Topic 1: The goal: Purity of heart
At the end of the series 'the essence' we conclude that the object of a Christian is to seek first the kingdom of God. What this means in our day to day life, is to participate in the manifestation of kingdom through the Eucharist. So, like anything we strive for we must have goals to be able to reach our overall objective. Therefore, if the objective is the kingdom of God, what is the goal? The goal is purity of heart. Through our daily lives we should set a goal to achieve a pure heart. Only then can be reach our overall objective - the Kingdom of God. As the Lord Himself tells us, blessed are the pure in heart for the shall see God. So if you wish to see the kingdom, if you wish to see God, then you must have a pure heart.
Topic 2: The first step of all:life of prayer
The first and continuous step to able to receive a pure heart is prayer. Prayer is one thing that is constantly talked about, but rarely practiced. Prayer is a response to a divine call. Prayer is the true way in which we commune with God. The Church makes the assumption that its members are praying, and so everything we practice at Church is only effective if built on the foundation of prayer. The intention of prayer is not a therapy session nor is it a time for petitions - prayer is simply and beautifully a time to commune and unity with our God. Of course in the Orthodox Church there is two aspects to prayer, the communal and the personal. One does not replace the other, both are important. And both fit each other as a glove to a hand - in other hands, one cannot exist without the other. We cannot come to Church without prayer at home, and we cannot pray at home without the Church.
Topic 3: True experience: Honesty of heart
To be able to practice true and effective prayer we need to stand in front of God with an honest heart. What is honesty of heart? Many times we stand up in front of God with a fake persona. We try to cover ourselves or we hide who we truly are. Unless we are able to remove this mask and stand exposed before God, we can never have a true and sincere relationship with Him. We must understand who we are and who we are standing in front of. Like any relationship, unless it is based in honesty it will not survive. Furthermore, in having an honest heart we will be able to decrease the chances that the devil can use us against ourselves. Many people lie to themselves into thinking many things that take them away from God. To be honest of heart, is not to only to be honest in front of God but ourselves. Each one of us should practice personal retreat to achieve true honesty. Retreat and personal reflection is an essential practice for all Christians.
Topic 4: The beginning: Poor in Spirit
In Matthew 5, God the Son gave us a list of virtues that we need as Christians. Some of the Church Fathers inform us that these virtues could be seen as a ladder - with one leading to another. The first of the these steps are the poor in spirit. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Those who are poor in spirit are the ones who know that they can achieve nothing without God. This is not a mental recognition, but something that is felt whole heartedly. Those who are poor in spirit go back to the original Adam of seeing God as the only and true provider - that He is are only source of life. To be poor in spirit is to no longer depend on ourselves or our nature - to truly rely on God. It is to empty ourselves out, to experience Kenosis. Unless we are poor in spirit we will never see God as who He really is - the Provider. It is only through Kenosis can we start our relationship with God. Kenosis is the beginning of our understanding.
Topic 5: The freedom of Morality and ethics
As discussed in our previous discourses - sin is not wanting God; or separating yourself from the true source of Life. The other things which we call sin (ie stealing or lying) are just symptoms of the real sin. The devil, wanting us to fail, shifts our focus from removing 'the sin' from our lives, by making us focus on the symptoms and not the cause. As Christians we start focusing on stopping these little transgressions believing it get us closer to God - rather than putting all our efforts in knowing God. The conundrum is that we cannot stop sinning on our own. Why? Because sin is depending on ourselves rather than God. Hence, when we true to stop sinning on our own, we are falling back into the old man.
Hence, in Christianity we do not concern ourselves with morality or behaviour, but rather getting to know God. Further, true Christians do not follow rules but rather the will of God. In Christianity there cannot be any rules. Christianity is a relationship with God, not a dictatorship. More importantly, societies morals and ethics constantly changes. We as Christians base everything in truth. And the truth cannot change. Hence as Christians we are above morality or ethics, because we are based in truth.
Unless we are able to free ourselves from the law, then we cannot be able to practice the commandment of the new testament which is to love. And whoever is bound by the law will be judged by the law. But as Christians we are bound in truth and love. And thus, to be Christian is to be free from morality and ethics.
Topic 6: The continuous life of repentance
Repentance is not a one off occurrence. Repentance is not feeling guilty or sorry for one's sins. Repentance is a transformation of one's mind. Repentance is to change one's mind in order to move from the state of the old man to the new man. Thus, repentance cannot be a one off experience, but a way of living - it is a continuous process. To be a Christian is to constantly repent, in order to make sure that we are living our lives in Holy Spirit - the new man. A repentant man is someone who is constantly aware of his place with God. Is constantly aware of the distance between God and man. The repentant will fell instantly once the gap has increased. Sin will not go by unnoticed. To live a repentant life is constantly move towards God and the new man.
Topic 7: Relationship with the Holy Spirit
"Everything proceeds from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit." (St Cyril of Alexandria).
For us to be able to experience the Father and the salvation given to us by the sacrifice of the Son is through the Holy Spirit. Most of us when we pray or consider God, only see one being - rather than the three hypostasis. To be able to truly know God we must acquire the Holy Spirit. Through the Mystery of the Holy Chrism, we all receive the Holy Spirit - the same power received by the disciples. Each of us can now discern the will of God and are given the ability to develop a true relationship with God - all of Him, with each hypostasis. The Holy Spirit is the Life-giver. So in order to receive life one must acquire the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit is working in our lives, we must to hinder His work. Most of us do not truly trust God, and constantly step in the way. For the Spirit to work in our lives, we must truly submit and rely on Him.
Topic 8: Life of Service according to St Paul
In the Epistle of Timothy, St Paul gives us his impressions of service and what is means to the Christian. A servant of God is not just a Sunday School teacher. A servant of God is someone who is filled with the love, to the point where God over flows His love to the rest of the world through us. Every Christian is a servant of God. As the body of Christ, we all have different functions, and no matter what function you have been appointed we are all servants. In our Church we sometimes place one service over another - they are all equal and as important as each other, because they all begin and end in love. All are called to service. And all must serve the Church and their fellow members.
Topic 9: The elements of fasting
Fasting is not depriving ourselves from food, for the sake of suffering. Nor is it depriving the body so that the spirit may fly. Fasting is us handing over our self-sufficiency and 'individuality' to the Church. Our 'individuality' is a consequence of the fall of Adam. Fasting is submitting ourselves to the communal aspects of the Church. We limit our food, because we no longer depend on this world for life, but on the Church and God. As St John Chrysostom tell us, that we fast for the remission of sins. We do not fast to share in the suffering of Christ, or for the sake of discipline. We fast for the remission of sins. In other words, we fast to move from old man to new man. To destroy our individuality for the communal. Only once we have handed over our individuality can we start to purify our hearts.
Topic 10: Being a living sacrifice
In Romans 12:1 we are told to be holy and acceptable to God. Further we are told to be a living sacrifice - which is are reasonable service. The word 'reasonable' means ordinary or 'common'. Hence, Romans 12:1 is not something which is extraordinary, but should be common to all Christians. Being a living sacrifice is common incidental occurrence when we live the life of repentance and transform our minds to the new man. Being a living sacrifice is unavoidable if we are to live the Eucharistic life. However, we can only be truly holy when we are in the Body. Because outside of God nothing is holy. Holiness is achieved only through the Body and the unity of the Church. We must all strive to be a living sacrifice, and as the Liturgy tells us to offer up our 'sacrifices'. What do we sacrifice? Ourselves and the Church.
Topic 11: Christian discipline and persistence
In the Bible, God the Son tells us parables about persistence. The parable of the friend asking the other friend for bread in the middle of the night, and the story of the woman demanding justice from a judge. In both parables, Christ emphases that these people do not get what they want because they deserve it or because it is just, but rather because they are persistent. These parables are important to us, because persistence is what separates the 'men from the boys'. Only those who are persistent will receive, only those who struggle through prayer will reach the heaven. Through out of prayer life we each go through a 'desert period' - it is only through persistence through the desert can we reach the oasis and the water.
Topic 12: The hunger and thirst for righteousness
Christ tells us blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ did not give this blessing to those who wish to acquire righteousness or those who think it is good. But rather to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. To hunger and thirst is to think of nothing else, were your very breath yearns for it. These are the people who are blessed, the people who would give anything and do anything for righteousness. This is to hunger and thirst - this feeling only comes from God and through prayer. And what is righteousness? It is not doing good, but rather being good.
A righteous man is not someone who does good works, but rather his nature itself is good. As discussed earlier our nature is corrupt. However, through Baptism we all receive the new nature - this is what we hunger and thirst for. Consequently, this also means that we yearn for the death of the old man - our freedom from the flesh.
Topic 13: Transcend beyond good and evil/ Love
To have a pure heart is to transcend the worldly concepts of good and evil. The world is so confused about this, that many of us have heard arguments about way good people should go to heaven. But as we know, Christianity is not about good and evil, right and wrong. Christianity is about putting to death the old man, and putting on the new man - about living the Eucharistic life. Christianity is about a state of being, not about our conduct or behaviour. Christ attacked those who concentrated on their behaviour and ignored the inward man, a perfect example is the pharisees. As Christians our one command is love - not superficial rules of good and bad. We must be in Love and bound in Love. That is all we ask and pray. Love will free us. We need to stop our concern with behaviours and outer expressions, and be united in Love.