"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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Death Comes To Us All



"As we are strangers, sojourners, and travellers to the heavenly kingdom, we must not burden ourselves with worldly cares, nor become attached to earthly blessings, riches, pleasures, honours, in order that these cares and attachments should not hinder us in the hour of death, nor make it shameful. The Christian, even here on earth, must accustom himself to live the heavenly life; in fasting, in renunciation, in prayer, love, meekness, gentleness, patience, courage, and mercy. How hard will the hour of death be to the man who in his lifetime made his idols of money, or food, and drink, or earthly honours! In that hour none of these things shall serve him, whilst his heart, being strongly attached to them, does not possess the true treasure, which would give him life, that is, virtue. And therefore, in order to die more easily -- and we must all die -- we must not love anything in the world. 'And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content' (1 Timothy 6:8)."
 
 


St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, (Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, Jordanville) p. 325.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Changing the World One Small Person at a Time

Imagine if every single person who calls themselves an Orthodox Christian measured their every word and action by the measure of Christ-like humility and sacrificial love. That is, after all, what we are called to do. I stand convicted by my own failure.
"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. " (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
The Truth has a way of commending itself, even when it comes at a price. Have you ever seen the old movie, "It's a Wonderful Life"? You will never know those you have influenced for Good. We walk forward in Faith, Hope, and Love, the three daughters of the Martyr Sophia.
Please, watch the video on the link below. Children see. Children do.
VIDEO LINK - Children see. Children do.

With great thanks to Paul Tadros in Toronto, Canada for bringing this video and Scripture to my attention.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Love of Friend

 Much of what we very commonly call "friendship" is not a form of love at all, and is really not much more than an exercise in a mutual self-serving immersion into the personal self. Unlike the English language, the Greek language used four words to describe variations of love. 

"φιλια [A "Greek" word for love frequently translated in English as "friendship"] is the most concrete kind of love that a spiritually transformed individual feels and manifests. It is a spontaneous love, resulting from the reaching out of those no longer bound by the priorities rising from immersion into the personal self. It is readily observable, since it is so remarkable -- seen, as it is, in those few accomplished individuals who see Christ within themselves, who behold Christ in others, and who by nature direct the force of self-love towards others, since they are one with others by virtue of their unity with Christ, the One in Whom all dwell." (Bp. Chrysostomos, Love, pp. 26, 27)

Wolves Dressed in Sheep's Clothing


"Currently, we can see that everywhere, attacks are made ​​against the Church of Christ and the flock of God. When there is an open conflict or persecution exercised against the Church, the enemy of mankind is evident and we see right away which side to defend. The danger increases considerably when the attack comes as the "gentle pressure" of progressive accommodation to this world. It advances little by little, gradually, hiding its creeping apostasy, allowing no one to call out any singular evidence of that gradual change, but the combination of these 'details' suddenly reveal how we move away from the Church, unless we remain constantly vigilant. Yet the worst and most distressing agent of such an attack is from "those who come dressed in sheep's clothing and inwardly are ravenous wolves", that is to say, those who give themselves to an outward zeal for Orthodoxy and, taking advantage of their high position in the Church, seek to destroy it from within the Church of Christ, by submitting "to princes and son of man", teaching or compromising with heresy by a false piety on behalf of mutual love and of piety or by the spirit of human domination. " 

His Grace, Bishop Ambrose (Cantacuzene) of Geneva, +2009

As our Lord Jesus Christ warned His Apostles, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16)

Please forgive my terribly poor translation of His Grace's words. My thanks to the excellent and highly recommended blog, LEXIQUE D'UN CHRETIEN ORTHODOXE ORDINAIRE: http://orthodoxe-ordinaire.blogspot.com/

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Mercy to Love

"What shall I render unto the Lord?

"I am a sorry wretch, as the Lord knows, but my pleasure is to humble my soul and love my neighbour, though he may have given me offence. At all times I beeseech the Lord Who is merciful to grant that I may love my enemies; and by the grace of God I have experienced what the love of God is, and what it is to love me neighbour; and day and night I pray the Lord for love, and the Lord gives me tears to weep for the whole world. But if I find fault with any man, or look on him with an unkind eye, my tears will dry up, and my soul sink into despondency. Yet do I begin again to entreat forgiveness of the Lord, and the Lord in His mercy forgives me, a sinner.

"Brethren, before the face of my God I write: Humble your hearts, and while yet on this earth you will see the mercy of the Lord, and know your Heavenly Creator, and your souls will never have their fill of love."

Saint Silouan the Athonite

Friday, October 21, 2011

Christians are the Soul of the World

To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake. 
The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, circa 130-200 AD, Roberts-Donaldson English Translation   

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This Tyranny of Thoughts

"Mankind... prefers evil to good. Such is the result of our fallen nature! It is easier for us to think evil than good. But when we think evil, we have no peace or rest from such thoughts. How great is our fall! It is a strange thing indeed.... We cannot seem to come to our senses, neither can we do good of our own selves. We have no idea how very much our thoughts are tyrannized by the fallen spirits. We think those are our thoughts. We are tormented by hatred, envy, and malice. Unsurpassed tyranny! Our soul does not want this, but it cannot free itself. It becomes accustomed to this tyranny from a very early age, so that it has become rooted firmly in the soul. One must strive to conquer this tyranny of thoughts! We must be transformed into love and acquire peace. It is not easy, for our fall is very great."

Excerpt from the excellent book: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010) p. 130

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Ongoing Warfare and Ultimate Battle

“Father Maxim,” I began as we walked at the center of the road, “the other day you said something that puzzled me.”

"What did I say?"

"That the Ecclesia (εκκλησία, Greek word for Church) is an arena of an ongoing battle, an ongoing warfare, spiritual warfare as you put it. This is military language."

"Why did it puzzle you?"

"I was under the impression that the Ecclesia is a harbor of peace and healing, not a battleground."

"Of course it is a harbor of peace and healing. Let me explain so that you don't get scandalized. You have to realize that the Ecclesia is available to us as a vehicle for our salvation. Such a pursuit implies a struggle against those forces that labor to block our ascent toward God."

"I assume you mean satanic forces."

"What else? We need to learn how to engage in this spiritual warfare in order to prevent such adversary forces from sabotaging our ascent toward God. This is what Apostle Paul and the other elders of the Ecclesia taught us. That we need to become experienced warriors of this relentless spiritual struggle." Father Maximos paced a few more steps and continued. "We need to become aware of the machinations and duplicitous ways of these forces so that we don't end up becoming their victims."

Father Maximos looked pensive. Then, seemingly changing the subject, he continued. "People are confused. They think that the aim of our existence is primarily to become good human beings, or to become moral, socially well-adjusted, and well-balanced personalities."

"I thought becoming good is what the Ecclesia is all about."

"No, not only that. This pietistic notion is not the essential purpose of the Ecclesia. It is a gross misconception. What the Ecclesia primarily teaches," Father Maximos said emphatically, "is the means through which a human soul may attain Christification, its saintliness, its union with God. The ultimate goal is to become perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to become one with God. Christ didn't come into the world to teach us how to become good fellows, how to behave properly, or how to live a righteous life in this world. Nor did he come to offer us a book, even if this book is called the Bible or the New Testament."

"Well?" I probed as Father Maximos stood still for a few seconds and looked upward toward the heavens, marveling at the Milky Way. With no moon and no artificial lights anywhere near, the night was perfectly crystal clear. Father Maximos remained silent for a few seconds. Then he went on.

"He came to the world to give us Himself. To show us the Way toward our salvation," he replied as we resumed our walking. "Don't you remember what Athanasios the Great said? 'God became human so that humans may become God?' "
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Excerpt from: The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality, by Kyriacos C. Markide. Published by Image (Doubleday), New York, NY, 2001 ISBN: 0-385-50092-0. Pages 116-117.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rich Traveler

Into a remote and beautiful mountain village came an unusual stranger. He was a very rich man. He was traveling alone, and, being quite tired, he wanted to find a place to stay and rest. He had the intention of rewarding the people who could give him a quiet and pleasant stay. Since he had countless riches, he wanted to give his cordial hosts a present that they had never even dreamed of.

He saw what seemed to be a beautiful house situated on a wonderful spot and decided to ask for shelter there. He knocked on the door, but when it was opened and he was invited to come in, he instinctively shrank away. An unbearably foul-smelling air reached him from inside. What was the matter? The home of these people and their pigsty were under the same roof! Without even mentioning the reason for his visit, the traveler excused himself and went back out into the yard.

He went along the clear river that was running through the village. Close by was another beautiful, newly built house which attracted his attention, and he decided to knock at its door. However, the owner of this home was a very cruel man. When he saw a stranger approaching the gates, he set his dogs on him and did not even allow him to come into his yard.

The traveler sought shelter in a third house as well. The people there invited him in very kindly, and he went inside. But after he saw that everything in the house was lying about in disorder, covered with dust and soot, and buried in waste with cobwebs, full of bedbugs and fleas, he decided that he would not be able to find the longed-for peace...

In this way the traveler went about the whole village, but he could not find a clean home where he could take his peaceful rest. He wondered how these people, who lived in such a beautiful mountain country, could abandon their houses so. A small river ran through the village. In the square and in other places in the village there were spouts and fountains. It was clear to the traveler that the filth in the village houses was not for want of clean water, but exclusively due to the neglect of the owners.

At the end of the village, exhausted from his travels, he dropped by a small house in which, as it turned out, lived a good housewife. There he was met with great cordiality and with friendly, smiling faces. The moment he entered one of the rooms, he noticed that everything was simple, clean and well ordered. The windows were bright and clean. There were no cobwebs in the corners. The boards of the floor were recently cleaned. The air in the room was fresh. It was evident that the fragrance of the nearby fields and forest was often allowed to come into this house through open windows.

The traveler sighed with relief and stayed in this home. At last he had found a quiet, pleasant place to rest. It was there that he left his magnificent gift.

Dear readers, have you asked yourselves: if our Savior were to come, He Who is bringing the greatest gift – His heavenly grace with which He makes our souls happy and saves them – and if He were to seek a shelter for Himself in our souls, where could He find a place fit for His rest? St. Macarius of Egypt says: "Just as God has created the heavens and the earth for man to inhabit, so He has created the body and soul of man to be His abode, that is why the Apostle says, 'His house we are'."

Jesus Christ, this wondrous heavenly Guest, often comes among us and wishes to enter under the roof of our soul. He appears among us through the unfathomable mystery of Holy Communion. He knocks on every door, longs to come into every home, desires to talk with every heart, wants to make every believing soul happy and to give it His heavenly gift. But how do we meet Him? Can He stay in each one of us as He would like to?

We are all more or less unworthy of the Redeemer coming from heaven. But here, He is knocking on our doors. He Himself longs to come into us, because we are created for Him and without Him we are infinitely unhappy. He is coming to bring His heavenly gift to everyone. Is there a way for us to become worthy of Him again? With great joy we must say: There is! This way is Confession! Through Confession, when it is sincere, deep, and involves disgust with oneself and a desire to start a new life, the room of the heart is thoroughly cleaned from all the waste of sin. Through Confession the demons, these deadly parasites in the heart, are chased away... the windows of the soul are opened for the fragrance and freshness of God's grace to come through them... all confused thoughts and ideas, all chaotic feelings and desires of the heart are once again put in order. At last, through Confession the soul is adorned, so that it becomes fir to accept the most marvelous guest – Jesus Christ.

ed. from, Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, The Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance, St. Xenia Skete, 1994.  pp. 11-15.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Work with Pleasure

A young man was despondent and heavy of heart that he had not seen the fruit of his prayers and ascetic labors, and so he went to speak to his spiritual father. He said to the old man, "I do not know what to do! To me nothing seems to bear fruit for God." 

The old man said, “I will help you but first you must help me.”

The young man happily accepted.

The old man took him to the narrow road behind the monastery and gave him a pair of shears. He instructed the young man, “Cut the branches back away and clear them from the path so that passers-by will not be hindered by them.”

Desiring to satisfy the old man, with joy and determination the young man took to his labor. Indeed, immediately the young man threw himself into the work. 

Much time passed by and the young man was barely one-third completed with the work. More and more he looked to the work yet to be done, but could imagine no way to finish the task before evening. Then he heard the steps of the old man and his heart started beating hard with anxiety and he felt great shame for the job could not be finish before sunset. 

The young man was greatly surprised when old man said: "Well done!"

The young man responded. "How can you say 'well done'? Do you not see that I am not even half done with the task you have assigned me?"

The old man laughed, saying, "I did not tell you to complete the task! I simply asked that you cut the branches back."

So it is in life. We need do, without measure, the work that God has assigned to us in life. With a little patience, the determination of our will, and foremost, with the love of God, we will complete our portion. Yet the final result will come only in God's time. God's work is freeing. God's work is liberating. Our labor is to fulfill his commandments in as much as we are able. And like the eating of sweets, to find satisfaction in the eating.

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My very poor English translation, with which I took great liberties, of a post in Serbian by Milan Pavlica, of Novi Sad, Serbia. Posted on “The Orthodox Church” Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/groups/102910029496/). With deepest gratitude to Sandra Sanoo Lazic for her initial translation and bringing it to my attention.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Knowledge and Practice

In a monastery close to Alexandria, there lived an elder who was very cross... A young monk, hearing about him, made a vow before God, saying: "Lord, for the expiation of all the sins which I have committed, I will go to this elder and live with him, serve him as a slave, and will endure everything patiently." And so he did. He went to the elder and settled down to live there with him. The elder treated him like a dog and sneered at him every day. After six years of living together, a dreadful angel appeared to the young monk in a dream, holding a long scroll in his hands. The angel told him that half of the sins recorded on the scroll had been erased by God and that he should take care of the rest.

Not far away from this cross elder lived another, more righteous ascetic. He could hear how the other elder mistreated the brother and how the latter asked for forgiveness, but the elder did not give it to him. When he happened to meet the young monk, the righteous elder always asked him: "How are you, child? How did the day go? Did we win something? Did we blot something out from the list?" The brother, knowing that the elder was a godly man, did not hide his secrets from him, but answered: "Yes, Father, today, we struggled a little." When he spent the day in peace, when he was not scolded, nor beaten, nor driven away, then in the evening he went crying to the godly elder and said to him through tears: "Alas, Father, today's day was fruitless: we did not gain anything; we spent the whole day in peace...."

When another six years passed, the brother passed away. Then the godly elder said that he had seen this brother standing before God among the martyrs and praying to God for his cross elder: "Lord, as you pardoned me through him, so pardon him through Your goodness' sake and for the sake of me, Your slave." When forty days passed, the brother took to himself in the place of rest his repentant elder...

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Beloved readers... we are moved to tears when we read in our warm and cozy rooms about the feats of the great and righteous ones of God. We cry tenderly when we see their patience. Our souls melt when we listen to nice sermons about them; but when in our life we meet our personal enemy or the one with whom we quarreled yesterday, we turn our back on him and cannot forgive him. Of what use is our knowledge of how we should act or of how the saints have acted in such cases if we do not do as they have done?


Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation (St. Herman Press, 1994) PP. 90, 91.