"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conversations and Exhortations of Fr. Zossima

THE WORLD has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:

"You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don't be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires." That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their wants. They maintain that the world is getting more and more united, more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes distance and sets thoughts flying through the air.

Alas, put no faith in such a bond of union. Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation…
And it's no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into slavery, and instead of serving, the cause of brotherly love and the union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissension and isolation, as my mysterious visitor and teacher said to me in my youth. And therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision. For how can a man shake off his habits? What can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Part II, Book 6.2.e
Федор Достоевский, Братья Карамазовы

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Two Wonderful Books!

Please check out Protecting Veil Media: http://protectingveil.com/

They have just released their newest title, Greece's Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis

This volume joins their previous, most incredible book, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece (Volume 1). 

“What a book! As I devoured…Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis…I realized that I was ‘dog-earing’ the entire manuscript! Thank you for introducing me to Alexandros Papadiamandis, to his world and to the characters who populated that world…”

- His Grace, Bishop BASIL
, Antiochian Archdiocese of North America

That Dreadful State of Being Solely Dependent on God

I feel it almost impossible to say anything (in my comfort and security -- apparent security, for real security is in Heaven and thus earth affords only imitations) which would not sound horribly false and facile. Also, you know it better than I do. I should in your place be (I have in similar places been) far more panic-stricken and even perhaps rebellious. For it is a dreadful truth that the state of (as you say) "having to depend solely on God" is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things. But trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to Him as long as He leaves us anything else to turn to. I suppose that all one can say is that it was bound to come. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, what else shall we have? Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwittingly) to begin practicing it here on earth. It is good of Him to force us; but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time."

C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, 16 December 1955

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Greater Gratitude to Those Who Wrong Us

"And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Mt. 23:12)

The proudest person is not he who brags about himself with pride, but he who brags about being very humble... 

We owe greater gratitude to those who humble us, wrong us, and douse us with venom, than to those who nurse us with honour and sweet words, or feed us with tasty food and confections, for bile is the best medicine for our soul.

Let us not examine whether we were justly or unjustly embittered, out of love or viciousness, or whether we are at fault slightly or not at all. We should accept with joy the spiritual benefit that every trial leaves behind, glorify God for everything and be grateful to the people who wrong us.

We should not be anxious in this life about the wrong done to us by other people or the demons, for neither does it trouble God, since He writes them down and keeps them with interest in His heavenly savings bank.

He who pursues human justice is foolish, but even more foolish is he who does not forget the injustices done to him by others and the kindness he has shown to others.

(Elder Paisios of Mount Athos: Epistles)

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Basic Law of God: Love and Love Alone

"Love all your fellow men, even your enemies. This is the most basic thing. Always love not only those who love us, but also those that hate us. Let us forgive them and love them all even if they have done us the greatest evil; then we are truly children of God. Then our own sins are also forgiven... Always preach love. This is the most basic law of God: love and love alone."

Elder George, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece (Protection of the Veil Press: Thessalonica, 2003) p. 189

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Cross to Bear

A monk who had long been fighting against temptations with terrible struggles became faint in spirit and started praying to God to lighten the cross which had been placed on him in life: "Is it really impossible for me to reach the Heavenly Kingdom and spiritual perfection with a less painful cross?" An angel appeared and led him into a spacious upper room, on the walls of which hung many varied crosses: heavy iron ones and lighter wooden ones; among both the former and the latter were some very large crosses, some smaller, and some very small. "The Lord has heard your prayer," said the angel, "and permitted you to choose a cross for yourself."

"Do you suppose God will forgive me," said the hermit, "that I, after struggling for many years, am now taking for myself this, the smallest of the little wooden crosses?"

Then the angel said to him, "This is the very cross you have been bearing up to this day and which you considered too exhausting; all the other crosses are incomparably heavier." Then the monk understood his foolishness and offered repentance, realizing that the Lord never lays on people a burden beyond their strength; but a Christian must accept it submissively and pray for the help of divine grace.

from Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Holy Trinity Monastery, pp. 28-29

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Man, the Unicorn, the Pit and Dragon, and the Drop of Honey

THESE men that have foolishly alienated themselves from a good and kind master, to seek the service of such harsh and savage a lord, that are all eager for present joys and are glued thereto, that never take a thought for the future, that always grasp after bodily enjoyments, but suffer their souls to waste with hunger, and to be worn with countless ills, these I consider to be like a man fleeing before the face of a raging unicorn. Unable to endure the sound of the beast's cry and its terrible bellowing, to avoid being devoured, ran away at full speed. But while he ran swiftly off he fell into a great pit; and as he fell, he stretched out his hands and grasped hold of a tree, to which he held tightly. There he established some sort of foot-hold and thought himself from that moment to be safe and secure. But he looked and saw two mice, the one white, the other black, who determinedly gnawed at the root of the tree of which he had hold, and they were all but on the point of severing it. Then he looked down to the bottom of the pit and saw   below him a dragon, breathing fire, fearful for eye to see, exceeding fierce and cruel, with terrible wide jaws, fully opened to swallow him. Again looking closely at the ledge where his feet rested, he saw four heads of asps projecting from the wall where he was perched. Then he lift up his eyes and saw that from the branches of the tree there dropped a little honey. And upon seeing this he ceased to think of the troubles surrounding him; how, outside the unicorn was madly raging to devour him: how below the fierce dragon held mouth open wide to swallow him: how the tree, which he had clutched, was all but severed by the mice; and how his feet rested on slippery, treacherous ground. Yea, he forgot, without care, all those sights of awe and terror, and his whole mind hung on the sweetness of that tiny drop of honey.

This is the likeness of those who attach themselves to the deceitfulness of this present life, ‒ the interpretation whereof I will declare to thee at once. The unicorn is the type of death, ever in eager pursuit to overtake the race of Adam. The pit is the world, full of all manner of ills and deadly snares. The tree to which the man clung, whose foundation was being continually eroded by the two mice, is the course of every man's life, that spends and consumes itself hour by hour, day and night, and gradually draws to its imminent severance. The fourfold asps signify the structure of man's body upon four treacherous and unstable elements which, being disordered and disturbed bring that body to destruction. Furthermore, the fiery cruel dragon signifies the mouth of hell that is hungry to devour those who choose present pleasures rather than future blessings. The dropping of honey denotes the sweetness of the delights of this world, whereby it deceives its own friends, nor suffering them to take timely thought for their salvation." 

(St. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioasaph, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 187-191, edited)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paesius and Isaias

THERE were two brothers called Paesius and Isaias, sons of a Spanish merchant. When their father died, they divided the estate they held, namely five thousand coins, clothes, and slaves. They deliberated and planned together. “Brother, what kind of life shall we lead? If we become merchants, such as our father was, we will still be entrusting our work to others. Then we would risk harm at the hands of pirates on the high seas. Come, let us take up the monastic life so that we may profit by our father’s goods and still not lose our souls.”

The prospect of monastic life pleased them, but they found themselves in disagreement. For when they had divided the property, they each had in mind to please God, by taking different ways of life.

Now the one shared everything among the monasteries, churches, and prisons; he learned a trade so that he might provide bread for himself and he spent his time at ascetic practices and prayer. The other, however, made no distribution of his share, but built a monastery for himself and took in a few brethren. Then he took in every stranger, every invalid, every old man, and every poor one as well, setting up three or four tables every Saturday and Sunday. In this way he spent his money.

After they were both dead, various pronouncements were made about them as though they had both been perfect. Some preferred one, some the other. Then rivalry developed among the brethren in regard to the eulogies. They went to the blessed Pambo and entrusted the judgment to him, thinking to learn from him which was the better way of life. He told them, “Both were perfect. One showed the work of Abraham; the other, that of Elias.”

One faction said, “By your feet, we implore you, how can they be equal?” And this group considered the ascetic the greater, and insisted that he did what the Gospel commended, selling all and giving to the poor, and every hour both day and night carried the cross and followed the Savior even in his prayers. But the others argued heatedly, saying the Isaias had shared everything with the needy and even used to sit on the highways and gather together the oppressed. Not only did he relieve his own soul, but many others as well by tending the sick and helping them.

Abba Pambo told them, “Again I say to you, they are both equal. I firmly insist to each of you that the one, if he had not lived so ascetically, would not by worthy to be compared with the goodness of the other. As for the other, he refreshed strangers, and thereby himself as well, and even if he appeared to carry the load of toil, he had also its relief thereafter. Wait until I have a revelation from God, and then come back and learn it.”

They returned some days later and he told them, “I saw both of them standing the Paradise in the presence of God.”
Palladius, The Lausiac History, (written about 419-420) from Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 34, Newman Press, New York, 1964, pp. 49-50.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Trumpet of Death

There was once a great and famous king: and it came to pass, when he was riding on a day in his golden chariot, with his royal guard, that there met him two men, clad in filthy rags, with fallen in faces, and pale as death. Now the king knew that it was by buffetings of the body and by the sweats of the monastic life that they had thus wasted their miserable flesh. So, seeing them he leapt anon from his chariot, fell on the ground, and did obeisance. Then rising, he embraced and greeted them tenderly. But his noblemen and counselors took offense thereat, deeming that their sovereign had disgraced his kingly honor. But not daring to reprove him to the face, they bade the king's own brother tell the king not thus to insult the majesty of his crown. When he had told the king thereof, and had upbraided him for his untimely humility, the king gave his brother an answer which he failed to understand.

It was the custom of that king, whenever he sentenced anyone to death, to send a herald to his door, with a trumpet reserved for that purpose, and at the sound of this trumpet all understood that that man was liable to the penalty of death. So when evening was come, the king sent the death-trumpet to sound at his brother's door who, when he heard its blast, despaired of his life, and all night long set his house in order. At day-break, robed in black and garments of mourning, with wife and children, he went to the palace gate, weeping and lamenting. The king fetched him in, and seeing him in tears, said, "O fool, and slow of understanding, how didst thou, who hast had such dread of the herald of thy peer and brother (against whom thy conscience doth not accuse thee of having committed any trespass) blame me for my humility in greeting the heralds of my God, when they warned me, in gentler tones than those of the trumpet, of my death and fearful meeting with that Master against whom I know that I have often grievously offended? Lo! then, it was in reproof of thy folly that I played thee this turn, even as I will shortly convict of vanity those that prompted thy reproof." Thus he comforted his brother and sent him home with a gift.

Then he ordered four wooden caskets to be made. Two of these he covered over all with gold, and, placing dead men's mouldering bones therein, secured them with golden clasps. The other two he smeared over with pitch and tar, but filled them with costly stones and precious pearls, and all manner of aromatic sweet perfume. He bound them fast with cords of hair, and called for the noblemen who had blamed him for his manner of accosting the men by the wayside. Before them he set the four caskets, that they might appraise the value of these and those. They decided that the golden ones were of greatest value, for, peradventure, they contained kingly diadems and girdles. But those, that were besmeared with pitch and tar, were cheap and of paltry worth, said they. Then said the king to them, "I know that such is your answer, for with the eyes of sense ye judge the objects of sense, but so ought ye not to do, but ye should rather see with the inner eye the hidden worthlessness or value." Whereupon he ordered the golden chests to be opened. And when they were thrown open, they gave out a loathsome smell and presented a hideous sight.
Said the king, "Here is a figure of those who are clothed in glory and honor, and make great display of power and glory, but within is the stink of dead men's bones and works of iniquity." Next, he commanded the pitched and tarred caskets also to be opened, and delighted the company with the beauty and sweet savor of their stores. And he said unto them, " Know ye to whom these are like? They are like those lowly men, clad in vile apparel, whose outward form alone ye beheld, and deemed it outrageous that I bowed down to do them obeisance. But through the eyes of my mind I perceived the value and exceeding beauty of their souls, and was glorified by their touch, and I counted them more honorable than any chaplet or royal purple." Thus he shamed his courtiers, and taught them not to be deceived by outward appearances, but to give heed to the things of the soul.

 The King's Brother, the Trumpet of Death, and the Four Caskets, from St. John Damascene, Barlaam and Ioasaph, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 71-77.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Nativity of the Theotokos

Orthodox Christian theology insists upon the two perfect natures of our Lord Jesus Christ; He was perfect God and perfect Man. The Virgin Mary communicated the humanity of the Incarnate God. The redemption of the human race was possible through the union of God and man in Christ. Today we begin the celebration of the Nativity of the Mother of God. Together, we sing the ancient hymn:
Today God, Who rests upon the spiritual thrones,
has prepared for Himself a holy throne on earth.
He, Who in wisdom established the heavens,
has fashioned a living heaven in His love for mankind;
for, from a barren root He has made a life-bearing branch spring up for us,
even His Mother.
O God of wonders and Hope of the hopeless,
O Lord, glory to Thee!

This is the day of the Lord!
Rejoice, O peoples,
for, behold, the bridal chamber of the Light, the book of the Word of Life, has come forth from the womb!
The gate that faces the East is born
and awaits the entry of the Great Priest.
She alone admits Christ into the world
for the salvation of our souls.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Passions Within

“It may happen that a man sitting in solitude and silence is at peace. But there comes another brother, who in talking says something unpleasant. The man is at once disturbed and says afterwards: ‘If he had not come to disturb me, I would not have sinned.’ What a ridiculous argument! Did he who spoke to him introduce the passion into him? He only called to the surface the passion that was already there; so now instead of bitterness against his brother, the man should repent of his own passion and blame himself. Such a man is like a rotten loaf of bread, which looks alright outside, but inside is moldy, so that if anyone breaks it its rottenness appears. Or he is like a clean vessel filled inside with rotten stench, so that whoever opens it will at once release this stench. In the same way this man was living, as it seemed to him, at peace, unaware of the passion inside him. Then the brother said one word to him and revealed the rot concealed within him. So if he wants to be granted mercy he must repent, blaming himself. Only thus will he achieve purity and make progress. As to the brother, he should indeed thank him for having been so useful.” 

St. Abba Dorotheos, Directions on Spiritual Training, 46, Early Fathers From the Philokalia, Faber: London, 1954, p. 166