Topic 1: The discernment of the will of God
We discussed in the previous discourse that the freedom of Christianity is that there are no rules, meaning that there is freedom in our relationship with God. Hence, instead of following rules we follow the will of God wholeheartedly. Hence, the sacrifice and pentecost, we are now able to discern the will of God. Practically, there are a few things we need, first we must be completely honest with ourselves and God (this has already been discussed earlier). Secondly, we must be humble enough to seek guidance from a spiritual guide in order to help us. This is the way to be able to begin to discern the will of God.
Topic 2: Detachment from the world
To truly be free in God we cannot be attached to this world. This includes being attached to people, our family, our service and even our parish. As we do not serve people, we serve God. If we are asked to move within the service, we move. We cannot be attached - attachment ties us down to the world, forcing us to let go of God. As we discussed earlier, to be the new creation we only rely and depend on God - hence we cannot be attached to anything else.
Topic 3: The fall of pride and the rise of Humility
True humility is a product of discovering who you really are and who God really is. One can only become truly humble when they have stood in the presence of God. Humility is not feeling sorry for yourself, but understanding who God is, and who you are. Pride comes about when we become attached to the world and things in this world. We explored the verse 'Be of the same mind towards one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.' (Romans 12:16) As Christians, we need to ensure that we all have the same goal and are of the same mind.
Topic 4: The lazy and persistent man
The Church Fathers inform us that in prayer, there is a desert period where we do not feel the presence of God. Only those who are persistent in prayer can end up in the haven and drink the water. There are numerous examples of characters in the Bible and stories of the Saints who waited years for God. God tells us it is not going to be easy, but we need to realise that He does see our struggles and persistence. Just because you do not fell the presence of God does not mean that he is not there. We're only human so we're bound to fall into the traps of being complacent and lazy, but not matter what, we still need to persist in prayer.
Topic 5: The orthodox meaning of lust
Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Lust is everything that is opposite to love as told to us by St Paul, and with the knowledge that 'God is Love', therefore lust is the complete opposite of God. We can lust for many things including food, money and sexual immorality but we have to realise that lust is not always about the actions, but the thought. Lust is powerful because it attacks the mind and we don't physically have to do anything. Delving back to earlier topics, at its essence, lust is the source of the 'Old Man' as its complete focus is on us. We discussed how dating is almost always lustful, and that marriage does not necessarily wipe away that sin as people can still lust in marriage. It is one of the easiest sins to fall into and one of the hardest to get out of. Our defence is innocence. We must protect all our senses including what we watch, what we hear and what we do. If something is causing us to lust, we need to cut it out of our lives. It's hard to do, so we need to know ourselves and decide if God is our focus or not.
Topic 6: Mystery of love: Marriage
The Mystery of love is easily seen in Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2 and 5. Man and woman come together in order that they may complete in each other the Image of God. Marriage is the manifestation of the theanthropic Christ, and the manifestation of Love and eros. In the Orthodox faith a successful marriage is one the completes the image of Christ. Marriage is the manifestation of the love of Christ and the Church. During the actual sacrament of marriage, we ask the Holy Spirit to come down and unite the couple. The two now have the ability to become one in Christ. The mystery only gives the couple the opportunity, it is up to them to use the unity bestowed upon them. Hence Marriage is the communion with not only 2 people, but the Church as a whole.
Topic 7: Orthodox foundations: Obedience
Obedience is an important element to any Christian. The ultimate example of obedience is Christ himself - He was obedient to the cross. Obedience practically takes on a few forms. First, obedience to your spiritual guide. If we you wish to seek advice then you must be obedient - do not go shopping for the advice that you want to hear. Second, obedience to the Church. We fast together, we pray together - we do not separate from this. Obedience is important we because we hand over our individual nature (the old man) to the Church.
Topic 8: Orthodox foundations: True repentance
After Adam and Eve separated themselves from God, we were all as a result were born in 'darkness.' Prior to the first sin, there was no sense of fearing God, being shameful or feeling guilty. Christ constantly calls to us to let Him work in our lives. Repentance is our constant effort to keep ourselves in His presence. We come to Christ with all our shame, with all our guilt and ready to confess. We ask for His mercy and He justifies us, the unworthy. We have to realise that Christ is not selective or that He uses favouritism. What we are required to do is to put on the New Man by meditating daily on His Words, through prayer and by the complete transformation of our hearts and minds. With true repentance there can be no guilt.
Topic 9: Acceptable prayer
For there to be acceptable prayer means that there is also unacceptable prayer. Unacceptable prayer is prayer that is not said in honesty of heart. Or prayer that presupposes who God is. We must be honest with ourselves and with God and know what our intention is when we come to pray. Prayer is the connection with God and the revelation of Truth. If we come to prayer is an assumption of truth, then we will be blind to the true light. Prayer is the only thing that we can do to get to know God. Without prayer in our lives, every other service that we do is useless. Prayer is the beginning and the end of our relationship with God and we must persist in praying regardless of what is going on in our lives. Of course all prayer must be under the guidance of our Confession Father and spiritual guide.
Topic 10: Biblical interpretations: Matthew 1
Origen tells us that there are three ways that we can read the Bile - literally, symbolically and spiritually. When we read the Bible we must endearvour to try to read it in those three ways. As an example, we look at Matthew 1 - the genealogy of Christ. A few questions arise. First, how is it the genealogy of Christ if it is the line of Joseph and not Mary? Second, why are there four women mentioned? Why in that order? All these questions were answered in the meeting. This is how we need to read our Bible.
Topic 11: The power of Simplicity
In discussing simplicity, we mainly focus on step 24 of Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent. We live in a very complex world full of distractions and complication that take us away from God. We are constantly paralysed by the choices we have to make and often find ourselves overwhelmed. Being simple does not mean that we are stupid or naive. We need to be simple, but yet be cautious of the world around us. Simplicity is to truly focus on God that everything else becomes details. Simple people are people who only see God. Hence, to become simple requires constant effort on our part. We must constantly ask ourselves were is our focus - we need to have a singular eye.
Topic 12: Blessed are the Meek
In discussing meekness, we mainly focus on step 8 and 24 of Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent. In looking at meekness Climacus mainly looks at anger and how one should overcome his anger. A meek person is a person who understands his relationship with God. A meek person only gives God power over his emotions - in other words, only God's opinion counts. Like the monk who yells at the dead in a cemetery, we also should not care, whether or not people yell at us or praise us. To be meek is to focus all your energies on God.
Topic 13: The practice of stillness
Stillness or solitude is the intentional isolation and planned availability to be with God. Stillness is finding a 'quiet resting place' (Is 32:18) within ourselves and worshiping God unceasingly. There are many obstacles to stillness in the world. There is a constant temptation to always talk, study and read about solitude, but never to put it into practice. We are often unwilling to take time out in solitude, because we fear that we will see ourselves more clearly. However, it is important as Christians to take time for stillness and solitude with God.
Topic 14: Mystery of love: Priesthood
The mystery of Priesthood is known by the church as the Mystery of Love - and such shares similarities with the Mystery of Marriage. The role of a priest is to bridge the gap between the natural and the supernatural - between creation and the creator. That is why the only true priest is Christ Himself. After the sacrifice we are all priests, because we have become temples of the Holy Spirit. However, the role of the 'Priest' is to constantly remind us that we are not of this world. During the Mystery of Priesthood, the Priest is not given 'authority' but given the 'Love of Christ'. That is why the Priest is the only who can call the Synxis, because the body is only formed from Love. Hence the Mystery of Priesthood is the manifestation of the Love of Christ, of spiritual fatherhood.
Topic 15: The relationship of the Trinity
All things proceed from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is bound in Love. Why? Because God is Love - by this we mean not that he has the emotion of Love, or that he is filled with Love, but He is Love. So Love does not describe Him, but what He is. Hence, the Trinity can never separate because they are all Love. Hence the Body of Christ in the image and likeness of God is bound in Love.
Topic 16: Christianity in practice: Philemon
Philemon is an epistle of St Paul, written to Philemon on behalf of his slave Onesimus. Onesimus has stolen from Philemon and as run away. He meets St Paul in prison, and is baptised by him. St Paul sends him back to Philemon with this epistle in hand. Originally it was argued that this epistle should not be included in the Bible because it is a letter to an individual in regards to an individual matter - and hence does not concern the Church. St John Chrysostom in his essay 'Argument for Philemon' states that this epistle is a perfect example of normal day-to-day behaviour, and is important for all Christians to know. In the epistle St Paul argues to Philemon that he should take Onesimus back, not only as a slave but a brother, because it is fitted. In our day-to-day lives is the Christian perspective enough to convince us in our actions, or do we need worldly arguments?
Topic 17: Renouncing the world
To renounce the world is the first step in the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Without this step we cannot achieve the other steps. However, this is step is a continuous step that echoes throughout the other steps. The world is the creation of God - how can we renounce that which is from God. To renounce the world is to renounce what the world has become after the Fall. After the Fall the world has been changed from a pathway to God to become our every dependency. To renounce the world, is to see the world no longer as our source of life, but a way in which to communicate with God. Only once we see the world for its intended purpose can we truly say that we have renounced the world.