"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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mourning As The Fount of Repentance

Mourning As The Fount of Repentance
t. Gregory Palamas sees the course of man’s earthly life as a period of repentance... Spiritual mourning [than] is the basic precondition for man’s exodus from bondage to the passions and the beginning and fount of repentance. St. Gregory Palamas frequently refers to spiritual or ‘godly’ mourning as that painful, but also gladsome state, through which the believer must pass if he desires to live the true and ‘abundant’ life in Christ. For this reason, he does not hesitate to characterize the period of Great Lent as the period of mourning and spiritual struggle par excellence. For him, Lent is the symbol of the [entire] present age and the precondition for resurrection in the life of every believer...
Saint Gregory Palamas lived his life in a state of godly mourning, crying out to God, “Illumine my darkness!” He could not conceive of man’s crossing over from the life of sin to ‘true life’ without mourning and repentance. When the νος is freed from everything connected with the senses, it ascends above the tempestuous bustle for earthly things and is able to see the inner man. In this way, man becomes aware of “the odious mask” that the soul acquires from its wanderings amid earthly things, and then hastens to wash away its stain with tears of mourning. To the extent that man lays aside all earthly cares and returns to his true self, he becomes that much more receptive to divine mercy. Christ has blessed those who mourn for their sins and for the loss of their salvation caused by those sins. This, moreover, is the reason why mourning is also called ‘blessed’.

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Anestis Keselopoulos, Passions and Virtues According to Saint Gregory Palamas (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, 2004) pp. 73, 81, 83. Please order this wonderful book from St. Tikhon’s Bookstore and Press to read more! http://stspress.com/products-page/sts-press/

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Displeasure With Myself

"And certainly from you, O Lord, before whose eyes the depth of human conscience is laid bare, what in me could be hidden although I were unwilling to confess it to you? I could not then be hiding myself from you, but you from myself. But now when my groaning witnesses to my displeasure with myself you shine out on me and you are pleasing to me, loved and desired so that I am ashamed of myself and renounce myself and choose you and, except in you, can please neither you nor myself. Whatever I am, therefore, O Lord, is laid bare before you. And the benefit I derive from confessing to you, I have stated... For when I am wicked, to confess to you is to be displeased with myself; but when I am good to confess to you is not to attribute this goodness to myself: since you, O Lord, bless the just, but first you convert him from ungodliness to justice... They [mankind] are a race very curious about the lives of others, very slothful in improving their own." 

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(Augustine of Hippo, Selected Writings, Paulist Press, Confessions, Book 10:2, pp. 122-123)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On The Leavetaking of Pascha

Pascha at the Dachau Concentration Camp, 1945

by Gleb Alexandrovitch Rahr (Russian Prisoner)


Dachau, April 27, 1945: The last transport of prisoners arrives from Buchenwald. Of the 5,000 originally destined for Dachau, I was among the 1,300 who survived the trip. Many were shot, some starved to death, others died of typhus.

April 28: I and my fellow prisoners can hear the bombardment of Munich taking place. As the sound of artillery approaches ever nearer, orders are given proscribing prisoners from leaving their barracks. SS-soldiers patrol the camp on motorcycles as machine guns are directed at us from the watch-towers.

April 29: The booming sound of artillery has been joined by the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. Shells whistle over the camp from all directions. Suddenly white flags appear on the towers, a sign that the SS would surrender rather than shoot all prisoners and fight to the last man. At about 6:00 p.m., a strange sound can be detected emanating from somewhere near the camp gate which swiftly increases in volume. Finally all 32,600 prisoners join in the cry as the first American soldiers appear just behind the wire fence of the camp.

After the electric power is turned off, the gates open and the American GIs make their entrance. As they stare wide-eyed at our lot, half-starved and suffering from typhus and dysentery, they appear more like fifteen-year-old boys than battle-weary soldiers…

An international committee of prisoners is formed to take over the administration of the camp. Food from SS-stores is put at the disposal of the camp kitchen. A US military unit also contributes provisions – my first taste of American corn. By order of an American officer, radio receivers are confiscated from “prominent Nazis” in the town and distributed to the prisoners. The news comes in: Hitler has committed suicide, the Russians have taken Berlin, and German troops have surrendered in the South and in the North.
Naturally, I was ever cognizant of the fact that these momentous events were unfolding during Holy Week. But how could we mark it other than through our silent, individual prayers? A fellow prisoner and chief interpreter of the international prisoner’s committee, Boris F., paid a visit to my typhus-infested barracks, Block 27 to inform me that efforts were underway, in conjunction with the Yugoslav and Greek National Prisoner’s Committees, to arrange an Orthodox service for Easter, May 6th.

Among the prisoners there were Orthodox priests, deacons and monks from Mount Athos. But there were no vestments, no books, no icons, no candles, no prosphoras, no wine. Efforts to acquire all these items from the Russian parish in Munich failed, as the Americans could not locate anyone from that parish in the devastated city.

Nevertheless, some of the problems could be solved. The approximately 400 Catholic priests detained in Dachau had been allowed to remain together in one barrack and say mass every morning before going to work. They offered us Orthodox the use of their prayer room in Block 26. The chapel was bare, save for a wooden table and an icon of the Theotokos hanging above the table.
A creative solution to the problem of the vestments was also found. New linen towels were taken from the hospital of our former SS-guards. When sewn together lengthwise, two towels formed an epitrachilion and when sewn together at the ends they became an orarion. Red crosses, originally intended to be worn by the medical personnel of the SS-guards, were put on the towel-vestments.

On Easter Sunday, May 6, Serbs, Greeks and Russians gathered at the Catholic priests’ barrack. Although Russians comprised about 40 percent of the Dachau inmates, only a few managed to attend the service. By then “repatriation officers” of the special “Smersh” units had arrived in Dachau by American military planes, and began the process of erecting new lines of barbed wire for the purpose of isolating Soviet citizens from the rest of the prisoners – the first step in preparing them for their eventual forced repatriation.

In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945. Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon wore the make-shift vestments over their blue and gray-striped prisoners uniforms. Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, then back to Greek. The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras – everything was recited from memory. The Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word” – also from memory. The Homily of St. John Chrysostom also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live.  St. John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well!

Eighteen Orthodox priests and a deacon, most of them Serbs, participated in this unforgettable service. Like the sick man who had been lowered through the roof of a house and placed in front of the feet of Christ the Savior, the Greek Archimandrite Meletios was carried on a stretcher into the chapel, where he remained prostrate throughout the service.

The priests who participated in the 1945 Dachau Easter service are commemorated at every Divine Service held in the Dachau Russian Orthodox Memorial Chapel, along with all Orthodox Christians who lost their lives “at this place, or at another place of torture.”

Within the Dachau Resurrection Chapel is a large icon depicting angels opening the gates of the Dachau concentration camp and Christ Himself leading the prisoners to freedom.

Should you ever come to Germany, be sure to visit our Russian chapel at Dachau and pray for all those who died “at this place, or at another place of torture.”

Христос воскрес! Воистину воскрес! 

Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ανέστη! 

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

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IN COMMUNION, published by The Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Pascha, Spring 2011, Issue 60.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Justic of God

Justice is an important issue, most specifically among politicians seeking reelection, and to mankind in general as well. And yet, when we speak of justice it is most typically concerning the other person... not ourselves. Somehow we human beings typically fail to see our own culpability concerning the demands of justice. As is often said, “Everyone wants to go to heaven... just not right now!”
According to John Rawls, the late American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy, "Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought." The Church, however, and contrary to the thinking of many, is decidedly not simply a social institution. The Church is a gathering, a coming together, of a people who live, ostensibly at least, by an unearthly or supra-earthly code. Not a list of codes or Commandments do Christians live by, but by something much more demanding, somewhat confusing, and summed up in the words of Jesus Christ when He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
We ought always look to the Saints of the Church as living examples of Christianity. And so, I quote here from Saint Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony.
“The Staretz himself always spoke only of God’s love, never of His Justice, but I purposely got him to talk about this, and here approximately is what he said:
“‘One cannot say that God is unjust – that there is injustice in Him – but neither can one say that He is just in our sense of the word. St. Isaac of Syria wrote, 'Do not presume to call God just, for what sort of justice is this – we sinned, yet He gave up Hid only-begotten Son on the cross.' To which we could add, we sinned, yet God appointed His holy angels to minister unto our salvation. But the angels, filled with love as they are, themselves desired to wait upon us and thereby accept affliction in our service. And the Lord surrendered the animals and the rest of the created world to the law of corruption because it was not proper for them to remain immune when man, for whose sake they were created, through his own sin became a slave to corruption. So, willingly or unwillingly, 'the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,' in compassion for man. And this is not the law of justice – it is the law of love.’
“Christ-like love, as Divine Strength, as the gift of the One Holy Spirit, working all and in all, makes all men ontologically one. Love takes to itself the life of the loved one. He who loves God is drawn into the life of the Godhead. He who loves his brother encloses in his own hypostatic being the life of his brother. The one who loves the whole world, in spirit will embrace the whole world.”
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(from Saint Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony, Monastery of St. John the Baptist: Essex, 1991, p. 122-123)

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Lord, Bless My Enemies"

"Lord, Bless My Enemies"
A Prayer of St. Nikolai of Ochrid

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life,they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

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 Saint Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, LXXV (Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the USA and Canada; Grayslake) pp. 142-44.