The Arena
The Arena

Episode 562 · 9 months ago

Asceticism | The True Christian Life


The Arena Podcast is the flagship of Patristic Nectar Publications and contains the Sunday Sermons and other theological reflections by Father Josiah Trenham delivered from the ambon of St. Andrew Church in Riverside, California and begun in 2010. Currently there are more than 550 sermons and lectures covering ten years worth of preaching through the liturgical calendar.

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Now available at patristic nectar dot Org. patristic nectar publications is pleased to present a seven lecture series by Reverend Doctor Kalinique Burgher, entitled the Divine Identity of Christ. The highly esteemed Hiero monk scholar, father Kalinique sets forth the majestic and high Christology of the early church. In these lectures, Father Kaliginique refutes the secular criticisms of Orthodox Christology and reveals that Jesus himself taught his divine identity to his disciples, that the early church both honored and preached this High Christology and that this Christology is codified in the pages of the New Testament and the nicene creed. Along the way, he also reveals the vacuous secular quest for the historical Jesus, unpacks the historical theological witness about Jesus in the pre Nicene Church, through NICEA ephesus and to the fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. Here is a feast of Faith for Christians, sure to illumine our hearts and minds concerning the deity of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. For these and other titles. Please visit our website at patristic nectar dot org. And now the arena with Father Josiah Trenum, the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. A blessed Lord's Day to all of you, brothers and sisters, on this fourth Sunday of the great fast, The Sunday of St John of Sinai, author of the Ladder of divine ascent, whose magnificent Nichon is there just forth from the corner I've entitled my Hobbily this morning. Asceticism, the true Christian Life, and the Gospel lesson which you just heard comes from the ninth chapter of St Mark's Gospel. It's a marvelous chapter, but a chapter that takes the human heart and flips it upside down. It begins with Jesus on the top of Mount Tabor, in uncreated light, in glory, the disciples reaching a new high. They can't believe what they're seeing, what they're experiencing, coming under the cloud of God, hearing the voice of the father, seeing their savior in his splendor, seeing the prophet, alias, the Great God seeer, Moses, the completely taken aback. That's how the first part of the chapter goes. The second brings us to devil's oppression, faithlessness, complete human misery, a parents broken heart and the disciples suffering their own impotence, being aware of and their inability... help. They just couldn't help. What a text. It's a scene of misery, a young man who is possessed. We find out that the man has been possessed since his early childhood. And, just as a note, they're noticed. The devil wastes no time. The devil wastes no time. He goes after us from our earliest years, which is why we parents and grandparents and godparents should waste no time forming, loving, serving and encouraging our children to know God. This poor child has often been thrown into the fire and often thrown into the water. What's even worse is that the father of the child has uncertain faith. Father is greatly concerned, but he's faithless. So you see this terrible picture of the child torn on the verge of death and possessed. He would think that would be the most grotesque aspect of the scene, but not. In Jesus's opinion, better to be possessed than be of your right faculties. And an unbeliever, a person who has no faith, even when the son of God is standing in front of him. He expresses his doubt, his terrible lack of trust in Jesus, though by this time in Jesus, his ministry, he's worked innumerable miracles, the man still can't believe and he's comes to Jesus and he says, my son, my son, he's so terribly demon possessed, if you can, please help him, if you can, if you can do anything. and Jesus acts. He deals first with the most important sickness of all, with the greatest grotesque feature of this scene, which is the father and his lack of faith. and Jesus takes the man's if you can and throws it right back in his face. He says if I can, if you can. He says, wow, if you can believe, all things will be possible for you. You know, many times in my life as a pastor specifically as a confessor, I've heard his voice listening to a confession. It usually goes like...

...this. In Confession I'm hearing something that has been a long time, problem like this man's problem, something that is so long he can hardly believe. He can live without it. This has been his son's life, even though he wants to be rid of it. He can't see it, he can't find a way through to trust God that what has been normal for him his whole life is not going to be that way anymore. A lot of times that's how we are with our sins, when our sins are particularly hard to get rid of, we confess them because we know they're wrong, but often we have no faith that they can actually go away. We don't have any confidence that God can actually heal us, that we can actually get past this. So sometimes, in that context, I'm listening to something and then I make a proposal, an idea. I present the idea that I'm fairly confident if this counsel can be followed, if this penance can be embraced with trust in God, you could be free. This is what I've experience. I'm describing saying this to a penitent and then I usually say something like this. Can you accept this from me? Can you accept this from me? That is a very important question. I have learned this over my life that that is a very important question. The priest, the confessor, can have it in his mind clear. He can see a way through it, but can the person accept that? Can a person join the faith of the priest so that we have together a common agreement, a common trust in God, that there can be some progress here? I've learned to ask that question and sometimes unbelief is masked in a faith humility. That shows itself in these words God willing, God willing, and I always stop the person right there and I say stop, stop, are you really are you really saying you're not sure that God is willing to help you? Stop Sinning. What do you mean? God Willing? No, no, no, if you're willing, this is the issue. Are you willing? God is absolutely willing, but we often not wanting to face the fact that we're the problem. Push it on to him. God Willing. That's not the thing to say. That's not the thing to say. Maybe we could push back beyond it a little bit and say I am willing, but help me, Lord and you, profather, pray for me. Help my weak will. I believe, but help... unbelief. This is Jesus's word to the father of the possessed boy. He was the problem. The willingness of God was there then. The Gospel text ends with this interchange between the Lord and his disciples. They step aside and the disciples ask him why they were so impotent to be able to cast out this devil, and then Jesus tells him something extremely important. He says this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting. It's the only way. Our Lord's teaching on the absolute necessity of asceticism, of prayer and fasting in order to conquer the devil's work in our lives is what connects this gospel text to the theme of this Sunday of lent, the fourth Sunday of lent, the theme of St John of Sinai, the ladder of divine assent. The latter is a magnificent fourteen hundred year old sacred text that has inspired the church in the works of spiritual struggle and the works of asceticism for all of those centuries. It provides us the contours. It's read every great lent in our monastery theories. Many of you refresh yourself at least with portions of it in the great fast and certainly on this day our minds are upon it. We recognize that our spiritual life is a matter of climbing that we're going somewhere. Yes, we're on our way to the Kingdom of God. We're moving to heaven, and that is an ascent and it's a sense of faith and virtue. It's an ascent of acquisition, a soul's acquisition. It's a marvelous Sunday and of all the Sundays of the year, I think this Sunday, the Sunday of the latter, maybe together with the Sunday of the great judgment, maybe also with next Sunday Sing Mary of Egypt. I put them at the top. As far as Sundays of contradiction to our fallen Western secular culture. This is one of the hardest Sundays for a typical western person to get. We don't get asceticism. We don't believe in asceticism in the secular West. We used to. The West was permeated by this vision of spiritual struggle, permeated for thousand years. This was our life, but it's been about that...

...long that it's been disappearing, to the fact, to the point today where asceticism is pretty much something you hear about and talk about on museum tours. It's something you hear about when you walk through cathedrals that are generally unoccupied today in the West, mostly empty. They make their money by giving tours to people. It's when you come across the remains of Lindisfarn and Iona Downpatrick, places like this. It's when you walk through those you go, oh my gosh, what did the people here do? They did what they prayed and fasted as their life. They struggled to seek God, they denied the world and they made these incredible things. This is about as much as we think about them today and in this land, in our country, which was established very much on a non asthetical basis, on principle, monks were not well loved by our highly esteemed founding fathers, nor were bishops. For the most part, in our land it's even more of a relic. We don't even have here the remains of monasteries. It shocks Americans to discover who the orthodoxy it really does, especially in this area of asceticism, and to find out that we actually believe in it today, that the inspiration, the vision of the monks of the West for the first Staus is ours, and that we actually think these monks are alive. There are a lot of our pillars a lot of the saints we have on our pillars, of our western saints. They are in foreign to our geography, but they don't have the mentality of the secular. They practice the seticism and they became great and we actually pray with them every liturgy and they're collaborating with us to bring this traditional Christian life of prayer and fasting to this land. This is what we think the future of the United States of America is. Yes, if it has a future, this is what we want it to be. This is what we're laboring for to bring the Christian life here. And Make no mistakes, brothers and sisters, this is the Christian life only by prayer and fasting. Westerners are...

...additionally shocked to find that asceticism isn't just a distant memory with us, but we have an entire Sunday like today, dedicated to one of the greatest ascetics and to his guide and counsel on how to progress in the spiritual life. They're also amazed when they find out that we don't equate asceticism with monasticism, that we actually consider asceticism to be the basic Christian life. Asceticism means struggle. That's what it means. They're especially shocked to come here and to see a bunch of you. Many of you have a copy of the ladder of divine assent at home, some of you have it on your bed table right now. You're reading it. This is a shocker. Wait, you're married, you're living in the world. Yes, we're Christians. A Christians practice asceticism. We also make sure we don't confuse married life with monastic life. But there's one gospel and one way of Christian life that takes expression in two forms of life. Asceticism is common to both. This is our way. And then they really lose it. They really lose it when they find out that the very first book ever published after the invention of the printing press in the new world was saying John of Signi's ladder of divine assent. When they find that out, they say to themselves, how is that possible? Asceticism, dear ones, is the key to a Christ a true Christian life, to living a true Christian life. It's simply equivalent to the Christian life. It must be distinguished from monasticism. But marriage is not the opposite of asceticism. Marriage is the opposite in this sense of monasticism. Both Christian marriage and monasticism are forms of asceticism. And why is Aceticism so essential? Why is it so basic to our Christian life? Because, as we see in today's Gospel Text, the same devils that tormented that poor man and his son they torment us. We have enemies, and also because we are like that father. We are mixed, mixed people. We want to believe, we even do believe, but we also say stupid things, like this man did, or like I hear sometimes, God willing, in confession. This is us.

This is us. We're mixed people. We have faith, but we also cry out to God, Lord, please, I believe, help my unbelief. How do we make progress? How do we grow in faith? How do we conquer the devils in our life? There's one way, prayer and fasting. This is the word of Christ, this is the way for us. Struggle, struggle. This is why I I work hard to fix the semantics with regards to that word struggle. That word is precious. It's been debased in popular American English. Oh, I'm struggling with this or I'm strung. No, that is not what the word means. Today, when we say I'm struggling, we mean I'm failing. We just don't want to say I'm failing. Or sometimes we flat out me and I'm sinning. I'm struggling with resentment, father, no, you're sinning against God by holding resentment in your heart. You need to struggle against resentment. Struggling is a virtue. Those who struggle receive crowns. We have to claim the word. According to our own theology, to struggle is the essence of Aceticism. Most of our sins are conquered by just a little bit of struggle. As soon as we push ourselves to struggle, the Lord sees our intent and he just overwhelms us with grace. He pours a bucket of help right on our head. Struggling is the way to obtain the Kingdom of God, because the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Jesus says. What does that mean? It means that we work against ourselves. We struggle against ourselves. Are Passions, our negative dispositions. Whether were married or monks, it doesn't matter. One cannot get to heaven without being an ascetic, without being a struggling even deem us in one minute, the one minute that he was a Christian, struggled. He corrected himself on that cross, bleeding near death. He cursed Christ at the beginning and then he changed his ways and he moved from correcting himself to correcting his friend. He then tried to save his partner, his fellow bandit, and he looked at him he said, we deserve this, but this man has done nothing wrong. And then...

...he confessed his faith publicly, which Saint Paul says and Jesus himself says, brings Christ's confession of you before his father, and he said, Lord, Remember me in your kingdom now. What's common to us all, dear ones, what's at the heart of a says them, is a willingness, a resolve, a decision to opt out of the world system. This is what we decide. We decide that we're not going to be conformed to this world. We're going to dance to a different tune, we're going to accept different inspiration and leadership for us, that's what it's for us. We don't love the world. Same Bays of the great says withdrawal. Withdrawal from the world does not mean physical removal from it, but withdrawal of the soul from sympathy to the debased desires of the body. This is withdrawing from the world. This is why, when you open the latter, the first three chapters that you find there our renunciation of the world, detachment from the world and the embrace of exile or pilgrimage. Those are the first three steps. That's where it all starts. It's where it all starts a willingness to say my home is there, my king is there, my love is there, and therefore everything that I do here I do as a pilgrim and I don't take my orders from the fallen world. I take my got, my inspiration, my guidance from the Lord who is in the heavens and is preparing a place for us. Asceticism, der ones is the Christian life. May God fill our hearts with true faith, the faith that conquers devils and that inspires prayer and fasting. It leads to victory. Amen. We hope that you have enjoyed and have been edified by this presentation offered to you by patristic nectar publications, a non profit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. If you are interested in other available titles or if you would like more information on patristic nectar publications, please visit our website at w w w dot patristic nectar dot org. Again, that's W W W dot patristic nectar dot org. Booth.

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