Each day there will be between 2000-2500 words of text provided which will include a chapter from the Gospels, so that we read all four Gospels in the course of the three months. There will be a reflection on some aspect of the Orthodox life, an excerpt from the teachings of the great Fathers of the Church with a comment. On various days other aspects will be introduced including Orthodox spirituality, liturgy, theology and history. Each day will conclude with a reminder of activities that should be completed.
It is best if a commitment is made to follow the course day by day, but it is available online and can be accessed at any time. God bless all those who take part in these studies
Discipleship is more than gaining information about a subject, even if that subject is spirituality and the Orthodox Christian life. Discipleship is not so much about knowledge, though it includes that of course. It is rather about exploring and participating in life itself and about experiencing for ourselves the reality of what we are thinking about and studying. It is about becoming truly alive and authentically human, since God created each one of us to have a unique and personal relationship with him.
Discipleship is not so much about becoming an expert in a particular field of study, though study is necessary. It is much more about following a path, setting off on a spiritual journey. The destination of this journey of our life is union with God. It is in becoming established in the grace of God in thought, word, attitude and behaviour by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is in becoming entirely a spiritual man or woman or youth. This journey will require much effort indeed, but most of the ground we will cover is within ourselves and is to do with drawing near to God whom we will discover there if we seek him.
We must become spiritual if wish to experience God. But to be spiritual is not the same as becoming outwardly religious, though spiritual practice is necessary. It is not the same as becoming awkward and isolated from others. It is not the same as thinking we are better than others. It means nothing less than to live every moment in the life of the Holy Spirit, so that our strength to act in love is the strength of God which he pours out into the hearts of those who set off with their whole heart to find him.
This short three month course is intended to be a means of engaging in the spiritual journey of discipleship. What is required of us is that we honestly wish to set off on this pilgrimage of our life. We may not feel that we have even begun. We may not have any clear idea of what the destination might mean. But we have to try with all our heart and mind to discover and experience and participate in the Orthodox Christian life.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we read…
He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
There is a difference between reading arguments to give us a confidence that God exists, or to answer our questions about spiritual realities, and the journey of discipleship. In this journey we might not be sure about many things. It might seem that God is not a present reality to us. We might be well aware that our faith is fragile and easily shaken. We cannot set off on a journey without having some idea of our destination, or at least confidence that others have set out and successfully found their way to the end, and might lead us there as well. In the same way we must have a confidence that even if we do not quite know where we are to go, nonetheless, God himself will guide us to himself.
You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29
In every field of human activity and endeavour we usually get out what we put in. It is a rare person who can play a musical instrument without many years of effort, repeated practice, small improvements and great perseverance. The spiritual life, the path of discipleship, requires just the same effort, practice and perseverance with the encouragement of small signs of improvement and fruitfulness. The more that we commit of ourselves to this journey the more easily we will make progress, even at great cost of spiritual sweat.
What can we say? It is that we should not enter into this Discipleship Course without being willing to make an effort, as much of an effort as we find strength within us. We will only make progress, discover a change in our lives, and experience more of God if we are willing to be committed. God will support us in our weakness, our fragility and confusion. But commitment is required, the effort to read and reflect, to apply and to put into practice. It begins today, with the materials presented in this first day of materials. Read slowly, apply consistently.
Scripture – Matthew 1
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham became the father of Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron. Hezron became the father of Ram. 4 Ram became the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon. Nahshon became the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon became the father of Boaz by Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed by Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse became the father of King David. David became the father of Solomon by her who had been Uriah’s wife. 7 Solomon became the father of Rehoboam. Rehoboam became the father of Abijah. Abijah became the father of Asa. 8 Asa became the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat became the father of Joram. Joram became the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah became the father of Jotham. Jotham became the father of Ahaz. Ahaz became the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh. Manasseh became the father of Amon. Amon became the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel. Shealtiel became the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel became the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim. Eliakim became the father of Azor. 14 Azor became the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim. Achim became the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud became the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan. Matthan became the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob became the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the exile to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ, fourteen generations. 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this: After his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. 20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take to yourself Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall give birth to a son. You shall name him Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.”
22 Now all this has happened that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall give birth to a son. They shall call his name Immanuel,” which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”
24 Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself; 25 and didn’t know her until she had given birth to her firstborn son. He named him Jesus.
From the Fathers
St Severus of Antioch (465-358 A.D.)
One must bear in mind therefore that the Evangelists, or rather the Spirit speaking through them, took pains to ensure that their readers believed that Christ was truly God and truly human. Because of what they wrote, no one could possibly doubt that he is God by nature, beyond all variation, mutation or illusion, and that according to the ordered plan of God he was truly human.
This is why John could say, on the one hand, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John immediately adds, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Hence Matthew wrote appropriately, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
On the one hand he is not able to be counted simply from natural generation among families, since it is written, “Who shall declare his generation?”He is before the centuries and of one substance with the Father himself, from the standpoint of eternity. But by this genealogy he is also numbered among the families of humanity according to the flesh. For in truth, while remaining God, Christ became man without ceasing to be God, unaltered till the end of time.
This is why there is also mention of the ancient patriarchs in the lineage, the narrative and observation of the times and vicissitudes that are indeed proper to human history. Through all this Matthew made it clear that Christ participates in our human generation and in our nature. Otherwise some might claim that he appeared in illusion and in imagination only, rather than by becoming genuinely human. Think of what might have been said if none of this had been written?
[This passage, commentary on the first chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew, shows us how much depth there is in every passage of the Scriptures. St Severus was one of the great theologians in the Orthodox Church, and a Patriarch of Antioch before he was exiled into Egypt. He shows us that the list of human ancestors of Jesus is not an irrelevant interruption in the story of Jesus, but is essential because it shows us that while remaining God, he truly became man. He took his humanity from the Virgin Mary, and became the foster-child of the Righteous Joseph, and so this genealogy, this family tree, became the family tree of God the Word himself. He really became man, Jesus the son of Mary, while remaining God and the Son of God.]
We should not imagine that everything needs to be achieved or could be achieved all at once. Much of the intention of this 3 month course is to establish spiritual habits that will do their own work in the will and grace of God. We do not become entirely Christian in such a short time, indeed it is the work of our lifetime. But it has to begin somewhere, with our first steps, and our journey has to be reinforced and renewed from time to time.
At the beginning of this course what will be asked of those who participate will be very little. It might seem to be too little. But it is always better to establish a habit, starting in a very small way, than to plan to do a great deal and give up after a little while. The aim of discipleship is to establish a way of life that follows these spiritual habits and which keeps us going even when we feel tired or uncertain. Without these habits we are essentially only praying, or engaging in other spiritual activities when we feel like it or when we want to. That can never be the basis of sustained growth in any human endeavour.
In the Orthodox understanding, prayer is especially the means by which we commune with God, enter into his presence and find ourselves renewed, transformed and transfigured. The goal of the spiritual life is to be always in prayer at every moment of the day. Prayer is not something we do to please God. It is something that unites us directly to God. But we begin where we are. At the bottom of each day of this course there will be a list of activities that should be completed. Some of them will remain constant, others will increase or be introduced as the days proceed. The intention is to offer means to participate in the Orthodox spiritual life, to measure our growth, as far as that is possible, and to have hope of continuing improvement.
Continue with whatever spiritual routine you presently use.
1. Pray the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and evening, slowly and with as much attention as you find possible. True prayer requires warmth of heart found in attention and focus. Linger over the words without rushing through them as an obligation.
2. Purchase a notebook, or create a document on your computer. Read the Gospel passage again, more slowly. Write down a few words or sentences that express what the passage says to you, in your own circumstances.
3. In your notebook, or on your phone or computer, create a list of all those in your family and pray for them. We do not need to go into detail. It is enough to pray with attention, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on X.