You have heard me talk about this before but so many layers keep getting peeled back and so I keep talking about it. But, my journey into the historic Church and the practice of our faith as it has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) has brought tremendous change to my life. But not just my life but my heart, my mind, my worship, my prayer; all aspects of my life.
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I mean, if we truly believe in the Lord Jesus and have decided to walk in “the Way” (Acts 9:2), our lives and everything about us should be different. If not, then we should seriously start to question whether we truly believe. As I have walked in this Way and delved further back and deeper into the historic Faith, I discovered two primary pillars of Orthodox spirituality. These are hesychia and nepsis.
Let me define these really quickly. Hesychia is the practice of contemplative prayer. The word is Greek and means simply “stillness.” Nepsis means “wakefulness or watchfulness.” The practice of hesychia and neptic theology is as old as the Church itself. I was surprised at the number of the Fathers that talked about this, either directly or indirectly. A friend of mine, when I brought this up in conversation, sarcastically called this prayer practice “navel gazing.” Aside from being rather disrespectful, that idea completely misses the point. The point is deeper communion with Christ.
Anyways, as I have walked in this, the Holy Spirit has revealed some things to me that I really don’t like about myself and that I really didn’t want to face. This all relates directly to why I’ve been so silent for so long on this blog site so I’m going somewhere with this.
I always question motives, my own and others. That’s probably not a super healthy way to look at things but that’s where I am. So, the question of why always comes up in my mind. Why am I doing something, why are you doing something? For example, why pray or go to church? Do we do that to get something from God as if He were a cosmic slot machine? We put our “money” in, and we expect a return; that He will do good things for us if we perform or “be a good person.” Or do we do those things to look good before others? Why do we do the things we do?
I ran into this headfirst vis a vie blogging. As I have gotten more and more still before the Lord and have become more watchful over my own heart, I began to see some things. Why was I blogging? As I examined this for myself and asked the Spirit to show me where the dark places needed Light, I came to a place that was very unpleasant.
In His great love for me and because He doesn’t want to leave me in my flesh, He has shown to me that my motives for blogging were not very pure. Even as I say this, I recognize the irony of blogging about my motive for blogging. Anyways, I’ll make this part short. I realized that my primary reason for blogging was validation. I wanted to be recognized and seen and validated as someone who was wise or holy or whatever. The point is, my blogging, at the heart of it all and even perhaps as helpful as it may have been for others, was about me.
This has been hard to take for me. I was confronted by my own darkness and my own desperate but unseen grasping for recognition. I had to and am still repenting of this. That is why I haven’t been blogging and honestly don’t know how long it may be (if ever) that I do this again.
Something that relates to this for me (and maybe this will resonate with you as well) is stillness. Let me be more specific. There is so much noise in my life, so much noise in all our lives. I don’t necessarily mean actual sounds, but it includes that. I’m talking about the clutter of our lives, the busyness of things and the distractions of the world. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat. There is so much clutter going on in the world and our lives that we find it incredibly difficult to focus. Our souls are at stake.
A good friend of mine has recently done something that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile but spending the initial money has been resisted. He got a “dumb phone.” I want this in my life. I want freedom from the clutter of the world that so quickly distracts me from Christ, so quickly turns me inward so that I truly “navel gaze” and get wrapped up in myself rather that consumed by Christ.
Anyways, I know this has kind of jumped around. I will not be blogging on a regular basis until I can deal with this sin issue in my own heart. I may not ever blog again; I really don’t know. I have to unclutter my heart and life. In fact, if anyone wants to donate a “dumb phone” to me, I’ll happily take it! (I’m mostly kidding)
I want for us, brothers and sisters, a lived experience with the risen Lord Jesus. For me, I’m not super confident that I can have that and still be engaged in the noise of the world. Maybe you’re stronger than me and you can pull that off. If so, please share that strength with others and help them. If not, maybe you should consider how to unclutter your own heart so that you may be watchful in prayer.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen!
Have you ever seen “Fiddler on the Roof?” Maybe on Broadway before our government overlords decided to shut everyone down and cost half the country their jobs. Or maybe you’ve seen the movie version. There’s a line in there that stands out to me. They are singing about “tradition.” Tevya, the main character, says something really profound. He says, “Because of our traditions, each one of us knows who he is and what God expects of us.”
We all see this and feel it in different ways, but we are living in a world that is tumultuous and topsy-turvy to say the least. It feels truly dystopian and is completely unsettling. We are a culture adrift. There seems to be nothing stable, nothing that is permanent, and we feel the lack of it. As a culture, we have unhitched ourselves from history. This is one of the primary reasons, I believe, for all that is going on. We see this in the so-called “cancel culture” today. This silly obsession with erasing the past, good or bad, is nonsensical and quite immature.
We have a cancel culture in the Church today as well. Oh, they won’t call it that, these cancel culture warriors. They’ll call it progress or reaching the modern man or the big one, “relevant.” If you look at it carefully, it is ecclesiastical cancel culture. Those who engage in this have been and are trying to make the Church into something she is not. Now, they won’t claim that, of course. No, they claim that this is the natural “progression” of the modern Church (whatever that means) or the “development” of doctrine or even that they are “going back” to what the early Church was without all the trappings of religion. All of those claims are complete nonsense and false on their face.
Some will say, “But Jesus criticized the religious people of His day for their meaningless traditions.” No, He did not. He criticized them for relying solely on the externals of their traditions to save them. He criticized them for their lack of love and faith. Their harsh stance on tradition was criticized because they used it as a stick to beat the people with and put themselves on a pedestal. He did not criticize the traditions of the Jewish faith. In fact, He participated in the traditions of the faith and of His people. He went to synagogue, worshipping and preaching there. He went to the Temple during the great feasts. He observed Passover. He was a faithful Jew. There is no indication in the entire New Testament or from Jesus Himself that He came to do away with the traditions and faith of His people. Rather, He focused the fulfillment of the traditions and faith in Himself. He didn’t abrogate Tradition. He fulfilled it.
In the writings of the New Testament, we find again and again that Tradition was important to the early Church. In fact, there would be no New Testament were it not for Tradition. The Apostle Paul speaks repeatedly of Tradition. In his letter to the Church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:1-2), St. Paul says,
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”
He goes on in this chapter to discuss proper worship, including the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. He gives the Corinthian Church (and us), the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it had been received from the Lord. Did you read that? As it had been received from the Lord. In other words, St. Paul didn’t make it up. It was received. The Church hasn’t made up her Tradition. It has been received from the Lord and is the continuing life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul warns the Christians there of a great apostasy in chapter 2. He concludes that warning, in part in verse 15, by saying,
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
So, St. Paul says there is Tradition that is not written down. There is oral Tradition, “by word” as St. Paul refers to it. In other words, the Tradition that has been passed down to the Church has come by both oral and written Tradition. This is important and, in my opinion, blows a hole right through this nonsensical notion of “sola scriptura” that states that, unless you find it written in Scripture, it is not to be believed or practiced. Where do you think Holy Scripture came from and who decides what made it into the canon of Scripture? The New Testament didn’t fall out of the sky magically. It was compiled over time by the Fathers of the Church, by Tradition. And the books that were canonized haven’t changed. It is us (more precisely the Protestant practice) that decided we wanted to take some things out of the canon of Holy Scripture because it didn’t fit our narrative. Talk about cancel culture. This is Holy Scripture we’re talking about. You don’t get to go back and arbitrarily decide what is in or out. The Church, by the Spirit, decided that thousands of years ago.
St. Paul also reminds his spiritual son, Timothy, of this very thing. In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 1 verse 13-14, we read,
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”
Other translations, in verse 14, say “guard the good deposit” which was committed to you. St. Paul is of course referring to the gospel here, the good news of what our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Included in that gospel message is the Tradition that had been received by St. Paul from the Lord Jesus.
And in St. Jude’s letter, verses 3-4, we read,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
St. Jude says he was going to write about the gospel, “our common salvation,” but has instead had to write about keeping the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Once for all. In other words, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t adapt itself to the culture, it doesn’t develop, it isn’t modified. The faith and its Tradition have been once for all delivered to the saints. Changing that faith or the practice thereof is exactly what St. Jude goes on to warn about. He tells us that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” Remember, he’s writing to Christians. In other words, there will be those among even the Church who will turn away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Are there men in the Church today who have turned away from the faith once for all delivered to saints? What has changed, the faith and worship and practice of the Church or have some men crept in among us unnoticed and changed things?
I’m really not trying to be some grumpy curmudgeon here. This isn’t merely an argument of “We ain’t never done it that way” or nostalgia. This has, at its core, the very faith we profess and the core doctrines of the faith and the practice of our faith. If we change those, we are no longer the Church founded by our Lord Jesus and the Apostles. If we change those, we are no longer walking in that which was received. Rather, we are walking in a faith that we have made for our own comfort, not one given to us by Christ Himself.
God With Us Publications put out a series of books on the Eastern Church. In the book “A Stream of Living Water” addressing Holy Tradition, we read this,
“Tradition, therefore, is not an end in itself. We do not believe in the outward forms of Tradition, for that would be idolatry, substituting any created reality for the living God. We believe in the message of Tradition: that Jesus Christ is made present for us in the Church through the Spirit.”
This, then, is the Holy Tradition we embrace (or should) and take part in; the ongoing life of the Spirit in the people of God, the Church.
Let us return, dear brothers and sisters! Let us turn back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Look around you at the so-called Church and those who claim her name. Find the Church as she has been, the one who has held on to the faith. I assure you that she is out there. Run to the arms of Mother Church and there, in the embrace of Jesus, you will find rest for your souls!
Glory to God!