Oh Lord and Master of my life…

imageO Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk;

Here, we call upon God, our Father, giving Him His due praise. He is our Master, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We are humbling ourselves while we admit that we are sinners, that we do indeed possess, carry with us, and ‘own’ even, these spirits.

We are slothful, for we do not truly love God. As Saint John of Kronstadt said, ‘I have not preserved a love for God.’ Nor do we call out to Him in prayer enough. We are lazy. We miss the services. Often, we simply forget God, as is a habit of ours living in this world.

We are in a state of despair, of despondency. We have neglected the wick. It burns low. The oil runs out. The flame dwindles and we feel a sense of helplessness. Perhaps it’s a sense that we are alone. We have arrived here through pride. We thought that we knew everything, that we didn’t need help. And we fall, in failure.

We long for a power of this world, that we may conquer and climb the ladder of success. Perhaps it is achieved by material possession, or status among the elite. We succumb to the desires we are told we want, that we think we need.

We gossip.  We engage in belittling one another. We hurt ourselves and our neighbors with our loose tongues. We listen to radio and other media that does nothing but provoke the passions. We watch feebleness on TV or in the cinema. We passively take it all in.

Sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk – these represent the antithesis of Christlikeness:

Christ did not go to the cross grudgingly; he did not fall asleep in the garden.

Christ did not pity himself or lose hope in God, even as he hung dying.

Christ did not call down legions of angels to save him from his gruesome execution.

 Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth” (Acts 8:32).

Christ did not plead his case. He did not curse his captors. Instead he blessed them and forgave them.

Let us reject the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk. Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:14).

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Lenten Piety: A Meditation on Matthew 6:1-18

902795_574077585957262_1181938794_o“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”  – Mat. 6:1

This must be the character of our Lenten practice. Not showy or self-aggrandizing, but humble, secret. Note the term “in secret”, it will be repeated and form a kind of theme.

 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – ibid., vv. 2-4

The giving of alms is a physical fulfillment of the second part of the great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) To use the vernacular we “put our money where our mouth is.” Charity is central to Christian practice, but how we give alms is just as important. Humility must permeate our almsgiving. Humility is how we should approach God and our fellow man. The Lord not only cautions us against pride and seeking praise from others, but also self praise saying “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Note again that this is “in secret”.

 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – ibid., vv. 5-8

This I take as an image of the practice of hesychasm, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer. The room with the door shut is the heart shut off from the chaos of temporal life – the secret place. There God meets us – “our Father who is in secret.” The secret unknowable Trinity is made manifest in the prayer of the heart. Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner. Not many words. Not an empty phrase.

Pray then like this:

1932164_10202537268569571_1732409600_nOur Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”

– ibid., vv. 9-13

Volumes have been written on The Lord’s Prayer. I will not attempt to meditate on it here. Perhaps another time. Just not the communal interpersonal aspect of prayer. We not only pray in secret, but we pray together.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – ibid., vv. 14-15

The Last Sunday before Lent is Forgiveness Sunday. Forgiveness begins of our journey to Pascha.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – ibid., vv. 16-18

Fasting like charity is a given in Christian practice. Our mode of fasting is what concerns our Lord in this passage. Again humility is the setting for fasting, and again “in secret” is the image used.

Note the structure of these verses, how they image the threefold path of our Lenten journey. Prayer both in the heart and in community is at the center supported by Charity and Fasting. These three pillars must be practiced in the spirit of humility. “Not seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”