St John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church
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EASTERN CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING OF GRACE by His Eminence Archbishop Lazarus Puhalo

Posted by stjohnsminneapolis on October 14, 2016 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

EASTERN CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING OF GRACE

by His Eminence Archbishop Lazarus Puhalo

 

Grace is an uncreated energy of God. While Apostle Paul uses the word “energy” more than 20 times in his Epistles, it is translated our of the text in most English versions.

 

“Energy” is a form of communication, or rather about “communicating something” in both physics and theology. Grace is neither “created,” nor does it have “species” as some sectarians teach. It is the uncreated “energy” of God.

 

While it is some times referred to as a “free gift” from God, this is a metaphor derived from the fact that God bestows His Grace freely. But what, exactly does that mean? We receive grace by being permitted to participate in the energies of God to some degree. For example, when we speak of a miracle by a saint, we really mean a miracle that God has granted “through” the saint. The energy that works the miracle is God’s energy, and we refer to it as an act of God’s Grace. This is also how we know God: He reveals Himself to us through the actions of His uncreated energies, which means that He communicates uncreated Grace to us.

 

When we speak of the “Grace of the Holy Spirit,” this means that God is communicating His uncreated energy to us through the Holy Spirit. Grace is not a "thing" or an "attribute" of God, and even though it is a "gift which God sends down" (James1:17), it cannot be defined, limited or ranked by degrees, and it is not something that is “created.” It is God's special act of lifting man up to Him and coming down to man, so that man shares in something of God Himself, and from this, receives a special consecration. If, for example, a Saint receives the "gift of working miracles," this gift is not something he possesses on his own. It is a result of his special nearness to God. God extends His Grace (Energy) by working miracles through that person, and it is a special communion of that holy person with God.

 

But let us try so explain this in more simple terms. We cannot know the Essence of God. It is so totally different from anything that we can know. So how does God reveal Himself to us, and how do we know God? He communicates to and with us through His energy. When God communicates with us in this way, we call it “Grace.”

 

“Grace” indicates “something that is given free and freely. God’s Grace (uncreated energy) is always present, always offered to everyone, but it is received only by those who come to understand that it is present and open their hearts and minds to receive it. This Grace is God’s way of speaking to us, to our hearts and souls and minds. This means that we can know God by directly experiencing God (through His uncreated Grace or Energy). God is the only source of life. So life itself is a gift of God’s Grace.

 

We can have life only by sharing in God’s energy. Life is a free gift from God, no matter by what process He chose to manifest it. We were created wholly mortal (only God can be immortal by nature). How will we inherit eternal life, that is, immortality? By His Grace, God allows us to share in His immortality; we become, as Apostle Peter says, “participants in the Divine nature.”

 

This means that God will being us into a participation in His divine energies and this is why we call everlasting life “Theosis,” that is, we become divine ourselves by participating in His Grace. While I hope that this will be of some help in explaining the question of what Grace is, a true understanding of the things of God can only be assimilated through an actual living experience of them in a life of prayer, contemplation, fasting, moral struggle and Holy Communion.

 

Wisdom of the Fathers

Posted by stjohnsminneapolis on March 4, 2012 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (1)

It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved. To look upon another – his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects – is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you’d never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him, do unto him as you would have him do unto you. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk)

Caring for God's Creation.

Posted by stjohnsminneapolis on January 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM Comments comments (0)

 

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion

Has broken Nature’s social union.

An’ justifies that ill opinion,

Which makes thee startle,

At me, thy poor,earth-born Companion,

An’ fellow-mortal!

 

Robert Burns, To a Mouse

 

In the Nicene Creed we declare that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible, that it is through the Son all things were made, and that the Holy Spirit is the Giver of life. In the book of Genesis we read, that the creationis good. It is given to us by God to be the home for all living creatures. Moreover, the God’s creation is the stage for the actualisation of the Kingdom of God. It is here, on Earth, the Son of God became man. It is here, among us,Christ will unite all things in heaven and on earth in Him (cf. Eph 1, 10). Itis here we are called to deification, to become the true image of God. And itis here and now we see that the Earth is dying.

We got used to hearing about the global warming, pollution, soil erosion, radioactive and chemical contamination. These are our everyday reality. Few years ago we commemorated twenties anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, which caused severe radioactive fallout covering vast territories of the Central and Eastern Europe. Its results are seen as far as in the United Kingdom, where in1986 North Wales' farmers had to slaughter their livestock polluted byradioactive rain that came from Chornobyl. Poisonous pesticides, which foryears have been banned throughout Europe and North America, are now found in Arctic region in the fatty issues of birds and animals, which never had direct contact with those chemicals. The protective ozone shield is being destroyed by manmade chemicals (CFCs) and carbon dioxide emissions (results of the destruction of the tropical rainforests and industrial expansion of our civilization).Global warming, melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps is causing rise of the sea-level in the Northern hemisphere and turn of the vast fertile territories into arid desert. It shows us that everything on the Earth is interconnected, that the God’s creation is the living system, where loss of any of its component is dangerous and often irreversible for other components. What was created and developed over millions of years is disappearing now; nature looses its capacity for self-renewal. What answer do we, the Christians of theByzantine tradition, have to all these problems? Is it simply a crisis of the“outer” environment, or do the problem go deeper, into our own understanding ofthe interconnectedness of God’s creation?

Often we hear the calls tochange our lifestyles, to reduce the consumption of oil, gas and coal, tomanage a better recycling of our waste. It is true, we should do it. We have to stop being “addicted to oil”, as one Texan politician said recently. However,these aspects of the ecological crisis are merely external and do not touch thecore of the problem. In fact, we need to undergo metanoia, to change our hearts. To change our vision of theGod’s creation from the mechanistic and atomistic picture of the world to aview of the world as one organism, which needs to be healed. We should realizethat not only people, not only separate individuals need redemption, but thewhole of creation. Our understanding of sin should be extended from that of amere personal act to the view that it affects other peoples and sometimes awhole of the universe. Greek Orthodox metropolitan John Zizioulas (J.Zizioulas, Ecological asceticism: A cultural revolution, Sourozh, Vol. 67, p. 23) speaks of a liturgical, Eucharistic understanding of the interrelatedness of human beings with other species, wherethe human beings are priests of creation, where the creation itself is turnedinto a vehicle of communion with God and fellow human beings. This means thatmaterial creation is seen as a sacred gift of God for which we ought to thank God. Love of God’s creation and our fellow human beings would lead us to restrict the consumption of natural resources and share them justly with other people. Since we are the recipients of God’s gifts, we cannot claim that the nature exclusively belongs to us. Citing our Byzantine liturgy, “We offer toYou Yours of Your own”.

There is also a question ofChristian ascetics. We have almost forgotten millennia-old practices of fasting. Some people may say that fasting is insignificant for our spiritual life and it is better to perform some good deeds instead of it. It seems to me, however, that by neglecting the tradition of fasting we also neglect the material dimension of the God’s creation. In doing so we involuntary form a mindset, where our environment does not have much of a value for Christians.

We have to move away from the anthropocentric perception of our universe, which is dominant in thecontemporary society, to the theocentric one. Being made in the image andlikeness of God, we should recover the vision of ourselves as relational creatures. Relational to God, to each other and the whole of creation.

What practical steps are weable to make towards the re-establishment of our right attitude towards God’screation? Firstly, our parishes should develop ecological educational programmes based on the Church Fathers and the Catholic Magisterium as part ofthe eparchial religious education. Secondly, we probably need to start local parish projects of recycling (paper, plastic, glass, metal tins, etc.).Thirdly, it would be helpful to encourage our faithful to participate in the local community environmental initiatives, such as caring for the parks,wildlife. Such activities, although seemingly far from the ordinary Byzantine parish lifewould be useful instruments for the Evangelisation, which will help to reach out to the wider community, to bring new members to our Church and to Jesus Christ, the “Pascha of incorruption... Salvation of the world”.

 

Fr I. Labacevich

 



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