Friday, September 22, 2017

Time is Money ( Elder Ephraim of Arizona )

Time is the currency with which we acquire eternity. The ancients would say,
“time is money.” Indeed, time is a currency of incalculable value. We do not need
even one dollar to purchase eternity; all we need is one minute. 
How did the thief on the cross acquire Paradise? He did so with one minute. Actually, it took him less than a minute to confess Jesus Christ, to seek His mercy, and to utter with sincere repentance, “Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom.” This is why the Apostle Paul exclaims,
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”(Eph. 5:15-16).
 Behold, the greatest purchase of all time! Let us rush to acquire Paradise. We have the means. It will be the best investment of our life, because
Paradise is forever.
Ioasaf, who went on to become a saint of our Orthodox Church, was the son of the King
of India. Saint Barlaam instructed him in the Christian faith and baptized him. One of the many things Righteous Barlaam taught him was the following:
“In a certain land, the citizens had the custom of
electing as their king a foreigner who would come
to visit their city. The unsuspecting visitor
would accept their offer because he was
unaware of their customs and practices. They would crown the visitor and enthrone him
king for a certain period of time, only to
dethrone him a short time later without a warning and exile him to a desolate region. Since
they never revealed to the stranger that
within six months to a year they would strip
him of his regal title and send him into exile, the visitor ruled the land assuming that  he would reign forever, until the end of his life. The thought of exile would never even cross his mind,
and, unmindful of the citizensintent to
banish him, he never  prepared for  such a calamity.
During one such trip to the city by a particular visitor, a good and virtuous citizen who saw
the foreigner approached him and told him in secret, “My fellow countrymen
who dwell in this city are planning to make you a king. You should realize, however, that after a
short period of time they will exile you. So, now when you become king and while you have
all the goods accessible to you, see to it that
you send food, provisions, and other useful items
to that deserted region, so that when they banish you to that land you will have them there waiting for you, and you will be able to live comfortably.
“Oh! Thank you very much for telling me,
replied the guest.
Indeed, by following the advice of that good citizen, this man sent an abundance of provisions to the land of exile. And so, when the time came and the citizens banished him, he went their
gladly and henceforth lived comfortably,
because he had sent many goods there beforehand.
“Similarly,” explained St. Barlaam to Ioasaph, “Man comes into this present life, and, fooled by the world, he believes that he will reign and live many years; death, however, appears unexpectedly
and sends him to eternity. 
The Church, as another good citizen, comes to advise man and points out to him, “Look, you are
not going to be here very long. You will depart for the next life which is eternal.
Make sure, now that you are here and capable, to do good works and send them there to the next life. Thus, when you die and the world ejects you from the earth, you will find these items there. God will repay you thousand times over, and you will henceforth live joyfully.”
The time of our present life is the opportunity to sow. Eternity is the time of harvest. Tell me what you sow, and I will tell you what you will reap. 
Do you sow faith, love, and tears of effort and repentance? You will reap the joy of eternal
Paradise. The Lord confirms this:
You shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life”(Mt. 19:29). St. Paul also emphasizes this in his epistle to the Corinthians: 
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”
(2Cor. 4:17).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Don’t Believe the Second Thought: A Story from the Life of St. Christopher of Palestine


Once Saint Christopher [6th century] went to Jerusalem to worship at the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord and at the Life-Creating Cross. At the gateway of the church he beheld a monk not moving from the spot. Two ravens flew before his face. Saint Christopher discerned that these were demons, which held the monk back from entering the church.

He asked the brother: “Why do you stand at the gate and not enter?” The brother answered: “Pardon me, Father, but within me struggle two thoughts. One says: go and venerate the Venerable Cross. The other says: don’t go in, make some excuse, and come to venerate the Cross another time.” Then Saint Christopher took the brother by the hand and led him into the church. The ravens immediately disappeared, and the brother venerated the Cross and the Holy Sepulchre. Saint Christopher told this story to someone who was distracted by his duties and neglected his prayers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Three Simple Things

I like the sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), sometimes they are complex and sometimes they are simple. The one from today is simple.

“These three things God requires of all the baptized: right faith in the heart, truth on the tongue, temperance in the body.” — Abba Gregory the Theologian

I like the simplicity of the saying because it is easily understood. At the same time, it does have depth to it. However, I am not about depth today, but some simple commentary. I like the way that Abba Gregory boils down what is needed to live a life of simple Christian faith. All too often, I find myself caught up in theology, philosophy, and political science. I am not saying that is wrong. They are important, and Christians need to engage in those fields. In fact, one other of the Fathers commends learning.

Abba Epiphanius the Wise said, “The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less likely to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.”

It is an amazing view of books and their place. To me, it is also an amazing view of the place of Christian scholarship from one who had left the world in order to devote himself to the monastic life. [At the time he wrote, there was nothing like the modern Christian cheap romantic tales available in every Christian bookstore.] The idea that acquiring Christian books is a good thing and that just simply seeing them helps those inclined to scholarship to remember to not sin. And, he has a very good point, for sometime when I look at a book I have read, I remember to think about God.

But, it is about Abba Gregory’s saying that I am writing. And, his saying is written for each of us and is striking in its simplicity. The saying is written only for those who have been baptized. That is, it is not written for those who do not know Jesus, but for those who have come to know him. And, he says that if you have come to know him, only three things are really necessary. There is a need for a right faith, orthodoxy, but notice that it is to be held in the heart and not in the brain. This is not faith merely as intellectual content, but faith as trust. That is it is definitely not trust as over against intellectual belief, but that mixture of the two that keeps you in Christ. It must be right faith, but it also must be held in the heart.

Truth on the tongue speaks to our right relationships with each other. Relationships based on lies do not work. Thus, we need to speak truth, in love, to each other. Abba Gregory is not talking about truth about each other. Rather, he is talking about speaking to each other in truthful ways. And, of course, speaking to God in prayer in truthful ways. Finally, temperance in the body is obvious. It is amazing how a whole set of “household rules” can be summarized in the simple statement about temperance in our behavior. Many, if not most, of what are called the cardinal sins in the West are sins of excess, of one type or another. Temperance works against gluttony, lust, accedie, etc. It is the stance to not overdo it toward any extreme.

So, simple advice from a simple monk. Good stuff.

A strange demonic trap

In chapter 45 of the wonderful book, Spiritual Meadow, Ioannis Moskhos writes:

‘One of the elders told us the following:

Abba Theodoros Iliotis used to talk about a great ascetic who lived as a recluse on the Mount of Olives and was constantly being attacked by the demon of lust. One day, after a particularly severe attack, the ascetic began to lose heart and he said to the demon: “How long are you going to continue with this? Just go away. We’ve grown old together”.

Then the devil appeared to the monk, in full view, and said: “Swear that you’ll not tell anybody else what I’m about to say to you and I won’t fight you again”.

The elder swore: “By Him Who resides in the heavens, I won’t tell anyone”. Then the demon said to him: “Don’t venerate this icon and I won’t bother you”. The icon depicted Our Lady holding Christ in her arms. The recluse said to the demon: “Let me think”.

The next day (according to Abba Theodoros Iliotis, who told us this and was at that time living in the lavra of Faran) the man sent for Abba Theodoros and told him everything.

“Well, abba, you were certainly tricked into swearing. But you’ve done well to reveal it. Because it would be better for you to enter every brothel you see in this land than to refuse the venerate Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother”.

He supported and fortified the elder with more words and then returned to his own place. The demon appeared again to the recluse and said to him: “What is this, wicked elder*? Didn’t you swear to me that you wouldn’t tell anyone? Yet you revealed everything to that man who came to you. I’m telling you, wicked elder, that on the Day of Judgment you’ll be condemned for perjury”.

The recluse replied: “I know that I swore and that I broke my oath. But I didn’t commit perjury against my Lord and Creator. I won’t listen to you. Because you’ll receive unavoidable punishment, since you were the instigator of the bad advice and the perjury”’.

* A play on words. The Hellenistic Greek word kaloyeros (literally ‘good [=’venerable’] elder’, hence ‘monk’) is replaced here by kakoyeros (‘bad elder’).

Metropolitan Meletios (Kalamaras) of Nikopolis and Preveza has this to say about the story:

‘What are we to conclude from this:
It’s a great mistake to try and solve our spiritual problems on our own. Because even holy people struggle at times.
The worst sin is for us to devalue our faith in Christ and to think that certain human problems are so important that we cheapen our faith because of them
Icons aren’t photographs or frames. They have to do with the faith.

The author of ‘The Spiritual Meadow’, Saint Ioannis Moskhos (John Moschus) whose feast is celebrated on 11/24 March, was born in Damascus in 545, in other words when it was still part of the empire of New Rome (‘Byzantium’). He became a monk and then travelled extensively with his friend and pupil Sofronios, later Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was also canonized and shares his feast day with Ioannis.

Apart from the edifying stories it contains, the text is also interesting from other points of view.

In the first place, Saint Ioannis- unusually for the time- is meticulous in his attribution of his sources. Even in the example above, although the recluse is not named, the author is careful to record that the narrative is directly linked to Abba Theodoros himself. In other collections of the period, the stories usually begin simply ‘One of the elders told us…’.

By the same token, Saint Ioannis’ work provides valuable background detail regarding the places he visited and the various practices of the ascetics he met.

The work is also excellent source of information about ordinary sixth century Greek. The language in the Meadow stands roughly in the same relationship to that of the Fathers as the Gospels do to the Epistles, and for much the same reasons. As the Gospels do, Saint Ioannis is relating a series of narratives; the Epistles and the works of the Fathers are largely aimed at explaining these narratives and putting them into a theological context. So his language is informal, engaging and refreshing.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Homosexual Person in Light of the Orthodox Faith

My heart goes out to homosexual men and women who face a life of rejection and loneliness. I do not believe the majority of them chose to be homosexual. A person would have to be insane to chose a sexual proclivity that fosters hatred and rejection, and in many cases, being ostracized by their friends and family. Many believe there are genetic and environmental influences that cause homosexuality, but this is not provable scientifically. I believe same-sex attraction is the result of the fall, just as is all sin. And, just as all sin requires repentance and the acquisition of a contrite heart, so must the person who is actively involved in same-sex intimacy, repent, and turn to a life of chastity, with the aid of the Church’s sacramental life.

During my years as a priestmonk I have counseled many young men and women who were struggling with same-sex attraction, and trying to live chaste lives as Orthodox Christians. I have come to believe that without the support of the Church, and the Christian community, the struggle these people face will be devastating, and will often end in alienation and defeat.

Many years ago I attended a conference in which one of the speakers presented a hate filled lecture on the subject of homosexuality. Among the people attending the conference was the son of this priest. The young man had been receiving counseling from me, trying as he was to find hope for his future. He was lonely and fearful, afraid he would one day succumb to the strong sexual desires that were rising up within him, as he struggled with one of the strongest of human urges. The young man loved his faith and loved his father, but was filled with self-loathing and afraid his family would one day disown him, should they find out about his sexual proclivity.

Sitting on the platform I had a clear view of the young man, and could see the pain in his face upon hearing his fathers words. Sad to say, this young man did not remain in the Church, and eventually gave in to defeat and despair. Had his father known of his son’s struggles, I have no doubt he’d have given his son the loving assurance that he would always be his son and would never be rejected by his family. I am convinced this young man, had he stayed in the Church, would have received the support and love that was necessary to live a chaste life.

The answer to ALL passions of the flesh can be found within the Church. Just as Her founder, the Church is the fountain of compassion and mercy. It is not Christ’s Church that fails people, but sometimes the very therapists (clergy) who can get caught up in the letter of the law rather than being grounded in the mercy and compassion and love that is the foundation of the Church. Christ is the head of His Church, and we need to mirror His image when dealing with the fallen nature of ALL people. Sin, whatever form it takes, is equal in the eyes of God. We must look only at our own sins and be quick to overlook the sins of our neighbors. As priests of the Most High God, we are called to be agents of His mercy and love, ever offering encouragement to those whom God has placed in our pastoral care. That some must learn to live their lives in chastity, requires the support of loving and understanding clergy, and strong Christian communities.

Finally, I would like to say that the need for intimacy is often the driving force behind sexual promiscuity in all its forms. We all need intimacy, but to confuse this need with sex is the main reason why so many people succumb to sexual sin. The need for intimacy can be fulfilled in deep friendships, but must ultimately find true fulfillment in an intimate relationship with God.

We must submit to the Gospel of Christ, and the long tradition of the Orthodox Church as a hospital for the soul. We are ALL in need of healing, and we all need God’s love, and if we are to bask in the mercy of God, we need to be merciful to others. That Christians are being persecuted and discriminated against in this age of Islamic extremism, and leftist suppression, in no way excuses us Christians from acting in the same merciless way of the unbelievers. We must walk in the Light of Christ, and, with God’s help, serve as agents of His mercy and love, letting the transformational power of His grace change us, and through our acquired love, all those around us. Saint Seraphim of Sarov told us that if we acquire inner peace, a thousand around us will be saved. 
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

For a Rainy Day: the Story of One Ascetic

I labored much but never saved money; whatever was left I distributed to the needy. But one day the thought came to me, “What if I get old and fall sick? Who will help me then, and take me in? How will I live?” That is what I thought, and began putting away money for “a rainy day”, at first a little bit from my work, and then more and more, so that I stopped helping others altogether as I had done before. With time I had saved up not a little for “a rainy day”.

And what happened? Just as I thought, so it happened. My “rainy day” arrived. A terrible wound appeared on my leg and I couldn’t work. I had to lie in bed and seek help from the doctors. But no matter how much I treated my illness, to the point where all my saved up money ended, it didn’t help. Finally the doctors said to me, “We will have to amputate the leg, otherwise you’ll die.” There was nothing to do about it, and I decided to lose my leg, if only to stay alive. Meanwhile at night I was sunk in thought. I remembered my former working life, when I had no sorrows and only joy that I could help the needy with my labors, and as if forgot to think about myself. I began asking God for help, repenting that I had become miserly, hoping in money to deliver me from every calamity. Then in a dream an angel of God appeared to me and said, “Where is your money you saved up for “a rainy day”? I began weeping. “I have sinned,” I said. “O Lord, forgive me, I won’t do it any more!” Then the angel touched my sick leg, and suddenly all sickness left me. From that time on I considered it a sin to save up money for “a rainy day.” What do I need money for when the Lord Himself takes care of me?

—St. Theophan the Recluse

The miser has learned one word, “I don’t have anything; I won’t give you anything, because I myself am poor.” Truly you are poor and wanting of every virtue; you are poor in love, poor in love for mankind, poor in faith in God, poor in eternal hope.

—St. Basil the Great

Don’t be afraid of impoverishment

Don’t be afraid of impoverishment in anything, for before this you had nothing—now you have; and if you don’t have, you will have. For the One Who created everything has not become impoverished, and never will. Believe this firmly.

Don’t chase after plenty, but be thankful for little. For everyone chases after plenty, everyone looks for abundance, everyone takes care for much, but you can’t take anything with you once you’ve left everything, not even the least. It is better to be thankful for little than to unreasonably chase after plenty… For everything that you gain here will be left on earth; having left everything behind, you will settle into your grave with your soul bared.

—St. Dimitry of Rostov

Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.

Proverbs, 23:4–5

From: Spiritual Trapeza. Soul-profiting Reading for Everday.

Friday, September 1, 2017

On Pastoral Guidance Before and After Marriage ( Metropolitan Ephrem of Tripoli )

The Christian family is a little church. The marriage bond is a holy bond, not merely a sexual relationship. Hence the importance of educating the family, both parents and children, and raising them spiritually and educationally.

Marital preparation before the marriage has become an urgent matter, as has follow-up after the marriage and keeping up with couples in their daily life under the pressure of the challenges imposed upon us by our time.

Thus there is a need for committed and spiritually and culturally mature pastors who are capable of giving proper guidance.

Among the pressing factors of our time:

1) Social media, which has made it much easier for people to get to know each other, though this is not always with proper intent. For this reason, social media has caused many marital conflicts which have sometimes led to divorce. Additionally, this media has opened the way for long-distance marriage, which is something unacceptable.

2) The economic crisis, consumerism, the woman’s having to work.

3) The influence of customs of the diaspora and a lack of dedication to our Eastern Christian heritage and tradition.

4) Hastiness, in many cases, in the matter of the engagement.

5) The absence of marital pastoral care before and after the marriage.

6) Mixed marriage, which very often leads to inherent disagreements.

Where is the treatment for all this? We have said that we need pastors with ample appropriate training to accompany the spouses before and after marriage. There is an important proposal to establish a committee, association or network, which can itself be a committee specialized in marital preparation, whose task is to exchange experiences and emerging studies and which has a common program with other dioceses under the supervision of the Holy Synod. Its members must have training from the following fields: law, medicine, spirituality, sociology, culture, and psychology…

Beloved, marital fidelity is not easy in this “wicked and corrupt generation.” Faithfulness comes first of all from commitment to Christian principles and dedication to the practice of the Church. We must avoid bad or tempting cohabitations.

Without prayer, without a god, no marriage can have any sanctity.

Children are always the victims of divorce and their psychological health is inevitably affected. The good leaven that the spouses taste is not at the beginning of their marriage but at the end of their life, if they have guarded their faithfulness to the last breath.