Eternity


In loving memory of Martin Vernon Lawrence Turner

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I am struck by how little is known around the world of the basic teachings of Christianity ─ or even the sayings of Jesus. Especially is this true in the Middle East, where people have little or no access to any tradition of spiritual value. It’s not a question of the theology, or familiarity with the library that is the Bible, or even the first-hand narratives of the new Testament. These are a luxury too far.

Let us begin at the beginning with the sayings of Jesus. Here are five:

  1. My kingdom is not of this world.[1]
  2. Inasmuch as you do it until one of the least of these, you do it unto me.[2]
  3. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.[3]
  4. The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.[4]
  5. It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that the defiles him, but what comes out of it.[5]

All of these teachings directly and explicitly resolve everyday problems of current practice as keenly today as they did when they were first uttered. A great deal of time and trouble could be saved if they were better known, if they circulated and were accepted into customary understandings by the general population.

But I am struck, too, by how certain key, integral Christian teachings were actually uttered, not by Jesus himself, but by Saint Paul. To me, this is evidence of the reality of Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus, just as he said it was. But then Christianity is always renewing itself and there is a Third Testament,[6] in the title of Malcolm Muggeridge’s excellent book that deals with subsequent Christian authors and saints (he instances Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky), some of those who have continued the tradition of direct inspiration and revelation.

Let us see what Saint Paul contributes:

  1. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.[7] (It was Jesus however who said, The truth shall make you free.[8])
  2. The letter of the law killeth, but the spirit giveth life.[9]
  3. In Christ there is neither gentile nor Jew, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female.[10]

These are the archetypal statements of human spiritual unity (though “in Christ”, Guardian-readers please note), non-literal interpretation in religion and spiritual autonomy. No mean achievement.

Moreover, there is another absolutely cardinal statement of religious truth, this time from St John in the first of his pastoral letters:

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”[11]

In terms of a spiritual survival kit, these nine statements encapsulate a great deal of what one will ever need. They comprise touchstones or reference points, lodestone and bedrock, for the existential, moment-by-moment quandaries of daily existence.

Given that the Christian churches have spent 2000 years refining, formulating and promulgating such teachings, it does not seem a tall order that we should endeavour to pass on such essential wisdom in the original words in which they were uttered by Jesus and those whom he immediately inspired.


[1] John 18:36.

[2] Matthew 25:40.

[3] Matthew 4:4.

[4] Mark 2:27.

[5] Matthew 15:17-18.

[6] Or see: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Third-Testament-Wanderings-Bonhoeffer-Kierkegaard/dp/1570755329/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268682460&sr=1-1

[7] Galatians 5:1.

[8] John 8:32.

[9] 2 Corinthians 3:6.

[10] Galatians 3:28.

[11] 1 John 4:16.

The Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom

 

If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.

If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If any have wrought from the first hour, let him to-day receive his just reward.

If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.

If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.

If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.

If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first; he giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.

And he showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; and to the one he giveth, and upon the other he bestoweth gifts.

And he both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praiseth the offering.

 

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; and receive ye your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.

Ye rich and poor together, hold ye high festival.

Ye sober and ye heedless, honour ye the day. Rejoice to-day, both ye who have fasted and ye who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom hath been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon hath shone forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death hath set us free.

He that was held prisoner of it, hath annihilated it. By descending into Hell, he made Hell captive. He angered it when it tasted of his flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was angered, when it encountered thee in the lower regions.

It was angered, for it was abolished.

It was angered, for it was mocked.

It was angered, for it was slain.

It was angered, for it was overthrown.

It was angered, for it was fettered in chains.

It took, a body, and met God face to face.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?

O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown.

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.

Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice.

Christ is risen, and life reigneth.

Christ is risen, and not one dead remaineth in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Daily Prayer of Father Parfeny of Kiev Pechersk

 

 

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, do not allow vanity, selfishness, sensuality, carelessness or anger to have dominion over me and snatch me from Thy Love.

 

O my Lord, my Creator, all my hope, leave me not without a share in blessed Eternity.

 

Grant that I may follow Thy holy example, and be obedient to the authorities placed over me.

 

Grant me that purity of spirit, that simplicity of heart, which make us worthy of Thy Love.

 

To Thee, O my God, I lift up my soul and my heart; do not allow Thy creature to perish, but deliver me from the one supreme evil ─ sin.

 

Grant, O Lord, that I may bear disturbances and sufferings of soul with the same patience as I receive pleasures of the heart with joy.

 

If Thou wilt, O Lord, Thou canst purify and sanctify me.

 

Here and now I surrender myself to Thy goodness, beseeching Thee to root out of me all that is opposed to Thee and unite me to the company of Thine elect.

 

O Lord. take from inc idleness of spirit which wastes Thy time, and vain thoughts which hinder Thy Presence and distract my attention in Prayer.

 

And if’ when I am praying my attention is diverted from Thee by my thoughts, help me so that this distraction may not be voluntary, and that in turning away my mind I may not turn away my heart from Thee.

 

I confess to Thee, my Lord God, all the sins of my wickedness committed now and previously before Thee.

 

Forgive me for Thy holy Name’s sake and save my soul which Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious Blood.

 

I entrust myself to Thy mercy, I surrender myself to Thy will; deal with me according to Thy goodness, and not according to my malice and wickedness.

 

Teach me, O Lord, so to arrange my affairs, that they may promote the glory of Thy holy Name.

 

Have mercy, O Lord, on all Christians; hear the desire of all who cry to Thee, and deliver them from all evil.

 

Save Thy servants (N… ), and send them joy, comfort in their troubles, and Thy holy Mercy.

 

O Lord, I pray Thee especially for those who in some way have wronged, offended or saddened me, or have done me some evil.

 

Do not punish them on my account, who am also a sinner, but pour upon them Thy goodness.

 

O Lord, I pray Thee for all whom I, sinful as I am, have grieved, offended or scandalised, by word, deed or thought, consciously or unconsciously.

 

O Lord God, forgive us our sins and mutual offences; expel from our hearts all indignation, scorn, anger, resentment, altercation and all that can hinder charity and lessen brotherly love.

 

Have mercy, O Lord, on those who have entrusted me, sinful and unworthy, to pray for them.

 

Have mercy, O Lord, on everyone who asks for Thy Help.

 

O Lord, make this day a day of Thy mercy, and grant to each according to his faith.

 

Be the Shepherd of those who have gone astray, the Guide and Light of unbelievers, the Teacher of the foolish, the Father of orphans, the Helper of the oppressed, the Healer of the sick, the Comforter of the dying.

 

And lead us all to our desired end, to Thee, our Haven, and blessed Rest.

 

Amen.

AN INVOCATION TO THE HOLY SPIRIT ─ ST SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN

Translated by Kallistos Ware

Come, true light. Come. life eternal. Come, hidden mystery. Come, treasure without name. Come, reality beyond all words. Come, person beyond all understanding. Come, rejoicing without end. Come, light that knows no evening. Come, unfailing expectation of the saved. Come, the raising of the fallen. Come, the resurrection of the dead.

Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.

Come, invisible, whom none may touch and handle.

Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.

Come, for your Name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.

Come, eternal joy. Come, unfading garland. Come, purple vesture of our great God and King. Come, belt of crystal set with precious stones. Come, sandal that none dares to touch. Come, royal robe and right hand of true sovereignty.

Come, for my wretched soul has ever longed and ever longs for you. Con-a, Alone to the alone, for as you see I am alone: you have separated me 4rnm all things and made me to be alone upon the earth. Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me, and you have caused me to long after you, the wholly inaceessibl3.

Come, my breath and my life. Come, the consolation of my humble soul. Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

I give you thanks, for you have become one spilt with me, in a union without confusion. Unchanging and unaltered, God over all, you have yet become all in all to me: food inexplicable, freely bestowed, ever nourishing my soul; a fountain springing up within my heart, a garment of light consuming the demons, purification that washes me clean through the immortal and holy tears that are granted at your coming to all whom you visit.

I give you thanks, for to me you are a light that knows no evening, a sun that never sets. You cannot remain hidden, for you fill all things with your glory. You never hide yourself from anyone, but we are always hiding from you, not wishing to come near you. For where could you hide yourself, since you have no place in which to take your rest? Or why should you hide, since you turn away from no one and are afraid of none?

Pitch your tent within me, gracious Master; take up your dwelling in me now and remain in your servant unceasingly, inseparably, to the end. At my departure from this life and afterwards, may I be found in you and reign with you, who are God over all.

Stay with me, Master, do not leave me alone. My enemies, who seek always to devour my soul, when they find you dwelling in me, will be put to flight; they will have no power at all against me, when they see. you, who are more powerful than all, lodging in the house of my humble soul.

You did not forget me, Master, when I was in the world and sunk in ignorance, but you chose me and separated me from the world and set me in the presence of your glory. Keep me constant and unshaken in the interior dwelling-place that you have made within me, Though dead, I live when I gaze upon you; possessing you, though poor, I am for ever rich, more wealthy than any ruler. Eating and drinking you, clothing myself in you from day to day, 1 shall be filled with blessings and delight beyond ll telling. For you are every blessing and all splendour end joy, and to you is due glory, to the Holy, Consubstantial and Life-giving Trinity, worshipped and confessed by all the faithful and adored in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.

Amen.

Jonathan Miller has begun, on BBC-2, a televisual ‘History of Disbelief’. Punctuated by absurd clips from silent movies ands thoughtful peregrinations of the philosopher through bosky St John’s Wood, New York restaurants and a North London synagogue, the talking head talked on and on.

I have always liked Miller – his earnest dilettantism – and, some minutes into the programme, began to feel thoroughly comfortable with his fearless spirit of enquiry. It is true I am a believer but I am also a free-thinker and rejoice in honest search, from which faith only benefits, and intrepid questioning, which it can only encourage. But sure enough, halfway through the programme, he identified as the point of departure, from his adolescent conflict between meaningless Judaism and cricket, towards rejection – modern linguistic philosophy!

There was then a certain amount of formal manoeuvring – dressage – regarding the possible meaning of ‘belief’ and the distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘thought’.

But there are two objections to all this. First Miller gives no indication that any of it is important, that, indeed, for many people the question of what kind of person they are and what kind of universe they live in is, literally, a matter of life and death. Miller is not serious.

The second objection is that all these intriguing considerations are a matter of ideas. The most revealing remark Miller made was early on when he said, “I personally find all these [Judaeo-Christian] religious ideas uncongenial, alien and frankly incomprehensible.” However, wandering round the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, he concedes that such ideas are both beautiful and enriching. We would be imaginatively poorer without Christian narrative and imagery. One might note, in parenthesis, that this poses a problem for him – or ought to do so: ideas that are rubbish are not enriching.

Miller feels at home with ideas and inhabits very nonchalantly a Hampstead world of intellectual saltimbanques and cultural effervescence. But faith is not about ‘belief’ but experience; it is not an idea but a fact. However securely we live inside our cultural capsule, we will have, sooner or later, experiences that we would prefer not to have, we will be taken to the edge of what reason and analysis recognise and we will encounter there the limits of ourselves. This meeting cannot be indefinitely postponed. When once we realise that we are not the sources of our own being, as we do in the case of near-death experiences, then we discover that we are alive and must die. This experience is a fact and nobody whose mental outlook is grounded in facts will be shifted by the puff of ideas.

From a notebook entry dated 6th November 2005

μή φυναι τόν άπαντα νι- 

κα λογον

 

Not to be born is, past all prizing, best.

 

Sophocles Oedipus Coloneus l. 1225 (translation by R. C. Jebb)

Who is as he were not – 

            nay, as he had never been –

He has become pure God.

            O blessedness supreme!

 

Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer (1657), tr. Willard Trask. New York: Pantheon, 1953, p. 22.

Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 

Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is God both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

 

Epicurus (341–270 BC)

The existence of evil cannot be denied, but one can deny that the existence of evil is evil. 

 

Fernando Pessoa. From The Book of Disquietude, tr. Richard Zenith. From A Centenary Pessoa ed. Eugénio Lisboa and LC Taylor. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1995, p. 178.

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