Chapel Archive

Building Blocks

Fresco, Gracanica Monastery: “Upon This Rock”

Confess Christ, we will become like Peter. We are considered blessed as he was. Flesh and blood haven’t revealed to us that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, but the Father in heaven has, so that we can be citizens of heaven. This revelation carries to heaven those who unveil their hearts and receive “the spirit of the wisdom and revelation” of God. And if we say like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not because flesh and blood revealed it to us, but because our heavenly Father’s light has shone in our hearts, we become a rock, or a Peter…. Christ is the spiritual Rock from whom His people drank and every disciple of Christ is a rock. Every word of the church and its government is built upon every such rock. For the church is built by God through each of the perfect ones who provide blessing through their words, deeds, and thoughts.

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Changed by God

Could I doubt that He who made me from the dust of the earth can make me, a guilty person, innocent? Could I doubt that He who made me see when I was blind, or hear when I was deaf, or walk when lame, can recover my lost innocence for me? Look at nature’s testimony— to kill a man isn’t always criminal, but to kill maliciously and not by law is criminal. Then it isn’t the deed in such cases that condemns me (sometimes it is done rightly), but the mind’s evil intentions. If my mind is corrected, which was considered criminal and caused sin, then why couldn’t I be made innocent when I once was crimi­nal? …For crime doesn’t consist in the deed but in the will. Just as an evil will, prompted by an evil demon, has exposed me to sin and death, the will changed to good and prompted by the good God has restored me to inno­cence and life. It is the same with all other crimes. As a result, we can’t find any contradiction between our faith and natural reason. For forgiveness of sins isn’t given to deeds that can’t be changed once they’re done, but to the mind, which can change from bad to good.

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Cling to Love

Descent from the Cross (Detail): Rogier van der Weyden

Hatred is evil, because it always tolerates lying or speaking against the truth; it makes small things great; considers darkness to be light. It calls sweet things bitter, and teaches slander, war, violence, and evil. It fills the heart with devilish poison. I say these things from experience, my children, so that you will run from hatred and cling to the love of the Lord. Righteousness casts out hatred and humility destroys hatred. For those that are righteous and humble are ashamed to do wrong. They aren’t rebuked by someone else, but by their own heart, because the Lord sees their motives. They don’t speak against anyone, because their fear of the Most High overcomes hatred. Because they fear offending the Lord, they won’t do anything wrong to anyone, even by their thoughts…. For true, godly repentance destroys unbelief, drives away the darkness, enlightens the eyes, gives knowledge to the soul, and guides the mind to salvation. Those things which it hadn’t learned from people, it knows through repentance.

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The Great Instructor

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The Christ Deesis Mosaic (detail). Hagia Sophia

Admonition is the judgment of loving care and produces understanding. The Instructor demon­strates such admonitions when He says in the Gospel, “How often would I have gathered thy children, as a bird gathers her young ones under her wings, and ye would not!” And again, the Scripture admonishes, saying “And they commit­ted adultery with stock and stone and burned incense to Baal.” It is a very great proof of His love that, although He knew well the shamelessness of the people that had kicked and run away, He nev­ertheless exhorts them to repentance and says by Ezekiel, “Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of scorpions; nevertheless, speak to them, if per­adventure they will hear.” Further, He says to Moses, “Go and tell Pharaoh to send My people forth; but I know that he will not send them forth.” He shows both things: His Divinity by His foreknowledge of what would take place, and His love by providing an opportunity for the soul to choose repentance. Caring for people, He also admonishes by Isaiah when He says, “This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” What follows is reproving judgment: “In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doc­trines the commandments of men.” Here His lov­ing care shows their sin and salvation side by side.

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Heavenly Thoughts

Wise and Foolish Virgins: German Tapestry, 15th century

I wonder much why the words of earthly people agitate you when you have fixed your hearts on heaven. For when the friends who came to con­sole him broke out into rebuke, Job said, “For behold my witness is in heaven, and He that knows me is on high.” Those who have the wit­ness of their lives in heaven shouldn’t be afraid of human judgments. Paul, a leader of good men, also said, “Our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience.” And again he says, “Let every man prove his own work, and so shall he have glory in himself, and not in another.” For if we rejoice in praises and are broken down by ridicule, we don’t draw our glory from ourselves, but from the mouths of others. Indeed, the foolish virgins didn’t take any oil in their vessels, but the wise ones took oil in their vessels along with their lamps. Now our lamps are good works. It is written, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” And we take oil in our vessels along with our lamps when we don’t seek glory for our good works from our neighbors’ praise, but preserve it in the testimony of our conscience.

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Guard Your Mouth

The Mouth Speaks What the Heart is Full Of: Paulo Zerbato

Let there be a door on your mouth so that it can be shut when necessary. Let it be closed carefully so that no one can rouse your voice to anger and make you pay back abuse with abuse. You have heard it read, “Be ye angry and sin not.” Therefore, although we are angry (as a result of our nature, not our will), we must not utter one evil word with our mouths, lest we fall into sin. But our words should be…humble and moderate so that our tongues are enslaved to our minds. Hold your tongue in check with a tight rein. Restrain it and call it back to moderation. Test the words it utters by scales of justice so that if your meaning is serious, your speech has substance and your words have grav­ity. Those who abide by this will be patient, gentle, and modest by guarding their mouths, restraining their tongues, thinking before they speak, and weighing their words. Such people question whether or not to say something or give an answer and ponder whether it is an appropriate time for their remark…. We should act like this for fear that our words, which should give beauty to our inner lives, would plainly show that we have evil morals.

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Pleasure’s Dangers

It is perfectly clear that no one can come near God’s purity who hasn’t become pure first. Therefore, we must place between us and sensual pleasures a high, strong wall of separation. Then as we approach God, our heart’s purity won’t be soiled again…. Pleasure is all the same, as we learn from the experts. For just as water separates into various streams from a single fountain, plea­sure spreads itself over the pleasure-lover through the various avenues of the senses. And the person who succumbs to pleasure through any sensation has been wounded by that sensation. This cor­responds with Christ’s teaching that “he who has satisfied the lust of the eyes has received the mischief already in his heart.” For I take it that, in this particular example, our Lord was speaking about any of the senses. So we can add to His saying, “He who has heard to lust after”; “He who has touched to lust after”; “He who has lowered any faculty within himself to the service of pleasure has sinned in his heart.” To prevent this, we want to use self-control in our lives. We must never let our minds dwell on anything where pleasure has hid its bait. …In everything we do, we must choose the useful amount and leave the rest untouched that would merely indulge the senses.

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Possessions and Sacrifice

The Calling of Peter and Andrew: Duccio di Buoninsegna

The fishermen of Galilee found pleasure not only in leaving their ships and nets at the Lord’s com­mand, but also in declaring that they had left every­thing and followed Him. Those who reject not only everything they have but everything they hoped to possess truly give up everything. What they may have desired is only seen by God. What they actu­ally possessed is seen by human eyes. In addition, when we love unimportant, earthly things, somehow we are more firmly married to what we have than to what we want to have. Why did the man who asked the Lord about eter­nal life go away sorrowful when he heard that he must sell everything and give it to the poor in order to be saved? For it is one thing to avoid gaining what we want, but it is another thing to give away that which has become a part of us. The former action is like declining food, the latter is like cutting off an arm. How great and wonderful is the joy of Christian generosity we obtain when, in obedience to the Gospel of Christ, we cheerfully sacrifice what that rich man grieved over and refused to give up.

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Holding on Despite

Medieval Church Door (detail) showing tortured Christians: Unknown

People see that those who are tortured remain patient while the executioners grow weary. As a result, they realize that the agreement of so many and the steadfastness of those dying must have meaning. They see that patience alone could not handle these tortures without God’s help. For robbers and strong men can’t endure such abuse. They yell out and groan because they are over­come by pain. They haven’t had patience ingrained in them. But in our case, boys and del­icate women (not to mention men) overpower their torturers in silence. Even fire won’t make them groan…. Notice that even the weak, frag­ile, and aged endure physical torture and burn­ing. They don’t endure because they have to, for they are allowed to escape if they want. But they endure torture and death of their own free will because they have put their trust in God.

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Have Patience

Sourwood Honey: Stephen J. Cullen

If you are patient, the Holy Spirit that dwells in you will be pure. He will not be darkened by any evil spirit, He will rejoice and be glad; and with the vessel in which He dwells, He will serve God in gladness, having great peace within Himself. But if any outburst of anger takes place, the Holy Spirit seeks to depart because He does not have a pure place. For the Lord dwells in patience, but the devil in anger. The two spirits, then, when living in the same place, are in conflict with each other and are troublesome to the person in whom they dwell. For if an extremely small piece of worm­wood is put into a jar of honey, isn’t the honey entirely destroyed? And doesn’t the extremely small piece of wormwood take away the sweetness of the honey entirely so that it no longer pleases its owner, but has become bitter and lost its use? But if the wormwood isn’t put into the honey, then the honey remains sweet and is useful to its owner. You see, then, that patience is sweeter than honey. It is useful to God, and the Lord dwells in it. But anger is bitter and useless. If anger is mixed with patience, then the patience is polluted, and its prayer becomes useless to God.

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