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The Apostolic Who …

February 27, 2013

Below is an article I would like to address. I have not copied it in its entirety, but I’ve included the link for those who would like to read the whole thing.

Bulgaria’s new Orthodox patriarch was enthroned in a mass in Sofia on Sunday that leaves the soft-spoken theologian the task of restoring the reputation of a church hurt by links to businessmen and communist secret police.

Neofit, Bishop of Rousse, took over the 1,100-year old church, which survived centuries of Turkish domination and decades of communism, just as Bulgaria heads for early elections by May after the government resigned on Wednesday during protests over the cost of living and corruption.

Protesters in Sofia kept a promise to stay away from the capital’s main cathedral, St. Alexander Nevski, so as not to interfere with the ceremonial mass of inauguration.

About 80 percent of Bulgarians say they are Orthodox Christians – the mainstream religion also in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Greece, Romania and Serbia, but only few see churchgoing as important to their lives, recent surveys show.

Trust in the Orthodox Church was shaken after a history commission showed in January 2012 that 11 of its 15 bishops collaborated with the former communist era secret police.

Neofit, born Simeon Dimitrov, also had a file with the much feared Darzhavna Sigurnost, but while his 16-page entry contained information about him, it preserved no reports made by him to the police.

The election by a church council of the bespectacled Neofit, 67, known for theological learning, humble demeanour and exquisite singing, was welcomed by believers and analysts who see him as a worthy successor to Patriarch Maxim who died in November aged 98.

“Neofit will be a patriarch who will not shame Bulgarians. He will restore the spiritual dignity of the Church,” said political analyst Nikolai Mihailov.

The luxurious lifestyle of some bishops has fed disillusionment with the church, and the restoration of the little known church title of archon — given to businessmen often after hefty donations – has also stirred disapproval.


I posted this article for several reasons. Without going into the obvious question of how it’s possible that ‘the church’ can be so corrupt as to involve itself with the seculars of society, and why these bishops think a luxurious lifestyle is suitable for their position, I would like to bring to the attention of the faithful a hugely important, and holistically relevant tenet: SPIRITUALITY. It is, indeed – in deed – and in need – a supremely germane condition. It’s essential to correct church leadership, even if its members never show up to sit in the pews.

I have an issue with pew clingers, particularly self-righteous ones, and ones who depend largely on clergy approval for spiritual experience. I also have an issue with those who think they are of the Community of Believers because they are baptized and chrismated Orthodox, or Catholic. What does this mean exactly? Allow me to rephrase the question. What does this mean in the Spirit? Answer: Nada. Nothing. Just as it means nothing to sit in a fancy chair wearing a gold-embellished crown, holding a glittery Christ-cross in one hand and an ornamental staff in the other means nothing. It is tradition, to be sure, but it does not make one Spiritual. ONLY GOD CAN MAKE ONE SPIRITUAL. As a matter of fact, those willing to don the garb and sit so Religiously are suspicious, and I cannot help but wonder what gives them their high. As was demonstrated in the 11 out of 15 corrupt, the emperors clothes did not exactly dress them for success, at least not Spiritual success. Spiritual success is found in farmer, athlete and warrior, and in the Wisdom of Sirach 51. 28, we see:

Partake of instruction with a great amount of silver,

And gain much gold with it. 

I guess these bishops misinterpreted the words in their bibles, but when one begins to do things ritualistically, one can very easily fall into the sin of going through the motions, and words on a page are just that: words on a page. They cease to become a LIVING EXERCISE to the reader. And those chairs begin to look more like fancy high chairs for men being given silver spoons to suck from, empty ones at that.

Now, what exactly does the silver in the Wisdom passage mean? God instruction. And the truth of the matter is that you do not gain the gold of Wisdom by not engaging in Spiritual Farming, Spiritual Athletics, and Spiritual Warfare. I have actually witnessed priests so fearful of spiritual warfare that they find themselves IN spiritual warfare by trying everything in their power to avoid it. They try to ignore that it exists, and they do nothing to educate the masses on its purpose, both the good, and the bad. Which brings me to the topic of prelest.

I was a mere five months in an Orthodox Cathedral when I stumbled upon the word prelest. There was something about this word that sort of stung, but in a subtle stinging way, like in slow motion. I will share with you on some of what I read and meditated on in discovering this.

The following is from:

What constitutes “prelest proper”?

     · ..St. Isaac the Syrian wrote about this kind of prelest: “The effect of the cross is twofold; the duality of its nature divides it into two parts, One consists in endurin~ sorrows of the flesh which are brought about by the action of the excitable part of the soul, and this part is called activity. The other part lies in the finer workings of the mind and in divine meditation, as well as in attending to prayer, etc.; it is accomplished by means of the desiring part of the soul and is called contemplation. The part of the soul by dint of its zeal, while the second part is the activity of soulful love, in other words, natural desire, which enlightens the rational part of the soul. Every man who, before perfectly mastering the first part, switches to the second, attracted out of weakness–to say nothing of laziness, is overtaken by God’s wrath because he did not first mortify his members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). In other words, he did not cure his thoughts of infirmities by patiently bearing the cross, but rather dared in his mind to envision the glory of the cross” (Word 55).

It is evident from these words of Isaac the Syrian that what we call prelest proper exists when a man starts trying to live above his capabilities. Without having cleansed himself of passions, he strives for a life of contemplation and dreams of the delights of spiritual grace. Thus the wrath of God befalls a man; because he thinks too highly of himself, God’s grace is withdrawn from him and he falls under the influence of the evil one who actively begins to tickle his vainglory with lofty contemplation and [spiritual] delights…

Briefly, the difference between “general prelest” and prelest in the particular sense of the word can, on the basis of the above, be expressed thus. General prelest is forgetting and not noticing one’s sinfulness. That which we call prelest proper is attributing to oneself righteousness when it does not actually exist. If a man thinks he is righteous, then his righteousness is not divine, but diabolical, foreign to the grace of God and to humility. One should recall the famous saying of Abba Poemen the Great: “I prefer a man who sins and repents to one who does not sin and does not repent. The first has good thoughts, for he admits that he is sinful. But the second has false, soul-destroying thoughts, for he imagines himself to be righteous” (Bp. Ignatius, Patericon, 75).

When man’s darkened side is brought to the forefront, he will experience one of two things. He sees himself as God sees him, and confesses those things apparent. In this, a natural process of redemption occurs. An “enlightening”, or a “lighting” of  the soul happens, and a light shines the way for him to be revealed. This revealing tells him of his calling – his station, or ID. This can be a large or a small lighting, and it often occurs in stages. It’s not generally a bang vision, where he is suddenly there, or as I like to say: One has arrived. It is not generally this because what follows is a gradual coming into a sense of shame, and the more inclined toward humility, the more intense this experience, but amazingly, through this there is a weight lifted, and that burden becomes light (Matthew 11.30). In time, a light shines richly that others might see, and find the Way.

A second way is if he denies or rejects that he is incorrect. He fights with God, and makes excuses or demands in an effort to free himself from this “accusation”. When this occurs, something is in the way, and this can be anything. His own position in society, even his title can be a distraction, and can keep him from seeing his ill intent. To accept himself too highly in status, according to the statutes of his own Religion, causes him from entering into the spiritual growth process of self-knowledge. How can he improve if he is proven? After all, he has made it to Archbishop, and he has been adorned. He cannot see his sin  for all of the heads of approval. He’s a man-made star. In this way, he fails to repent and find in himself that path for his calling. He never reaches that point of redemption. He sees himself elevated, above the confessional of attentiveness and spiritual awakening. In truth, I do not know a single person who has grown in the Spirit who has not experienced some measure of Spiritual Warfare.

I could go on at length on this topic, for it is a fascinating one, but this essay is longer than any of my others, and I know that time is of the essence, but I do want to draw your attention to the image posted partway through. This piece is called Our Lady. It shows her in a casual state, not heavily adorned, as so many ikons display her, and it reveals to us that humility of walking with God and asking how we might see – making that effort – rather than being forever told. You can call yourself an Orthodox Christian, but it does not mean you have been defined according to His will.

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