(Abba Isaiah) also said ‘When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will,  he then allows  it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again.’

It strikes me every year as we pull out the Lenten Triodion on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, marking the beginning of the Lenten season, how much rebellion, how much hopeless self-will I continually pursue.  Being the unrepentant hedonist that I am, I continually complain and grumble over every little misfortune that comes my way, and yet, all too often I forget to bless and thank God for even the great things he has done for me (to say nothing of learning to actually thank Him for even my adversities).  Like a petulant child, I spend large portions of the year neglecting Him, forgetting Him, and relegating Him to my often-unused prayer corner and Sunday mornings.

Picking up the Desert Fathers always makes me realize something else about myself, something else that I’d rather forget, ignore, and lock up in a box under my bed.  Today, Abba Isaiah reminds me that it is God’s pity which sends misfortune and disaster upon the rebellious man, so that that man will suffer the pangs of desire for that which he ultimately does not want, so that he will come to himself, and realize that what he truly desires is God.

To come to one’s self is an important concept.  The Gospel tells us that, while lying in the mud with the swine and coveting their food, the Prodigal Son “came to himself” and realized that he would be better off even as a servant in the house of his father.  With the Sunday of the Prodigal coming up this weekend, reflecting on such an understanding of the suffering of rebellion takes on a much more poignant meaning to me.  Have I come to myself?  Or am I only dimly walking about in the shadows of death that permeate the world—that highlight the darkness of the world that I carry within me?

Lord, have mercy upon me, and show the light of Thy countenance upon me, revealing to me that which causes me to separate myself from Thee, that I may bring this brokenness and lay at Thy pierced feet.  Amen.

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In considering that Sunday marked the anniversary of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which reaffirmed the Faith of the Fathers of the previous six councils of the Church, and returned the holy icons to the churches against the heresy of iconoclasm, I’ve been thinking about the wider implications for the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Church teaches that we humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and that our sole reason for existence is to grow in that image and likeness, becoming more and more like what He is (in his Energies, as we can never comprehend the unknowable Essence of God).  This is a high calling, and one that is completely impossible for mankind after the Fall; this is why we need the redemptive saving of Christ, to restore for us the way of communion with God, through the denial of our selves and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, imparted to us by the Mysteries of the Church.  It should be pointed out here that the Greek word for image is ikon–we are called to be icons of God.   It only makes sense, then, that our temples should be adorned with the icons of those who have succeed  in this task–those in whom the Triumph of Orthodoxy has been written on their hearts, lived out in their flesh.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for any Saint of the Church, for those we know and those we have forgotten.  Primarily, this is because I cannot foresee this process of sanctification, the achievement of theosis, ever becoming a reality in me.  I am the weakest willed, most sinful, most hypocritical ‘Christian’ of which I know.  So, while I proclaim the triumph of the return of the holy icons, I lament that Orthodoxy has not yet flowered to triumph in my soul.  I can only blame myself, as I, the burdened sinner always flee from the Good.

May the prayers of our Holy Fathers, especially of St. Anthony the Great, lead us into the richness of the kingdom, and help us to restore in our souls the image of the indescribable God.