3 Basics Of Christian LivingJan 10, 2022
When the Lord, the Giver of Life, deigned to come and save mankind from death and the sickness of sin, He revealed Himself more fully, i.e., more fully than He was revealed in creation itself, by becoming of the same substance as the creation His own hands had made. He became man by taking on not just a symbolic manhood, but He partook of the same substance, the same dust, by becoming incarnate of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit. And so we confess Him to be fully God and fully man. Begotten not made.
In this profound and unprecedented act the Maker of man, became man; in order to become the Second Adam and reverse the curse of Adam, rescuing us from the bondage of Hades and renewing an upright spirit in us. He restores us to Sonship by the adoption we receive in Holy Baptism. Being raised with Christ in baptism, we are now on a path of becoming partakers of Divine Nature, the old man having been slain by going under the waters of the Jordan and being born from above.
Having come and having been revealed to us in these latter days He gave us commandments of salvation, further revealing His will for us and deepening our understanding of the Law, not putting the Law away, but fulfilling it in Himself.
By uttering the words of the Father, the Logos further unveiled the Father and the New Covenant of His Blood. His words were faithfully recorded for us blind men in the New Testament and especially in the Holy Gospels. Perhaps the greatest and most significant writing down of the logos of the Father through the Son comes to us from St. Matthew in chapters 5-7, commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.
The Lord in this sermon refers to three commonly accepted commandments of salvation from the Old Covenant; saying: When you fast, when you pray, when you give alms.
The Jews of the time had grown up very familiar with the dividing up their personal devotion into these three categories, fasting, prayer and giving alms.
The people of God listening to this most astonishing sermon understood the need of these three things as much as the need for food and drink. They did not need to be told to do these three things, they were doing them, the Lord is instead teaching how to do them properly, with humility; the only way they are intended by the Father to be done. This is the nature of repentance, realizing the need of change and implementing the change to be more in line with the will of the Father, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
All Christians, by implication, should be daily entering into the struggle of doing these three things properly, according to what has been revealed; not according to what we think it means; in other words, according to Tradition. So let us examine these three things in the light of the Holy Orthodox Faith, at least as a beginning of increasing our obedience, as far as I understand it.
All three of these come from Matthew 6. All three teach the same principle, avoiding hypocrisy. Avoid acting as if God is deaf, dumb, and blind.
We will look at the teaching of The Master and then I will dare to have some application to our lives.
1. The first, almsgiving, begins in Chapter 6 verse 1 and could be translated as charitable giving, compassionate giving toward the poor, benefaction.
The verse begins with a warning, Take heed! Or, be careful! The Lord is saying, here is a pitfall of spirituality, don’t do your giving in order to be seen by men, no display, no drawing attention to yourself when you give to those in need. If you give to be seen, you have your reward, and it is an earthly reward from those who credit you for your giving. But this could be applied to all three as well.
How much better to give in secret where your Heavenly Father sees what is secret and will reward you openly in the next life (and often in this life as well, though this is not the motivation) with open rewards that last for an eternity. So be secret about it. When you give alms, do it for the right reason, with a cheerful heart and in secret.
2. The second area of instruction is in verse 5. And when you pray…and then the same principle; make no display before men. Pray in secret. Do not try to get affirmation from men for praying; do not make prayers that attract attention or puff up the ego. The word translated prayer is very straight forward, make supplication.
The instruction continues with words about not using vain repetition because your Father knows what you need, He doesn’t need a lot of babbling, and so He gives us the Lord’s Prayer followed by an admonition that prayer is useless without forgiveness of our neighbors.
Our Lord is so kind to us, so compassionate, so loving. He shows us gently, He reveals a new way, He opens minds to a new way of living. How much we need this!
In verse 16 is the admonition, when you fast… And the same kind of warnings about drawing attention to yourself in order that people regard you as holy by how sincere your fasting is, how bad you look, how sad you are. Instead, hide your fasting, make yourself look happy and well. Do not look forlorn on purpose. The Greek word simple means “abstain from food.”
All three are done with the goal of communion with the Father, not with impressing people. Humility and vain glory are enemies.
This is followed by an encouragement to “lay up treasures in heaven”. Always be oriented toward a reward in the coming Kingdom, not on earth. Where do you want your reward to be? If you want an earthly reward, you will lose your heavenly one. If you seek an earthly reward, you have all your reward. Ouch.
This reveals to us why He concludes the chapter with “Do not be anxious”. If we follow His way, anxiety is reduced because we don’t have to be concerned about whether or not we are properly impressing people. This is the life of actor, one who puts on a face. The very definition of a hypocrite.
Authentic Human Living is the Lord’s Way.
Studying, learning, applying The Sermon on the Mount is The Way. It is to be our very life. We should be reading it and all the Gospels as if our lives depended on it.
Application on almsgiving:
a. we should not have a need to have our donations publicly acknowledged by plaques, labels, bulletin notices or names on donated items.
b. donations should be attached with an anonymous label so only the treasurer knows who gave what.
c. we really should not have a collection basket ritual during the Divine Liturgy. Just a box in the entryway labeled, tithes, gifts and offerings. People can be taught to drop their donations in the box on the way in.
d. better yet, all donations could be electronic, digital. So much more private and less effort for the church treasurer.
e. sometimes little things like coffee hour can become a trap for showing off by offering large amounts of wonderful food, potentially placing undue pressure on those with less means.
Application on prayer:
a. a display of prayer in the church is a trap of vainglory. Excessive bowing, extravagant crossing of oneself, raising of hands, etc., can all be a trap; thankfully our people are not this way and it is not encouraged
b. our tradition has never included a circle of prayer in which people takes turns praying aloud spontaneously. I often encounter this in Protestant groups and it makes me very uncomfortable.
c. there should be built into our daily prayer rule a time of private, quiet, time alone with God. After the prescribed written prayers, after some minutes of the Jesus Prayer, perhaps some prostrations, there should be some meditative moments where we are just alone with God, listening, thinking of Him, being with Him, Communing with Him. A place where there is no fear of people finding us, hearing us. Christ says, enter into your closet and pray in secret.
d. we should be “in prayer” always. It is the thought of “walking in the spirit.” The road to Emmaus, walking through the day with Jesus kind of thing. When someone shares a need or burden, we can ask them, “is it ok if I pray for you right now?” If it seems appropriate, put a hand on the shoulder and offer a short prayer for them, from the heart; on the spot.
Always use the proper invocation of the Holy Trinity. By this I mean, pray “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Ask God to help them in whatever words you can find and God will honor the heart motive.
When in doubt pray the Lord’s Prayer with them.
e. prayer, real prayer, should be warm, heartfelt, easy; Honest.
f. prayer is communion.
Application on fasting:
a. are we men making an effort here? Are we fasting? If not, maybe there is a misunderstanding of what fasting is?
b. some of us were raised in a tradition where fasting was not a regular thing, it needs to be, as we have just learned.
c. some of us have dietary restrictions, allergies, illnesses that will alter how we fast. This is not a license to disregard fasting all together.
d. fasting is the intentional restriction of the amount of food each day. Never eat until full.
e. fasting is the intentional restriction of certain food groups for the purpose of increased almsgiving and intimacy in prayer.
f. fasting is the intentional suppression of the desires of the flesh, placing the will over the desires.
g. fasting is training ourselves to say “NO!”
h. fasting is a spiritual endeavor that is not just about food. Fast from lust by averting the eyes, fast from greed by pushing away from the table, fast from avarice by almsgiving, fast from jealousy by giving, fast from pride by really fasting, fast from arrogance by listening to your wife. The man who has himself as a spiritual director is a fool.
Humbly and incompletely submitted by Fr. Stephen. Please forgive me.
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