Orthodoxy & Ambition

The time is now, on everything.
Took my heart away from money.
I ain’t interested in fame.
And I pray that never change.
Ambition is priceless.
It’s something that’s in your veins.
And I put that on my name“.
Wale – Ambition Lyric

Western society has undergone changes within the last 40 years with respect to morality.
Many things that were once viewed as being inherently immoral, such as gambling,
fornication (sex outside of marriage), homosexuality, are now viewed as being acceptable, and in some cases, outright laudable.
Many Christian denominations have followed suit by adopting the attitude
that modern Christians should adopt this “New morality” of secularism
lest we be judged by the world as being culturally backward and irrelevant.
I know you do not save man with advice and exhortations from outside.
Nor do you offer him freedom by telling them, “Do whatever you want“.
Wordlessly, like a sun of tender Love and fresh breeze of Courage,
your Love needs to be able to give them health and arouse
within them their personal appetite for Life.

Ambition
Especially the attitude of modern ambition gives me the impression of playing with fire.
It is not inherently negative, in fact it is good to have goals and
to work for those goals with perseverance.
But ambition uses people, destroys relationships, and muddy the waters of communities.
Ambition is intimately coupled with “envy, pride, and perhaps gluttony“.

In our times we are fully embodied creatures
and ambition feeds on our chemistry and biology
and it shapes our natural responses, it  is addictive.
Ambition, although not always clearly recognized and acknowledged as such, creates ‘Chaos’
[Tohuwabohu hebr. תהו־ובהו, tohu-wa-vohu]
in Communities.
Sexual sin, despite the attention rewarded to it, is of less significance if we consider impact on community and pain caused.
The difference in impact is primarily because we recognize sexual sin as sin
– there are consequences.

In contrast we often value and reward the result of ambition.
We brush under the rug or rationalize away its impetus in envy and pride.
This is a spiritual problem and a physical problem.
Scientific developments have impact
on our understanding of human behavior and human response.

Biochemical background
I have been reading in an article about Seven Deadly Sins, “Why does being bad feel so good?” and it described research being done these days to explore the science of sin.
Scientists are using techniques such as  functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] and PET [Positron-Emission Tomography] to map the active areas of the brain as a subject responds to certain stimuli.
Lust is a big one
– Research into brain response connected with lust indicates that (in males at least)
the response is all-encompassing.
All said, the most notable thing about lust is that it sets nearly the whole brain buzzing“.
The signals are unique, distinctive, unmistakable and uncontrollable.
This isn’t surprising.
We know that lust is a problem, we know that behaviour can shape response, that
there is a biological and chemical aspect that shapes not only the present, but the future.
The biochemical response can be addicting and destructive.
The lure of pornography is an excellent case in point.
We could go on here, but this isn’t really the point of today’s question.

Envy
Envy is interesting
– in a study of envy a number of volunteers were observed using fMRI while they read one of three scenarios
– the key one described a student similar to the volunteer, but better in every respect.
The conflict detecting regions of the brain fired and the response was similar to that for pain.
This leads to the suggestion that envy is a kind of social pain.
Later, when reading about this student’s downfall, the reward and pleasure regions of
the volunteer’s brain fired.
Not only this but the greater the pain in reading about the student’s success,
the greater the reward in reading of the student’s downfall.
The reward response is along the same line as that experienced from food – or sex.
It feels good.

Pride
And now the queen of vices – Pride.
Gregory the Great in commenting on Job noted:
For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders is immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. …
For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness;
Pride is the beginning of all sin
“.

Does pride show response in brain scans?
The science here is rather interesting.
For most of us, it takes less mental energy to puff ourselves up than to think critically about our own abilities.
… volunteers who imagined themselves winning a prize
or trouncing an opponent showed less activation in brain regions
associated with introspection and self-conscious thought
than people induced to feel negative emotions such as embarrassment.

We accept positive feelings about
ourselves readily,
Joseph S. Takahashi, a Japanese American neurobiologist and geneticist says:
Compared with guilt and embarrassment,
pride might be processed more automatically
”.
In another experiment a part of the brain
could be stimulated to turn off the protective influence of pride.
When this happened
They saw themselves as they really were, without glossing over negative characteristics“.
Even more interesting, the experiments demonstrate that righteous humility,
deliberate self-downgrading, is but arrogance and pride in cover.
The brain activation is the same.
Both are forms of one-ups-man-ship.
‘They are in the same location and seem to serve the same purpose:
putting oneself ahead in society’
“.

What does this mean?
Self-confidence, ambition, pride, envy – this is a slippery slope.
It is insidious – affecting our very make-up inside out.
We are wrong when we cast it “simply” as a battle of wills.
And our capacity for denial, blame-shifting,
and self-deception is also rooted in our make-up.
It is interesting though, because studies also show
that we can train our brains and influence response
– especially true of sins of envy, wrath, and pride.
Feeding ambition, with its corollaries of envy and pride, is like feeding lust.
It changes our very being, our function, our chemistry, our brain paths.
On the other hand intentional pursuit of virtue is also self-re-in-forcing.

So why is it playing with fire?
This reflection leads me though, to an idea that I would like to pose for consideration.
Within the Church we view ambition as a virtue.
We make allowances for ambition, we reward ambition,
we cultivate ambition, we admire ambition, we feed ambition.
The whole community, especially in the west, is puffing up the value of the ‘blacks’,
the priests, the bishop, the Patriarch [Pope].
And this is a serious problem.
In fact, I think it is one of the biggest
and most destructive temptations active in our Church today.
Ambition, accompanied by, and inseparably knotted with, pride and envy,
is the death of the Church.
The communal People of the Western Church are disordered by it,
because they only see the system instead of the original aim [object].

The original Christian ambition
Orthodox Christians must respond
to the moral confusion of our age
by examining the rich spiritual Tradition bequeathed to us in the Church.
Contrary to what many people might think, the answer to this problem is
not an answer that lies in the uniquely Western irreconcilable difference of conservatism verses liberalism;
rather, it has to do with the Church’s understanding and experience of ‘Theosis’ and Beauty.

Theosis
Theosis is the teaching that as human beings we have been created for a life of perfect and unending communion with God, and that this Divine Life
– revealed to us in Christ – is the very dynamic and substance of Salvation itself.
By uniting ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh, we receive the gift [Grace] of the Holy Spirit,
Who in turn, reconciles us to the Father.
Christ was delivered over to death for our sins
and was raised to life for our justification
“.
Rom.4: 25

I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lived in me:
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,
Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

I do not frustrate the Grace of God: for if righteousness come by the Law,
then Christ is dead in vain
“.
Gal.2: 20,21

Here, in his own person, the apostle Paul describes the spiritual or hidden life of a believer.
The old man is crucified” [Rom.6: 6],
but the new man is living;
sin is mortified, and Grace is quickened.
He has the comforts and the triumphs of Grace;
yet that Grace is not from himself, but from another“.
Believers see themselves living in a state of dependence on Christ.
Hence it is, that though he lives in the flesh, yet he does not live after the flesh.
Those who have true faith, live by that faith;
and faith fastens upon Christ’s giving Himself for us.
He loved me, and gave Himself for me.
As if the apostle said, The Lord saw me fleeing from Him more and more.
Such wickedness, error, and ignorance were in my will and understanding,
that it was not possible for me to be ransomed by any other means
than by such a Price.
Consider well this Price.
Here notice the false faith of many.
And their profession is accordingly;
they have the form of godliness without the power of it.
They think they believe the articles of faith aright, but they are deceived.
For to believe in Christ crucified, is not only to believe that He was crucified,
but also to believe that I am crucified with Him.
And this is to know Christ crucified.
Hence we learn what is the nature of Grace.
God’s Grace cannot stand with man’s merit.
Grace is no Grace unless it is freely given every way.
The more simply the believer relies on Christ for everything,
the more devotedly does he walk before Him in all his ordinances and commandments.
Christ lives and reigns in him, and he lives here on earth by faith in the Son of God,
which works by Love, causes obedience, and changes into His Holy Image.
Thus he neither abuses the Grace of God, nor makes it in vain.

Orthodoxy and living the Christian life

For a perfect Bridegroom, He takes
the soul as a perfect bride
into the holy and mystical and immaculate communion of marriage“.
Saint Macarios of Egypt – Homily 47

By living with the Saints Who have gone before and enjoying their support,
you learn how to struggle.
You see how they wrestled;
how they confronted the enemy;
how they dealt with human weaknesses.
How hard they were on themselves:
they shadowed life and qualified success
not to their own labours,
but to the grace of God.

If you follow the life and counsels of the Saints . . . . .
If you are granted inner peace . . . . .
Bear with the others:
Be victimised and do not wrong others“.
Hand-no one-down, but forgive everyone,
find somehow a place for them in your heart.
Pray for them with all what is in your capacity,
unrelatedly of whether they upset you.
Be unable to lay on hurt,
not sufficiently expert of
any such thing.
Follow the Lord of Golgotha
– “A Man wounded, knowing how to bear weakness
Isaiah 53: 3
Be wounded and know how to bear the pain.
The Cross must be familiar and acceptable to you
as a place to be and a mode of existence.

Then the Lord will come
at some time, without fail,
as He knows best.
He will come and find you,
He will touch your head.
He touched the leper . . . . .”[Matth. 8: 3].
He will speak to you.
He will enter into you like Light, Repose, Paradise.
You will be aware of Him, you will feel Him,
you will actually live His Passion and Ressurection.
You will find yourself inside the Icon of Ressurection,
of the Descent into Hell.
This Icon will be an expression of your life.
Christ will constantly leading you by the hand,
bringing you to Light, to freedom,
to an unending journey which is Himself.

Then You will understand the words of the Lord:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things
and to enter into His Glory?

Luc. 24: 26
Christ had to suffer and to come forth as Bridegroom from the tomb.
A great Mystery!
You feel that you had to suffer, to endure pain,
to die in the earth like a seed,
so that there might shoot up from within you
something that does not pass away.

I am created for some specific purpose, a certain Christian used to say
– for something intangible, invisible to the naked eye, and yet incarnate.
I know it, I believe it, I experience it.
◙ When I move away from it, everything goes twisted, in my soul and my body.
◘ When I an within it,
I am firmly grounded and recover everything,
the health of my soul and body.
◘ When I am alone, I am in communion with the Saints.
◘ When I am in a crowd, I am nourished by the pure spring
welling up in the desert within.
Reverence for this least and greatest thing
takes the form of constantly going outdoors without protection;
of asking at every moment only that His will should be done.
Asking not with my mouth and my voice,
but with my whole manner of living all the time.

When you ask that His Will should be done,
when your whole Christian being is one bleeding petition, it happens.
But this “happening” is not something you can determine in advance.
It may happen by happening or by not happening.
It may be that before your petition is finished, the answer comes.
Or you may wait years and wear yourself out,
and be disappointed, and reach utter exhaustion and be destroyed.
And then, when you are no longer expecting anything
– neither you nor anyone else –
He Himself will come to raise you up,
to take you with Him on a new journey,
to the unknown.

Then you understand why
He was slow in coming for you:
He was with you “In another form
even when He had not come and you were waiting for Him.
                                                                                 Marc.16: 12

How everything functions as a whole!
Now nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted!
How blessings go deeper than hoped!
How the afflictions, the pains and perplexities till the field of our souls
like a deep-cutting ploughshare!
How totally and utterly the strange and heaven-sent rest
differs in nature from the rest and satisfaction
afforded by any earthly and temporary success!
How it teaches us humility, how it schools us in Love, How it reconciles us with others!
It strengthens us, it invigorates us,
and in the same time it makes us weaker, without any prickles or sharp corners
which could wound others.

The lives of the Saints have been sanctified,
their minds have been enlightened, the work of their hands and their minds bears the seal of Grace, the beauty of Heaven.
This Beauty is a gift from the Lord Himself,
the Glory of Whose Godhead became the glory of the body,
but remains obscured from those
who cannot see these things
only visible to the Angels
“.
Saint Gregory Palamas – Agioreitikos Tomos

Through sin man loses the comeliness which is from above and begs the Lord:
Make my humble soul bright with the beauty of repentance
Oktoïch tn2 Canon, Monday morning, 4th ode
When the Christian matures in repentance and attains purification and illumination,
he/she receives the most pure embrace of the Lord,
Which fills his whole being with Beauty, Glory and uncreated Light.

Embracing me totally, He caresses me in my entirety,
He gives Himself entirely to me in my unworthiness,
and I take my fill of His Love and His Beauty,
and am filled with Divine pleasure and sweetness.
I partake in the Light, participate in the Glory,
and my face shines like the of the One I long for
and all my members are luminous.
Then am I fairest of the fair
“.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian

When the intellect has been perfected,
it unites wholly with God and
is illumined by Divine Light,
and the most hidden Mysteries
are revealed to it.
Then it truly learns
where wisdom and power lie…
While it is still fighting against the passions it cannot as yet enjoy these things…
But once the battle is over and it is found worthy of spiritual gifts,
then it becomes wholly luminous, powerfully energized by Grace
and rooted in the contemplation of spiritual realities.
A person in whom this happens is not attached
to the things of this world but has passed from death to Life
“.
Philokalia

Pride & humbleness

Humility is in the Middle of the Heavenly Kingdom;
the Glory of God is lost by the one who missed the gain of humility.
You lose the Glory of God by the traps of the Devil, money, reputation etc.
The power and beauty of the people are vain things destroyed because of clothing [dark or shiny uniforms].
Wisdom without God is also vain.
With wisdom the devil even tried to trap Jesus Christ, but caught himself.
And the Jews have suffered the same.
The real pride of man is to know the greatness of God.
Everything is a gift of God.

The main reason underlying a person’s arrogance is unrealistic sense of superiority
or is his erroneous assumption that he has an existence
apart from and independent of God, and that he has acquired his qualities of his own doing.

When you are arrogant you feel superior to everyone else. You are right and everybody else is wrong
–at all times.
You are beyond reproach. Whatever anyone else says, if it disagrees with what you say and believe, then everything you say is gold, and everything they say is garbage.
You tend to think: “I am this powerful; you are less powerful.
I am beautiful; you are less beautiful
”, and so on.
You are amazingly boastful and strongly tend to belittle the efforts of others unless they completely agree with you.
People who lack self-esteem are arrogant because they are not comfortable with themselves.
People who have a healthy self-esteem are humble and comfortable with themselves; therefore, they take pleasure in quietly being who they are.
They don’t need to tell the world about it, and they encourage others to be able to feel the same way about themselves as they do.
Arrogance also comes from you values and beliefs.
[morals that were taught to us as a child on how to act and interact with others and in life]
Some people when growing up are tough that they are better than others and everyone else is below them; while other people are tough that everyone is equal no matter of how they look, color, race etc. and that [amongst other things] humble them.
Humble will be very strong, like grass will not fall at the time of windstorm.
You can see the strength by bending and giving way to others.
At the same time stand on own feet firmly.
Whereas pride attitudes, are like tree look very strong in the time trials and misery
that is to say storm, it will fall within no time.
Understanding the many benefits that Humility brings
should move us to cultivate and maintain this precious quality.

How can we go about gaining
this fine quality of humility?
It does not come automatically.
As with all other fine qualities,
we must work at it.
It will take time, so we must not become discouraged and think, What’s the use?
There is use, even if it does take time and effort and we keep making mistakes.
– First of all, we must have an earnest desire to be humble.
We must keep reminding ourselves that only by being humble can we please our Lord.
This is clearly shown where we read: “Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you
”.
1Petr.5: 7

And do we not need God’s undeserved kindness?
Can we afford to have Christ oppose us?
By regularly reading God’s Word
we will gain his mind on Humility.

For Humility to be able to help us in time of adversity, we must exercise it in our everyday lives,
in all we think, say and do.
Humility means lowliness of mind, not having big ideas or ambitions, and not tending to look down on others.
It means thinking like the apostle Paul, who spoke of himself as “a man less than the least of all holy ones”, and as “the least of the apostles”.
Humility should mark our conversation.
Do we always want to talk about ourselves, how we feel about things,
what we have accomplished or plan to do?
Do we often speak critically of others?

Do we often find ourselves monopolizing
the conversation?
Humility moves one to give others
the opportunity to speak.
If others are slow to express themselves, humbly, tactfully and lovingly draw them out, to their own happiness and to your own up-building.
There is more happiness in giving others
the opportunity to talk than in doing all the talking yourself.
Does humility characterize our actions?
Humility keeps one from shoving others
or always wanting to be first if one happens to be standing in line.
Truly, humility has ever so much to recommend it.
It makes for peaceful relations with Christ our Maker.
It makes for peace of mind. It makes for friendly relations with our fellows.
And it is of great help when we most need help – in times of harsh conditions.

Of all that exists on the four corners of the earth, what, O mortal man, can make us proud except stupidities and demonic illusions. Did we not enter into the world naked and wretched and are we not going to depart this world in the same manner?
Everything that we have, did we not borrow it; and by our death, are we not going to return everything? Oh, how many times has this been said and overheard?
The wise apostle says, “For we have brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it”
[ITim.6: 7].
And, when we offer sacrifice to God of ordinary bread and wine, we say,
“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee”
[Holy Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom].
For nothing that we have in this world is ours:
not even a crumb of bread nor a drop of wine; nothing that is not of God.
In truth, pride is the daughter of stupidity,
the daughter of a darkened mind, born of evil ties with the demons.

Pride is a broad window through which all of our merits and good works evaporate.
Nothing makes us so empty before men and so unworthy before God as does pride.
When the Lord is not proud, why should we be proud? Who has more reason to be proud than the Lord, Who created the world and Who sustains it by His power?
And behold, He humbles himself as a servant, a servant to the whole world: a servant even to the death, to the death on the Cross!”

Saint Nicholai Velimirovich, The Prologue of Ohrid

God’s realm is totally different
from the world around us.
In fact, Kingdom wisdom seems foolish to the world.
In God’s Heavenly Kingdom
the first shall be the last,
little children are the model citizens,
and people are not regarded according to their ability, income, gender, or race.
We are to put the King and His Kingdom business before the care of our own livelihood.
This Kingdom is truly upside down.

Kingdom laws are summed up in one word: love.
The air we breathe is Grace, and the national characteristic is Holiness.
One of God’s highest goals for His people is freedom
– freedom to love Him and freedom to love each other.

February 1st – Saint Seiriol, Abbot of Penmon [Anglesy 6th cnt]

Seiriol was an early 6th century saint, who created a cell at Penmon Priory
on Anglesey, off the coast of north Wales.
He later moved to Ynys Seiriol (Puffin Island).
He was a son of King Owain Danwyn of Rhos.

According to legend, he and Saint Cybi [November 8th] were good friends,
and would meet weekly near Llanerchymedd, at the Clorach wells.
Saint Cybi would walk from Holyhead,
facing the rising sun in the morning and setting sun in the evening.
According to tradition, Seiriol and Cybi used to meet every week to discuss matters of religion at Clorach, near Llanerchymedd, which is about midway from Holyhead to Seiriol’s chapel: and there are to this day two wells, of fine spring water, about ten yards distant, which retain the names of Ffynnon Seiriol, and Ffynnon Gybi, and where a great concourse of people, until of late years, used to resort to wash off their several diseases.

Saint Cybi was known as Cybi Felyn [Cybi, the Tanned], as he was tanned
during his journey.
Seiriol, travelling in the opposite direction, from Penmon, would have his back to the sun.
Thus, he was known as Seiriol Wyn [Seiriol the Fair].
Rhyd-y-Saint railway station [English: Ford of the Saints railway station]
on the Red Wharf Bay branch line near Pentraeth,
was named so as Seiriol and Cybi are said to have met there.

Seiriol was a younger brother of King Cynlas of Rhos and King Einion of Llŷn.
His cell at Penmon is said to have been rebuilt by his brothers,
as they didn’t think his humble residence was good enough.
Saint Seiriol’s Well (Ffynnon Seiriol) lies in a small chamber adjoining its remains.
Both are protected by Cadw,
the publicly funded body responsible for the historic monuments of Wales.
Adjacent to them are the church and ruins of a monastery
also dating back to Seiriol’s day.

In his old age, Seiriol retired to Ynys Lannog
which subsequently became known (in Welsh) as
Ynys Seiriol.
Later it would be known to the Vikings as Priestholm,
and is known as Puffin Island in English
since the 19th century.

February 1st – Saint Tryphon (Trypho) of Campsada near Apamea, in Syria [† 250]

Saint Tryphon is said to have been born at Kampsade (Campsada, in Phrygia, nowadays Turkey, and
as a boy took care of geese.

His name is derived from the Greek τρυφη (tryphe) meaning “softness, delicacy”.
He acquired fame as a healer, especially of animals,
and is considered one of the Holy Unmercenaries, particularly invoked on farms.
During the Decian persecution he was taken to Nicaea about the year 250 and was tortured in a horrible manner. He was beheaded with a sword
after he had converted the heathen prefect Licius.
Fabulous stories are interwoven with his hagiography.
His relics were first buried in his native city of Campsada.
Later on, they were translated to Constantinople, and then [stolen] to Rome.
His feast day is on 1 February in both the Eastern Orthodox Church and
in the Latin Catholic Church.

He is greatly venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church,
in which he is also the patron saint of gardeners and winegrowers.