Thursday, March 31, 2016

On Bows and Prostrations...

From apostolic times, Christians have been guided by general rules so that the worship of God should be ordered fittingly and reverently, and our acting in concert in church is a confession of our unanimity of Faith, and so naturally there are directions about the making of prostrations. Having said this, two things must be borne in mind. First, although in general we act in concert, within Orthodox worship there is no strait jacketting. Not everyone in church behaves in exactly the same manner. On a given day, one person might prostrate more than another, or be moved to do so at slightly different points in the service. Secondly, we must remember that some are old or infirm, and may not be able to make prostrations; we should not judge them if we see them"merely bowing" on a prostration day.
There are canonical and liturgical directions which deal with this subject. The full prostration is seen as a penitential act or an act of the deepest reverence, and therefore on days when the Church is celebrating festively they are in general not enjoined in church.

The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council specifically forbids kneeling, and thus prostrations, on every Sunday (it being the feast of the Resurrection) and on the days of Pentecost, the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost-Trinity Sunday.

In the Great Fast, prostrations are enjoined by the rubrics in the services, particularly in association with the Prayer of Saint Ephraim and the lenten verses. However, even during this penitential period of the year, no prostrations are enjoined on Saturdays or Sundays. Perhaps as a parallel to the lenten practice, it is general in most parishes not to make full prostrations on Saturdays.

Great Feasts are also joyous occasions and thus it it customary not to make prostrations or to kneel down at their celebration. In this regard there seem to be a number of diverse practices. One never prostrates on the day of a Great Feast or on the leave-taking of that feast.* In some churches we refrain from prostrating on the second day of the feast, if there is a synaxis, as there is for instance for Sts Joachim and Anna on the day after the Nativity of the Virgin. It is also customary not to make prostrations throughout the whole period of some of the greatest feasts, Nativity, Theophany, and Pentecost itself (in this instance, the week-long feast itself, rather than the fifty days which end on Pentecost-Trinity Sunday, although we do kneel, of course, for the Kneeling Prayers on Trinity Sunday Vespers, for the first time since Pascha).

In addition to this, rubrics direct that we cease from prostrations on certain forefeasts. Thus, on 20 December, we are directed that although the Nativity Fast continues, in the forefeast of the Nativity we cease from prostrations. (This means, in effect, that we make no prostrations between 20 December and the leave-taking of Theophany, 14 January.) Also, by a direction appointed on Holy and Great Wednesday, the Prayer of St Ephraim is read at the end of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, and thereafter, even though it is not yet Pascha, we do not make prostrations again, except before the Winding Sheet (epitaphios, plashchanitsa), because we have already entered into the festal period.

We have noted that in the last days of Passion Week we prostrate before the Winding Sheet, although we are not otherwise making prostrations in church. A similar exception is made on those occasions when the Cross is brought out for the veneration of the faithful: on the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September, on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross in mid-lent, and, if it should fall at a weekend, on the feast of the Procession of the Cross on 1 August.
We should also bear in mind that the liturgical day (although not the fasting day) begins with Vespers, or more precisely, with the entrance and/or prokimenon at Vespers, and thus we do not make prostrations on a Saturday evening after the Vespers entrance, although we do do so on Sunday evening Vespers, it being a service for Monday.

Lastly and importantly, one must bear in mind that there are certain local practices and variations with regard to prostrations, as also with regard to much else within Orthodoxy. If a practice is not clean contrary to the teaching of the Ecumenical Church and thus a malpractice, there is much to be said for following the practice of the church you are in or visiting. "When in Rome..." If you are in some doubt as to what to do, a good idea is to follow the lead of the celebrant or the senior person present; in doing this you will at least be showing them respect and will be humbling yourself. (The Shepherd, December 1990)

At the Divine Liturgy we make prostrations:

at the beginning of "It is meet and right to worship Father, Son and..." 

at the end of the prayer, "We praise Thee, we bless..." 
at the end of the prayer, "It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos" (or whatever hymn is used in its place)
at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer when the Holy Gifts are brought out for communion
when, afterwards, the priest, holding the Gifts, says "Always, now and ever..." (except for those who have communed, who should simply bow) 

Note: Although prostrations are not enjoined for Saturdays, it is a common practice to make prostrations on that day during the Divine Liturgy at the points indicated above.

Concerning Carnal Sins (Part 3 ) - ( St. Gregory Palamas )

The descendants of Esau were spurned [by God] because he was a fornicator and a defilement
(Rom. 9:13). Rehoboam lost the greater part
of the kingdom because his father Solomon was a womanizer more than anyone else (3 Kg. 11:1). If Solomon died without losing any part of the
kingdom, this was due to David, who cleansed the sin he had committed with streams of tears and with other works of repentance (3 Kg. 11:10-11).
The Apostle again commands us, my brothers, to flee from fornication (1 Co. 6:18). If Sampson had fled from it, he would not have fallen into the hands of Delilah (Jdg. 16:4-21). 

If the Jews who were being led by Moses, their
commander and lawgiver, had avoided it, they would not have offered sacrifices to Baalpeor
(Num. 25:1-3). If Solomon had evaded it, he would not have become estranged from the Lord, Who had rendered him a wise king (3 Kg. 11:7-8).

Do you see how the passion of fornication pushes a person even to impiety? If it wasn't for this passion, the beauty of Susanna would not have
fooled and defeated the elders in Babylon

(Dan. 8). If Holofernes, this wretched fellow, hadn't first allowed Judith’s sandal to allure his eye and previously permitted her beauty to captivate his soul (Jdt. 16:9), he wouldn't have ended up dead with his head cut off (Jdt. 13:8). This is why Job states: “I have made a covenant with my eyes, and I will not look upon a virgin”
(Job 31:1). How much more should this apply to an immodest woman, whether she be single or married.
Doesn’t the Law of Moses itself order for the bride who is found not to be a virgin to be stoned to death (Dt. 22:20-21)?
Doesn’t it also order for the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself through fornication, to be burnt with fire1(Lev. 21:9)?
It is written:
“There shall be no harlot from the daughters of Israel, and there shall be no fornicator from the sons of Israel” (Dt. 23:17). Furthermore, the scriptures state that the Jewish people
“desecrated themselves through fornication”
with the daughters of Moab (Num. 25:1), and as a consequence twenty three thousand men were killed by the sword in one day.
This is why the great Apostle Paul announces to
us, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand”(1 Cor. 10:8). Such are the
penalties of fornication prior to the Mosaic Law,
during the time of the Law, 1 St. Gregory Palamas
is not suggesting that the Law of Moses be implemented; for with the coming of Christ, the shadow of the Law came to an end and has been replaced by the Gospel of Grace. Rather, he wants to make known to us how serious the sin of fornication is in the eyes of God. and which the Law prescribes.
Either preserve God-pleasing chastity, beloved brothers, or God-given matrimony ... Avoid the honey that drips from the lips of fornication, because it has the custom of smearing lustful
death, which is the separation from God.
As the Prophet David says, “
Thou hast destroyed everyone who fornicates from Thee” (Ps. 72:27).
If anyone has fallen into any of fornication’s filth, may he return and distance himself from it, and may he cleanse himself with repentance. For thus saith the Lord: “Shall he who falls not arise? He who turns away, shall he not return?” (Jer. 8:4).
Thus, it is necessary for the person whose body has become a temple of God through the Holy Spirit, and within whom the Spirit of God dwells (1 Co. 6:19), to hasten toward the acquisition of purity and chastity, and away from fornication and every impurity, so that we may delight eternally with the incorrupt Bridegroom [Christ] in the heavenly and immaculate bridal chambers. Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When God created man, He planted something divine into him ( Abba Dorotheus )

When God created man, He planted something divine into him — a certain conception — a spark that has both light and warmth. The conception that enlightens the mind and indicates what is right and what is wrong is called conscience. Conscience is a natural law. Living in times before any written law, patriarchs and saints pleased God by following the voice of their conscience.

Abba Dorotheus

St. Seraphim of Sarov, the Righteous Wonderworker

St. Seraphim of Sarov, the Righteous Wonderworker - Commemorated on January 2
Saint Seraphim of Sarov, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was born on July 19, 1754. His parents, Isidore and Agathia Moshnin, were inhabitants of Kursk. Isidore was a merchant. Toward the end of his life, he began construction of a cathedral in Kursk, but he died before the completion of the work. His little son Prochorus, the future Seraphim, remained in the care of his widowed mother, who raised her son in piety.

After the death of her husband, Agathia Moshnina continued with the construction of the cathedral. Once she took the seven-year-old Prochorus there with her, and he fell from the scaffolding around the seven-storey bell tower. He should have been killed, but the Lord preserved the life of the future luminary of the Church. The terrified mother ran to him and found her son unharmed.

Young Prochorus, endowed with an excellent memory, soon mastered reading and writing. From his childhood he loved to attend church services, and to read both the Holy Scripture and the Lives of the Saints with his fellow students. Most of all, he loved to pray or to read the Holy Gospel in private.

At one point Prochorus fell grievously ill, and his life was in danger. In a dream the boy saw the Mother of God, promising to visit and heal him. Soon past the courtyard of the Moshnin home came a church procession with the Kursk Root Icon of the Sign (November 27). His mother carried Prochorus in her arms, and he kissed the holy icon, after which he speedily recovered.

St. Seraphim being healed through the Wonderworking Kursk-Root icon of the Theotokos

While still in his youth Prochorus made his plans to devote his life entirely to God and to go to a monastery. His devout mother did not object to this and she blessed him on his monastic path with a copper cross, which he wore on his chest for the rest of his life. Prochorus set off on foot with pilgrims going from Kursk to Kiev to venerate the Saints of the Caves.

The Elder Dositheus (actually a woman, Daria Tyapkina), whom Prochorus visited, blessed him to go to the Sarov wilderness monastery, and there seek his salvation. Returning briefly to his parental home, Prohkor bid a final farewell to his mother and family. On November 20, 1778 he arrived at Sarov, where the monastery then was headed by a wise Elder, Father Pachomius. He accepted him and put him under the spiritual guidance of the Elder Joseph. Under his direction Prochorus passed through many obediences at the monastery: he was the Elder's cell-attendant, he toiled at making bread and prosphora, and at carpentry. He fulfilled all his obediences with zeal and fervor, as though serving the Lord Himself. By constant work he guarded himself against despondency (accidie), this being, as he later said, "the most dangerous temptation for new monks. It is treated by prayer, by abstaining from idle chatter, by strenuous work, by reading the Word of God and by patience, since it is engendered by pettiness of soul, negligence, and idle talk."

With the blessing of Igumen Pachomius, Prochorus abstained from all food on Wednesdays and Fridays, and went into the forest, where in complete isolation he practiced the Jesus Prayer. After two years as a novice, Prochorus fell ill with dropsy, his body became swollen, and he was beset with suffering. His instructor Father Joseph and the other Elders were fond of Prochorus, and they provided him care. The illness dragged on for about three years, and not once did anyone hear from him a word of complaint. The Elders, fearing for his very life, wanted to call a doctor for him, but Prochorus asked that this not be done, saying to Father Pachomius: "I have entrusted myself, holy Father, to the True Physician of soul and body, our Lord Jesus Christ and His All-Pure Mother."

He asked that a Molieben be offered for his health. While the others were praying in church, Prochorus had a vision. The Mother of God appeared to him accompanied by the holy Apostles Peter and John the Theologian. Pointing with Her hand towards the sick monk, the Most Holy Virgin said to St John, "He is one of our kind." Then She touched the side of the sick man with Her staff, and immediately the fluid that had swelled up his body began to flow through the incision that She made. After the Molieben, the brethren found that Prochorus had been healed, and only a scar remained as evidence of the miracle.

Soon, at the place of the appearance of the Mother of God, an infirmary church was built for the sick. One of the side chapels was dedicated to Sts Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki (April 17). With his own hands, St Seraphim made an altar table for the chapel out of cypress wood, and he always received the Holy Mysteries in this church.

After eight years as a novice at the Sarov monastery, Prochorus was tonsured with the name Seraphim, a name reflecting his fiery love for the Lord and his zealous desire to serve Him. After a year, Seraphim was ordained as hierodeacon.

Earnest in spirit, he served in the temple each day, incessantly praying even after the service. The Lord granted him visions during the church services: he often saw holy angels serving with the priests. During the Divine Liturgy on Great and Holy Thursday, which was celebrated by the igumen Father Pachomius and by Father Joseph, St Seraphim had another vision. After the Little Entrance with the Gospel, the hierodeacon Seraphim pronounced the words "O Lord, save the God-fearing, and hear us." Then, he lifted his orarion saying, "And unto ages of ages." Suddenly, he was blinded by a bright ray of light.

Looking up, St Seraphim beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, coming through the western doors of the temple, surrounded by the Bodiless Powers of Heaven. Reaching the ambo, the Lord blessed all those praying and entered into His Icon to the right of the royal doors. St Seraphim, in spiritual rapture after this miraculous vision, was unable to utter a word, nor to move from the spot. They led him by the hand into the altar, where he just stood for another three hours, his face having changed color from the great grace that shone upon him. After the vision the saint intensified his efforts. He toiled at the monastery by day, and he spent his nights praying in his forest cell.

St. Seraphim with his priestly stole
In 1793, Hierodeacon Seraphim was ordained to the priesthood, and he served the Divine Liturgy every day. After the death of the igumen Father Pachomius, St Seraphim received the blessing of the new Superior Father Isaiah, to live alone in a remote part of the forest three and a half miles from the monastery. He named his new home "Mount Athos," and devoted himself to solitary prayer. He went to the monastery only on Saturday before the all-night Vigil, and returned to his forest cell after Sunday's Liturgy, at which he partook of the Divine Mysteries.

Fr Seraphim spent his time in ascetical struggles. His cell rule of prayer was based on the rule of St Pachomius for the ancient desert monasteries. He always carried the Holy Gospels with him, reading the entire New Testament in the course of a week. He also read the holy Fathers and the service books. The saint learned many of the Church hymns by heart, and sang them while working in the forest. Around his cell he cultivated a garden and set up a beehive. He kept a very strict fast, eating only once during the entire day, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he completely abstained from food. On the first Sunday of the Great Fast he did not partake of food at all until Saturday, when he received the Holy Mysteries.

St. Seraphim of Sarov
The holy Elder was sometimes so absorbed by the unceasing prayer of the heart that he remained without stirring, neither hearing nor seeing anything around him. The schemamonk Mark the Silent and the hierodeacon Alexander, also wilderness-dwellers, would visit him every now and then. Finding the saint immersed in prayer, they would leave quietly, so they would not disturb his contemplation.

In the heat of summer the righteous one gathered moss from a swamp as fertilizer for his garden. Gnats and mosquitoes bit him relentlessly, but he endured this saying, "The passions are destroyed by suffering and by afflictions."

His solitude was often disturbed by visits from monks and laymen, who sought his advice and blessing. With the blessing of the igumen, Fr Seraphim prohibited women from visiting him, then receiving a sign that the Lord approved of his desire for complete silence, he banned all visitors. Through the prayers of the saint, the pathway to his wilderness cell was blocked by huge branches blown down from ancient pine trees. Now only the birds and the wild beasts visited him, and he dwelt with them as Adam did in Paradise. They came at midnight and waited for him to complete his Rule of prayer. Then he would feed bears, lynxes, foxes, rabbits, and even wolves with bread from his hand. St Seraphim also had a bear which would obey him and run errands for him.

St. Seraphim feeding a bear in the forest
In order to repulse the onslaughts of the Enemy, St Seraphim intensified his toil and began a new ascetical struggle in imitation of St Simeon the Stylite (September 1). Each night he climbed up on an immense rock in the forest, or a smaller one in his cell, resting only for short periods. He stood or knelt, praying with upraised hands, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." He prayed this way for 1,000 days and nights.

St. Seraphim praying on a rock in asceticism
Three robbers in search of money or valuables once came upon him while he was working in his garden. The robbers demanded money from him. Though he had an axe in his hands, and could have put up a fight, but he did not want to do this, recalling the words of the Lord: "Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt. 26: 52). Dropping his axe to the ground, he said, "Do what you intend." The robbers beat him severely and left him for dead. They wanted to throw him in the river, but first they searched the cell for money. They tore the place apart, but found nothing but icons and a few potatoes, so they left. The monk, regained consciousness, crawled to his cell, and lay there all night.

In the morning he reached the monastery with great difficulty. The brethren were horrified, seeing the ascetic with several wounds to his head, chest, ribs and back. For eight days he lay there suffering from his wounds. Doctors called to treat him were amazed that he was still alive after such a beating.

Fr Seraphim was not cured by any earthly physician: the Queen of Heaven appeared to him in a vision with the Apostles Peter and John. Touching the saint's head, the Most Holy Virgin healed him. However, he was unable to straighten up, and for the rest of his life he had to walk bent over with the aid of a stick or a small axe. St Seraphim had to spend about five months at the monastery, and then he returned to the forest. He forgave his abusers and asked that they not be punished.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, bent over from the injuries he incurred from the robbers
In 1807 the abbot, Father Isaiah, fell asleep in the Lord. St Seraphim was asked to take his place, but he declined. He lived in silence for three years, completely cut off from the world except for the monk who came once a week to bring him food. If the saint encountered a man in the forest, he fell face down and did not get up until the passerby had moved on. St Seraphim acquired peace of soul and joy in the Holy Spirit. The great ascetic once said, "Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls will be saved around you."

The new Superior of the monastery, Father Niphon, and the older brethren of the monastery told Father Seraphim either to come to the monastery on Sundays for divine services as before, or to move back into the monastery. He chose the latter course, since it had become too difficult for him to walk from his forest cell to the monastery. In the spring of 1810, he returned to the monastery after fifteen years of living in the wilderness.

Continuing his silence, he shut himself up in his cell, occupying himself with prayer and reading. He was also permitted to eat meals and to receive Communion in his cell. There St Seraphim attained the height of spiritual purity and was granted special gifts of grace by God: clairvoyance and wonderworking. After five years of solitude, he opened his door and allowed the monks to enter. He continued his silence, however, teaching them only by example.

On November 25, 1825 the Mother of God, accompanied by the two holy hierarchs commemorated on that day (Hieromartyr Clement of Rome, and St Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria), appeared to the Elder in a vision and told him to end his seclusion and to devote himself to others. He received the igumen's blessing to divide his time between life in the forest, and at the monastery. He did not return to his Far Hermitage, but went to a cell closer to the monastery. This he called his Near Hermitage. At that time, he opened the doors of his cell to pilgrims as well as his fellow-monks.

St. Seraphim of Sarov
The Elder saw into the hearts of people, and as a spiritual physician, he healed their infirmities of soul and body through prayer and by his grace-filled words. Those coming to St Seraphim felt his great love and tenderness. No matter what time of the year it was, he would greet everyone with the words, "Christ is Risen, my joy!" He especially loved children. Once, a young girl said to her friends, "Father Seraphim only looks like an old man. He is really a child like us."

The Elder was often seen leaning on his stick and carrying a knapsack filled with stones. When asked why he did this, the saint humbly replied,"I am troubling him who troubles me."

In the final period of his earthly life St Seraphim devoted himself to his spiritual children, the Diveyevo women's monastery. While still a hierodeacon he had accompanied the late Father Pachomius to the Diveyevo community to its monastic leader, Mother Alexandra, a great woman ascetic, and then Father Pachomius blessed St Seraphim to care always for the "Diveyevo orphans." He was a genuine father for the sisters, who turned to him with all their spiritual and material difficulties.

St Seraphim also devoted much effort to the women's monastic community at Diveyevo. He himself said that he gave them no instructions of his own, but it was the Queen of Heaven who guided him in matters pertaining to the monastery. His disciples and spiritual friends helped the saint to feed and nourish the Diveyevo community. Michael V. Manturov, healed by the monk from grievous illness, was one of Diveyvo's benefactors. On the advice of the Elder he took upon himself the exploit of voluntary poverty. Elena Vasilievna Manturova, one of the Diveyevo sisters, out of obedience to the Elder, voluntarily consented to die in place of her brother, who was still needed in this life.

Nicholas Alexandrovich Motovilov, was also healed by the monk. In 1903, shortly before the glorification of the saint, the remarkable "Conversation of St Seraphim of Sarov with N. A. Motovilov" was found and printed. Written by Motovilov after their conversation at the end of November 1831, the manuscript was hidden in an attic in a heap of rubbish for almost seventy years. It was found by the author S. A. Nilus, who was looking for information about St Seraphim's life. This conversation is a very precious contribution to the spiritual literature of the Orthodox Church. It grew out of Nicholas Motovilov's desire to know the aim of the Christian life. It was revealed to St Seraphim that Motovilov had been seeking an answer to this question since childhood, without receiving a satisfactory answer. The holy Elder told him that the aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and went on to explain the great benefits of prayer and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Motovilov asked the saint how we can know if the Holy Spirit is with us or not. St Seraphim spoke at length about how people come to be in the Spirit of God, and how we can recognize His presence in us, but Motovilov wanted to understand this better. Then Father Seraphim took him by the shoulders and said, "We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don't you look at me?"

Motovilov replied, "I cannot look, Father, for your eyes are flashing like lightning, and your face is brighter than the sun."

St. Seraphim, surrounded with the Uncreated Light, before Nicholas Motovilov
St Seraphim told him, "Don't be alarmed, friend of God. Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are in the fulness of the Spirit of God yourself, otherwise you would not be able to see me like this."

Then St Seraphim promised Motovilov that God would allow him to retain this experience in his memory all his life. "It is not given for you alone to understand," he said, "but through you it is for the whole world."

St. Seraphim of Sarov amidst the Holy Uncreated Light with Nicholas Motovilov
Everyone knew and esteemed St Seraphim as a great ascetic and wonderworker. A year and ten months before his end, on the Feast of the Annunciation, St Seraphim was granted to behold the Queen of Heaven once more in the company of St John the Baptist, the Apostle John the Theologian and twelve Virgin Martyrs (Sts Barbara, Katherine, Thekla, Marina, Irene, Eupraxia, Pelagia, Dorothea, Makrina, Justina, Juliana, and Anysia). The Most Holy Virgin conversed at length with the monk, entrusting the Diveyevo sisters to him. Concluding the conversation, She said to him: "Soon, My dear one, you shall be with us." The Diveyevo nun Eupraxia was present during this visit of the Mother of God, because the saint had invited her.

The Most-holy Theotokos appearing to St. Seraphim, along with Sts. John and twelve Virgin Martyrs
In the last year of St Seraphim's life, one of those healed by him saw him standing in the air during prayer. The saint strictly forbade this to be mentioned until after his death.

St Seraphim became noticeably weaker and he spoke much about his approaching end. During this time they often saw him sitting by his coffin, which he had placed in the ante-room of his cell, and which he had prepared for himself.

The saint himself had marked the place where finally they would bury him, near the altar of the Dormition cathedral. On January 1, 1833 Father Seraphim came to the church of Sts Zosimas and Sabbatius one last time for Liturgy and he received the Holy Mysteries, after which he blessed the brethren and bid them farewell, saying: "Save your souls. Do not be despondent, but watchful. Today crowns are being prepared for us."

On January 2, Father Paul, the saint's cell-attendant, left his own cell at six in the morning to attend the early Liturgy. He noticed the smell of smoke coming from the Elder's cell. St Seraphim would often leave candles burning in his cell, and Father Paul was concerned that they could start a fire.

The repose of St. Seraphim
"While I am alive," he once said, "there will be no fire, but when I die, my death shall be revealed by a fire." When they opened the door, it appeared that books and other things were smoldering. St Seraphim was found kneeling before an icon of the Mother of God with his arms crossed on his chest. His pure soul was taken by the angels at the time of prayer, and had flown off to the Throne of the Almighty God, Whose faithful servant St Seraphim had been all his life.

St Seraphim has promised to intercede for those who remember his parents, Isidore and Agathia.

St. Seraphim of Sarov with scenes from his life

Troparion - Tone 4
You loved Christ from your youth, O blessed one, and longing to work for Him alone you struggled in the wilderness in constant prayer and labor. With penitent heart and great love for Christ you were favored by the Mother of God. Therefore we cry to you: "Save us by your prayers, venerable Seraphim, our father."

Kontakion - Tone 2
Forsaking the beauty as well as the corruption of this world, you settled in the monastery of Sarov, O Saint. There you lived an angelic life, becoming for many the way to salvation. Therefore, Christ has glorified you, Father Seraphim, enriching you with abundant healing and miracles. So we cry to you: "Save us by your prayers, venerable Seraphim, our father."

St. Seraphim of Sarov the Wonderworker

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Are Passions Natural?

What is a passion? They are impulses that move us to action by overcoming our will. Because of this we say they enslave us. They are powerful because they are also desires which cannot be satisfied. They act as a force that goes against what we know to be the proper action and lead us to actions which are counter to the commandments of Christ. There is no single list of these passions, but the following is a common list used in early Christian literature: gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem and pride.

Their ultimate cause is the forgetting of God. Healing begins with faith.

Not all passions are bad. There are both natural and unnatural passions. Our natural passions are our appetite for food, enjoyment of food, fear and sadness. These are necessary for our the preservation of our nature. They are important animal aspect of our being given to by God. But we are more than animals as we are spiritual. Because of this we have an aspiration for the infinite. Often these natural passions which are intended for earthly preservation are transformed into unnatural passions. They are frequently transformed into a mistaken quest for the infinite in things of this material world. The soul loses control and the passions take over. Out task is to control them so they can be limited to their proper purpose. Then they can channeled to seek divine things.

Saint Maximus says,

The natural passions become good in those who struggle when, wisely unfastening them from the things of the flesh, use them to gain heavenly things. For example they can change appetite into the movement of a spiritual longing for divine things; pleasure into pure joy for the cooperation of the mind with divine gifts; fear into care to evade future misfortune due to sin and sadness into corrective repentance for present evil. So the natural passions are not necessarily bad. When we are thinking of God they are kept to their necessary biological functions. Our task is not to eradicate them but to control them, keeping them within the limits necessary for the preservation of the body. They must continually be watched and controlled. This is the basis of asceticism.

Thoughts from Fr. Dimitru Staniloae:

Asceticism means, in the spirit of Eastern thought, the restraint and discipline of the biological, not a battle for its extermination. On the contrary, asceticism means the sublimation of this element of bodily affectivity, not its abolition.... Natural passions can assume a spiritual character and give an increased accent to our love for God.... Now here is the most important point. By controlling them we increase our spiritual blessings.

Fr. Dimitru says,

By putting a bridle and a limit on the pleasure of material things, a transfer of this energy of our nature takes place, in favor of the spirit; pleasure in spiritual blessings grows. ... The challenge we face is not easy. Is difficulty is increased by our tendency to react in the wrong way. Once a pleasure leaves us we feel a loss. This can be painful. Pain or dissatisfaction always follows pleasure. This pain that follows does not lead us to take action to temper the pleasure, but does the opposite. We seek even more pleasure. The cycle continues without satisfaction.

Fr. Dimitru says,

The pain which follows pleasure, instead of making him avoid pleasure, as its source,...pushes his anew into pleasure as if to get rid of it, tangling him even more in this vicious chain. Asceticism is aimed at breaking this dysfunctional cycle of pleasure and pain, liberating us from the unnatural extension of passions that have a proper role in our bodily preservation. This bodily domination through uncontrolled passions is our main block to union with God.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp77 - 89

Concerning Carnal Sins ( Part 2 ) - ( St. Gregory Palamas )

Do not fornicate, lest you become a "member of an harlot" (1 Cor. 6:15) instead of a member of Christ, and so you are not severed from the
divine body, deprived of the heavenly inheritance, and cast into Hell.
We have been commanded to crucify our body along with its desires (Gal. 5:24). However, we fall into the same [carnal sins], on account of
which "the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6).
Even though we have been ordered to mortify our "bodily members which are upon the earth"(Col.3:5), we do not execute this directive. Shouldn't we tremble the apostolic warnings, decisions, and counsels that have been voiced? "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy" (1 Cor. 3:17).
And elsewhere,"This you should know: that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (Eph. 5:5). And
again, "For this is the will of God: your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication...
For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (1 Th. 4:3-7). Who could adequately compile all the commandments that the Apostles and prophets have given us concerning this topic? What does the Apostle Paul order to them who live with modesty, and who for this reason are found amongst the members of Christ? "I wrote to you in an epistle," he says, "not to keep company with fornicators" (1 Cor. 5:9). Since they
themselves are not ashamed, he advises others to avoid keeping company with them in order to
make them feel ashamed: "If any man that is called a brother [i.e., a Christian] is a fornicator ... with such a person do not even eat" (1 Cor. 9:11). Do you see that whoever rolls in fornication is a
general defilement to the Church, and for this reason everyone must avoid him and keep him distanced? St. Paul himself handed over to Satan the fornicator from Corinth, and he did not recommend for anyone to show him love or to
receive him until he displayed the necessary and satisfactory repentance (1 Cor. 5:5). Therefore, definitely save your soul, dear brothers, from all the present and future evils [of fornication].

St. Gregory Palamas

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reading the Bible by St. Justin Popovich (+1979)

The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself.

The Holy Scriptures of the New Testament are a biography of the incarnate God in this world. In them it is related how God, in order to reveal Himself to men, sent God the Logos, Who took on flesh and became man, and as man told men everything that God is, everything that God wants from this world and the people in it.

God the Logos revealed God’s plan for the world and God’s love for the world. God the Word spoke to men about God with the help of words insofar as human words can contain the uncontainable God.

All that is necessary for this world and the people in it—the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or indirectly in the Bible.

Men cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a senseless question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.

What the Bible Contains

In the Bible God has made known:

(1) what the world is; where it came from; why it exists; what it is heading for; how it will end;

(2) what man is; where he comes from; where he is going; what he is made of; what his purpose is; how he will end;

(3) what animals and plants are; what their purpose is, and what they are used for;

(4) what good is; where it comes from; what it leads to; what its purpose is; how it is attained;

(5) what evil is; where it comes from; how it came to exist; why it exists—how it will come to an end;

(6) what the righteous are and what sinners are; how a sinner becomes righteous and how an arrogant righteous man becomes a sinner; how a man serves God and how he serves satan; the whole path from good to evil, from God to satan;

(7) everything—from the beginning to the end; man’s entire path from the body to God, from his conception in the womb to his resurrection from the dead;

(8) what the history of the world is, the history of heaven and earth, the history of mankind; what their path, purpose, and end are.

The Beauty of the Bible

In the Bible God has said absolutely everything that was necessary to be said to men. The biography of every man—everyone without exception—is found in the Bible. In it each of us can find himself portrayed and thoroughly described in detail; all those virtues and vices which you have and can have and cannot have.

You will find the paths on which your own soul and everyone else’s journey from sin to sinlessness, and the entire path from man to God and from man to satan. You will find the means to free yourself from sin. In short, you will find the complete history of sin and sinfulness, and the complete history of righteousness and the righteous.

If you are mournful, you will find consolation in the Bible; if you are sad, you will find joy; if you are angry—tranquility; if you are lustful—continence; if you are foolish—wisdom; if you are bad—goodness; if you are a criminal—mercy and righteousness; if you hate your fellow man—love.

You will find a remedy for all your vices and weak points, and nourishment for all your virtues and accomplishments. If you are good, the Bible will teach you how to become better and best; if you are kind, it will teach you angelic tenderness; if you are intelligent, it will teach you wisdom.

If you appreciate the beauty and music of literary style, there is nothing more beautiful or more moving than what is contained in Job, Isaiah, Solomon, David, John the Theologian and the Apostle Paul. Here music—the angelic music of the eternal truth of God—is clothed in human words.

The more one reads and studies the Bible, the more he finds reasons to study it as often and as frequently as he can. According to St. John Chrysostom, it is like an aromatic root, which produces more and more aroma the more it is rubbed.

Prayerful Preparation

Just as important as knowing why we should read the Bible is knowing how we should read the Bible. The best guides for this are the holy Fathers, headed by St. John Chrysostom who, in a manner of speaking, has written a fifth Gospel.

The holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?

First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illumine your mind—so that you may understand the words of the Bible—and to fill your heart with His grace—so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.

Be aware that these are God’s words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.

How We Should Read the Bible

Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.

The Bible is not a book, but life; because its words are spiritual life (Jn 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended it we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life. It is a book that must be read with life, by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.

Here the words of the Saviour apply: Whoever, is willing to do it will understand that this teaching is from God: If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (Jn 7:17). Do it so that you may understand it. This is the fundamental rule of Orthodox exegesis [Ed., i.e., explanation].

At first one usually reads the Bible quickly; and then more and more slowly, until finally he will begin to read not even word by word, because in each word he is discovering an everlasting truth and an ineffable mystery.

Everyday read at least one chapter from the Old and the New Testament; but side by side with this, put a virtue from each into practice. Practice it until it becomes a habit to you. Let us say, for instance, that the first virtue is forgiveness of insults. Let this be your daily obligation. And along with it pray to the Lord: O gentle Lord, grant me love towards those who insult me! And when you have made this virtue into a habit, each of the other virtues after it will be easier for you, and so on until the final one.

The main thing is to read the Bible as much as possible. What the mind does not understand, the heart will feel; and if neither the mind understands nor the heart feels, read it over again, because by reading it you are sowing God’s words in your soul. And there they will not perish, but will gradually and imperceptibly pass into the nature of your soul; and there will happen to you what the Saviour said about the man who casts seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, while the man does not know it. (Mk 4:26-27).

The main thing is: sow, and it is God Who causes and allows what is sown to grow. (I Cor 3:6). But do not rush success, lest you become like a man who sows today, but tomorrow already wants to reap.

Seed in Our Souls

By reading the Bible you are adding yeast to the dough of your soul and body, which gradually expands and fills the soul until it has thoroughly permeated it and makes it rise with the truth and righteousness of the Gospel.

In every instance, the Saviour’s parable about the sower and the seed can be applied to every one of us. The Seed of Divine Truth is given to us in the Bible. By reading it, we sow that seed in our own soul. It fails on the rocky and thorny ground of our soul, but a little also falls on the good soil of our heart—and bears fruit.

And when you catch sight of the fruit and taste it, the sweetness and joy will spur you to clear and plow the rocky and thorny areas of your soul and sow it with the seed of the Word of God. Do you know when a man is wise in the sight of Christ the Lord? It is when he listens to His word and carries it out. The beginning of wisdom is to listen to God’s word: Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man. (Mt 7:24).

Every word of the Saviour has the power and the might to heal both physical and spiritual ailments. Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. (Mt 8:8). The Saviour said the word—and the centurion’s servant was healed.

Just as He once did, the Lord even now ceaselessly says His words to you, to me, and to all of us. But we must pause, and immerse ourselves in them and receive them, with the centurion’s faith. And a miracle will happen to us, and our souls will be healed just as the centurion’s servant was healed. For it is related in the Gospel that they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick. (Mt 8:16).

He still does this today, because the Lord Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. (Heb 13:8).


Those who do not listen to God’s words will be judged at the Dreadful Judgment, and it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for them. (Mt 10:14-15).

Beware—at the Dreadful Judgment you will be asked to give an account for what you have done with the words of God, whether you have listened to them and kept them, whether you have rejoiced in them or been ashamed of them, the Lord will also be ashamed of you when He comes in the glory of His Father together with the holy angels: Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38).

There are few words of men that are not vain and idle. Thus there are few words for which we do not mind being judged. For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mt 12:36).

In order to avoid this, we must study and learn the words of God from the Bible and make them our own; for God proclaimed them to men so that they might accept them, and by means of them also accept the Truth of God itself.

Words of the Word

Great is the mystery of the word—so great that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Lord, is called the Word or the Logos in the Bible.

God is the Word (Jn 1:1). All those words which come from the eternal and absolute word are full of God, Divine Truth, Eternity, and Righteousness. If you listen to them, you are listening to God. If you read them, you are reading the direct words of God. God the Word became flesh, became man: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14), and mute, stuttering man began to proclaim the words of the eternal truth and righteousness of God.

The Grace-Filled Word

In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace; and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it. Thus, the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation the word of the grace of God: Brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32).

Like a living grace-filled power, the Word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith: When ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (I Thess 2:13).

Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer—everything—all creation from man on down to a worm (I Tim 4:5).

By the Truth which carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12) Nothing remains secret before it or for it.

The Birth-Giving Word

Because every Word of God contains the eternal Word of God—the Logos—it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth. For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth ... by the word of truth (Jas 1:18), and St. Peter tells them that they have been born anew ... by the word of the living God, which abides forever (I Pet 1:23)

Source -

Should Jesus scare us? ( St. Porphyrios )

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (A John, 4, 18)

When you love Jesus, despite your many weaknesses and your awareness of them, you rest assured that you have overcome death because you are in communion with Jesus’ love.

We ought to feel that Jesus is our friend. He is our friend. He confirms it Himself when He says: ‘You are my friends…” (John 15, 14).We ought to look up to Him and approach Him as our friend. If we fall, if we commit an offence, we ought to approach Him with love and courage and be filled with trust bestowed to us by our mutual friendship without fearing His punishment. We ought to tell Him: ‘Yes, Lord I have done this, I have fallen, forgive me”. At the same time we ought to feel that He loves us, that He receives us with tenderness and love and that He forgives us. Let our trespasses not separate us from Jesus. If we believe that He loves us and that we love Him, we will not feel strangers, neither we will feel separated from Him, not even when we commit a sin. We have secured His love and no matter what we do, we know that He loves us.

The Gospel, speaking allegorically, warns that the unjust will be taken to the place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25, 30); indeed this is how it is going to be for someone who lives away from the Lord. Several of the Niptic fathers also speak about the fear of death and of Hell. They say: ‘You must always remember death’. Such words, if examined deeply, cause the fear for Hell. Someone who is trying to avoid committing a sin nurtures such thoughts, so that his soul is overcome by the fear of death, of Hell and of the devil.

Everything has its own importance at the appropriate time and the right circumstances. The fear of death is appropriate at the early stages of spiritual struggle. It is right for the novices, for those whose old-self is still active. The novice, who has not yet had the chance to be ‘sensitized’, is kept from sinning by this fear. Fear is necessary since we have a physical nature prone to wickedness. However, this is an elementary stage, an early level of relating to the divine. At this level the relationship with the Lord becomes a transaction: to gain Paradise and to avoid Hell. If we examine this properly we will see that it reeks from some kind of selfishness and self-interest.

I do not like this route. As soon as one progresses and enters the love of the Lord, why does he need fear? Whatever he does, he does it out of love and this is more important. It is not worth that much if someone becomes good because he fears the Lord and not because he loves Him.

Whoever would like to become a Christian ought to become a poet first. Once the soul is knocked about it becomes undeserving of Jesus’ love; Jesus interrupts the relationship since He does not want ‘thick’ souls with Him.

When you are worshiping the divine make sure that no one sees you nor recognizes what you are doing. You ought to do all these in secret, like the ascetics. Remember when I mentioned the nightingale? It sings in the forest, when there is silence, so that no one hears it neither praises it. What a magnificent singing in the desert! Did you notice how its throat swells? The same thing happens to the person who loves the Lord. As soon as he experiences this love, his ‘throat and his tongue swell”. He runs in the wild, in the desert and communicates with the Lord in secret, “with inexpressible sighs”.

You ought to ignore your passions; do not preoccupy yourselves with the devil. Turn towards Jesus instead. Divine grace teaches us our duties. We must employ love and longing in order to draw divine grace. The grace of the Lord needs divine Eros.

Once we have acquired love, then we are ready to pray. The Lord comes to such a soul by Himself as soon as He finds some pleasing things: a good intention, humility and love. Without these we are not able to say: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”.

The slightest criticism against someone else, affects our souls and we become unable to pray. The Holy Spirit does not dare approach such a soul.

We ought to let the Lord do what He wants with us; this is more beneficial and more appropriate for ourselves and for those whom we are praying for. Jesus will hand over all things in abundance. However, with the slightest selfishness, nothing can happen. The Lord has His own reasons for not giving us whatever we ask of Him. He has His own ‘secrets’.

Unless you obey your spiritual father and show humility, Jesus’ prayer (Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me) will not work and you risk being deluded as well. Do not recite this prayer as a chore. If you apply pressure you may be harmed. Several people have fallen ill because they were reciting Jesus’ prayer under pressure. It can be done, of course, but it is not a healthy way to pray.

You do not have to concentrate excessively in order to recite Jesus’ prayer. You do not need special effort when you have divine Eros. Any place is appropriate for this prayer: sitting on a low chair, on an armchair, in the car, while on the road, at school, at the office, anywhere. Just say ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ gently, without pressure or feeling any tightness.

Intensity and not duration is more important in prayer. Pray even for five minutes, but your prayer ought to be offered to the Lord lovingly and with longing. This five-minute prayer may be more valuable than prayer which lasts all night. This is, certainly a mystery, but it happens.

The end

Translated into English by: Olga Konaris Kokkinos

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Concerning Carnal Sins ( Part 1 ) - St. Isaac the Syrian

Our salvation is a very serious and important matter, more important than anything else. What good is it to possess all the riches and treasures of the earth, said the Lord, if we end up losing our soul? (Mt. 16:26).
This is why we must preserve the fear of God in our souls, and proceed through this life prudently and cautiously.
We must be cautious of everything , especially carnal sins, which proceed to ravage our soul. God destroyed the city of Sodom because its inhabitants were only “flesh” and nothing spiritual existed within its boundaries. They were full of spiritual impurity, and on account of this God
turned away from them(Gn. 18:24).
On account of the fornication of only one person, twenty five thousand Jews were put to death in one hour(Nm. 25:9). What was the cause of Sampson’s fall, this giant figure who had been
dedicated to God while he was still in his mother’s womb?
He defiled his body with fornication and surrendered his body parts to sin. Even though he had accomplished great and awesome things, he subsequently fell because he was seduced by
carnal sin.
Thereafter, God abandoned him, he was taken
captive, chained, and handed over to his enemies
(Jdg.16:21). The prophet and king David, from whom Christ came forth, suffered identically.
Because he was careless for only a split second, he was allured by the beauty of a woman, and he fell into the dreadful sin of adultery(2 Kg. 11:2-4). This is why God punished him. David, however, repented with many tears for this serious sin, and God forgave him(2 Kg.12:13).
With all these examples, we must realize that God does not make exceptions. He punishes everyone regardless of whether they happen to be prophets, priests, judges, rulers, or other sanctified people chosen to reveal His name to the people. God does not take revenge; rather, He uses various disciplinary means so that man may realize his mistake, come to his senses, wake up from sin, and seek His mercy and forgiveness. From
all the above, we can see that God punishes
even His saints when they transgress His commandments.
The prophet Ezekiel writes that God does not take into consideration the elderly or the young
(i.e. man’s age), illustrating in this manner that
the Lord’s genuine and beloved people are they who have within them godly fear and who live devoutly according to His will. For God, the saints are they who keep His commandments and who have a clean conscience. Conversely, they who disregard God’s commandments are disregarded by God Himself: He turns His face away from
such people and detracts His grace from them.

Why did God punish Belshazzar? It was because he disregarded the sacred vessels that had been offered to God, which his father had pillaged
from Jerusalem, and he dared using them to drink
along with his concubines(Dan. 5:2-4). In this same manner, they who have devoted their bodies to God and subsequently dare to use their body parts for sinful deeds are punished harshly by
the Lord.
Therefore, let us not disregard the divine words and the warnings contained in the Holy Scriptures. Let us not enrage God with our immoral deeds and improprieties. Let us not shamelessly defile our bodies, which are the temple of God, as the Apostle Paul states (1 Cor. 6:19).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Buddhism and Eastern Asceticism Compared to Orthodox Christian Asceticism (Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex)

It is unfortunate that there is widespread confusion, not to mention delusion, in the inexperienced, whereby the Jesus Prayer is thought to be equivalent to yoga in Buddhism, or 'transcendental meditation', and other such Eastern exotica. Any similarity, however, is mostly external, and any inner convergence does not rise beyond the natural 'anatomy' of the human soul. The fundamental difference between Christianity and other beliefs and practices lies in the fact that the Jesus Prayer is based on the revelation of the One true living and personal God as Holy Trinity No other path admits any possibility of a living relationship between God and the person who prays.

Eastern asceticism aims at divesting the mind of all that is relative and transitory, so that man may identify with the impersonal Absolute. This Absolute is believed to be man's original 'nature', which suffered degradation and degeneration by entering a multiform and ever-changing earth-bound life. Ascetic practice like this is, above all, centered upon the self, and is totally dependent on man's will. Its intellectual character betrays the fullness of human nature, in that it takes no account of the heart. Man's main struggle is to return to the anonymous Supra-personal Absolute and to be dissolved in it. He must therefore aspire to efface the soul (Atman) in order to be one with this anonymous ocean of the Suprapersonal Absolute, and in this lies its basically negative purpose.

In his struggle to divest himself of all suffering and instability connected with transient life, the eastern ascetic immerses himself in the abstract and intellectual sphere of so-called pure Existence, a negative and impersonal sphere in which no vision of God is possible, only man's vision of himself. There is no place for the heart in this practice. Progress in this form of asceticism depends only on one's individual will to succeed. The Upanishads do not say anywhere that pride is an obstacle to spiritual progress, or that humility is a virtue. The positive dimension of Christian asceticism, in which self-denial leads to one's clothing with the heavenly man, to the assumption of a supernatural form of life, the Source of which is the One True, Self-revealing God, is obviously and totally absent. Even in its more noble expressions, the self-denial in Buddhism is only the insignificant half of the picture. In the mind's desire to return to its merely 'natural' self, it beholds its own nakedness in a 'cloud of divestiture'. But at this point there is a grave risk of obsession with itself, of its marvelling at its own luminous but created beauty, and worshipping the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The mind has by now begun to deify or idolize its self and then, according to the words of the Lord, 'the last state of that man is worse than the first' (Matt. 12:45).

Such are the limits of Eastern styles of contemplation, which do not claim to be the contemplation of God, and are in fact man's contemplation of himself. This does not go beyond the boundaries of created being, nor does it draw anywhere near to the Truth of primordial Being, to the uncreated living God Who has revealed Himself to man. This kind of practice may well afford some relaxation or sharpen man's psychological and intellectual functions, yet 'that which is born of the flesh is flesh' (John 3:6) and 'they that are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rom. 8:8).

In order to be authentic, any divestiture of the mind from its passionate attachments to the visible and transitory elements of this life must be linked to the truth about man. When man sees himself as he is in the sight of God, his only response is one of repentance. Such repentance is itself a gift of God, and it generates a certain pain of the heart which not only detaches the mind from corruptible things, but also unites it to the unseen and eternal things of God. In other words, divestiture as an end in itself is only half the matter, and it consists of human effort operating on the level of Created being. Christianity on the other hand, enjoins the ascetic to strive in the hope and expectation that his soul will be clothed, invested, with the grace of God, which leads him into the fullness of the immortal life for which he knows he has been created.

Many admire Buddha and compare him to Christ. Buddha is particularly attractive because of his compassionate understanding of man's condition and his eloquent teaching on freedom from suffering. But the Christian knows that Christ, the Only begotten Son of God, by His Passion, Cross, Death and Resurrection, willingly and sinlessly entered into the totality of human pain, transforming it into an expression of His perfect love. He thereby healed His creature from the mortal wound inflicted by the ancestral sin, and made it 'a new creation' unto eternal life. Pain of heart is therefore of great value in the practice of prayer, for its presence is a sign that the ascetic is not far from the true and holy path of love for God. If God, through suffering, showed His perfect love for us, similarly, man has the possibility, through suffering, to return his love to God.

Consequently, prayer is a matter of love. Man expresses love through prayer, and if we pray, it is an indication that we love God. If we do not pray, this indicates that we do not love God, for the measure of our prayer is the measure of our love for God. St. Silouan identifies love for God with prayer, and the Holy Fathers say that forgetfulness of God is the greatest of all passions, for it is the only passion that will not be fought by prayer through the Name of God. If we humble ourselves and invoke God's help, trusting in His love, we are given the strength to conquer any passion; but when we are unmindful of God, the enemy is free to slay us.

The title was added for publication on this site. The untitled excerpt is from Chapter 5, "The Building Up of the Heart by Vigilance and Prayer".

From The Hidden Man of the Heart: The Cultivation of the Heart in Orthodox Christian Anthropology, by Archimandrite Zacharias (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2008), pp. 66-68. Copyright 2008, The Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, Essex, UK. Posted on 8/9/2008 with the permission of the publisher.

Archimandrite Zacharias 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fasting of the body is food for the soul.( St. John Chrysostom )

Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.

Fasting of the body is food for the soul.

St. John Chrysostom

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos on Orthodoxy and Divorce

From an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos:

Question: Statistics say that in some countries of the EU more than half of all marriages end up in divorce. Do you think that besides social there are also spiritual reasons for the alarming dissolution of the family in modern societies, and consequently, what precise attitudes and measures could be taken by the Orthodox community to resist this trend?

Answer: The cause of divorces is the various passions developing in man, such as self-love, indulgence, and selfishness.

When one reads the Service of the Mystery of Marriage carefully, one will find out that the joint life of man and woman, which must be in Christ, is lived within a certain framework. When someone trespasses this framework, he first experiences what is called emotional divorce and then he ends up in a final divorce.

The way the Dance of Isaiah is performed during the Mystery of Marriage is indicative. The priest leads the couple, holding the Gospel and chanting “Holy Martyrs who have fought well and have been crowned”. This means that the steps of the new couple will resemble martyrdom and this is why the Priest should always be ahead of them to guide them on the basis of the Gospel. This means that there is asceticism within the marriage, the asceticism of the Church. When this is not observed, marriage is secularized.

Orthodox Communities should help people from their young age to learn clearly what the purpose of man’s existence is, what the purpose of marriage is and what its conclusion is. Because the purpose of marriage is not simply a social cohabitation but the experiencing of Paradise on earth and a road that leads to Paradise.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Parents are responsible for the upbringing of their children ( St. Paisios )

Most of us parents are very proud of our children. We are continually reinforcing their accomplishments with praise and telling them how wonderful they are. But is this heathy for them? This is a question that surely will draw much discussion and differing viewpoints.

Here is what St. Paisios has to say,

Many parents, thinking they dearly love their children, end up destroying them without realizing it. For example, a mother, who excessively loves her daughter, tells her while holding her in her arms: "I have the best chid in the world." Therefore, from a very young age (when a child is unable to realize it and react against it) the child acquires a haughty mind-set and believes she is a nice person. As a result, she is unable to sense the lack of God's presence and his benevolent power in her life and of course, cannot learn to ask for Him. Consequently, she develops a self-confidence as stiff as marble, which often never goes away, since, as the time goes by, it becomes very difficult to get rid of it.The challenge of a parent is to help their child develop a healthy self-esteem which includes humility, while teaching them that all comes from God. Truly, we are all God's children and everything we have and can do comes from Him. It is important to remember to thank Him for the gifts He gives us and out ability to develop and apply them. Pride develops when we think our accomplishments are all our doing or that we are inherently better than others.

How about the extreme emphasis on sports and it competitiveness? A recent survey showed that those who participate in the major sports of baseball, basketball or football are more likely to cheat in school. These activities which emphasize personal accomplishment independent of God can lead our children away from God making it more difficult for them in later life to repent and come closer to God.

We as parents have an awesome responsibly. First we have to develop humility ourselves.

St. Paisios says,

Parents must look after their spiritual life, because apart from themselves, they are also responsible for their children. Of course, they have the excuse of having inherited their negative traits from their own parents; they have no excuse, however, for not trying to get rid of them, once they become aware of their existence.Work continually on your own relationship with God and you will continually become a better parent.

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.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Great Lent: The Path of Following Christ ( Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg and Ladoga )


The True Nature of Fasting
About Great Lent
What Should I Do During Great Lent?

The path of Christ is the path of every Christian. And I also went to tell you that the path that Christ the Savior followed is the path of every one of us Christians.

When the Lord called us into the bosom of the Church, when we received Holy Baptism, and then at a given moment were found worthy of grace, when the Divine light touched our hearts, then we felt an extraordinary joy and, as it were, found ourselves in the Upper Room with Christ. Then everything was luminous and joyful, because the Lord strengthened our spiritual and bodily powers, so that we tasted and knew how good the Lord is.

But out path did not end there. We followed Christ further. We followed the path of teaching, when we had to justify that Divine joy, that Divine grace, which had visited our hearts in the beginning of our ascetic struggle.

Here we, like the Apostles in their time, and like Christ, encountered all kinds of hardships, all kinds of difficult circumstances, and even began to waver. Or, like Christ’s followers of little faith, we even fell asleep at the moment of spiritual trials.

But in order to triumph over sin, in order decisively to establish good in our hearts, we are required to follow Christ even beyond the Garden of Gethsemane. We are required to continue on the path to the house of the high priests Annas and Caiaphas and to go to the Pretoria, to Pontius Pilate, and to hear the terrible words: “Crucify, Crucify Him!”

Then the path will lead us to Golgotha, so that we would be crucified with Christ with our passions and lusts. On this path, we are buried along with the Lord. And only after this will the resurrection of our soul take place. Only then will come the triumph of good in our hearts. And our spiritual rest will be even more established when we, having gone the way of the cross, will receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

This is what we should feel and experience on our salutary path. This path is difficult, but it is essential to follow it. To follow it, in spite of hardships and distress – both from our neighbors, and from our own sinful habits… Sometimes we will not even know what to do. But if we will zealously keep to the path of Christ and, calling upon Divine help, will go fearlessly to Golgotha even to be buried along with Christ, then the Lord will send down upon us His Divine grace, strengthen our weak forces, and help us to overcome all our sinful passions, implanting in their place good habits that will help us to attain to everlasting life with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Great Lent begins...( St. John Chrysostom )

The value of fasting consists not in abstinence only from food, but in a relinquishment of sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meat is he who especially disparages it. The change in our way of life during these blessed days will help us to gain holiness.

Therefore, we should let our soul rejoice during the fast.

St. John Chrysostom