A brother came to Scetis to see abba Arsenius. Having knocked on the door, the visitor and the monk who was with him entered; the old man greeted them and they sat down without saying anything. The brother from the church said, ‘I will leave you; pray for me.’ But the visiting brother did not feel at ease with the old man and said, ‘I will come with you,’ so they left together. Then the visitor said, ‘Take me to abba Moses who used to be a robber.’ When they arrived, the father welcomed them joyfully and then took leave of them with delight… That night the father prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord explain this matter to me; for thy name’s sake one flees from men, and the other for thy name’s sake receives them with open arms.’ Then two large boats were shown him on the river, and he saw abba Arsenius and the Spirit of God sailing in one in perfect peace; and in the other was abba Moses with the angels of God, and they were all eating honey cakes.’
Receiving letters: first loves, pen friends, when you’re far away – important, meaningful, something we’ve lost in a modern world with mass instant communication.
It’s hard for us to imagine just how it felt to be a Christian in the Early Church – small isolated communities, persecuted, illegal, in desperate need of encouragement, prone to going astray. A situation with profound differences and similarities to ours, here and now.
They need help – which starts with faith – what and whom they believe in – God the Father, the Creator of all, God the Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which sanctifies the people of God, the bond of love.
They and we become partakers of the divine nature, how and what God is , not by the abolition of our human nature, but by its transformation, through the grace, the free gift of God. Grace perfects nature, it does not abolish it. Likewise when we talk of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we should be mindful of a phrase in the Athanasian Creed ‘not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by the taking of the manhood into God’ The miracle of the incarnation is the means by which humanity can come to share in the very life of God, the fleshiness of God will lead to the Eucharist where God gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink, so that our nature might be transformed. This is also what the Cross and the Resurrection achieve – a complete victory over this world, it makes it possible.
So then what are we to do? We are to supplement our faith with virtue – in that human beings are creatures of habit, we become what we do often, hence the need to cultivate the practice of the moral virtues, the more that we do them the more they become not only what we do but what we are. It helps us to keep on keeping on with the Christian life , the life of faith, a process which began with our baptism, wherein we are regenerate, born again in the Spirit, freed from sin and its power, and our souls are infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity so that we be prepared for life forever with God.
So far so good, in theory, but in practice it isn’t quite that simple, we need to live out our faith in our lives, we have to live with other people, and that is where it gets difficult. It always has. It would be easy to have a rose-tinted picture of Christian communities like those of the Egyptian desert, but they squabbled and quarrelled and bickered and fought just like us, they needed to be reminded of who and what they were, they needed encouragement, cheering up as they tried to live the Christian life together. They failed, as do we, which is where God’s forgiveness, and his love and mercy come in. The Cross cancels the debt we cannot pay, and if we can say sorry, and repent – make a conscious decision to turn away from sin, and to turn to Christ, then we can keep going on our journey of faith, forgiven, and forgiving others, so that we can be built up in love, a loving forgiving community which makes Jesus Christ known by what it is and what it does, that communicates the Good News of the Kingdom and shares it so that others may come to believe and give glory to…