He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (Mk 16: 16)
One of the teaching challenges of those committed to the Mind of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church is the homogenization of Christianity by those who have been ensnared by the spiritual cancer of religious relativism that has permeated the Western world. Political, religious and social correctness is the mantra of the 3rd Millennium. It is also the great scourge of our modern world. It is the duty of all true and committed Christians, especially those charged with the guiding others in Orthodoxy, to be steadfast to the mind of Christ and His Church (Morelli, 2010). It must begin in the little church in the home the 'domestic church,' then be connected to the local parish and its clergy and then on to the Church universal.
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.
“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."
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.
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.
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
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:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:3)
In previous articles on parenting I have emphasized the importance of making connections between Christ, His Church and the issues and problems that make up modern life (Morelli, 2010). Jesus entry into his public life is recorded by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. It was at His baptism in the River Jordan by St. John who is called the Baptist. This event is called the Theophany in which Christ's Divinity was proclaimed by His Father as told to us by St. Matthew: "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3: 16-17) The spiritual-theological significance of the Theophany is noted in the beautiful Apolytikion of the Feast:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.
...but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through... kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love.... (2 Cor 6:4,6)
In a recent Smart Parenting essay on the spiritual and practical aspects of love (Morelli, 2011), I start out simply with St. John's most profound yet un-complex understanding of God: "God is love." (1 Jn 4:16). This love is shown in the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity amongst themselves, God's creation and continuing care for His people, and the self-emptying (kenotic) love Christ has for us by His incarnation, passion, death and resurrection for our salvation. I then go on to point out that we must understand the meaning and application of Divine Love in our families and to the world. We have to emulate in our own lives this same love and model this to our children and others by our behaviors, which should be:
a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other. Love means having truly beneficent care for the welfare of others in thought word and deed.
In a follow-up essay, (Morelli, 2011b) I point out that if love is understood in this way, we would be given one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, peace. And in turn, children disposed to peace in working through their relationships with others.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Lk 12:48).
What makes for a happy child? According to some recent behavioral research, (Holder, Coleman & Wallace, 2008)[i] it is a child who is also ‘spiritual.’ The authors define spiritual in a different way than most Orthodox Christians would comprehend. This article will attempt to outline the core of Orthodox spirituality and see if this understanding can be integrated with these researchers’ findings.
We know that the Body of Christ which is His Church is the most sublime gift given to us by God. This includes, of course, the Divinity emptying itself. The Father sending, that is to say, giving us His Only Begotten Son, to assume human flesh and, as St. Paul has told us, He, “…Christ is the head of the church, his [B]ody, and is [H]imself its Savior.” From the Anaphora prayer of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we pray (and learn): “[Christ] gave Himself up for the life of the world, ….Take eat: this is my Body which is broken for you….Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood … which is shed for you ….Having in remembrance, therefore this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Session at the right hand, and the second and glorious Advent…”
Parents and Pastors as head of their church family
The Domestic Church