Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What is an icon ( Anthony Bloom (Metropolitan of Sourozh )

An icon is an image, but an image which is meant to be a statement of faith. It is a statement of faith in line and colour as definite, as completely rooted in the faith and experience of the Orthodox Church as any written statement and in that respect icons must correspond to the experience of the total community, and the artist who paints them is only a hand, only one who puts into line and colour what is the faith and the knowledge of the Christian body in the same way in which a theologian is the expression of his Church, and the Church has a right to judge him. That explains why one of the rules given to icon-painters when they learn their trade is that they should neither copy slavishly an icon painted before them, nor invent an icon. Because one can not identify slavishly with the spiritual experience expressed by another person, on the other hand, one cannot invent a spiritual experience and present it as though it was the faith of the Church.

Now, an icon is a proclamation of faith primarily, in the sense that an icon of Christ, an icon of the Mother of God or of saints is possible only since the Incarnation because they all relate to the Incarnation and its consequences. The Old Testament taught us that God can not be represented because indeed, the God of the Old Testament was the Holy One of Israel, He was a spiritual Being that has revealed Himself but had never been visibly present face to face with anyone. You remember the story of Moses on Sinai when he asked God to allow him to see Him and the Lord answered, “No man can see My face and live.” And He allowed Moses to see Him moving away from him, as it were, from the back but never meet Him face to face. It is in Incarnation, through the historical fact that God became man, that God acquired a human face and that it became possible by representing Christ, the incarnate God to represent indirectly God Himself.

Now, there is one thing which is absolutely clear to all of us is that no-one knows what Christ looked like. So an icon is never meant to be a portrait, it is meant to convey an experience and this is different. The difference between, perhaps I should have used the word “snapshot” rather than “portrait”, any attempt at saying, “this is what Christ looked like” is fantasy. We have no likeness of Christ, but what we know is that from the experience of the Church and of the saints, Who He was and this “Who He was” can be expressed in line and in colour. And this is why so many icons do not aim at beauty, at comeliness, we do not try to represent Christ in the Orthodox tradition as the most beautiful, virile man whom we can imagine. We do not try to represent the Mother of God as the most comely and attractive young woman, what we try to represent or to convey through the icon is something about their inner self.

And this explains why certain features in an icon are underlined out of proportion while other features are just indicated. If you look at an icon, a good icon, not the kind of thing which you find commonly, say in Russian or in Greek churches, but icons painted by the great painters of Orthodoxy, you find that certain things are singled out — the brow, the eyes that convey a message, while the cheeks or the mouth are just indicated as common features. And the aim of an icon is not to present you with a likeness of the person but with the message, to present you with a face that speaks to you in the same way in which a portrait is different from a snapshot. A snapshot is a very adequate image of the person photographed at a given moment. It’s exactly what at that given moment the person was, but it leaves out very often most of the personality of this particular person, while a good portrait is painted in the course of many sittings that allow the artist to look deeply into the face of a person, to single out features, which are fluid, which change, which move but which, each of them, express something of the personality. And so that the portrait is something much more composite, much more rich and much more adequate to the total personality than a snapshot would be although at no moment was this particular face exactly as the painter has represented it on the portrait. It is not an attempt at having a snapshot in colour but of conveying a vision of what a person is.

Now, this being said, we treat icons with reverence, and number of people in the West think that to us icons are very much what idols were in older times for pagan nations. They aren’t. They are not idols because they do not purport or even attempt at giving an adequate picture of the person concerned. This I have already mentioned abundantly but I will add this. Whether it is in words, in theological statements, in doctrinal statements, in the creeds, in the prayers and the hymns of the Churches, no attempt is ever made in the Orthodox Church at expressing, at giving a cogent, a complete image of what God is. Already in the IV century St. Gregory of Nazianze wrote that if we attempted to collect from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, from the experience of the Church, from the personal lives of saints their sayings and their writings, all the features which reveal to us what and who God is and try to build out of them a completely coherent, a complete picture of God, what we would have achieved is not a picture of God, it would be an idol because it would be on our scale, it would be as small as we are indeed, smaller than we are because it could be contained in our vision, in our understanding.

If we want to understand what a theological statement is — and that applies not only to written statements but also to icons, I should think the nearest approximation would be to say that theological statement either in words or in lines, or colours, or indeed in music, or in the pageant which the liturgical service is, is very much like the sky at night. What is characteristic of the sky at night is that we see against the darkness of the sky, the translucent darkness of the sky, we see stars, which are combined in constellations. These stars are points of light and these constellations are recognizable, so that by looking at the sky at night we can find our way on earth; but what is important in the sky at night is all these stars are separate from one another by vast spaces. If you collected all the stars in one place, you would indeed have in front of you a glowing mass of fire but you would have no pointer to any direction, you would be unable to find your way not only in heaven but also on earth. What is important is the vastness between the stars and so are also the statements which are being made theologically, again in word or in line, in colour. They give us a glimpse and they leave a vast space into which we must penetrate in silence, in veneration. And the silence and veneration which is paid to them, I think, can be well expressed by the word “mystery”.

I know that in colloquial language “mystery” is something mysterious, something which is secrete, hidden and should be unveiled and seen through. The Greek word “mystery” comes from a verb “muen”, which means “to be spell-bound”, to be held absolutely mute in silence because of the deep impression something makes on us. It has given the French word “muet” which means “dumb”. Confronted with the overwhelming sense of the divine presence all we can do is to bow down in adoration. We are silenced in mind, in emotion, we become totally receptive and not passive but actively receptive. If I was to give an image, I would say our attitude at those moments is that of the bird-watcher. You know what happens to the bird-watcher. He gets up early in the morning before the birds are awake, goes into the wood, goes into the field, settles down and then he remains intensely alert at the same time as he is totally immobile because if he budges, he moves, if he doesn’t become part of the background, the birds will have disappeared long before he has noticed them. And so the attitude of the bird-watcher is this intense alertness that combines a total liveliness with a total stillness. This is what one could call the attitude of a believer has with regard to the mystery of God and also with regard to any statement, any expression that conveys God or things divine to us. We look at things in silence in order to receive a message and the deeper the silence, the more perfect the silence, the more completely and perfectly the message can reach us.

Obviously, when we look at an icon, we may discover that it has got features, which we apprehend or analyze intellectually. When it is a face, the impact may be more direct but when it is a scene, like an icon of Christmas, an icon of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, an icon of the Crucifixion, there are features, which we can examine with our eyes and take in with our mind, but once it is done, we are confronted with something which is an object of contemplation. And I’ll give you an example or two.

The first example I wish to give you is an icon of the Mother of God which probably no-one of you has seen. It is in the South of Russia, there are very few reproductions because it is not considered as being one of the great and beautiful and classical icons of Orthodox Christendom. What it represents is – against a darkish background, the face of what I would call a peasant young Woman, square face with a parting in the middle, her hair falling on her shoulders, without a veil and looking straight not at you, as most icons do, but simply straight ahead into the vastness, into eternity, into infinity, — you must find out into what. And then the second thing you notice is that in front of Her chest there are two hands in agony clasped in pain and anguish. And when you ask yourself, why is this young Woman disheveled, why has She lost her veil, why is Her hair falling like this? Why is this fixed gaze and this agonized hands? And you look at the icon, you see in a corner of this icon painted in very pale yellow colour the Cross, a Cross without a body. It is the Mother of God who is confronted with the death of Christ, not the dying, not the mystery of Her own offering of Her Son to God and to men but of His being dead, of the seeming defeat, of the end of all Her hopes, of the serene pain of Her heart.

This is one example, but once you have analyzed these elements, looked at the face, asked yourself, what do these eyes see and seen it in the corner of the icon what do these hands speak about and understood, then you are confronted with the same thing, which confronts the Mother, – with the Crucifixion, with the love of God revealed as life and death, with the love of God, which says to us, “What you, — each of us singly, not the collectivity of mankind, each of us singly — means to Me can be measured by all the life and all the death of the Only-Begotten Son of God become man through the Incarnation born of the Virgin, crucified on Calvary after the tragic week of the passion.” So at that moment the icon is no longer a story, it is a direct challenge, a confrontation with an event to which we can respond by adoration, by conversion, by a change in us, by prayer in the vastest possible sense of this word. Not by repeating words of prayer, not by doing what a boy of our congregation, when he was seven, said to his mother, “Now that we have finished praying, could we pray a little?” — which mean:, now that we have said all these words which are written in the book, which I can’t read yet but which you rehearse to me very evening, can’t I stay before God and tell Him that I am sorry for one thing or another, that I love Him, that I am happy and then say “Good night” and send a kiss to the icon which is too high for me to kiss...

The other example which I wanted to give is that of an icon of the Incarnation, a Christmas icon — a mountain, a cave, in one corner the Angels singing to the shepherds, on the other hand, the three kings traveling, in another corner Joseph sitting and being tempted by Satan who whispers to him that there is there something quite wrong in the whole situation, and then the Mother of God and the Child. But this icon, of which I am thinking in particular, does not show us the Child in the manger. It’s not the classical half emotional picture, which we see so often. Instead of the manger there is in pink stone an altar of sacrifice and the Child lying on it. And this icon is a theological statement not only about the Incarnation as the divine act that made God immanent in the world that the world may be saved, it speaks to us of the fact that the Son of God became Son of man in order to die, that His birth was the beginning of entering a world of suffering, of pain, of rejection and of death. And once we have discovered that the mountain matters nothing, that the shepherds and the kings, that Joseph and his tempter are features of the past that has simply brought the message to us, we are confronted with the central event – God has become man and by becoming man He has accepted to become helpless, vulnerable and enter into the realm of suffering and death. And then we are confronted with a God Whom we can worship in a new way, not a God Whom we worship in the great cathedrals because of the unsurpassed beauty He represents, not the All-Mighty one but the God Who has chosen to become one of us, frail, unprotected, helpless, given to us, and we see what mankind has done to this God, who had taken full responsibility for His creative act by dying of it and of its consequences.

So this leads me to the last point, which is obviously very short. Confronted with an icon, we receive a message and this message is always exactly as a passage of the Gospel is or a prayer written by a saint is, is a challenge for us – how do you respond to what you see, what do you do? Who are you in relation to this event, to this person, to this face, to this particular experience of the Church of God, of the Mother of God, of the saints of God, of the martyrs, of the Apostles and so forth. And this is the beginning of an act of prayer. Now, we treat icons with veneration not because they are beautiful and not even because they convey an essential message but because somehow we are aware of the fact that they are connected with the person represented on them and the event. I will give you one more of those flat analogies which are natural to me.

We don’t treat an icon as an idol but we treat it exactly in the way in which you would treat the photograph of someone whom you love dearly. It may be your departed parents, it may be your parents alive, it may be the girl or the boy whom you love with all your heart. You look at these photographs and you do not imagine that they are the person, you do not worship them but there are things which you would do and things which you would not do to them. If you have the photograph of someone whom you love with your whole heart alive or departed, you will not simply take your teacup and plant it on top of it because it is the best way of protecting the table. And you will be probably foolish enough at a moment when there is no-one who looks at you to take the photograph and give it a kiss. Well, it’s exactly what we do about icons. We give them a kiss, we are less shy and we do it publicly, but we do it because they are the only way in which we can kiss the person who is absent in a way, who is present in spirit, yes, whose image is there being like a window, like a link, like a connection with this person.

And our praying to icons is not praying to the wood or to the paint or even to the scene or the face represented. All these things become transparent in the way in which the photograph is transparent to us because it is the person whom we perceive, whom we see, whom we love, whom we treat with tenderness and reverence when we hold a photograph of a beloved person. And our praying to the icon is a praying that reaches through the icon. It may be a help to us because it is not everyone of us who is capable of shutting his eyes, abstracting himself or herself from all surrounding and feeling that he is or she is in the presence of God, and there is nothing between God and him, there is nothing that he needs to connect him with God. But ultimately we must come to the point when having looked at an icon, receive its message, received indeed its challenge, its call, we must be able to shut our eyes and be in the presence of God Himself and the saint who is represented in it. And this is what St. John Chrysostom says in one of his sermons. He says to us, “If you want to pray, take your stand in front of your icons, then shut your eyes and pray.”

Apparently, what’s the point of having icons if you shut your eyes and don’t look at them? The point is that you have taken one look and this look must have awoken you, you must have had one look and be alive to all the message and all the challenge that it has and now you must be free from the particular elements of this icon and be able to pray, to sing to God.

And I will end by an example, by an image, which is not properly of an icon but which convey to you probably better than I can this idea of our whole self beginning to sing and to respond. I was nineteen then. and I was reading together with an old deacon in one of the small churches in Paris. He was very old, he had lost all his teeth with age and the result was that when he read and sang, it was not as clear as one might have hoped for, and to add insult to injury, he read and sang with a velocity that defeated me, my eyes could not follow the lines. And when we finished the service, being as arrogant as one may be, some may be at nineteen, I said to him, “Fr. Evfimiy, you have robbed me of all the service with your reading and singing so fast. And what is worse, you have robbed yourself of it, I am sure, because I am sure, you couldn’t understand a word of what you were saying.” And so the old man looked at me (I don’t know why but he liked me) and he said to me, “O, I am so sorry, but you know, I was born in a very-very poor family in a very poor village of Russia, my parents were not in a position to keep me because they were too poor to feed me, so they gave away at the age of seven to a neighbouring monastery where they fed me, they gave me education, they taught me to read and to sing, and I never left the monastery until the revolution. And I have been reading these words and singing these words day in, day out, day in, day out for all my life. And now, you know what happens? When I see words, it is as though a hand was touching a string in my soul, and my soul begins to sing as though I was a harp, which is being touched by a hand. I don’t cling to the word. You still need it, but for me seeing it or seeing the notes is enough. I begin to sing with all my being.”

Well, this is what we should become when we can look at an icon and immediately receive the impact of it, so that our whole being begins to sing and sing and sing to God in whatever tune. It may be repentance, it may be joy, it may be gratitude, it may be intercession, it does not mean anything, what means something, which is essential is that we should sing to God as a harp sings under the hand that has touched it.

A New Year's Eve Tale by Photios Kontoglou

                          Saint Basil The Great

A tale of Photios Kontoglou

(Describes a visit of St. Basil on the eve of his feast, years after his repose. Translated from the Greek original.*)
The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar. And he would depart embittered, for, though he needed nothing from men, he felt how much pain the heart of every impecunious person must have endured at the insensitivity that these people showed him. One day, as he was leaving such a merciless village, he went by the graveyard, where he saw that the tombs were in ruins, the headstones broken and turned topsy-turvy, and how the newly dug graves had been turned up by jackals. Saint that he was, he heard the dead speaking and saying: “During the time that we were on the earth, we labored, we were heavy-burdened, leaving behind us children and grandchildren to light just a candle, to burn a little incense on our behalf; but we behold nothing, neither a Priest to read over our heads a memorial service nor kóllyva, as though we had left behind no one.” Thus, St. Basil was once again disquieted, and he said to himself, “These villagers give aid neither to the living nor to the deceased,” departing from the cemetery and setting out alone in the midst of the freezing snow.

On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. The freezing wind howled through the scrub bush and the rocky cliffs, and not a living soul was to be found in the pitch-dark night! Then, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.

But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”

Inside the hut, a lamp was suspended overhead from a cradle that was attached to two beams. Next to the hearth was their bedding, and John’s wife was sleeping. As soon as St. Basil went inside, John, seeing that the old man was a clergyman, took his hand and kissed it, saying, “Your blessing, Elder,” as though he had known him previously and as though he were his father. And the Saint said to him: “May you and all of your household be blessed, together with your sheep, and may the peace of God be upon you.” The wife then arose, and she, too, reverenced the Elder and kissed his hand, and he blessed her. St. Basil looked like a mendicant monk, with an old skoúphia, his rása worn and patched, and his tsaroúchia [a traditional leather slipper, usually adorned with a pompom at the end of the shoe] full of holes; as well, he had an old empty-looking satchel. John the blessed put wood on the fire. Straightway the hut began to glisten, as though seemingly a palace. The rafters seemed to be gilded with gold, while the hanging cheesecloth bags [filled with curing cheese] looked like vigil lamps, and the wooden containers, cheese presses, and all of the accessories used by John in making cheese became like silver, as though decorated by diamonds, as did all of the other humble things that John the blessed had in his hut. The wood burning in the hearth crackled and sang like the birds that sing in Paradise, giving off a fragrance wholly delightful. The couple placed St. Basil near the fire, where he sat, and the wife put down pillows on which he could rest. Then the Elder took the satchel from around his neck, placing it next to him, and removed his old ráson (outside cassock), remaining in his zostikó [inner cassock].

Together with his farmhand, John the blessed went out to milk the sheep and to place the newborn lambs in the lambing pen, and afterwards he separated the ewes that were ready to birth and confined them within the enclosure, while his helper put the other sheep out to graze. His flock was sparse and John was poor; yet, he was blessed. And he was possessed of great joy at all times, day and night, for he was a good man and he had a good wife. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home and settled in, as if it were his own, blessing it from top to bottom. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the blessed.

So, John, after pasturing the sheep, came back in and said to the Saint, “Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings about St. Basil [i.e., the appointed hymns to the Saint]. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [once again, the hymns and services of the Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite Abbot [i.e., from Mt. Athos], and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”

In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. He then bent down, took a booklet from his satchel, and said, “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil then said the hymn, “God is the Lord...” and the Apolytikion of the Feast of the Circumcision, “Without change, Thou hast assumed human form,” omitting his own Apolytikion, which states, “Thy sound is gone forth unto all the earth.” His voice was sweet and humble, and John and his wife felt great contrition, even though they did not understand all of the words. St. Basil now said the whole of Matins and the Canon of the Feast, “Come, O ye peoples, and let us chant a song unto Christ God,” without reciting his own canon, which goes, “O Basil, we would that thy voice were present....” Thereafter, he said aloud the entire Liturgy, pronounced the dismissal, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopeta [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “...and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, this blissful man, did not understand.

Afterwards, St. Basil stood up and said the prayer, “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of the house of my soul.” John the Blessed then said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces St. Basil went this evening? And the rulers and monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” St. Basil said the same prayer, again—with tears—though changing it: “O Lord my God, I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the blissful, John the blessed, understood nothing....

* This well-known and charming short story by Phótios Kóntoglou has appeared in several versions, both in Greek and in what are, unfortunately, largely poor English translations. Kontoglou’s Greek is quite difficult to translate, since he uses many words common to the dialect of Greeks in Asia Minor. Though some of these words are actually derived from ancient Greek, in general they are part of a language spoken today by less literate Greeks. Thus, there is a tendency to render them in English slang, which detracts from the power of Kontoglou’s Greek and his writing and imagery. At other times, translators fail at finding the middle ground between stilted literal translations and translations which add so much to the original Greek texts that Kontoglou’s characteristic literary style is lost. I have used, here, the Greek text published by Harmos Publications (Athens, Greece, 1994) in its collection Diegémata ton Christougénnon, and have tried to capture in my rendering the style, simple eloquence, and sensitivity of the author’s story as it reads in Greek—Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why do women cry

A little boy asked his mother, “Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m a woman,” she told him.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

His Mom just hugged him and said, “And you never will.”

Later the little boy asked his father, “Why does mother seem to cry for no reason?”

“All women cry for no reason,” was all his dad could say.

The little boy grew up and became a man, still wondering why women cry.

Finally he put in a call to God. When God got on the phone, he asked, “God, why do women cry so easily?”

God said:

“When I made the woman she had to be special.

I made her shoulders strong enough to carry the weight of the world, yet gentle enough to give comfort.

I gave her an inner strength to endure childbirth and the rejection that many times comes from her children.

I gave her a hardness that allows her to keep going when everyone else gives up, and take care of her family through sickness and fatigue without complaining.

I gave her the sensitivity to love her children under any and all circumstances, even when her child has hurt her very badly.

I gave her strength to carry her husband through his faults and fashioned her from his rib to protect his heart.

I gave her wisdom to know that a good husband never hurts his wife, but sometimes tests her strengths and her resolve to stand beside him unfalteringly.

And finally, I gave her a tear to shed. This is hers exclusively to use whenever it is needed.”

“You see my son,” said God, “the beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart – the place where love resides.”

What are the Orders of Tears

Ιn examining the value which sorrow has for human life in our previous text, we had mentioned the temptations which cause it, and the tears which often accompany it. We therefore had an opportunity to see quite briefly the positive -or rather the beneficial- aspects of certain things in this world which, according to current logic, are initially considered as being negative and undesirable.

While we had said whatever was necessary concerning sorrow and temptation, we had intended to speak extensively about tears in a separate article. Not only because there is a great variety of tears, as we shall see below, but especially because the desert Fathers place tears at the peak of all "good things" in the present world. It is not by chance that during the most contrite time of prayer, they did not ask God for wisdom or endurance or courage, not even for holiness. Their chief request was always, invariably, "grant me tears, O God, tears of repentance". This alone would be enough to make us think more deeply about tears and lead us to examine two related questions. First of all, the nature and source of tears and, second, their value in spiritual life.

It is clear that both these questions are closely tied together, but not only because they both refer to tears. Their relationship is much more substantial. The latter is completely dependent on the former. This means that the vaIue of tears depends upon what kind of tears they are. We must therefore arrange tears in some order. To categorise them and rank them accordingly. We can speak about an "order of tears" just as we would say a system of tears. Is this not how we speak of systems and orders of angels, people, waters etc?

Of course, the most important feature of tears is not the liquid which comes from the eyes. This naturally has the same chemical synthesis in every case. Yet, according to the cause of them each time, we have a corresponding quality and category of tears. The main ones are perhaps the following:

Tears of repentance / Tears of fear of God / Tears of contrition


Tears of emotion / Tears of joy / Tears of pain and horror / Tears of indignation


Tears of hypocrisy

When the Fathers and the great ascetics speak about tears, they always mean those three of the first category. Repentance is the most astounding miracle and experience in the life of a person. It is his or her most integral and forceful act. It is the radical ripping out of all features of one's previous life. Ιn such a way that nothing stands up in worldly terms. Literally everything is made "upside down". You feel as if everything is being turned backwards. Being doubted. Being overturned. Being frustrated. Being annihilated forever. This is what repentance is (meta-noia, a change of mind). Is it possible for such an impalement of soul and spirit not to bring tears, not to cause pain?

The root of tears, their very first and inexhaustible source, is repentance. The first and major fruit of this is the "fear of God". A fear which is characterised by Scripture as the "beginning of wisdom" (Psalm ΙΙΙ:10). The more one is made wise in the fear of God, the more one sees and senses miracles within and all around. A miracle is not a miracle unless someone has wondered at it in all its magnitude. Miracle (thavma) is then a wonder (thavmasma).

Only for this reason did God create humankind. To marvel and discover continuously, for a whole lifetime, deeper aspects of the truth, in other words of God's love. Here then is yet another meaning of the Biblical saying: "Those who increase knowledge increase sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18), which is the most mystical equalisation in human life.

It is only natural, following such a deep dive into the mystery of life and death, that the person of faith should feel more and more privileged compared to the rest of creation. It is an incomparable privilege to be a partaker in the deeper rhythm of the world, thereby discovering by first hand the boundless love of God. The only human answer to this "initiation", which reaches a climax in "participation" and eventually leads to "deifιcation", if God is pleased to allow this, are tears. Tears of compunction, contrition and appreciation, which as a result become "supplicatory tears", as they redeem us from all worldly uncertainties and doubts.

St. Isaac the Syrian wrote the following on such a correlation between the fear of God and tears of repentance: "Ι do not have a sorrowful heart to search for you, Ι do not have repentance, Ι do not have compunction, nor tears which return children to their homeland. Ι do not have, Lord, a supplicatory tear; my mind is darkened by the νanity of the world, and it is not able to gaze upon you with pain; my heart has grown cold from the multitude of temptations, and it cannot become warm through tears of love towards you. But you, Lord Jesus Christ my God, the treasury of good things, grant me perfect repentance and a toilsome heart, so that I may come to search for you with all my heart; for without you Ι wish to be estranged from every good thing" (2nd Discourse, Concerning renunciation of the world etc).

Even if we only isolated and underlined one phrase out of this stirring passage, we would see the value which the Saint recognises in tears, when he observes that they alone "return children to their homeland".

Clearly, all of the above comments refer to godly tears. They are what the Fathers called the greatest "gift" of the present world. For it is natural that, since tears arise from the fear of God and repentance, they should lead directly towards God Himself, according to His grace. Thus the character and the value of tears co-incide absolutely.

The second group of tears is also second in terms of importance. This is because it is confined, first of all, to the values of this world for which it either laments or rejoices. This is the group of four which follows the previous group of three. They are tears of pain and horror or joy on the one hand, or indίgnation and emotion on the other. These tears do not cease to have some value, since they spring from sincerity, spontaneously. Indeed they may, by cultivating and refining people, lead them at some stage to repentance, namely to God. Therefore, we enter the mystical process of godly tears which has already been described "through the back door". That is why someone like Victor Hugo could state that "no one can see God unless they have teary eyes".

Ιn concluding this brief reference to the order of tears, we must state that, if there are any kind of tears which are totally futile and which have nothing to do with the cultivation and fate of the soul, they are the tears of hypocrisy. They, as tears which stem from ulterior motives, might be useful only to actors, on a professional level. And even more so to the crocodiles which use them as a means to secure their food. 

Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

Monday, December 28, 2015

When St. Paisios Smacked a Theology Student

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

I once visited Father Paisios with a student of theology who was at a critical stage. He asked him about his studies. The student naively told him about a work of his dealing with the creation of man. At one point he told Father Paisios: "At one point God didn’t know what to do, so He formed Adam and Eve, to pass His time." I saw Father Paisios with lightning speed raise his hand and gave him a heavy smack. The student lost it, became dizzy, he stood briefly with bulging eyes trying to realize what happened, and then he began to cry, sobbing like a small child.

Father Paisios was looking at him, not saying anything, and let him cry. After much weeping, he said: "Blessed one, what is this that you said? Come with me." He took him by the hand, like a mother with a young child, and brought him to the sink and said: "Wash your face." Then he gave him a towel to wipe his face of the tears and brought him back to his seat. He then began with humor, tenderness and much love to indicate his error, and to say that we should not speak about God and His work with indecency. Moreover, he even wrote a graceful dedication in one of his books and gave it to him. Needless to say, I followed this entire scene speechless and ecstatic.

When I would visit him, after asking his advice on issues dealing with my personal life, I would ask him about issues I was facing with my spiritual children. I told him about a child who was very lively and reactive and asked for an opinion on how to treat him. He replied disarmingly: "Do what a mule driver does with the animal. Hold him securely by the reins and sit far away so you don’t get kicked." 

When I recall my memories of that holy figure, I am moved, I shed tears and I pray. May we have his holy prayers. 

Excerpt from the book Μαρτυρίες Προσκυνητῶν – Γέροντας Παϊσιος ὁ Ἁγιορείτης – 1924-1994, σὲλ 43-44, ἐκδόσεις Ἁγιοτοκος Καππαδοκίας, Νικόλαος Α. Ζουρνατζόγλου, ἐπισμηναγὸς Ε.Α.

Prayer Rope οr Design Bracelet, which is it ?

Many of the Orthodox Christians piously wear at their hands a "bracelet" made of wool knots or wooden beads. Fewer however know its true significance. The first thing we should stress is that it is not a piece of jewelry but an actual prayer rope. Its purpose is not just as decoration or to show others we are Orthodox, as many believe, but to be used as an aid in accomplishing our daily prayers.

The use of the prayer ropes is ancient in itself, going back to the origins of Christian monasticism. The prayer rope, creation attributed to Saint Pachomius in the fourth century, was intended as an aid for monks that could not read to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations in their cells. The use of the rope made it possible to pray the Jesus Prayer unceasingly, whether inside the cell or out, in accordance with Saint Paul's injunction to "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17).
The method of tying the prayer rope also goes back to the fathers of monasticism. Saint Anthony the Great it is said to have started by tying a leather rope with a simple knot for every time he prayed Kyrie Eleison ("Lord have Mercy"), but the Devil would come and untie the knots to throw off his count. He then devised a way--inspired by a vision he had of the Theotokos--of tying the knots so that the knots themselves would constantly make the sign of the cross. This is why prayer ropes today are still tied using knots that each contain seven little crosses being tied over and over. The Devil could not untie it because the Devil is vanquished by the Sign of the Cross.
The prayer ropes are not to be confused with worry beads used as a pass-timer or calming device. The prayer ropes are to be used only in prayer. They come in various shapes and sizes but always they have a fixed number of knots or beads. This can be 33 (for the normal "bracelets") or 40, 50, 100, 200, 300, etc. for the longer ropes.

The use of the Jesus prayer with prostrations is sanctioned by our Church, which directs that one can (in cases of need) replace the common worship services with a definite number of prostrations and the Jesus Prayer (which would be difficult to carry out without the rope). Here is a guide we find at the end of some Psalter books.

Instead of the entire Psalter: 6000 Jesus Prayers
One kathisma: 300 prayers; for each stasis: 100
Midnight Service: 600
Matins: 1500
Vespers: 600
Great Compline: 700
Small Compline: 400
An Akathist to the Blessed Theotokos: 500
All those who are zealous for their salvation are invited to this unceasing remembrance of the saving name of Jesus, both laymen and monastics, for the spirit of life in Christ is one and the same for both. Many of our spiritual elders, men of prayer, ascetics and directors in faith and piety, down to the most recent time have recommended the use of the prayer rope to laymen and at times have even given them their own prayer ropes as a blessing.
For this reason we also recommend to the lay people today to properly use the prayer ropes around their hands to pray wherever they are, at home, at work, or driving, with a simple prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me the sinner" or simply "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me".

Demonic Possession , Magic, Spiritualism explained ....


“If a prophet rises among you....”

The Lord said if a prophet (i.e., charlatan) performs signs and wonders, don’t get excited about it (like little children). Don’t get carried away like a leaf on the wind. Don’t believe in other gods. Stay true to the Lord.

The Lord is testing you to see if you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

So it’s possible that mediums and so on can, as a concession by God and with the power of the Evil One, work “wonders.” Here are some of them:

“Communication” with the Dead

“There are some people who are so heartbroken by the loss of a loved one that they go to a medium (i.e., the devil), in order to hear the voice of the departed person, to talk to them, to find some kind of relief. Do they really hear the voice of the dead? Victor H. Ernest, the former medium, gave a blunt answer. The voice they heard isn’t that of their loved one but of a devil. And the poor unfortunate people are left with the illusion that they’re in contact with the soul of the person who passed away!


There are two kinds of telepathy.

A) Reading other people’s thoughts: According to Victor H. Ernest, this happens when a person’s intelligence is working hand in glove with an evil spirit, or when the whole person is actually under the control of an evil spirit. Doreen Irvine, a former prostitute and stripper who was actually crowned Queen of the Witches of Europe, had no difficulty, as a Satanist, in reading other people’s thoughts.

B) Seeing something that’s happening far away in a dream or in a trance: Two people at the séance attended by Victor H. Ernest were able to read the headlines of morning newspapers while they were still being run off at the printer’s, hours before they were delivered to the town. Some, who are even more “advanced”, can see into your house as if with a camera and can find hidden objects, etc.

“Miracles” with Fire

In Kalamata, some years ago, an occultist did the following in front of the audience: He drew lines on his hand with a lighted cigarette without feeling any pain at all.

Something similar happens every year in the village of Agia Eleni in Northern Greece on the day of the feast of Sts Constantine and Helen. A group of people holding icons of the saints dance in their bare feet on burning charcoal without getting burnt.

Victor H. Ernest comments that this is not an illusion. He says that fire-walkers really do walk on burning coals or sometimes on molten lava. Behind firewalking, he maintains, is the total surrender of the practitioner to the forces of darkness.

“Soap Bubbles”

A while ago, in the main street of the town of Patras, in Greece, a magician, with the aid of evil spirits, was doing tricks. Through a variety of invocations, chairs and tables were lifted into the air as if made of paper. A crowd of people rushed to see this devilish spectacle. But by God’s providence a certain priest of the city, Fr A. K., was passing by and he made the sign of the Cross over these flying chairs and tables. They fell to the ground and remained there no matter what the occultist tried to do to move them. The power of the Cross had deadened that of the evil spirits.


No matter how impressive are the “wonders” performed by the agents of Satan (mediums, magicians, etc.), they can’t stand up to the power of the presence of the Cross. They disperse. They burst just as if they were soap bubbles. As indeed they are.

The Devil: Demonic Possession

The best proof of the existence of the devil is a person who is possessed. To anyone who doesn’t believe in the existence of the devil, we would say, “Come and see. Come and see the devil alive within a possessed person.”


Possessed people (when the fit is upon them) become unrecognizable: the face becomes distorted, the head twists, the mouth gapes. The tongue is thrust out and the victim howls. It is truly a horrible sight.

In this state, a possessed person is capable of revealing all your “achievements” (i.e., sins). It is not just general and vague, either, but specific and in detail. Without knowing you, they can tell you for example, your name, where you were and what you were doing the previous evening, and who you were with. (It’s worth noting that if you’ve confessed to a priest, the possessed are unable to do this).


- How do they manage to know your secrets?

- Why is it that sins confessed aren’t able to be seen?


During their fit, however, they show other symptoms.

- At the Divine Liturgy they feel as if they’re burning (although when they see fire they don’t).

- Before the Precious Cross, they feel as if they’re being cut to ribbons (although when they see a butcher’s knife they don’t).

- When a priest makes the sign of the Cross over them with the “spear” used in the Divine Liturgy by the priest to cut the Communion Bread, they feel as if their flesh is being pierced. One priest did this and the possessed person howled: “Why are you sticking that spear into my flesh. Why are you pulling at the spear and tearing my flesh?” (Yet the same person was able to bear the touch of a sharp knife without howling).

- When they look upon holy relics, they feel as if they themselves are on fire.


- Why should the possessed fear the Divine Liturgy yet not fear, for example, heart surgery?

- Why do they fear the Precious Cross, which, after all, is only two bits of wood, yet don’t fear a sharp butcher’s knife?

- Why is it that they feel they’re being cut open when the sign of the Cross is made over them?

- Why do they fear the relics of saints such as St Gerasimos, a poverty-stricken little monk who was full of love, yet don’t fear the remains of bloodthirsty Lenin, who slaughtered millions of his fellow-citizens?


All the above show us that there’s something about the possessed person that is very badly disturbed by the Precious Cross, the Divine Liturgy, and the relics of our saints. And this “something” is the same thing that can reveal your secret sins, unless you’ve confessed them.

For us Christians, this “something” is the devil. What about unbelievers? Do they just put it down to parapsychology and be done with it?

There are of course, those scientists who declare that all of this will one day be explained by the goddess of “science”. They’re sure of this. Yet this may not be the case, since it’s still in the future, so why are they so sure? What sort of logic is that? But never mind. If in the future science demonstrates that this something really is the devil, will they then believe it?

The Devil’s Bloodthirstiness

The possessed show just how bloodthirsty the devil is and how cruelly he tortures people. Here are a few instances:

The father whose son was possessed said to Christ: “Every time the devil bothers him, it throws him down, foam comes from his mouth and he gnashes his teeth and becomes catatonic" (Mark 9:18). Some know-it-alls explain this by saying the boy was epileptic. But so was Julius Caesar, who lived before Christ. People in the ancient world were familiar with the difference between epilepsy and possession. They weren’t as “backward” as we like to think.

Another possessed man never stayed at home, but went wandering around the deserts and graveyards. Summer and winter he walked around stark naked (Luke 8:27-39).

Another threw himself into the fire to be burnt and yet another into the water to drown (Matthew 17:16). The two possessed men of the Gaderenes were “exceedingly fierce”. They were so wild and aggressive that no one could approach them They were the bane of people’s lives (Matthew 8:28).

Unnatural Strength

If a criminal is arrested by the police and is handcuffed, then no matter how strong he is, he can’t
break his bonds. His hands are tied, as it were. This isn’t true of people possessed. If they’re handcuffed, for example, even if they’re paralyzed, they’re capable of breaking open handcuffs. St Luke tells us in the Gospel that the Gadarene man who was possessed “was kept bound in chains and fetters, and he broke the bonds.” He was completely immobolized, but despite that he broke the chains!

It wasn’t the man who broke the chains, but the devil who was in the man. This demonstrates quite clearly that the devil has superhuman strength. So, he can work signs and wonders. If he wanted, he could:

- Bring up a hurricane to destroy houses and uproot trees.

- Whip up a storm that would sink all the shipping in the area.

- Drown men and beasts.

- Make an earthquake that would level towns and cities.

But he refrains from this. Why?

Wouldn’t he like to turn everything upside down? Certainly he would, if he could. He’s prevented from doing so by God. If God didn’t keep the mania of the demons in check, we’d see them playing with the world like a ball.

How Does He Fight Us?

The misanthropic devil doesn’t fight us with weapons that can be seen and which make a noise (stones, clubs, etc.), but with silent, invisible ones. ONE of these is THOUGHTS. He puts (bad) thoughts into our minds in order for us to put them into practice. If the bad thoughts don’t take root, then he’ll fight us with supposedly good ones, in order to trap us. Given this, you should be concerned and should ask yourself:

- Is what you have in mind perhaps seed sown by the devil? Is it perhaps misleading you towards seemingly good thoughts?

- Is, perhaps, your philosophy of life and death (which you think is correct), really a set of thoughts from the devil?

- Are even your thoughts on spiritual matters, as an Orthodox Christian, perhaps really thoughts of the devil? Perhaps.

One thing you can be sure of: the devil hasn’t made an exception of YOU.

From the book Confronting the Devil, Magic & the Occult, Orthodox Book Centre, Athens 2003

Archimandrite Vasilios Bakoyiannis

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What can and should Christian parents do to protect their children ?

As Orthodox Christian adults, we have only to compare the moral climate of today with that of our childhood to know that we are living in an age of increasing apostasy. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, the secular culture offered children wholesome entertainment basically supportive of a Christian upbringing. The films and TV programs of those times — e.g. Lassie, Leave it to Beaver, My Friend Flicka, The Lone Ranger-- were all characterized by a well-developed sense of morality that is so essential to a child's proper development. In the past decade, the focus of children’s entertainment has radically changed into what can justifiably be perceived as a conspiracy against Christian parents. This neglect of morality — caused by the pervasive greed that favors cheap sensationalism and anything that sells over quality — is not just limited to television programs — today, games, toys, comics and even coloring books are filled with nightmarish images offering a barely disguised invitation into hell.

For those who think such a statement is a gross exaggeration, a visit to the “toys and games” aisles of the local department store will deliver an unpleasant shock. There, besides “Snow White” and “Kitten Friends,” is a macabre coloring book featuring the TV-based “Skeleton Warriors,” proudly advertised as “bad to the bone!!” On the back cover is a cut-out mask with fangs. “Hey kids,” reads the package of a menacing turtle figure, “with your help, Don can instantly mutate from his Ordinary Turtle Teen self into a sewer secret Night Ninja! the world's most dangerous dude!” (“Ninja,” in Japanese, is a martial arts warrior). In company with the “Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles” are a host of other mutants, aliens and extra-terrestrial “heroes,” such as “Transformers” and other soulless robots that sport such names as “Dr. Terror,” “Rampage,” “Tantrum,” and “Razorclaw.” There are “cuddly” monsters and grotesque monsters like the “Berserkers,” a “roaring band of renegade Mutant Viking Cyborgs.” The popular New Age “Star Wars” film and “Star Trek” TV series have spawned whole lines of toys and “play sets” — i.e. outerspace environments and space ships like “Death Star.” And now, Disney Productions--once synonymous with family values — has come out with a film, “Gargoyles.” TV Guide assures parents that these demonic-looking creatures, with their huge claws and enormous bat-like wings, “only look scary”; they are actually “decent and moral.” The cast of characters includes the “noble” Goliath and his cohort Xanatos (meaning “death” in Greek). Then there are macho soldiers such as Rambo and the now long popular G.I. Joe, who come with a whole arsenal of sophisticated weaponry and “battle machines” like “Steel Monster” and “Terror Dome.” Most of these toys are characters from films or cartoons, which “show” a child how the toys are supposed to behave. Promoted as “action toys,” they inspire violent and aggressive play. Video games, such as “Mortal Combat,” have become another source of violent children's entertainment. Other toys are familiarizing children with elements of the occult and Eastern religions. In their cartoons, the innocent-looking Care Bears, the Smurfs and My Little Pony are all heavily laced with occult and New Age symbolism.

And then there's sex. Since her debut in 1959, the glamorous, buxom Barbie has been the queen of dolls, and has become something of an obsession among many young girls. With regular baby dolls, girls naturally practice parenting—after all, toys are effective learning mechanisms--but with Barbie, the focus is on physical attractiveness, boyfriends, and dating, which, in today's sexually-charged atmosphere, is particularly unhealthy. A board game designed for mid-teens spells it out: “Hey, let's be honest. At this stage of our lives, what's more important than finding the perfect member of the opposite sex? Not much. Basically, you play girls against guys. That's cool for starters. You get to make the other team do all this bizarre stuff. If they don't do it, you stamp them and they become your personal party-slaves. Naturally, they have to do whatever you say. Cool. . . Don't be stupid. Try it!”

The toy industry, which is spewing out such abominations, is enjoying a profitable partnership with the film industry. Cartoons have become essentially 30 minute advertisements, and children have responded by becoming aggressive consumers of whatever film-character toys are in fashion — in addition to the bed-sheets, lunch-boxes, T-shirts, posters and other articles bearing the image of their favorite TV-toy, whether it is the macho G.I. Joe or the New Age Pocahontas. This gross abuse of children's souls is a lucrative business.

The task of raising Christian children has never been an easy one. “A young child,” writes St. Dimitri of Rostov (l709), “is like a board | prepared for icon painting. Whatever the iconographer paints on it, honorable or dishonorable, holy or sinful, an angel or a demon, it remains forever. The same applies to a young child: that upbringing which he is given, those manners he is taught--whether God-pleasing or God-despised, angelic or demonic--shall be part of him for the rest of his life.” Because children are so impressionable, parents must be especially vigilant regarding the influences surrounding their children, ensuring as much as possible that these make a positive contribution to their development, towards making them worthy citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The powerful influence of images on the soul is one reason why icons should have a prominent place in the Orthodox home. In his book, The Meaning of Icons, Leonid Ouspensky writes that the icon “transmits, or rather testifies visually to. . . the reality of God and of the world of grace and of nature.” Iconography, he says, is a means which the Church employs to convey its teaching, to transmit the revelation of the divine world, to point to the Kingdom of Heaven. Icons are reflections of men who have been regenerated into eternity; they aid us in uncovering and developing the beauty of holiness. In other words, they help men attain likeness to God, following the basic principle that “we become like that which we habitually contemplate” (Constantine Cavarnos, Orthodox Iconography.).

The same principle holds true for the abominable images which have invaded the world of children's toys. “It is well known,” writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse (l894), “how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it.” Children are particularly vulnerable; their consciousness and their identities are not yet developed. And so, Satan has targeted them with his own perverse form of “iconography”: images which harden their souls and accustom them to a world of darkness — a world where traditionally demonic images are considered “good,” where ugliness and brutishness are glorified, and where aggression is rewarded. The lines of good and evil are blurred. There is no God. The “saviours” of the world come from outer space. Or they come in the form of Nietzsche's superman, who wields power without conscience. Far from being repulsed by these monstrous inventions, many children describe them as “cool, “awesome,” and, approvingly, “bad.” Should Satan visit these children in their dreams, they would have no fear, and no defense.

What can and should Christian parents do to protect their children from such “soul-corrupting evils"? It is, of course, normal for children to have a certain fascination with scary monsters, and a child who plays with a magic wand or a Power Ranger isn't necessarily harming his soul. What is essential here is that the child be surrounded by a strong Christian culture in the home, and that parents be attentive and take an active part in the child's development. Providing opportunities for genuine play is important, and there are many healthy alternatives to the toys and games we have described. As most toys today are priced beyond the range of a child's allowance, it is up to parents to exercise control. Non specific toys — i.e. those that give the greatest scope to the child's imagination and creativity — are best; these include card board boxes, blocks, tinker toys, crayons and other art and craft supplies; for an older child, a supply of scrap wood with a hammer and nails. Children enjoy playing with parents, and there are many board games that are fun for the whole family; these include Parcheesi, Monopoly, Pictionary, and Scrabble. Reading aloud is another valuable pastime which brings children and parents together.

The world is full of images that pull the soul in the wrong direction. Parents should surround children with images conducive to salvation, images that make the soul receptive to grace. Raising Christian children in this post-Christian age is a daunting responsibility and a real podvig. It requires a serious investment of time, patience, love and prayer. But the rewards are incomparable — and eternal.

What Time Is It for Your Child?

John weighed seven pounds, seven ounces on the day he was born. His first days of life were highlighted by bouts of crying and long periods of sleeping. On the drive home from the hospital, a few days later, John’s mother glanced down, looked at her new baby, and for a moment she smiled.
Then she looked ahead. “Honey,” she began, as she stared at her husband, “I know we decided to keep our careers so that we can be financially secure, but now I’m having second thoughts. I want to give our son the most attention we can. I want us to reconsider having me stay at home with him.”
Her husband shook his head in frustration. “We discussed this, remember?” he shot back. “We can’t afford to have one of us at home all the time. It doesn’t make sense.” For the next few minutes the proud new parents shared their thoughts and uneasiness of leaving their child in the care of someone other than his parents.
Conversations like the one above are common among new parents. Every parent wants the best for their child, yet mapping out how to exactly deliver that parenting has become more and more difficult. This struggle of parenting in contemporary society can be encapsulated by one word: time. We know that parenting takes time, but modern parenting has divided the concept of time into two categories – quality time and quantity time.
For so many hardworking parents “quality time” has become a very important concept. But what exactly is quality time? At a very basic level it can be defined as an activity that promotes communicating and sharing. For time to be deemed “quality time” it needs to be enriching and stimulating. Spending time watching television isn’t the ideal, but spending time working on a project or playing a game together is. A quick look at the historical development of the notion of quality time reveals some important information. Quality time arrived on the scene in the early 1970’s. Research indicated that the more actively mothers were involved with their babies, talking and cooing and so forth, the better it was for the babies’ cognitive and social development. The implication was that in order to have high-quality time, a fair amount of pure time had to be invested. Therefore, quality time originally assumed quantity time, but eventually the “quality not quantity” philosophy of parenting won out, simply because in our over scheduled and stressed society there was little opportunity for quantity time. Parents hoped that quality time at least made up for the lack of quantity time—so long as it was better and bigger, and more meaningful time.
Yet this ideology is flawed because parents simply can’t plan special moments of bonding or epiphanies with their child as they are unpredictable. They tend to happen within the every day mundane activities of parenting and within the notion of quantity time.
St. Theophan the Recluse touches on the issue of parenting time in his book titled: On the Upbringing of Children. He advises parents to preserve the blessing that baptism gives their child and to immerse their lives in its upbringing. The father and mother are to “disappear into the child and put their whole soul into his welfare,” he says. One of St. Theophan’s teachings on the upbringing of children centers on the establishment of developing a sound foundation – a foundation that takes a lot of effort and time. The development of this foundation is necessary to stand firm against what he refers to as the “shock waves of youth.” In other words, everything parents say and do in the early years is reflected in the latter ones. A great deal of this depends on the time we spend on our children. Much of good parenting also involves discipline and teaching. It’s through this process that children not only develop a sound conscience as good behavior becomes automatic; but it’s also through this process that good, productive habits become cemented into the child’s life. These skills need close and constant monitoring. And this is why quantity time is also important.
“The reason why the grace of Baptism is not preserved,” St. Theophan states, “is because the order, rules and laws of an upbringing are not kept.” And so the challenge for new parents is not only to establish order and rules, but to be around to see that their children live by them. Spiritually, we know that children form their ideas about God through their parents. It’s in the praying together, the listening of stories about Saints, in reading the Bible and especially in modeling Christlike behavior, that children form a lasting perception of God. When this doesn’t occur there is a void. “The family is recognized as the ‘home church,’ says Sophie Koulomzin in her book Our Church and Our Children, “and the task of parents is really a kind of a lay priesthood. Within a Christian family our Christian faith must be incarnated; it must be brought to life in the daily, hourly experience of living.”
Make no mistake, parenting isn’t simple and there are no cookie-cutter families. There are many legitimate reasons for parents to leave their child to the care of a friend or a day care center. Nowadays, most couples rely on two incomes and many single parents are trying to raise their child with minimum support. However, our faith calls for time to be both quality and quantity; therefore it’s good for parents to openly assess how much of a balance there is in the way they parent. For if parents want their children to develop consistent habits, if they want their children to develop a quality relationship with Christ, they have to sacrifice time and energy.
Next time your child asks you what time it is, and you look to give the chronological answer, remember that the most important time together isn’t measured merely by minutes, but by quantity and quality time.

Fr. Athanasios Papagiannis is a recently ordained priest serving at Assumption Church in Chicago. A licensed clinical social worker and former teacher, he is a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross School of Theology and a 2002 graduate of Aurora University.

The Orthodox Observer
Fr. Athanasios Papagiannis

25 / 10 / 2011

Friday, December 25, 2015

Life of a monk ( Abba Dorotheos )

The Fathers say that half of spiritual life is to remain in the cell, and visiting the elders is the other half. This expression means that both inside the cell and outside the cell we must be equally heedful, and we must know why we should keep silence in the cell and why we should go to the fathers and brethren; for one who keeps sight of these aims strives to act as the Fathers teach. These aims are: when the monk remains in his cell he prays, studies the Holy Scriptures, he occupies himself with a little handiwork and according to his strength concerns himself with his thoughts. When he goes out somewhere he notices and examines his state of mind: does he receive benefit from meeting with the brethren or not? And can he return without harm to his cell? If he sees that he has suffered some harm, then he will thereby come to recognize his infirmity; he can see that he has not yet acquired anything from his hesychia, and, being humbled, he returns to his cell, repenting, weeping and praying to God over his infirmity. Thus he resumes abiding in his cell and being attentive to himself.

Later he goes out again to the company of people, and observes himself to see whether he is conquered by the same thing that conquered him before, or perhaps by something else. So he returns again to his cell and does the same thing: he weeps, repents, and entreats God over his infirmity; for the cell exalts, but people tempt. Therefore the Fathers spoke well when they said abiding in the cell is one-half and visiting others is the other half. So should you, brethren, know why you are leaving your cell when you go out to see each other. You should not go anywhere senselessly or without a purpose, for he who undertakes a journey without a purpose, according to the words of the Fathers, will labor in vain.

Thus every monk should unfailingly have an aim when he does something, and should know why he does it. What should be our aim in visiting each other? First of all we should visit each other out of love: for it is said, "Seeing your brother, you have seen the Lord your God." Secondly, in order to hear the word of God, for amongst a multitude of brethren, the word of God is always more readily apprehended; because often what one brother does not know another does know, and the first one asking him, might therefore learn it. Finally, one goes into the company of people in order to find out one's own state of soul, as I have said earlier. For example, if a monk goes, as often happens, to eat with others, he should take note and examine himself: when good food is offered, something he likes, can he refrain and not take it? Do he try not to offend his brother by not taking more than him, or, when something is offered which has been cut into pieces, does he try to take the larger piece and leave the smaller piece to the other? For it happens that one may not even be ashamed to stretch out his hand and give the smaller piece to his brother, taking the larger for himself. What difference can there be between the larger piece and the smaller? Is the difference great? And for such an insignificant thing one offends his brother and commits a sin.

He should also note whether he can refrain from many foods; and upon finding them, does he surrender himself to over-eating, as sometimes happens? He should also note whether he refrains from presumptuousness, or if he takes offense when he sees that another brother is preferred over him and treated with more solicitude. If he sees that someone is too free in manner or talks too much, or does something inappropriate, does he notice this and judge him? Or does he pay no attention to this and disregard it, observing rather the more reverent and zealous? Does he strive to emulate St. Anthony, who when visiting others would notice only what good qualities they possessed, and would emulate them and adopt their qualities as his own. From one he would borrow meekness, from another humility, from another silence, and thus he assimilated the virtues of each one of them. We should do the same, adopting this as our purpose for visiting others, and when we return to our cells we should test ourselves to see what has brought us benefit and what has brought us harm. And if we were preserved from some harm let us give thanks to God; but if we have sinned in any way let us repent, let us weep and lament over the state of our souls. For it is from our own disposition of soul that we receive harm or benefit, and no one else can harm us. If we are harmed, this harm comes, as I have said, from the state of our own souls; for from every thing that happens, as I constantly tell you, we can receive either benefit or harm, as we ourselves wish. I will give you an example so that you might see that this is true.

Let us suppose that a man is standing at night someplace on the street--not a monk, but some resident of the city. Three men pass him by. One sees him and thinks that he is waiting for someone with whom he will commit fornication; the second one thinks that he is a thief; and the third thinks that he has called upon a friend of his in a house nearby, and is waiting for him to go together to a local church and pray. So all three have seen one and the same man at one and the same place but these three men have not formed one and the same idea about him. One has thought one thing, the second another, the third something else; and it is apparent that each has done this in accordance with his own state. For just as bodies that are afflicted with black gall and bad fluids turn every food they take in into bad fluids, even though their food might be good, the cause lying not in the food but in the sickness, as I have said, of the body itself, which converts the food according to its own sickness. For also the soul that has bad tendencies is harmed by everything, however useful the thing is. Imagine a vessel with honey in it: if someone were to pour a bitter tincture into it, would this little amount not ruin all the honey in the vessel and make it bitter? It is the same with us: we mix in a little of our own bitterness and destroy our neighbor's goodness, viewing it through the state of our own soul, and perverting it according to our own immorality. A man with a good disposition is like a man with a healthy body. Even if he eats something harmful it is converted into beneficial fluids by his body's good state; the bad food does not harm him because, as I have said, the body is healthy and it assimilates the food according to its own good quality. The first turns even good food into evil fluids through his evil disposition, while the latter turns even bad things into good fluids through the good qualities of his body. I will give you an example so that you might understand this.

A viper has quite a healthy body, and his food consists of shells, date pits, acorns and leaves; nonetheless, since his body is healthy it converts even such foods into good fluids. So we also, if we have a good disposition and are in a good state of soul, can receive benefit from everything, as I have said before, even though this thing might not be quite beneficial in and of itself. And the Wise Solomon has well said, He who sees lightly will have great mercy (Wisdom 38:13), and in another place, For the ungodly and his ungodliness are both alike hateful unto God (Wis. 14:9).

I heard about a certain brother, that when he had come to one of the brethren and would see that the cell was unswept and disorderly, would say to himself, "Blessed is this brother because he has set aside all cares for everything earthly, and directs all his mind upwards, so that he does not even find time to put his cell in order." And when he would come to another and see that his cell was in good order, swept and tidy, then again he would say to himself, "How pure is the soul of this brother--his cell is clean, and the state of his cell is in accord with the state of his soul." Never did he say of anyone, "This brother is negligent, or this one is vainglorious," but according to his good outlook he received benefit from each one. May the Good God grant to us a good state of soul, so that we also might receive benefit from each person and never notice the faults of our neighbor. And if we, by the sinfulness characteristic of us, should notice or make suppositions about the faults of others, let us then immediately turn our thoughts into good thoughts. For if a man does not notice the faults of his neighbor, then with the help of God there is born in him a goodness which makes him pleasing to God. For to Him is due every glory, honor and worship unto the ages. Amen.

Abba Dorotheos

Hope of Salvation ( Elder Joseph the Hesychast )

“The only hope of salvation from the delusions and the heresies, the innovations and the traps of wicked people and of the devil is prayer, repentance and humility.”

 Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Accepting the Light of Christ ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

In order to accept and perceive the light of Christ in one’s heart, it is necessary to divert oneself from the external as much as possible. First, by cleansing the soul with penitence and good deeds with true faith in the Crucified; then, by closing the physical eyes, it is necessary to immerse the mind in the heart and appeal to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ continually. Then, by measure of our zealousness and fervor of spirit for the Beloved (Lk. 3:22), a person with the calling of this name finds delight, which arouses a thirst toward greater enlightenment.

When a person internally contemplates the eternal light, his mind becomes clean and free of any sensory notions. Then, by being completely immersed in the contemplation of uncreated beauty, he forgets everything sensory, does not want to see even himself, but desires to hide in the heart of the earth, if only not to be deprived of this true good — God.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

The Gifts of the Magi

One of the many things that fascinate me about the Orthodox Faith is the treasure of relics and history we have preserved. Many people read the Bible and wonder about the things they’ve read about. Do they still exist? What did they look like? Is there special significance behind the story? But they don’t know where to even begin searching to find the answers to those questions. The gifts of the Magi are one of those things. Everyone, regardless of denomination, is familiar with the three gifts the Wise Men came bearing. What most people don’t know is that those gifts are still intact today and are safeguarded at the Holy Monastery of St. Paul on the Holy Mountain.

Another thing most people don’t realize is those gifts were not given to Christ at His birth. They were given to Him when he was almost two. The Magi followed the star for over two years, which is why we see in the icon below the Virgin and Christ being in a house not the cave where He was born. It is also why Herod gave the decree to kill all male infants two years of age and younger. We read in the book of Matthew 2:10-11,

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child (not infant or swaddling babe) with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Notice that it reads, when they came into the house, not cave, they saw the young Child, not newborn, swaddling babe or even infant, but young Child.

The reason the Magi are depicted in icons of the Nativity is because of their significance to the Birth of Christ. In some articles, including the one below, they are spoken of as ‘at the manger’ but this is not to be taken literally. Again, it is because of the importance of their presence (and presents) to Christ.

{for more interesting facts about what really happened on the night of the Nativity, check out last year’s post: Christmas 101: An Orthodox Christian Understanding

The following article was written by St. Innocent (Borisov) and was recently published in the November-December edition of The Orthodox Heritage. I thought it was a nice explanation of the significance of the gifts and wanted to share it with all of you today.

And when they had opened their treasures they presented unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

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Picture and a close-up of the authentic Gifts of the Magi, at the Holy Monastery of St. Paul, in Holy Mountain

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Not without reason, my brethren, were there three gifts at the manger of Christ; three—no more, no less. Was this a sign of the Most Holy Trinity as the essence of the Godhead? Or, did it symbolize the triune nature of Christ’s future ministry, i.e., prophetic, royal, priestly? Or was it perhaps an expression of the three parts of the nature of man, spirit, soul, and body? We leave it up to your faith and reasoning to consider this question. Here our attention rests upon the gift-bearing magi.

One could say that these pilgrims of the Orient stood before the manger of Christ for all mankind. Their gifts represent symbolically all that we, followers of the Saviour, bring to Him. The gold signifies material gifts; the frankincense, immaterial gifts, gifts of the spirit; and the myrrh represents those gifts that are at once both spiritual and material.

There are, accordingly, persons who bring the Lord gold; there are those who bring frankincense; still others bring myrrh; lastly, some bring several gifts together. Who are these individuals? In examining this question, we shall see how we too, like the magi, can serve our Lord and Saviour.

Who brings the Lord gold?

Gold is brought by those who, for the glory of God and the benefit of their neighbor, offer anything of their labors and possessions. For example, you bring gold to the Lord if you build, renew or adorn God’s temple. Your gift pleases Him, for even though He sits now on the throne of glory, for the sake of our salvation He continues at the same time to appear in the manger as well. This manger is present in church upon the table of oblation, where at every Liturgy He is, as it were, born again so as to offer Himself anew as a sacrifice for our sins. How often He suffers want in this manger. Here, He needs both clothing and shelter, light and warmth. Therefore, if you do anything for the benefit of the church, your offering delights the Lord—as much as did the gift of the magi who brought Him gold.

How much of this gold is brought to the Lord? Oh, if we were to compare what is brought with that which is spent to answer the demands of the passions, for the satisfaction not only of our needs, but of our very whims—or even with that which is patently surrendered for the flesh and the world to consume—then it shall turn out to be the very smallest part… Before us a poor man shakes from bitter cold, hunger, and disease; we either rebuff him harshly or give him a measly pittance, and that same day we are ready to exhaust half our fortune in a senseless game, or to display our munificent squandering at some gaudy spectacle. Such is our gratitude to Him Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich. (II Cor 8:9).

Who brings the Lord frankincense?

These are they who apply their abilities, knowledge, and talents to the glory of God and the benefit of their neighbors; for these are immaterial gifts of greater value than gold or silver. These are gifts which God gives to men, but they also are—and should be made—men’s gifts to God.

This costly frankincense is offered to the Lord by each one who, sparing not himself, serves his neighbor. Frankincense is offered to the Lord by that shepherd of the Church, who faithfully stands alert guarding souls and hearts against the confusions and temptations of the age, who ardently proclaims the ways of the Lord, who guides those who have lost their way, comforts those in despair, instructs all. Frankincense is brought to the Lord by that mother who does not rely upon servants, who does not spend time in idleness and vain amusements, but rather devotes her time and abilities to the rearing of her children in the fear of God, to nurturing in them the habit of self-denial, the spirit of meekness, of prayer, and of love for mankind. Permeating the home, the fragrance of this frankincense is thereafter diffused everywhere by those who received in that home a pious upbringing. Frankincense is brought to the Lord by that artist who does not utilize his talents to pander to human lust in keeping with the spirit of the time, but rather, strives to turn all his creative powers into means of disseminating—with the refined and beautiful—what is true and good. This frankincense envelops many with its heavenly fragrance. And just as there is no-one who does not possess abilities or talents of some kind, neither is there anyone who is unable to bring the Lord frankincense by using his abilities to the glory of God and the true profit of his neighbors.

The third gift to the Lord from the magi was myrrh. This was the last gift and therefore more exalted than gold or even frankincense. What kind of gift is this, and why is it so important? Like frankincense, myrrh exudes a heavenly fragrance, but its distinguishing quality lies in its great bitterness; for this reason it represents our trials and sorrows, our tears and sufferings.

Now it is clear who brings to the Lord the gift of myrrh. They bring it who patiently bear trials in life and suffer blamelessly without giving in to bleak despair, nor fainthearted complaining, nor useless sighing; those who, in enduring their trials, are moved neither to prideful scorn towards others, nor to the desperate stifling in themselves of all human feeling, but to a lively hope in the living God—to the thought that through suffering he or she is cleansed from sins, made perfect in virtue, and, what is even more gladdening, made like unto their Saviour, Who died for them upon the Cross. Such endurance, in the spirit of faith and love, of the tribulations and sorrows of the age is also a gift to the Lord, a gift more precious than gold and of a sweeter savor even than frankincense.

May all those who suffer cruelly hear this, and may they come to fathom the advantage of their condition which is seemingly bitter, but actually not without its sweetness if only they consider their faith and the Cross of Christ. May they hasten to bring their myrrh to the Lord as a gift. Those who are satisfied in this world cannot do this; unacquainted with want, they seem to lack nothing; but they have no myrrh. Many of those who possess frankincense-that is, exceptional talents, also cannot do this; they have no heavy trials to bear, no myrrh.

It is all with you, God’s bloodless passion-bearers; you, who through no guilty act of your own—whether by the lot of your birth or by the perversity of circumstance, by human malice or by our corruptible physical nature—greet virtually every day, and also end it, with sighs; and who, it may be, this very morning greeted Christ’s holy feast day with tears. Those who look upon you disdain your hardship; you yourselves, perhaps, stumble at times beneath the weight of earthly trial. But we, in the name of our Saviour, greet you with the precious likeness of His Cross! Cherish the precious myrrh which you have received as your portion; do not exchange it for frankincense, and even more guard against trading it for mere gold. And do not rob it of its heavenly fragrance by complaint or fainthearted murmuring.

What is the use of complaining? The Lord sees everything without it. Each of your tears counts with Him, each of your sighs knows its weight—and in time you shall receive for all of these a hundredfold. Amen.

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Apolytikion of the Precious Gifts

Three boasted Gifts the Magi, rulers from Persia, gave to You. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, seeing You as a babe O Christ, and faithfully worshipped You and were sanctified, venerating Your holy treasures. We all receive grace, and offer a hymn to Your Nativity, O Lord.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the little things in Life ( St. John Maximovitch )

Many people believe that to live according to the faith and to fulfill the will of God is very difficult. Actually—it’s very easy. One needs only attend to details, to trifles, and try to avoid evil in the slightest and most trivial things. This is the simplest and surest way to enter the world of the spirit and draw near to God.

A man often thinks that the Creator demands great things of him, that the Gospel insists on complete self- sacrifice, the abolition of one’s personhood, etc., as a condition of faith. A man is so frightened by this that he begins to be afraid of becoming acquainted with God, of drawing near to God, and hides himself from God, not even wishing to look into God’s Word. “If I can’t do anything important for God, then I’d just better stay away from things spiritual, stop thinking about eternity, and live ‘in a normal way’.”

There exists at the entrance to the spiritual realm a “hypnosis of great deeds:” one must either do some big thing or do nothing. And so people do nothing at all for God or for their souls! It is very strange—the more a man is devoted to the little things of life, the less he wishes to be honest or pure or faithful to God in those same little things. And, moreover, each one must adopt a correct attitude toward little things if one wishes to come near to the kingdom of heaven.

Wishes to come near: In this is summed up all the difficulties of the religious life. Often one wishes to enter into the kingdom of heaven quite unexpectedly, in some miraculous and magical way, or, by right—through some kind of great feat. But neither the one nor the other is the right way to find the higher world. One does not enter God’s presence in some wondrous manner while remaining indifferent on earth to the needs of the kingdom of God and its bright eternity, nor can one purchase the treasures of the kingdom of God by some kind of eternal act, however great that act might be. Yet good deeds, holy deeds are necessary for one to grow into a higher life, a bright will, a good desire, a heavenly psychology, a heart that is both pure and fair.

A glass of water: Verily, verily I say unto you that whosoever offers one of the least of these but a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward. In this saying of the Lord is the highest expression of the smallness of the good. “A glass of water”—this is not much.

Communicating in good spirit: In every communication between people there must without fail be a good spirit: this spirit is Christ, openly manifest or hidden. “In the name of a disciple:” this is the first step in communicating with another person in the name of Jesus Christ Himself. Many people, not as yet knowing the Lord and the wondrous fellowship in His Name still have among themselves an unselfish, pure and human fellowship which brings them ever closer to the Spirit of Christ.

The lesser good is necessary: As a matter of fact, the lesser good is more necessary for mankind than the greater. People can get along with their lives without the greater good; without the lesser they cannot exist. Mankind perishes not from a lack of the greater good, but from an insufficiency of just this lesser good. The greater good is no more than a roof, erected on the brick walls of the lesser good.

The lesser, easier good was left on this earth for man by the Creator Himself, who took all the greater good upon Himself. Whosoever does the lesser, the same creates—and through him the Creator Himself creates—the greater good. Of our little good the Creator makes His Own great good. For as our Lord is the Creator who formed all things from nothingness, so is He more able to create the greater good from the lesser.

Through such lesser, easy work, done with the greatest simplicity, a man is accustomed to the good and begins to serve it with his whole heart, sincerely, and in this way enters into an atmosphere of good, lets down the roots of his life into new soil, the soil of the good. The roots of human life quickly accommodate themselves to this good earth, and soon cannot live without it... Thus is a man saved: from the small comes the great. “Faithful in little things” turns out to be “faithful in the greater.”

Our moral sense: Lay aside all theoretical considerations that it is forbidden to slaughter millions, women, children, and elderly; be content to manifest your moral sense by in no way killing the human dignity of your neighbor, neither by word, nor by innuendo, nor by gesture. Do not be angry over trifles against your brother vainly (Mt 5:22) or in the daily contacts of life speak untruth to your neighbor. These are trifles, small change, of no account; but just try to do this and you will see what comes of it.
Prayer: It is hard to pray at night. But try in the morning. If you can’t manage to pray at home than at least as you ride to your place of employment attempt with a clear head the “Our Father” and let the words of this short prayer resound in your heart. And at night commend yourself with complete sincerity into the hands of the Heavenly Father. This indeed is very easy.

And give, give a glass of cold water to everyone who has need of it; give a glass filled to the brim with simple human companionship to everyone that lack it, the very simplest companionship...

O wondrous path of little things, I sing thee a hymn! Surround yourselves, O people, gird up yourselves with little works of good— with a chain of little, simple, easy and good feelings which cost us naught, a chain of bright thoughts, words and deeds. Let us abandon the big and the difficult. That is for them that love it and not for us for whom the Lord in His Mercy, for us who have not yet learned to love the greater, has poured forth the lesser love everywhere, free as water and air.

St. John Maximovitch
Vol. 12, Issue 05-06 Orthodox - Heritage