the Greek Orthodox, Melkite-Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch. A recent Eurasia Review article reported that, "The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians. Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities." What was once a peaceful country has become a battleground of destruction, devastation and death. It is feared that a continuation of armed hostilities will result in the mass exodus of Christians similar to what has happened in the ethnic cleansing of the Christians of Iraq and Palestine. Another Eurasia Review article comments: "The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude."
Smart Parenting XXVII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are They Who Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Mt. 5:6)
The terms righteousness or the righteous that we read often in Sacred Scripture and spiritual reading are frequently ill-understood. This fourth beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 6) can help us understand the depth of spiritual meaning of righteousness.
Firstly, it is not something merely external or superficial or as defined in the dictionary as simply being "morally upright." Our Lord starts out this beatitude by connecting righteousness with hungering and thirsting for it. This means that righteousness must come from the depths of our spirit, that is to say the center of our minds and the depths of our hearts.
Cognitive psychologists call it mental filter or selective focusing. (Beck, 1995). Basically, this thinking distortion and, most importantly, spiritual error is that one pays attention to one detail in a situation (usually an inauspicious factor) and fails to focus on all the details, especially factors that may be favorable. One contemporary elder of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, (Angeloglou, 1998) describes it this way. People can be divided into two categories. "The first resembles the fly. . . it is attracted by dirt." He goes on to whimsically note that if the fly that was in a garden could talk it might say: "I don't even know what a rose looks like." People who resemble
the fly "always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of the good." Other people are like the bee that can be found in a garden "always looking for something sweet and nice to sit on."
A brief psychological self-test may help us to see what kind of outlook we take. In uncertain times, do I expect the worst or the best? Will something go wrong for me if it could go wrong? Do I see the future as bleak or bright? Do I think that good things happening to me are rare or common?
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (Jn 8:7)
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn 14:6)
A question has arisen among some ordained into the Apostolic priesthood of Christ as to how those who are living an alternative lifestyle, that is to say, outside of the teachings of Christ, should be ministered to? This question is especially relevant, but not limited to, clergy who serve in military and/or government chaplaincies. The ascendency of post-modernism, relativism and secularism, have politically legitimized lifestyles under the guise of "human rights" that were previously the domain of Judeo-Christian teaching. (Morelli 2006d, 2009) The pendulum of political correctness has swung from merely tolerating non-Christian teachings to forcing on a nation a worldwide religious correctness that some argue has the apparent goal of imposing secularist values and principles on all.i As in the early days of Christianity, being a committed Christian, especially for clergy, will be a criminal act, subject to censure and punishment. I will point out in this essay that an Orthodox understanding of true priestly pastoring would ameliorate this concern.
Prayer makes up a significant part in every major religious tradition. Thus, if a cross-section of Chaplain Corner readers were asked, “What is prayer,” a variety of definitions would likely emerge. Many would possibly resemble the one I remember from my childhood catechism: “Prayer is the lifting of our minds and hearts to God.” Prayer can be active or passive, individual or communal. Many of the different forms of prayer may contain aspects of worship, petition and thanksgiving. Our Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: "There are many different methods of prayer. . . . No method is harmful. . . .” (Philokalia I). St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Wheeler, 1977) reflects the common teaching of the Eastern Fathers that for prayer to be effective it has to be done with a pure heart.
A message from the President of SSJC-Western Region
(Light of the East Newsletter, 2012, Springi)
by Fr. George Morelli
It is not often that we are blessed to live in the same lifetime with one who is certainly saintly due to his ever-zealous witness to Christ during a time of unceasing and escalating attacks by Islamists, a time during which he provided loving Christ-like service to his people. Thus, it is with profound human sadness but great spiritual joy that we call to our hearts and minds His Holiness Thrice-Blessed Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church that traces back to the holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, who passed into Eternal Life in Our Lord on March17, 2012.
To “fall asleep in the Lord” in the hope of the Resurrection is a great grace, prayed for by all committed Christians. A witness to the Godly passing of His Holiness recounts that on his last day “…he could not sleep and was seeing holy visions of multitudes waiting for him (the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12: 1).”ii May God now seat him at the front of His banquet table in His Eternal Feast of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Ardent followers of Christ know the soul of His Holiness remains alive in the Eternal Mind of God. His spirit can also remain alive in us, who can emulate his desire for the unity of the Apostolic Churches. The unity of the Apostolic Churches is the primary hope, goal, prayer and service of us who are members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom; furthermore, we pray all Christians be devoted to this unity. Christ Himself prayed for the unity of us all when He cried out to His Heavenly Father: "Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given Me, in order that they may be one, even as We." (Jn. 17:11)
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt. 5:5)
Meekness is not a personality characteristic or, in fact, a virtue valued in modern society. If anything, it would be an attribute to be avoided. Surely, in the common secular understanding of this term, parents would mostly likely want to avoid raising children to be "meek." A glance at a typical dictionaryi definition of this word indicates that meekness is associated with being cowed, submissive, spiritless and tame. Worldly success, on the other hand, would be enhanced by traits just the opposite of meekness: being aggressive, spirited and/or exciting.
What Spiritual Meekness is not
The Holy Spirit-inspired spiritual perception of St. Gregory of Nyssa, however, gives an entirely different meaning to the teaching on meekness that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ gave to His Disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. .
St. Gregory certainly does not mean meekness in the modern societal sense I mentioned above. In fact, he specifically dismisses the spiritual meaning of meekness as that which "is done quietly and slowly." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 1954) Just the opposite, St. Gregory in his homily on meekness goes on to reference St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 9: 24), saying "he advises us to increase our speed; So run, he says, that you may obtain."
Honing in on the meaning of Spiritual Meekness
The 19th Century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli was quoted as saying: "Moderation is the center wherein all philosophies, both human and divine, meet."i Certainly, in the Hebrew and Christian tradition we see moderation lauded. In the Proverbs of Solomon (25:27) we read: "As it is not good for a man to eat much honey, so he that is a searcher of majesty, shall be overwhelmed by glory." Other religious traditions also praise moderation. Buddha, for example, describes the middle way as a path of moderation between the poles of extreme indulgence and deprivation.ii To accomplish this one would also have to follow the path of wisdom.iii
Cognitive psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1962) notes that "there is something about the nature of human beings more than others . . .which makes it horribly difficult for them to take the middle ground . . .instead of having moderating behavior." The beneficent effects of moderation in the areas of health, such as eating, drinking, exercise and various psychological domains are well known. In dieting, for example, "the goal is to obtain balance, variety, and moderation. People sometimes do not realize that they can eat the foods they enjoy, but the intent is to do it in moderation."iv
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975) puts forth the idea that religion can be defined "as man's search for ultimate meaning." This implies a spiritual vision of the universe. A science without God would posit that the cosmos is nothing but something that exists in space or space-time. However, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (2001) notes, such a position "offers no constructive explanation to deal with existence." To put it another way, it begins and ends with the question: Is this all there is?
Spiritual perception, however, would begin the search for meaning by looking at the universe and seeing that the meaning of life permeates, from within, the cosmos that we inhabit. In the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." (Ps 18: 2). But there is another way of knowing God that is beyond any glory possible to be conceived by man, because God is so much greater than the limits of man's perception. The other path for intuiting God is the path of negation. Unknowingly, this is the path many who deny God have stumbled upon. For those with spiritual perception, such knowledge could be described as a mystical path, an antinomy that is knowledge-beyond-knowledge. The Hebrews had a sense that no word can capture God. They referred to Him as Adonai (Lord) rather than a word they would not speak, YHWH (Yahweh). St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978), describing Moses, said that when "he grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, . . . he had come to know that what is Divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension." The Book of Exodus (20: 21) tells us, "But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." And David the King and Prophet writes of God: "He made darkness His hiding place; as His canopy around Him." (Ps 17: 12).
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt. 5:4)
In the first article I wrote (Morelli, 2012) on applying the Beatitudes to Orthodox Christian parenting I pointed out that it is also no accident that after Christ's time in the wilderness confronting and overcoming the temptations of Satan, the evil one, He was prepared for His public life of teaching. The first of Jesus’ teachings is the Sermon on the Mount, in which He gave us the well known Beatitudes (Mt 5: 1-12).i
Such a period of spiritual preparation for being aware of the enticements of the world, its adversities and how to confront them is not the usual practice of Eastern Christians awaiting Holy Matrimony. Rather, is not uncommon that in preparing for a holy and blessed marriage, the male and female shortly to become one flesh focus their attention on the worldly joy of marriage and relegate the spiritual factors to second place. An emphasis on the worldly aspects of marriage is certainly the main focus of secular society, in which a wedding is, for many, part of an elaborate booming and costly industry.ii Unfortunately, the focus is on merely worldly joy rather than spiritual joy In fact, however, there is an important aspect of spiritual joy that can and should be stressed in a true Orthodox Wedding. A passage in our Orthodox Marriage Service emphasizes such happiness. This is no better expressed than in the prayer sung by the choir after the sharing of The Common Cup:
And whenever thou art praying, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, in order that they might be made manifest to men. Verily I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou whenever thou art praying, enter into thy chamber, and after thou shuttest thy door, pray to thy Father Who is in secret; and thy Father Who seeth in secret, shall render what is due to thee openly. (Mt 6: 5-6)
From the times of my earliest memory these words of Christ were implanted on my mind. A simple practical example of putting this into practice was the proper way of saying the Prayers at the Table, popularly known as 'grace' before and after meals, while in public. It meant making a silent and mental Sign of the Cross and saying the appropriate prayer mentally as well. Any public display of one's commitment to Christ, would, at that time and locale, have been considered hypocrisy.
However, the world of my early years was spiritually and culturally very different from the world that has ushered us into the second decade of the 21st Century. Practically everyone in my hometown was a practicing Christian. There was one devout Jewish family that had a small grocery store and a travel truck to service remote areas. On any given Sunday morning most people went to the church of their choice. It might be said that there was a shared culture of the value of religion in daily life. If someone ostentatiously displayed some overt religiosity, in all likelihood such a display would have been considered hypocritical.
In the mid 1960’s there was a popular folk song that played the airwaves: The Sounds of Silence. It was originally written in the wave of national grief that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, this song actually reaches far beyond the historical event and touches a fountain of great spiritual depth. Consider a couple lines from the song: "Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again . . .The words of the prophets are written. . .And whispered in the sounds of silence." A very appropriate reflection for the start of Spring comes from the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The value of silence cuts across so many religious traditions. The prophet Habakkuk (2: 20) instructed the Jews: "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Buddhists find in silence the meaning of the universe: "When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and he feels the joy of the dharma [basic principles of the cosmos].i In the Islamic tradition Rumi notes: "I implored the sage in earnest last night to unveil the mysteries of the universe. He whispered softly in my ear, "Silence! It is something to perceive but never to say."ii