II Prayer as Gift: to Lutheran SHT, Buffalo, MN, July, 2007

Delivered to the Lutheran Society of the Holy Trinity

Buffalo, MN

July, 2007

Why We Need A Discipline of Prayer

If our end is communion with God, then that means that we are called to be lovers of God – for communion is a union of lover and beloved. If we are called to be lovers of God, we are called to turn away from what St Maximus the Confessor calls “evil self-love.” This is love for the pleasures and comforts of the flesh. It is a love marked not by communion but by fusion in which each one seeks to consume the other or, in extreme perversion, even to be consumed by the other. St Maximus contrasts this evil self-love to what he calls “uncorrupt and spiritual self-love.”[1] This uncorrupt and spiritual love of self is marked by casting off the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain in order to realize the self’s true nature as imago imaginis, an icon of the Icon (Christ God, Col 1:15 & Gn 1:26-27), to use the term introduced into Orthodox discourse by Origen of Alexandria. In Orthodox theology, the icon is defined in its essential principle as a “capacity to receive God.” Uncorrupt and spiritual self-love, then, would be the desire to receive God in the bridal chamber of the heart as the bride receives her Bridegroom, in order to become what one truly is in the principle of one’s being as an icon of the Icon: a lover and worshipper not of self but of God.

If this is our end, then we need prayer as an ascetic discipline by which we engage the spiritual warfare, the work of penetrating our heart to lay hold of our love and direct it to God. In the terms of Genesis, we need the discipline of prayer to take our love away from the lower regions of the body, represented by the tree of good and evil, to direct it to the upper region of the heart where the springs of life flow (Prov 4:23). This is the Tree of Life, and we learn from the hymnography of the Orthodox Church that the Tree of Life is the Cross “that carries Christ like a cluster of grapes, full of life.” (Elevation of the Cross, Sept 14) This work of descending into our heart to lay hold of the desiring force of our love in order to offer it to God is our work. God cannot do this for us. That is to say, he cannot force us to love him; for love that is forced, love that is not freely chosen, is not love.


Why We Need Prayer as a Gift

However, having said this, we must now say that if we pursue the practice of prayer only in terms of discipline, it is inevitable that we will miss the mark. We have given our love to the fruit of good and evil. We have eaten that fruit and ingested its seed into our body, our soul, our mind, so that we ourselves have become trees of good and evil. Our whole body and our life on this earth have become good and evil, sweet and bitter, pleasurable and painful, living and dying. To say this is to recognize that we are now inclined to the life of that tree of good and evil. Because we have ingested it – because we have partaken of it by looking, by hearing, by touching, by dwelling in our mind on sensual pleasure for the sake of our own pleasure – that principle of good and evil, of sin, has become active in our fleshly members, i.e., in our body, our mind and our soul.

Because we have ingested the fruit of “evil self-love” into our bodies, we are now weakened in soul and body. We have been infected with self-love, with vanity, pride, conceit, which expresses itself in gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy. To recognize this is to realize that we cannot trust ourselves in any kind of spiritual discipline. We cannot be our own spiritual master, our own counselor, our own guide. Nor can we trust ourselves to the wisdom of our fellow human beings, for we are all of us blind, and if we trust ourselves to one another, we are trusting ourselves to the wisdom of the ruler of this age – which is the wisdom of self-love. We are blind following the guidance of the blind, and we will both fall into the ditch.

In the weakness coming from our self-love, we cannot pray as we ought. In our self-love, we swim in conceit. It’s the air that we breathe. It’s all that we know. In our blindness, we have forgotten God; and in our forgetfulness, we have become ignorant. If we take up the discipline of prayer apart from this realization that we are darkened, blind, naturally inclined to the fruit of good and evil, the fruit of self-love, we will “default” to reliance on our own efforts and to the wisdom of our own opinions without realizing it. In our spiritual conceit, we will easily mistake the sweet sensation of our own sentimental feelings or emotions, rising like vapors from the stench of our self-love, for the fragrance of the Holy Spirit, and so fall victim to the delusions of the evil one who can disguise himself as an angel of light; or to the deceptions of his ministers who also can disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. (2 Cor 11:13-14) Without intending to we will become idolaters; or rather, we will fall more deeply into our idolatry. For, in our darkened ignorance, what we see and take for God are in fact the idols we have made in our mind from our love for the wisdom of our own opinions. What we hear in our heads and take for the Wisdom of God is the sound of our own voice from our love for the wisdom of our own opinions. For, we have forgotten God in our self-love, and we naturally default to the wisdom of our own opinion. Idolatry is our “default” mode; it is the operating system of our mind and its fantasies are the screen savers of our mind. Therefore, prayer as an ascetic discipline needs a spiritual guide who is not blind and who is competent to lead us into a discernment of the spirits to see if they are from God or if they are vapors rising up in our soul from our own wisdom, or even from the evil one.

If the discipline of prayer is about dying to oneself for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, then it is about emptying oneself into God in love. But because we are so immersed in self-love, we simply don’t know how to do that nor can we do it on our own strength. We need a competent spiritual guide who can lead us in our discipline away from a dying that is for our own sake or for the sake of our own wisdom to that dying that is for the sake of Christ.

We need a guide who is not blind. It is in this context of our need for a competent guide to lead us out of the darkness and into the marvelous light of God’s Heavenly Kingdom through the ascetic discipline of prayer that we speak of prayer as a gift. Prayer as a gift is the guidance God has given to us in his Incarnation, when he appears in the flesh so that our fleshly eyes can look up from the fruit of the tree of good and evil and see with our eyes the Tree of Life, the Cross, that carries Christ like a cluster of grapes full of life. That gift of prayer is the Church, which is the body of Christ (Eph 1:22). This is absolutely important for the Orthodox Christian life.


The Church is the Gift of Prayer

The Church is the body of Christ; she is the fullness of Him who is all in all. (Eph 1:22) She is the continuation of the incarnation of Christ. At this point, let me insert a passage from the statement on Christian Unity that was written by Representatives of the Orthodox Church at the North American Faith and Order Study Conference in Oberlin, Ohio, 1957. These representatives included Bishop Athenagoras Kokkinakis and Fr Georges Florovsky (and other names I don’t know). They write,

“Christian Unity is for us a given Unity which has never been lost, and, as a Divine gift and an essential mark of Christian existence, could not have been lost. This unity in the Church of Christ is for us a Unity in the Historical Church, in the fullness of faith, in the fullness of continuous sacramental life. For us, this Unity is embodied in the Orthodox Church, which kept both the integrity of the Apostolic Faith and the integrity of the Apostolic Order.”

This Truth of Christian Faith, that the Church is the body of Christ and all the truths that follow from the unity and integrity of Christ’s Holy Church, is absolutely important for the discipline of prayer in the Orthodox Christian life. It means for us that the gift of guidance we need is given to us in the Church, which is the body of Christ. This for us is not an idea but a concrete reality that we experience in the fullness of Orthodox Christian worship. For us it means that we can see Christ by looking at the Orthodox Church; we can hear Christ and be taught the mind of Christ by listening to the teaching of his Holy Church and submitting ourselves to the wisdom of the Church, the Orthodox Church.

The Church is the body of Christ.[2] That means that the Church looks like Christ. Her hierarchical structure, her doctrines, her icons, her prayers, her liturgical worship, all faithfully delineate the contours of Christ’s body, just as the garments we wear delineate the contours of our body. This means that the orthodox Church is that Church whose structure, doctrines and worship truly look like Christ; so that when you study that Church, you are looking directly at the body of Christ. If the structure, doctrines and worship do not look like Christ, you are not looking at the Church and you are not looking at the body of Christ revealed in these last days, of whom the Scriptures bear witness; you are looking at some image of Christ concocted by the wisdom of human opinion. If you study those false doctrines you are not looking at Christ but at some humanly contrived image of Christ.

This explains why orthodox doctrine is critical for the Orthodox Church. In the doctrine as well as in the worship of the Church, one stands before an icon of the Christ, and by means of that icon, the Church is showing to our eyes what Christ looks like. In that icon she is pointing out to us the “better and changeless path” that ascends to God: Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life who leads to the Father. If the icon is wrong, even by a single word, it is wrong because there has been introduced into it an element of human wisdom. This marks the beginning of impurity, and apart from purity of heart, no one shall see God. Like railroad tracks that split off from one another in the train station, it marks the beginning of a divergence in that path of the Church, which is pure, that will eventually lead far away from where the seeker of God is hoping to go. The gift of prayer will have been lost and replaced by the wisdom of one’s own opinion.

In the gift of the Church, we can pray as we ought long before we know how to pray as we ought simply by praying the prayers that the Church gives to us. We can enter into the fullness of communion with God long before we have sold all that we have and long before we have come to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, by entering into the sacramental and liturgical worship of the Church, and “attending” to all that we see and hear. For us, praying on our own is unthinkable, especially once we have experienced the spiritual depths of the prayers of the Church; but even in the Church, we must always be on our guard against fascination for our own sentiments, our own thoughts, our own opinions. I experience extemporaneous prayer as flat and spiritless, filled only with human sentimentality. The only prayers I want to pray ex tempore are such as: God cleanse me a sinner, Lord have mercy on me, Lord, teach me thy ways; grant me the gift of discernment. And these, of course, are prayers of the Church. For every other need, I find prayers in the Church that I can say, to lead me away from my own vanity and sentimentality and into the love of God.

I do not presume to be a saint who has become so permeated with the fruit of the Tree of Life that he loves God with his whole heart, soul, strength and mind and who can pray to God as lover to lover. I am still a lover of myself. I am not God’s friend; I am his enemy because I am a lover of myself and I still will die for the sake of myself before I will die for the sake of Christ. I am the thief on the Cross. I am still saturated with the fruit of good and evil. And so, for now, I choose to pray the prayers that the Church gives to penitent sinners, a category to which I can’t even say I have yet attained, that I may receive the gift of cleansing, and the grace willingly to ascend the cross of the thief, to be crucified with the thief together with the Christ.

Immersed in the gift of the Church, we do not cease the ascetic discipline of prayer, which is the work of letting go (crucifying) all of our own ideas, our own sentiments, the passions that trouble us so that we may attend to the prayer of the Church; and even in the midst of the ascetic discipline of prayer, even when we find ourselves falling down again and again, we immerse ourselves in the Gift of Prayer given us in the Church so that even as we keep falling, we may continue walking in the grace of the Holy Spirit who searches the depths of God, (1 Cor 2:11) and who prays for us with sighs too deep for words. (Rm 8:26)


The Gift of the Original Life of Creation

I want to describe in more detail the very Church herself, as the gift of prayer that has been given to us. Let me share with you what appears to have been an original apostolic doctrine on the nature and identity of the Church.

It is commonly assumed that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. But there is an older and deeper understanding of the Church’s origin. Among the writings known as the Apostolic Fathers is an ancient Christian sermon that goes under the name of 2 Clement. It was preached by an unknown priest sometime between 98 and 170 AD. In his sermon, the unknown preacher speaks of the:

“first church, the spiritual one, which was created before sun and moon…The living Church is the body of Christ, for the Scripture says, ‘God created man male and female.’ The male is Christ, the female is the Church.”

He mentions certain books that declare along with the apostles, that

“the church not only exists now, but has been in existence from the beginning. For, she was spiritual, as was also our Lord Jesus. She was revealed in the last days in order that she might save us. Now the church, being spiritual,” he goes on to say, “was revealed in the flesh of Christ, thereby showing us that if any of us guard her in the flesh and do not corrupt her, we will receive her back again in the Holy Spirit. For this flesh is the imprinted seal [antitupoV] of the Holy Spirit.”[3]

According to this ancient doctrine of the Church, Pentecost is the birth not of the Church but of the disciples into the Church. The significant point here is that the Church is more than the synaxis of the faithful. She is a mystical, spiritual reality who transcends the synaxis of the faithful as the Mother of creation, the true Eve, the Mother of all living. She transcends even the creation, for she was “created even before sun and moon.” That means she was created before time. (This point I will develop in my third presentation.)

Our unknown preacher says that the Church is spiritual, and that she was revealed in the flesh of Christ. This is as much as to say that everything in the Church is of the Spirit. Her doctrines are spiritual because they set forth the mind of Christ; her prayers are spiritual because they set forth the soul of Christ; and her sacraments are spiritual – her oil, her water, her bread, her wine – because they set forth the body of Christ. In the Spirit, everything in the Church opens onto Christ; and, in Christ, everything in the Church opens onto the Spirit.

This is important to understand for the Orthodox faithful. It reveals to us what it means to have been baptized into that Church which is the body of Christ. Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is our Pentecost, when the Spirit descends on us and raises us up into the Church. (Note how in baptism there is the seed of a love for God on our part. For it is by our choice that we come to the font or that we bring the infant to the font. And God in return gives to us the seed of his Holy Spirit, which is the seed of beauty and goodness in the life of God.)

 The Church, says our unknown preacher, existed from the beginning, before sun and moon. This takes us to the very beginning of the bible, to the book of Genesis. There we read about the Spirit of God who in the beginning was brooding over the face of the waters when darkness covered the face of the deep. Then God gave his first commandment, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

Here is God’s first creation. It came to be before sun and moon, which were not created until the fourth day. I think we can take it that this primordial light in which God creates the world and fashions man in his own image and likeness is the Church – the Bride of God, as the Scriptures call her – to which our unknown preacher refers. “In thy light shall we see light,” the Psalmist says. In the primordial light of the Church, we see the uncreated Light of God as the disciples beheld it on Mt Tabor.


The Gift of Light

In the primordial light of the Church, God proceeds to create the world. First, he divides the waters from the waters – an image of our baptism, perhaps, and an image of his calling Peter and Andrew, James and John, when he calls them (and us) away from the Sea of Galilee, away from the dark waters of this life surging with the storm of temptations as the funeral texts say, and into the living waters of his Holy Spirit.

In this light of the Church, we begin to see the Lord’s creative work, when he causes the earth to spring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, as an icon of what he does in those who have been baptized. He causes the virtues of his Holy Spirit to spring up from the ground of their soul just as he causes the earth to spring forth vegetation and plants. We know that plants need light to grow. Here, they are growing before the sun and moon have been created. They are growing in the light of this primordial light that was the first thing that God created. The virtues of God need light to grow in us. In the Church, they grow in the primordial light of creation that is the body of Christ, which is spiritual because it is made incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and which was revealed (it did not come to be for the first time) in these last days, as our unknown preacher says. The Church, the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, is the primordial light of creation in which the whole world comes to be and everything in it, in which we see the uncreated Light of God, the light that is the life of the world, as St John tells us in the opening verses of his Gospel. The Church, then, is the Mother of the world. She is the true Eve – the Mother of all living.

Perhaps, then, it is of the Church that we are reading in Proverbs:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his way, before his works of old. From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth, when there were no depths I was brought forth, before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth.  When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in the world, his earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.[4] 


The Gift of the Divine

Note that God creates the primordial light and the world by his Word from out of nothing; and that he makes Adam and Eve in his image and likeness by his Word, by speaking. “Let us make man,” he says. By his Word: this is as much as to say that he “calls” the world into being; he “calls” Adam and Eve to life from out of nothing. The Greek word for Church is ejkklhsiva. This is a noun formed from the verb “to call.” =Ekklhsiva is a feminine noun. It can therefore be translated as “She who is called.” Considering all that we have just seen from the biblical and patristic indications of Holy Tradition, we could translate ejkklhsiva as: “She who is called into being from nothing to be the Bride of God.” This takes us to Gen 2:24: “And the two shall be one flesh.” This refers to the union of man and woman in the sacrament, the sacred union of marriage. St Paul as well as our unknown preacher (Origen of Alexandria is another witness to this primitive apostolic doctrine) sees the union of man and woman in holy matrimony as an icon of the union of God with the Church, his bride, becoming in his incarnation one flesh with her. And this union of Christ and the Church is given as the primordial spiritual reality, the ontological root, of the world. The first commandment of God, “Let there be light” therefore opens onto a spiritual interpretation: “Let there be the Church, the Bride of God and the Mother of all living, that the creation might be prepared for the Incarnation of God the Word, the union of God and man in the sacred mystery of his Incarnation, death and resurrection and holy Ascension, the marriage of God and the world when the two shall be made one flesh and creation will be made able to fulfill its natural destiny to become – to be called into being as – partakers of the divine nature.[5]

In this light, we turn to the Gospel with eyes that before were blind, as it were, but now have been opened by the touch of God’s hand – the teaching of his holy Church, his body – to see what they could not see before. St Matthew, for example, in his account of the call of the first disciples, says that Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. He saw Simon and Peter casting their nets into the sea. And he said: “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Everything in the Church is of the Spirit. The Scriptures, so the holy fathers tell us – quite sternly at that – are not to be read literally but spiritually, for they are opening us onto the Holy Spirit. Reading this particular Gospel of St Matthew in its Pentecostal setting we see it immediately as an icon of Gen 1:1-3. As I said a moment ago, the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew = circle) is an icon of the sea of this worldly life: a cycle of birth and death. In our funeral texts we call this life a sea surging with the storm of temptations. In other words, this life is a sea, a circle, of death and corruption. Jesus is walking beside the sea. It calls to mind the opening words of Genesis, when the Spirit of God is hovering over (beside) the sea, waiting for the Father to send forth his Word in order to call the world into being. Jesus sees Peter and Andrew. Can you not hear an echo of Genesis 1? And God saw what he had made, and behold it was very good. But in this particular Gospel, God is looking on children of Adam and Eve who have fallen back into the dark waters of the deep. They are casting their nets into the dark sea of life as though their nets are the cry of their heart calling out from the depths: “Lord, hear me when I cry out to Thee.” Jesus is the Word of God whom the Father has sent forth from his lips down into the deep, dark sea of death looking for the children of Adam and Eve, who were themselves born of his bride, the Church. Behind this Gospel scene of Jesus walking by the sea and beholding Peter and Andrew, then, one sees God coming into the Garden of Eden, looking for Adam and Eve as though he can’t see them, because in their transgression they have fallen back into the darkness and have been covered over by the waters of the deep, and he is calling out: “Adam, where are you?” Now, in these last days, the Word of God has taken flesh; his spiritual body, the Church, has been revealed, made visible so that the eyes of the world can see with their eyes, and even touch with their hands Him who is the Word of Life. He has become like Jonah who has descended into the belly of the whale looking for the children of Adam and Eve – his children, born in the beginning of his Bride, the Church.

He sees Peter and Andrew, James and John. He calls them out. They leave everything to follow him.

In the light of the Church, one can see that this is no ordinary man walking by the sea, and his is no ordinary call. He is the Word of God in whom all things came to be. His calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John is not unlike what he did on the second day of creation, when he divided the waters from the waters – the waters of life, you could say, from the waters of death, the waters of his Holy Spirit that he calls day from the waters of the darkness that he calls night. You can see Peter and Andrew, James and John leaving everything to follow him because they know, intuitively in the Spirit (faith), that this is the Word of God answering their cry from the depths. He has become flesh, and he has found them there on the shores of the deep; and he is calling them out of their darkness and into the light of his holy Church, his body, the primordial light of creation in whose light we shall see the uncreated Light of God.


The Gift of the Bridal Chamber

This call that drew Peter and Andrew, James and John out of the sea and into the Church is the very call that has gone out into all the world through the holy apostles at Pentecost. It is the call that comes to us in our baptism. It is the call that draws us out of the sea of life, surging with the storm of temptation, and into the calm haven of Christ’s holy Church, the first Church, the spiritual one that was created before sun and moon, the Mother of all living, in whose light we shall see Light, the uncreated Light of God.

What I want my parishioners to understand from “Pentecostal” readings of the Gospel like the one I’m sharing with you now is that the Christian Faith is much more than a call to an ethic, or a moral code or a set of religious ideas we are required to believe. It is a call into the original life of creation, the mystical life (i.e. the spiritual life) of her “who is called into being from nothing,” the Church, the bride of God, whose spiritual life is hidden from the eyes of the world but whose roots go all the way back to the primordial beginning when God said, Let there be light and there was light.

To follow Christ in the discipline of prayer sooner or later must bring one to the womb, the baptismal font, of Christ’s holy Church. She, the bride of God, is given to us in the gift of our baptism as our holy Mother. In the life of the Church that is soaked in the living waters of the baptismal font, the discipline of prayer, in which we in our innate freedom as creatures made in the image and likeness of God actively call up our love to offer it to God is answered by the Gift of prayer: our being raised up in the likeness of Christ’s holy resurrection, born from above of God our Father and the Church our Mother as children of God: those who are called from nothing into being – from being dead in their trespasses to being alive in God – by the creative command of God’s Word. On the other side of the baptismal font, we take up our bed, our cross, our inclination to the passions, and we “walk,” we “go” in the discipline of prayer “to our house.” We make our way to the chalice; we make our way into the bridal chamber of our heart to receive the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight. We walk (the discipline of prayer) in the light as he is in the light (the gift of prayer).

For the Orthodox faithful, the discipline of prayer is much than a modification of our behavior. Through it, we are descending into the baptismal font and letting our Mother the Church refashion us so that we are transformed, transfigured into the likeness of her Son and our God; we are letting her clothe us in the garment of her own primordial light with which her Son and our God clothes himself as with a garment.

A practice in some parts of the Orthodox Christian oikoumene is to clothe the deceased in a white garment like the baptismal garment with which one was clothed in one’s baptism: the garment of light or of immortality. This is a rich symbol. Death is the consummation of our baptism. It is the moment for which we are preparing our lifelong in the ascetic discipline of prayer. The discipline of prayer is a lifelong descent into the waters of our baptism, a lifelong dying to ourselves for the sake of Christ. The meaning of being clothed in death with the baptismal garment is to show that the baptismal font through the discipline of prayer transfigures our dying into a self-emptying in love for God. It shows our tomb in this movement of love, which is prayer as discipline, transfigured into the bridal chamber where Christ comes at Midnight. Midnight is that mystical (spiritual) moment when the old man passes away (prayer as discipline) and the new man is born from above (prayer as gift), that moment when the baptismal garment of light is transfigured into the wedding garment and we are transfigured from children of God into the Bride of God (prayer as gift). St John Chrysostom sees baptism as the sacred nuptials of the spiritual marriage of the Church when we are wedded to Christ. Prayer as a gift is our being raised up from the baptismal font as children of God. Through the discipline of prayer, the seed of our love for Christ grows and we become members of the body of Christ as the Bride of Christ.

Midnight is the moment of our death on both the sacramental/spiritual and physical levels. Therefore, the discipline of prayer is like the bride preparing herself for the moment when her Bridegroom comes. That is to say, it is the faithful student of Christ preparing himself for the moment of his death. Incorporated into the body of Christ’s holy Church, his bride, we are children growing up to become the “daughter of the King” who is “ready for love,” and who desires the royal Bridegroom to find her ready to unite with him in the sacred nuptials of the Spiritual Marriage of Christ and his holy Church. In the Church, our Mother, the Holy Spirit who was given to us at our baptism, and who is active in us to the degree that we give ourselves in love to God through the discipline of prayer, helps get us ready for the love of the Heavenly Bridegroom by washing away our uncleanness and anointing us with sweet smelling ointments and clothing us in the beautiful wedding garment of the bride.

Therefore, when we say the prayers of the Church, when we read with reverence and attention the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the holy fathers, we are doing more than reading words. We are turning in our mind and heart to the primordial light of creation that shines from the heavens, the light of the Church that was before sun and moon; we are getting ourselves ready for Midnight – for that, say the Lenten texts of the Church, is when the Bridegroom comes. When we step into the Church and begin the divine services of the Church, we are stepping into the light. When we make the sign of the cross, when we make our prostrations, when we stand with attention before the holy altar, we are weaving for ourselves a garment of heavenly light with which we can clothe ourselves in body and soul. When we practice the commandments of Christ, we are leaving everything to follow him. We are laying hold of his cross as the fish bites the hook on the fisherman’s line and we are letting him draw us out of this dark sea of life, surging with the storm of temptations, and into the Kingdom of his beloved Son, the Kingdom of Light.

In his Holy Spirit, the Lord is calling out to us with his bride, the Church. One can hear the voice of their divine call saying: in the flesh, we have descended into the waters of the deep to look for you, the lost sheep, to lead you back to the Father. Now, my child, Come! Let him who is thirsty come! Let him drink from the living fountain of the Church the waters of the Father’s Holy Spirit. Let go your love for the things of this life that are passing away, and turn your love toward the eternal things of the Spirit. Become a disciple, a student of God’s Word. Begin calling your mind to pray often, working up to praying without ceasing. Practice the life of the Church as she directs: the life of prayer and asceticism, chastity and charity. This is the life of the Holy Spirit whose seed was planted in the soil of your heart in your baptism. In the light of the Church, open your eyes to see the uncreated light of God. Cultivate in your heart the joy of the Church who rejoices in the world of the Spirit, and in the earth of the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom; she who takes delight in the sons of men – i.e., in all the saints. And, with the saints step up into the inheritance of your birth from above as a child of God, having God as your Father, the Church as your Mother, and all the saints as your brothers and sisters. Amen.

[1] First Cent of Var. Texts, §50, Philo II, p. 174.

[2] Eph 1:23.

[3] Greek Text and translation by Lightfoot & Harmer, p. 120-121.

[4] Prov 8:22-31

[5] II Pt 1:4