The limits of human reason and the knowledge of God
There is the seen, and there is the unseen, the material and the immaterial. That which is material can be scientifically examined and experienced, the immaterial can only be seen and experienced spiritually. These are two worlds that are only seemingly at odds with one another. If you attempt to examine that which is of a spiritual nature using a science that is by its very nature meant to explore the material realm, you will fail.
The things that are of God are far beyond the capabilities of our finite mind to comprehend. The divine can only be known through the nous, that place in the heart that is our true center. It, unlike the brain, is capable of knowledge that is beyond human comprehension, coming as it does from noetic knowledge.
When we try to apply words to the noetic form, we fail. We can no more explain God than we can explain quantum physics, since both are unseen. God is outside the realm of human intellectual understanding. The Eastern Church approaches things of God as holy mysteries, since God can only be known in His divine energies, not in His essence. If a scientist can believe in quantum physics, the unseen, why can he not believe in God Whom he has not seen? If we can believe in the concept of infinity, something that goes on and on without end, why can we not believe in God?
The science of the soul is noetic and can be examined and experienced only through the activation of the nous. The nous in Orthodox Christian theology is the “eye of the heart or soul”, the mind of the heart. God created us with the nous because the human intellect is not capable of knowing Him without it. The intellect alone can not know God, for human reasoning is limited to the things that are of a material nature. God is unknowable without His divine revelation, and only the nous can perceive this knowledge. God’s essence remains inaccessible without noetic knowledge. Science has it’s place, but only the heart can know God.
Quantum physics, while mysterious, is still part of the created material realm, and is fairly explainable now. The real difference isn’t between seen and unseen, but at its root, created and uncreated. It was the uncreated energies of God that Moses saw in the burning bush, or that the Apostles experienced in the transfiguration. A scientist will understand the properties of light (photons), but will have no clue about the uncreated light, which heals, deifies and casts no shadow. Fr. George Calciu of blessed memory experienced this light in the midst of the worst Romanian prisons, and the result is another effect that science cannot explain: incorruption of body after death.
Love in Christ,
The holiest place is where you are
"Twenty-nine years ago I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountains of Athos, where I was able to visit seven ancient monasteries. Upon my return to the United States, I asked my spiritual father, the Ever-Memorable Archimandrite Dimirti, for a blessing to return to Mt. Athos, where I said I would like to spend the remainder of my life in monastic repentance. Father Dimitri told me that I must stay here, that my 'salvation is on Vashon Island".
At the time I thought it rather peculiar that Father Dimitry had not quickly granted his blessing, for what better place to live as a monk, than the Holy Mountain? A monastic republic of such great historical and spiritual significance to the whole of the Orthodox world, and Father Dimitry thought I should remain on Vashon Island? As well, we didn't even own the old farm house we were renting. We had no money, no regular income, and neither of us was a priest, so we were required to leave the island for various parishes when we wanted to attend the Divine Liturgy. Yet, I also knew the importance of monastic obedience to one's spiritual father. I knew that Archimandrite Dimitri was known as a living saint, and clairvoyant (one blessed with great spiritual gifts of discernment and prophecy). So by God's grace, I received this word from my Elder as a clear sign from God, and I was obedient, and remained on Vashon Island.
Years later, I remember asking Abbess Susanna, my spiritual sister, and a woman known by all as a living saint herself, if she might not be tempted to sell their property, and find a more suitable and beautiful setting for the Kazan Skete. Mother looked at me with her sweet and humble smile, and said "But, Father, this is my holy mountain."
Abbess Susanna's words reminded me of the words of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, where he wrote in his great work "On Pilgrimage", the following" "We confess that the Christ Who was manifested is very God, as much before as after our travel to Jerusalem; our faith in God was not increased afterwards any more than it was diminished. Before we saw Bethlehem we knew God made man by means of the Virgin, before we saw His grave we believed in His Resurrection from the dead; apart from seeing the Mount of Olives, we confessed that His Ascension into heaven was real. We derived only this much profit from our travelling there: namely that we came to know by being able to compare them, that our own places are far holier than those abroad. Wherefore, you who fear the Lord, praise Him in the places there."
As members of the Body of Christ, we must resist speaking against other members of the Church. If we judge each other it is because Satan wishes to divide us. The best defense against the Evil One is to stand united in prayer with one another. We must not give in to the temptation of judge anyone, but rather pray for those who may disappoint or hurt us. To do anything less is to fall short of the Glory of God. We must all stand strong against the temptations that would divide us. It is Christ Who sustains us and in turn we need to sustain one another. It is Christ who unites us, and the devil who divides us. This truth must be forefront in our thinking if we are to gain victory in spiritual warfare.
Love in Christ,
Those of us who observe the Julian Calendar are now about to complete the Nativity Fast, where we have abstained from meat, eggs, dairy products, anger, envy and other habits, for the sake of promoting the discipline the soul. We are now joining hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians around the world, in celebrating the Birth of Our Saviour.
We Orthodox Christians on the Julian Calendar will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God on Earth. And this celebration of the Nativity of Christ will mark the spiritual upheaval of the universe, for this solemn day marks the embodiment of God on Earth, and the day God became flesh in Jesus, and, potentially, in all creatures.
The celebration of the Nativity of Christ is as important for our salvation as Pascha, for the compassion revealed in the Nativity is but a precursor to the gift this compassionate God incarnate has for us. That which began with the incarnation of God taking on our flesh in order to unite Himself to His creation, will culminate with the bodily resurrection. The Nativity provides all of us with the possibility of divine redemption, for it is in the Holy Nativity that God reveals His love for us, in His great condescension to become like us.
This celebration of the birth of Jesus is not about the commemoration of a helpless baby given birth in a stable, nor is this about a sort of magic baby discovered by the Wise Men. The birth of Christ is not about a Jesus who died on the cross to “atone” for the sins of all humanity, as a sacrifice to pacify an angry God. The celebration of the Nativity of Christ is not about the concept of original sin, that all humans are born inherently corrupt. The Nativity is about the essential goodness of humans, who have been created in the image and likeness of our Creator.
The messages of both the Nativity and the crucifixion is that we are most human, most like God, when we respond to the suffering of others. Our Orthodox theology about the Nativity, is about the “co-suffering love of God.” The Nativity of Christ is about the God who created the world becoming incarnate, while the foundations of the Earth are shaken. The Nativity of Christ is about Theosis, whereby we are deified, and by His grace, share in His Divinity, just as He has joined Himself with our humanity.
With love in the Incarnate Christ,
The meaning of salvation in the Ancient Church
According to Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Dean of the Athens University School of Theology, “For we Orthodox the unique and absolute goal of life in Christ is theosis, our union with God, so that man – through his participation in God’s uncreated energy – may become “by the Grace of God” that which God is by nature (without beginning and without end). This is what “salvation” means, in Christianity.”
As Christians we know that salvation is an ongoing process that, as believers, we are called to cooperate in. We are instructed to “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The Apostle Paul made clear the necessity of human cooperation when he told us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:1–13)”.
Our salvation is a process by which we become more and more like Christ. Our faith is a free gift from God, not dependent upon anything we can do, but this life long process of salvation requires that we cooperate with God’s grace, that we might be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and made holy. If we are to spend eternity with God, transformation must take place.
The sole purpose of the Church is the salvation of every human person, whereby we are united to Christ, and transformed by Him in all holiness, and prepared for eternal life. Through the Church we hear the Good News, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and that he rose from the dead, and because of this we have eternal life. This work of salvation is a gradual, life-long process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. Our salvation begins the moment we commit ourselves to Christ, and within the abounding grace of the Holy Spirit, we are ever drawn closer in communion with God.
Theosis goes far beyond the simple restoration of people to their state before the Fall. Because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for us to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.
With love in Christ,
Unbelief: The Ultimate Sickness
Humankind’s ultimate sickness, is that of unbelief. This world is the place of preparation for our life in eternity, the place where we are prepared for the Kingdom that is to come. Within this world, Our Lord Jesus Christ established a hospital in which the medicine for the cure of our sickness is available, and this hospital of the soul is none other than the Church.
This world does not provide the medicine for that which ails us, for the only medicine that can heal us, is Christ Himself. If we are unwilling to receive this medicine, we will never be healed, and will never know the joys of the eternal Kingdom that awaits us. This illness that awaits a cure is unbelief, and this unbelief is based on our failure to avail ourselves to the medicine that is abundantly available within the life of the Church.
Belief comes as a free gift from a God Who “so love us that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, will have eternal life (John 3:16)”. All we need to do is cooperate with God’s grace, and unbelief will disappear.
When we receive the Word of God into our heart, we, like the Apostle Thomas, will have touched His wounds, and will know the Lord, personally. When we confess our sins, and receive Christ into our life, we will have thrust our hand into His side, and we will believe. Unbelief, at this very moment in time, will have no place to reside in our heart, and like the Apostle Thomas, we will know the peace that comes with a life in Christ.
Love in Christ,
There is a common misconception concerning the word “mercy”, used throughout the liturgical services of the Church, as well as our private prayers, and the Jesus Prayer. It is a given that we are all sinners, but the asking for God’s mercy is not limited to asking His forgiveness, or begging God to overlook our sinfulness. When we pray forty Lord have mercies, we are recognizing that EVERYTHING proceeds out of God’s mercy. The air we breath, the health we enjoy, the food on our table, the water in our tap, the friendships we treasure, our family, and everything good, flows out upon us through God’s mercy.
With love in Christ,
The Saints are Alive in Christ
Vigil lights are placed before the icons of the saints, according to Saint Symeon the New Theologian, as a way of showing that without the Light, Who is Christ, the saints are nothing. It is only as the light of Christ shines on them that they become alive and resplendent.
The saints show us what a glorious destiny we have in God, and through the example of their lives, point the way to our becoming “partakers of divine nature.” The saints, as the cloud of witnesses in heaven, are present in the divine services, worshiping the Holy Trinity with us. They, as our friends, intercede before the Throne of God on our behalf, having won the good fight, and we are encouraged by the memory and example of their lives, as we struggle on our own path to God.
It has been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: sinners who think they are saints, and saints who know they are sinners. A saint is a Christian who lets God’s light shine through, and who’s life has been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We venerate the Saints as we seek their intercession with God, but we adore and worship only God in Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We venerate the Images (Icons) as well as the relics of the saints and martyrs. Yet according to the decisions and Canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, this veneration relates not to the icons as such, but to their prototypes, or to the persons whom they represent.
The interior walls of our temples are adorned with the icons and frescoes of the saints as a reminder that we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, the saints, and that the Church Militant (here on earth) is not separated from the Church Triumphant (in heaven). In Christ, death does not divide us, for the saints are not dead, but alive in Christ Jesus.
Glory to Jesus Christ, Who is glorified in His saints.
With love in Christ,
Sobornost is a word that means spiritual harmony based on freedom and unity in love. It is a necessary component in our membership within the Body of Christ, for if we are not bound together in love, our freedom becomes our enemy, separating us from others, and, ultimately from Christ Himself. This concept was so important to the early Christians as to have been the basis for the agape meal, when Christians would share their food with one another, following the celebration of the Eucharistic banquet.
That the pre-communion fast would be broken, following the Divine Liturgy, with a communal meal (the love feast), clearly demonstrates the importance of community within the life of the Church. The sobornost is the divine-human oneness we experience as members of the One Body, the Church, and is the moment when we who are many, become one. It is the image of the unity of the Holy Trinity, finding it’s expression among the believers.
Sobornost is not the same as fraternity, a submission to a brotherhood for mutual benefit to the individual. Rather, Sobornost is akin to kenosis (the relinquishment of divine attributes by Jesus Christ in becoming human). Sobornost is when the individual gives up self-benefit for the community or ecclesia.
We can not truly be one in Christ if we do not seek out oneness with our fellow Christians. Nor can we be one with Christ if we routinely reject sobornost for those “heights of spirituality” that make us so conscious of self, while separating ourselves from our neighbor.
With love in Christ,
Sunday June 12
Conquered by the Mercy of God
Excerpts from a talk given by Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov
Repentance is the essential activity of the
In what lies the essence of repentance? In standing daily and nightly, as is customary to angels and the slaves of God, before the invisible Face of our Savior, always aware of our infirmity, weakness, and unworthiness; to confess our depravity, along wit wholly trusting in the omnipotence, goodness, and mercy of the Creator. He is holy, and we are sinful. He is the sun of truth in which there is not even a single dark spot, and we are a clot of darkness: conceit, self-love, self-will. However, in this darkness there shines a light, and the darkness cannot conceal it. The light is Divine Grace, the spark gifted to us in Baptism. And that the light may conquer the darkness, that truth may supplant falsehood, that goodness may conquer evil within us, but we must strain with every fiber of our soul and every cell of our body, striving towards the Creator with repentance - as a flower stretches towards the source of earthly light. In this way, by repentance is meant not only that minute when, entering under the vaults of an Orthodox Church, we await our turn, we rise before the Cross and Gospel, and the priest, vested in cuffs and epitrachelion, having read the relevant prayers, as a doctor exhorts us to reveal that which is done in darkness; so that by the invisible touch of His healing right hand the Risen Jesus Christ, here standing, will touch the inflamed bleeding wound of the heart and in the blink of an eye in answer to this acknowledgement, this confession of evil thoughts, impure feelings ,and actions, incompatible with the dignity of a Christian,. we would be forgiven, cleansed, sanctified, gifted a Divine impetus, so that the spark of the Holy Spirit, communicated to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, wold evolve into a flame of faith, hope and love.
I repeat; not only in the minute of confession of sins and receiving of forgiveness are we called to carry out the commandment of Christ : repent ye, and and believe the Gospel; but before and after the Confession the Christian is called to abide in repentance. Repentance in the air that pervades the soul; it is the light that allows us to see the path before us. Repentance is the aspiration to refrain from your confessed sins. It is a battle with sinister desires and passions that are no-nos, and which raise us to see the path before us. Repentance is the desire to oppose those corrupt habits, with which we wrestle today by benevolent deeds, so that yesterday's satiety becomes today's abstinence; the day before yesterday's lie gives way to words of truth and verity; fear and lack of faith, doubts and cowardice are lost in oblivion, replaced by shoots of courage, determination, vigor, and the life-giving energy of patience, whithout which, as without difficulty, we can't reel a fish in from the pond.
Translated from https://www.pravoslavie.ru
Sunday May 15
When Communion with God is Restored
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a dramatically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: "Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you, for this is my Blood of the New Covenant." (Matthew 26:26-28). Food had always sustained the earthly existence of everyone, but in the Eucharist the Lord gave us a distinctively unique human food - bread and wine - that by the power of the Holy Spirit has become our gifts of life.God enters into such a communion life that He feeds humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. In the words of St. Maximos the Confessor, Christ "transmits to us divine life, making Himself eatable." The Author of life shatters the limitations of our createdness. Christ acts so that "we might become sharers of divine nature"(2 Peter 1:4)
From the moment Christ instituted this Mystery, the Eucharist became the center of the Church's life, and her most profound prayer. The Eucharist is both the source and the summit of our life in Christ. It is the Eucharist that the Church is changed from a mere human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God. The Eucharist is the pre-eminent sacrament, as it completes all the others and recapitulates the entire economy of salvation. Through the Eucharist our new life in Christ is renewed and increased. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the life of God.
The Church is that place where heaven and earth are united, and where we can live as we were meant to be, as before the Fall. The Church's Divine Liturgy is that place where the disunity that came with the Fall is put aside, and communion with God is restored to the Garden of Eden. and God and man walk together. The Divine Liturgy unites us to the Heavenly Banquet which is taking place before the Throne of God.
The Divine Liturgy transcends time, and space, uniting believers in the worship of the Kingdom of God along with all the heavenly hosts, the saints, and the celestial angels. To this end, everything in the Liturgy is seen as symbolic, yet also not just merely symbolic, but making the unseen reality manifest in our midst.
We do not attend the Divine Liturgy, but participate in the Divine Liturgy, for in communing with God, we receive the Bread of Life. The Liturgy lifts us up above the disordered and dysfunctional world, and we are placed on the path to restoration and wholeness, healed by the self-emptying love of Christ, and communion with God is restored
With love in Christ,
May 8 2016
At the time of our baptism the Church gives us the gift of a new birth from above, and welcomes us into the Body of Christ, which is the Church Herself. It is our membership in Christ’s Church that gradually strengthens us as we progress in purity, receiving the fulness of the Grace we first received in Baptism. Immediately following our Baptism we are anointed with Holy Chrism, and receive the indwelling of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which consolidates the new life we have received in our Baptism. From this our life develops those hidden talents all of us received at the moment of our birth. And with the Baptism, God appoints us a guardian angel, who will be responsible for us throughout our lifetime and after our departure from this life.
From this moment on Our Saviour clothes Himself with us and clothes us with Him. Christ, is the new Man, and the very image and likeness of God. Our human spiritual being is merged with this Christ, and Christ becomes our Spirit. This leads to the healing of our nature, and our renewal as children of the Most High. As Saint Maximus the Confessors says, “The nature of virtue in each of us is the unique Logos of God, because the nature of all virtues is Jesus Christ”. From the moment of our Baptism Christ enters the deepest Sanctuary of our being, and will remain hidden. As we progress in virtue Christ becomes more and more evident within us, and causes us to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and others will know we “are Christians by our love”.
With love in Christ,
April 17 2016
The All Pure One
The Orthodox Church teaches, as did the early Church, that the Holy Virgin Mary was sinless, not because she was born without sin, as in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, but because Mary chose not to sin. While we acknowledge Protestants have always under-valued Mary because of their zeal in separating themselves from all things Roman, we Orthodox have maintained the ancient teachings concerning her sinless state.
It is good to keep in mind that what is clear to some, may not be clear to others. The Bible ALWAYS has to be interpreted according to the Mind and Memory of the Church. Although Saint Paul told us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)”, the word “all” throughout the Bible often means “some”. It is a general rule that everyone has sinned, but sometimes “all” means almost everyone, and sometimes “many” means everyone, like the words “shed for you and for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).” In the latter case, “many” means “for all”. Like all rules of grammar, there are exceptions.
Everyone born of father and mother is born suffering the effects of the ancestral sin brought about by the disobedience of our first parents. These include pain, sickness, an inclination toward evil rather than good, and of course, death. No one is born guilty of any actual, personal sins. We are born sinless in this sense, but still suffering the effects of the sin of Adam. However, “all have sinned” cannot include our Lord Jesus Christ. It apparently didn’t include Enoch either, whom the Bible says was righteous and was therefore assumed up into heaven.
With the Bible, we don’t know the truth unless we know the Mind of the Church. In Timothy we read that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. The Holy Apostle Peter tells us that “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation II Peter 1:20”). The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth, and only the Church can interpret the Holy Scriptures. Never did Jesus say, “take, read, this is my book”.
Ultimately, it is always the Mind of the Church that we must reference for all teachings, including that which is taught and believed regarding the Holy Virgin. The Western teaching that the Holy Virgin was born without sin was not accepted by any Christians until the Papal church adopted this doctrine in the ninth century.
From an Orthodox view, this teaching completely negates the Virgin Mary’s virtue, for how could she have represented all of humanity, as the new Eve, had she not been born like the rest of us? It was her purity and virtue that made her the candidate to become the Theotokos (God Bearer). She was chosen to became the living tabernacle of the Logos because of her holiness and her purity. She freely chose to be obedient to the Will of God, whereas the first Eve had chosen disobedience.
With love in Christ,
April 10 2016
The God Who Educates
The God of Christianity does not punish, He educates.
One of the primary differences between Islam and Christianity has to do with the basic view of the nature of God. Islam teaches total surrender to a god who demands submission. There is no invitation to enter into a relationship, freely, nor is there room for an individual to choose, or not choose to love his Creator, for the god of the Muslims is far above his creation, and there is no real possibility to have a personal relationship with this god.
By contrast, the God of Christianity is one Who invites us into a relationship that is personal, and like all relationships based on love, we are free to choose, or not, to commune with a God Who is, by His very nature, in relationship. The God worshiped in Trinity, and this image of the Trinity is the basis of the image of the Church, one of mutual love. The God we worship in Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is One God, and our response to the invitation from this One God, is to enter into communion with our nous, soul, and body (our own triune nature).
There is no force behind this invitation, for we are free to choose, or not, just as any relationship based on love requires both parties to be free to choose, or not. Our obedience is a religious act that must be free, and it must be based on love.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught using parables, precisely because he was inviting us to freely choose to follow him, and to keep the commandments. He showed us the way to eternal life, not by giving commands as the Son of God, but as a loving teacher Whose wisdom was imparted in a way that left the choice up to us. His Apostle Peter demonstrated this same style of teaching when he told his fellow disciples that he was going fishing. Peter didn’t say they were going fishing, but only that he was going fishing, thus leaving his friends with a choice. They were free to go fishing, or not.
Muhammad, by contrast, gave his followers specific laws that must be followed, including total submission to god, and should they ever renounce Islam, they would face a penalty of death. This lack of freedom in the teachings of Muhammad has its roots in his failure to teach about the notion of person.
In Christ we have the image of the Pantocrator, a fresco that is traditionally the primary focus in the dome of an Orthodox temple. The Pantocrator is He Who holds all things in His hands, through His love and forbearance. This God of Christianity does not punish, He educates, just as Christ educated his disciples through the use of parables.
With love in Christ,
April 3 2016
The main reason Christianity spread so rapidly following the Resurrection of Christ, was the power behind the resurrection. The truth of Christ’s resurrection empowered believers to joyfully embrace martyrdom, knowing that they would be joined in eternal bliss with their resurrected Saviour. Although their martyrdom would involve both mental and physical anguish, they were almost joyful in their willingness to go to their deaths, rather than betray their faith. Not the kind of thing one would do just to be part of some “religion”. Many contemporaries observed that these Christians were facing their martyr’s death as though they were about to be married. They were not grim faced, but shown a certain light in their countenance, embracing, as they did, their crown of martyrdom.
When Saint Polycarp was sentenced by the proconsul, he responded by asking why they were delaying his death by burning. These believers were rejoicing as they faced their immanent death, for their knowledge of the bodily resurrection of Christ, was proof enough to have giving them an invincible courage as they faced certain death. Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara were said to have been singing hymns, after having been thrown into the well, by the Bolsheviks, as the prepared for eternal life with Christ.
Early Christian apologists cited hundreds of eyewitnesses, many of whom willfully and resolutely endured prolonged torture and death rather than repudiate their testimony. Their willingness to suffer death, ruled out deception on their part. According to the historical record most Christians could have ended their suffering simply by renouncing the faith. Instead, most opted to endure the suffering and proclaim Christ’s resurrection unto death.
What makes the earliest Christian martyrs remarkable is that they knew whether or not what they were professing was true. They either saw Jesus Christ alive-and-well after His death or they did not. If it was all just a lie, why would so many Christians perpetuate a myth, given their circumstances? Why would they all knowingly cling to such an unprofitable lie in the face of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death?
Immediately following Christ’s crucifixion, His followers hid in fear for their lives. Yet following Christ’s resurrection they boldly proclaimed the resurrection despite intensifying persecution. Only a true resurrection could have accounted for a sudden change that would lead believers to give up everything, including their lives, to preach Christ’s resurrection.
One skeptic, Paul, was of his own admission a violent persecutor of the early Church. Yet after an encounter with the resurrected Christ, Paul underwent an immediate and drastic change from a vicious persecutor of the Church to one of its most prolific and selfless defenders. Following his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul suffered impoverishment, persecution, imprisonment, beatings, and finally execution for his steadfast commitment to Christ’s resurrection.
The sorrow we Christians experience during our lenten journey, is tempered with the knowledge that Christ is conquering death by His death, and that His resurrection is our resurrection. We look to the future with the same faith of the saints and martyrs that have gone on before us, and we’ve experienced the truth of Jesus Christ’s teachings, for our hearts of been transformed by the power of His message. Our sins have been forgiven, and we are guests at the Eucharistic banquet, awaiting our time when the gates of paradise will be opened to us. We fear nothing, just like the martyrs, because we know the truth of the Holy Resurrection of Christ our God.
March 27 2016
The Lord’s prayer is truly wonderful beyond description. It lifts us up to “our Father Which art in Heaven.” It calls us to become perfect living temples in which the name of the Lord is hallowed. It encourages us to be angelic in obedience to His will. It instructs us to seek nourishment in His word and through His divine mysteries. It exhorts us to become exemplars of forgiveness, humility, and trust in God. And when the last petition about seeking deliverance from the evil one has been made, we on earth glorify “our Father Which art in Heaven” even as do the angels on high, saying “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.”
This short epilogue to the Lord’s prayer is reminiscent of King David’s words as he offered treasures unto God, saying “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all (1 Chronicles 29:11). The treasure we have just offered, however, consists not of earthly jewels, but of the fundamental virtues that grace the Christian who has prayed this prayer: an inclination to obedience, forgiveness, and humility. “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory” teaches us to conclude every prayer with thanksgiving and praise to God. It is not only a doxology. It is also a confession of faith that though we be weak vessels of clay, nevertheless, we are also under a powerful and glorious King (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Matthew). Saint Augustine notes that when “in heaven the angels praise God, they see the very form of truth, without any darkness of vision, without any admixture of unreality: they see, love, praise, and do not become weary” (On Psalm 57). “Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory” is thus a confession of the very truth of reality that brightens our vision with angelic clarity and illumines our hearts with the light of heaven.
And so we exclaim, “Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory.” And what we confess with our lips, we are also to manifest with our way of life (Saint John Chrysostom, On Psalm 212, PG 55.299): living as befits citizens of God’s kingdom, trusting in His measureless power and being in awe of His radiant glory. When said humbly from the heart, this praise of God can bring down God’s mercy like the dew of Hermon, protecting us even as the three children were not only protected from the flame in the midst of a fiery furnace, but were also accounted worthy of beholding the Son of man (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on Holy Week, PG 55.522).
The Kingdom, the power, and the glory all bespeak God’s purifying, illumining, and deifying grace that can completely transform the children of Adam into children of light. They are His, indeed. But we also knows that He desires that they be ours. For from Christ’s own lips, we hear about the “kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). From Him, we know that “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke12:32). And so in Liturgy, after the people say the petitions of the “Lord’s prayer,” the priest responds by taking us where that prayer ultimately leads us: the Kingdom, Glory, and Power of the Triune God. And so in its Liturgical form, this prayer of all prayers closes, or rather opens up even further, with words from the highest heaven “For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” Amen
In Andrew A. Lubusko’s 2006 dissertation on self-control and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, he notes that fatigue, emotional stress, and cognitive overload are primary factors in self-control failure. When we are tired, we become less aware of ourselves and what we are doing. When we are anxious, we are too worried about the future to be concerned with controlling ourselves in the present. When we are depressed, we are often so wrapped up in our past failures that present goals, such as self-control, seem pointless. And when we are thinking about solving this issue or that, how can we have mental energy left over to solve the problem of ourselves in the present moment. Clearly, being tired, upset, and distracted are psychological states that make continued self-control in the face of temptations difficult and perhaps in the long run impossible. And in contemporary life, such conditions are almost our default state, an unavoidable part of the fabric of human life. So what are we to do when we desire self-control, but find ourselves too tired, too anxious, too depressed, or too overwhelmed to control anything, much less ourselves?
Common sense tells us to get rested, calm down, and set aside our cares. Easier said then done. And clearly just spoiling ourselves with food, drink, and other forms of pleasure is not the answer, for these external fixes to inner problems can only compound our difficulties. In fact, for the impulsive person such diversionary activity can be dangerous and destructive, eventually providing even more reasons for being anxious, depressed, and tired, making impulsivity that much more likely. In the end, our diversions into various pleasures only serve to mask the fatigue, emotional stress, and cognitive overload of the moment. We become desensitized to our real inner condition and thus unaware of how much we harm ourselves. Without the capacity to experience physical pain provided by our nervous system, we would find ourselves crippled or dead in short order. The same is true for our sensitivity to our inner world and soul.
While physical fatigue may be alleviated by a good night sleep, even that sleep flees from us in face of anxiety, depression, and the stress of a thousand problems waiting for resolution. Behaviorists will rightly point out that diet, proper exercise, and recreation can help us get more balanced, but unless we deal with the inner causes of our condition, we will never really be free, nor able to positively influence our condition. What, then, can we do?
In an excerpt from A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos recalls his conversation with a hermit on Mount Athos concerning the salutary benefits of the Jesus prayer, “We do not try to guide the nous (noetic faculty) to absolute nothingness through the Jesus prayer, but to turn it to the heart and bring the grace of God into the soul, from where it will spread to the body also.” In another passage, he relates the benefit of the Jesus prayer in the midst of exhaustion, “Half an hour of the Jesus prayer is worth as much as three hours of deep sleep. The Jesus prayer, once it has reached a certain level, rests and calms us. So, even from this point of view, it is an invigorating physiological remedy.” We may be too tired to read prayers or read Scripture, but we often have the strength still to call out, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” again and again. And doing so, Christ comes to us, calms us, and refreshes us. We receive strength from His strength. And behold, we who are weak go “from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7). And when we rest, our rest is that much deeper, because it is in Him.
In his book On Prayer, Saint Paisios the Athonite reminds us, “We should constantly and unceasingly repeat the Jesus prayer. Only the name of Christ must remain inside our heart and mind; when we neglect our prayer, that is our communication with God, the devil finds the chance to confuse us with negative thoughts. Thus, we end up not knowing what we want, do, or say. The soul must be constantly ready and alert and always in contact with the spiritual headquarters, that is, God. Only then, it will feel secure, full of hope and joy. When I was in the army, during the war, I was a radio operator. I noticed that we felt secure only when we communicated with the Army Division on an hourly basis. When our communication was limited to every two hours, we felt a little bit insecure; sometimes, when we could only be in touch with them twice a day, we felt uncomfortable, lonely and lost. The same thing applies to our prayer. The more we pray, the more secure we feel, on a spiritual basis, of course. When someone is involved in manual labor, it helps him a lot to say the Jesus prayer and at the same time perform his task. When someone is doing work that needs concentration, i.e. he is driving a car, or he is operating on a patient, he should also say the Jesus prayer so God can help him and enlighten him; however, he should pray with his heart, and use his mind to concentrate on his work and thus avoid doing any mistakes. The more the mind concentrates on praying, and is being humbled, the more it is enlightened by the grace of God. However, the more it gets dispersed and confused due to its haughtiness, the more it becomes troubled; therefore our mind, which is clean by nature, fills up with dirty thoughts.”
There is a way out of the morass of fatigue, emotional stress, and cognitive overload. And that Way is the Truth and the Life. We are offered something so much greater than not being tired, not being depressed, not being anxious, and not being overwhelmed. We are offered the fullness of life, the possibility of holiness, and the peace of God. We are offered Christ Himself. His yoke is sweetness and light. The moment we turn to Christ, our lives change. Our external circumstances may remain the same, but we have changed by virtue of the One Who abides in our hearts, Who carries our burdens, and Who gives us rest. Then doing the right thing in the face of temptation becomes easier, because we have Him to guide us in His peace, joy, and ineffable care for all of us.
Mar 13 2016
Arch-pastoral Message of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon for Great Lent 2016
"Come, O People, and today let us accept the grace of the Fast as a gift from God!" -Matins of the First Week of Great Lent
To the Very Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America: Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three "pillars" of our spiritual lives are inseparable. They stand at the hear of everything we, as the People of God, attempt to accomplish for the sake of our all merciful Savior in Church, in our homes, and n our places of study and work. So central are these three ascetic practices that Christ challenges us, in the Sermon on the Mount, to approach them not as the Pharisees, who sought the praise of others, but in silence and humility and with vigilance.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ makes it clear that prayer, fasting ,and almsgiving are not "optional". He did not say "If you give alms." Rather, He said "When you fast... When you give alms." He assumes that those who desire to follow Him will do these things, not by "choice" but by conviction - and as a means of personal conversion. How often have we been remiss, failing in our daily lives to pray, fast, or give to those in genuine need, seeking to excuse ourselves due to a lack of time or resources? And how often have we forgotten that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not limited to penitential seasons, such as that which we are about to begin, but are central in our lives and witness every day, 365 days of the year?
During Great Lent, we are called to "come to our senses," even as the Prodigal Son recognized the error of his ways and sought his father's forgiveness. We are challenged to flee from the pride of the pharisee and embrace the Publican's tears. We are urged to make an essential change in the quality and pace of our otherwise hectic lives while turning our attention to those matters tat are "needful" in working out our salvation. And, as we are afforded, yet one more opportunity to return to our heavenly Father and seek His unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, "re-positioning" Him at the very center of our lives, second to none. Enrolling as we are in the "School of Repentance," we pray, fast, and give alms as a means of grasping anew the need to prepare for the great and glorious Pascha which, in turn, offers us a foretaste of the Kingdom, yet to be fully revealed, but already fully present in our midst in the life of the Body and Bride of Christ, the Church.
May our Lenten offorts not be seen as a burden - our Lord takes on our burdens and lightens our yokes - bu as an opportunity to "come to our senses" by imitating the One Who Himself prayed, fasted, and gave alms - or rather, gave His very life - for us. Certainly, we cannot do less during the impending season of "bright sadness" as we embrace "the Light never overcome by darkness" Who leads us "from death to life, from Earth to Heaven." May all that we do and experience during this most holy time of preparation serve to glorify Him, that through us "God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ" [1 Peter 4:11]
Humbly asking your forgiveness and assuring you of my prayers for your Lenten journey, I remain with love in Christ,
+ Tikhon -Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Feb 28 2016
The more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.
Elder, why do people grumble and how can it be avoided?
Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise).
Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. When someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.
Sometimes the devil deceives us and makes us unable to be pleased with anything; however, one can celebrate all things in a spiritual manner, with doxology, and secure God’s constant blessing. Look here, I know someone on Mount Athos who, if it’s raining and you tell him, “It’s raining again,” he will start saying, “Yes, it’s always raining; we are going to rot from all the humidity.” And, if after only a little while the rain stops and you tell him, “Well, it didn’t rain too much after all,” he’ll say, “Yes, but what kind of rain was that? Everything will dry out…” You can’t say that he’s crazy; it’s just that he’s grown accustomed to grumbling. It’s strange to see a rational man thinking irrationally!
Grumbling carries a curse. It’s as if someone is cursing himself, and then the wrath of God comes upon him. I knew two farmers is Epirus. One of them was a family man who had a couple of small fields and who entrusted everything to God. He worked as much as he could, without anxiety. He would say, “I’ll do as much as I can manage.”
Occasionally, some of the hay bales would spoil in the rain because he didn’t gather them in time, while other bales were scattered by the wind. And yet for all things he would say, “Glory to You, O God!” and everything went well for him. The other farmer had many fields, cows, and so on, but no children. If you asked him, “How are you doing?” he would invariably respond, “Forget about it; don’t even ask!” He never said,
“Glory to You, O God”; he was always grumbling. And so that you will see – sometimes a cow of his would die; sometimes one thing would happen to him, sometimes something else. He had everything, but he made no progressThis is why I say that doxology is a great matter. Whether or not we taste the blessings God gives us depends on us. But how are we to taste God’s blessings, if He gives us, for example, bananas and we’re thinking of whatever better things some ship-owner might be eating? How many people there are who eat only dry bread, but praise God day and night and are nurtured with heavenly sweetness! Such people acquire a spiritual sensitivity and are acquainted with the caresses of God. We don’t understand these things, because our heart is caught up with filth and we are not satisfied with anything. We don’t understand that happiness is in eternity and not in vanity.
Elder Paisios of Mount Athos: Spiritual Counsels Volume IV
Family Life pp. 157-159
Feb 21 2016
Prior to electricity and central heating, most families gathered in parlors, spending evenings with reading, sewing, and family conversations. The notion that everyone would retreat to bedrooms, kitchens, or dens, separating themselves from other family members, was unthinkable. The communal nature of the family was natural. I can remember, as a child (this really dates me), sitting together with my brother and my parents, listening to radio dramas. Before the coming of television, families would gather for evenings in the living room, where children would play with Lincoln Logs, or play board games with their parents.
Evenings spent together as family is important, for these moments not only build a bond between parents and their children, but serve as important times in which to share family values. The old saying that “a family that prayers together, stays together” was a truism that is often forgotten. I remember, as a boy of six, a Catholic family living next to us who had a small family chapel, complete with altar, statues, and candles. Every evening they would all gather in that little chapel to pray the rosary. As a protestant boy, I remember wishing we had a chapel as well.
Family meals are also important times for building strong moral and spiritual foundations in children. Sitting around the dinner table is a great time for parents to develop strong bonds of trust with their children. Dinner is a perfect time for talking to your children about their friends, or school activities, or recounting the homily from the Sunday Liturgy. Family members dispersing throughout the house for the evening, can end up functioning as autonomous entities, and family bonds are unlikely to develop in a healthy manner.
The domestic church, which is such an important element of the Orthodox Christian tradition, can not be developed in a family where meals, prayers, and social life are all in separate parts of the house. Parents, in their capacity as shepherds and nurturers, have the God given responsibility to make sure the home is an incubator for a life of righteousness, and where the Orthodox faith can take root. It is in such households that these children, in turn, learn how to be good parents to their own future children.
Hebrews 10:24-25: “… and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another …”
With love in Christ,
Feb 14 2016
Parents Should Entrust Their Children to God
God gave the First-Created humans, Adam and Eve, the greatest blessing to become His co-creators. From then on, the parents, the grandparents, and so forth, are also God's co-creators, because they create the body of the child.
In a way, God is obligated to care for the children. When a child is Baptized, God sends an Angel for the child;s protection. So then, the child is protected by God, by the Guardian Angel, and by the parents. The Guardian Angel is always by the child, helping. The more a child grows and matures, the more the parents are relieved of their duties and responsibilities. Should the child die, God- both from on high and from close by- and also the Guardian Angel, from close by, continue - always - to protect the child.
Parents have to help their children spiritually when they are little, because then, even their faults are little and they can easily be corrected. It is like a fresh potato, if you scratch a little, it is peeled. If, however, it gets older and more stale, you will need a sharp knife to clean it, and if it has some dark spots, you must dig deeper. If the children are filled with Christ from an early age, they will always remain close to Him. And even if they should stray a little when they grow up, either because of a phase of rebellion they are going through or because of bad influences, they are sure to return to their senses. This is because the fear of God and the devotion that watered their hearts when they were young cannot ever be eradicated.
Later, during adolescence - until they have gotten their children educated and settled - the struggle of the parents will become greater. Parents should do all they can to help them at this age and leave all that is beyond their power in the hands of Almighty God. When parents entrust their children to God, then God is obligated to help on matter which are not humanly possible. If, for example, the children are disobedient, the parents should entrust them to God and not try to pressure them in any way. The mother should say in prayer, My Lord, my children won't listen to me, I can't do anything to help them. Please take care of them."
Family Life by St. Paisios of Mt. Athos
Feb 7 2016
Living our lives in total commitment
Christianity is a religion of asceticism, instructing us to store up our treasures in heaven, where the benefits have eternal value. Throughout the New Testament we read of the importance of struggle, where focus on the acquisition of a humble and contrite heart is paramount to what it means to be a Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that if we are to be worthy of Him, we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him. We are to be a people whose true homeland is Christ’s Kingdom, which is within. Christ Himself calls us to holiness, and this change of heart can only be brought about through struggle.
Our world places a great deal of emphasis on being comfortable, and we tend to avoid anything that does not bring pleasure. If being open about our Christian faith invites ridicule, we remain silent. If keeping the fasting rules of the Church prevents us from enjoying evenings out with our friends, we ignore the fast. If voicing disapproval when hearing our Christian faith being trashed, makes us appear less cool, we choose to go the route of the politically correct. Is it any wonder we are therefore unprepared to stand firm when faced with real trials that come our way, having avoided the very things that would transform us into strong, committed Christians?
If we embrace Christianity with dedication of heart and mind, we will receive the power to live in this world, filled as it is, with temptations and disappointments, yet remaining true to our vocation as a holy people. Committing ourselves to being full time Christians, empowers us to live our lives in such a way that we give glory and witness to the very Christ Whom we worship.
If, however, we avoid ascetic struggle, and choose to keep our Christian faith sidelined, and rejecting real commitment, we will ultimately have become Christian in name only. For those who, out of laziness or personal selfishness, choose to relegate fasting, private prayer, and even church attendance, as something done only when we feel “in the mood”, we will stand before the Throne of God, in the end, with a darkened heart that can not withstand the power of God, and eternity will be for us, a lake of fire.
With love in Christ,
Jan 31 2016
Acquiring righteousness is not a part time job
Teachers and parents routinely remind children of the importance of refraining from giving in to peer pressure, knowing that good behavior can often be undermined by the desire to fit in with their friends and school mates. We adults need to remember is that we, too, are often subject to peer pressure. When we are surrounded by people who always take the moral high road, who are honest in their business practices, and respectful in the way they treat other people, our own adherence to the commandments of God, is made easier.
What are we like when we are spending time with that neighbor, friend, or relative, who is fun to be with, but shares off colored jokes, or says horrible things about people we know? Do we give in to laughter because we want to fit in with the moment, or do we always take the high road, keeping true to our Christian faith, regardless the behavior of people we are with?
“To be righteous among the righteous is a great and praiseworthy thing, but it is a far greater and more praiseworthy thing to be a righteous man among the unrighteous (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovicn, ‘The Prologue from Ochrid’).”
Love in Christ,
Jan 24 2016
When Prayer Becomes Dry and Lifeless
When we find ourselves struggling with prayer, and feel that it has become dry and lifeless, we are sometimes tempted to stop praying. When our prayer has become a struggle, it is good to remember that God knows our needs, and even knows what we want to say when we don’t seem to know. This is the time we need to just pray without worrying about it. When we find we can’t keep our minds focused on the formal morning and evening prayers, as found in our prayer book, it is perfectly acceptable to simply light our lampada (hanging oil lamp), sit quietly before our icons, and let silence be our voice.
God wants to enter into our heart, and requires only our permission and cooperation. This relationship does not require an emotional response, for, like all relationships, we are not always open to an emotional response. Being real with God is far more important than being emotional, since emotions can be contrived and fleshly. As in all relationships, there are times when we do feel moved by emotions, but the lack of such feelings in no way represents a lack of love for God, because God cares for us, and God knows we love him, even when suffering in those dry times.
With love in Christ,
Jan 17 2016
It is only out of delusion we believe we do not need others to see, understand, and treat our spiritual sickness. Anyone who believes that he alone can cure his spiritual diseases has isolated himself from a Mystery of the Church and will come to ruin. Only with the help of others are we saved, for within the Christian faith, salvation comes not in a self-focused void, but in the collective nature that is the Church. The Mystery of Confession, established by Our Lord, is a clear sign of the biblical truth that we need the Church, and we need the Mystery of Confession.
In confession we do not simply regret past evil but recognize the darkened vision of our own condition, in which sin, by separating us from God, has reduced us to a divided, autonomous existence, depriving us of both our natural glory and our true freedom. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
The Sacrament of Confession is important because on it constitutes the cure of spiritual illness. Since the goal of the Christian life is transformation in Christ, ridding ourselves of the corrupt and diseased fallen self, it must begin with the death of the ego. We humble ourselves before the priest, when we confess our sins, for it is not just that Christ hears us. Christ hears us because of our act of humility in baring our souls in front of another person. Thus, Scripture establishes confession, recounts Christ’s gift of authority to the Apostles and their successors to bestow forgiveness to penitents, and exhorts us to confess even to one another (James 5:16), since through one another we achieve humility and, mystically, this joins us to Christ.
With love in Christ,