Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 12, 2008

Setting a Launch Date

Had a moment to pick up reading Elder Paisios again the other night, and in view of recent news photos of “launchings”, was rather struck to reflect on our better days.

Yes, amidst the summer doldrums of my “sophomore year” in Orthodoxy, I began to think about all our ascetic practices: our fasts, our prayers, our lighting of candles, our long services, our works of charity, our confessions, our private devotions and all the rest… and whether this really amounts to the “works righteousness” we’re slammed with on this account. Believe me, this ain’t my issue.. but it was handy to stumble on something unlooked for.

“So, you see whichever virtue you apply, you are led to the same result, that is, to the elimination and purification of your own will. Man will spiritually progress and be benefited only when he manages to eliminate his will to zero. When the Americans want to send a missile to space, they do the same thing; they count from ten to zero. When they reach zero, then the missile is fired. The same applies to our soul; when our wills are eliminated to zero and our soul is cleansed, then it is elevated towards God!”

I guess the good folks on the Holy Mountain were more aware of current events than I would have supposed! This YouTube video helps conjure up the launch sequence in all its glory as I remember it. You’ll have to provide you own countdown, but this was the only one with all the camera shots I used to thrill to: The roar of the engines, the billowing flames, the falling ice and debris, the all consuming clouds of fire and smoke, the falling tower arms and twist of the rocket as it rises is captured in the film. The sound is there, but not the physical wave that hit you like a wall, literally knocking folks down to their knees at three miles down range. I love this! No doubt the Elder picked a good metaphor for certainly the process of stripping out our old man and making our assault on the heavens is accompanied by a roar, by a languishing degree of destruction, and by a falling away of much we have known before we finally unhinge ourselves by grace to ascend. But I digress.

Elder Paisios continues:

“The grace of God entered our soul through the Holy Baptism; it is a gift granted to all of us. Sometimes, we think that God gave to a saint more gifts than others; this is wrong. Christ loves all of His children the same; it is we, however, who do not value and appreciate God’s gift to the same degree. When someone is grateful and believes that the grace of Christ, which he received through Holy Baptism, is inside his soul, he humbles his own will and purifies himself in order to allow divine grace to function. When divine grace functions inside a soul, it makes us think that God favored this person with more gifts. However, the truth is that this person loves Christ more, and through his humility, permits God to act on his behalf.”

The purpose of these “works” then, if that is what they are and purpose is what they have rather than grace, is to make room for the Holy Spirit by humbling ourselves. I’d tend to think this is the action of grace itself… but only to an extent: either we invite the action in our hearts through our consent, or there can be no free will and the love of God does not exist. Since this cannot be, there must be some action on our part. This is why I think the Elder underscores that the relationship between asceticism and grace is fundamental to the path of the saints.

His inquirer asks for citations from scripture, and while there are many good ones given (2 Tim 2:20-21; 2 Cor 7:1; 2 Cor 10:3-5; and Phil 2:5-9), I favor a few not given because they continue this emphasis less in the detail that the Elder prefers to hear, and more in terms of reminding me to work on allowing the image and likeness thing to come through. But then I am Thickheaded to the core. Hence my suggestions are the words of the Forerunner in John 3:30, and of course those of St. Paul in Galatians 2:16-20 ( especially 20! ).

In the end, I guess the trick is less about setting a launch date. These things seem a bit uncontrolled at our end and more a matter for our inspired Mission Control team. Yet a similar amount of endless training, development, and all the rest lies ahead if we’re to succeed.   And while surely  (Don’t call me Shirley!) folks wonder what all the fuss is about, let’s face it… it’s a big program no matter where you head… or what your launch vehicle. And maybe like the Bumble Bee that theoretically can’t fly… maybe our so called “works righteousness” won’t get us anywhere either. Then again… what if the whole of these ancient, warmed over dichotomies are no more than tower arms holding us up while  earthbound as our engines roar to life, until lift off and we escape their clutches?  Indeed… what if.

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