Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Why do children lose faith in God?

Why is it that some people are able to know God and believe in Him until the end of their days, while others lose their faith while still young ? How does this loss of faith occur and by what means can faith be preserved or renewed ?

Before answering these questions I would like to say a few words to those who say that religious beliefs should not be “foisted upon” children.
Religious faith cannot be foisted upon a person; it is not something which is alien to man, but, on the contrary, it is an essential need of human nature, it constitutes the primary content of man’s inner life.

When we take care to have a child grow up truthful, good, when we develop in him a correct understanding of and a taste for beauty, we do not foist upon him something alien or extraneous to his nature; we only help him to extract this from within himself, we help him recognize within himself those traits and movements which are common to all human souls.

The same should be said concerning knowledge of God.

According to the principle of not foisting anything upon a child’s soul, we would generally have to renounce all assistance to the child in developing and strengthening the talents and capabilities of his soul. We would have to leave him to his own devices until he grew up and decided which principles to adopt and which to reject.

But in this case we would not have guarded the child from external influences, but would have only made these influences chaotic and arbitrary.

Let us return to the question of why some people retain in their hearts a constant and unshakeable faith until the end of their days, while others lose it, sometimes completely and sometimes returning to it with great difficulty and suffering?

What is the reason for such a phenomenon ? It seems to me that it depends on the direction which a person’s inner life takes in his early childhood. If a person, consciously or instinctively, is able to preserve a correct relationship between himself and God, he will not lose faith, but if his ego occupies an unseemly preeminent and dominant place in his soul, then his faith will be superceded. In early childhood a person’s nature does not yet occupy first place, does not yet become an object of worship. For this reason it is said: if you do not become like children, you will not enter the Heavenly Kingdom. As the years advance, our innate egoism grows more and more within us, becomes the center of our attention and the object of our gratification.

And this self-centered egoistic life usually runs along two channels - the channel of sensuality, gratification of the body, and the channel of pride, of strict trust in and worship of reason in general and one’s own in particular.

These two channels do not usually coexist within one and the same person. Some are dominated by the temptations of sensuality, while others by the temptations of reason. With age sensuality sometimes changes into unhealthy sexuality, from which those who are dominated by reason and pride are often free.

Sensuality and pride - two ways of serving one’s nature - are precisely those traits which, as we know, were manifested in the original sin of Adam and Eve, and created a barrier between them and God.

That which happened to our forebears, now happens to us.

The unhealthy direction of our inner life from childhood, which leads to the development within us of either sensuality or pride, pollutes the purity of our internal spiritual sight, deprives us of seeing God. We stray away from God, we remain alone in our egoistic life, with all the consequences of such a condition.

Such is the process of our abandonment of God.

In those, however, who succeed in keeping a correct relationship with God, the development of egoistic, sensual and proud attitudes is impeded by the memory of God; such people preserve their purity of heart and humbleness of mind; both their bodies and their minds are placed within a framework of religious consciousness and duty. They look upon all that springs up within their soul from the height of their religious consciousness, evaluate their feelings and passions properly, and do not allow them to take control. Despite all the temptations that come across their path, they do not lose the basic direction of their lives.

Thus the purpose and the difficulty of religious guidance lies in helping the child, and later the teenager, to preserve the right relationship between himself and God and to not allow the development within himself of the temptations of sensuality and pride, which pollute the clarity of internal spiritual sight.

Remembering my youth, I must admit that it was precisely through such an internal process that I lost my religious faith when I was 13-14 years old. The enticements of sensuality, the excessive trust in reason and the pride of rationality which were developing in me, deadened my soul. And I was not alone, the majority of my friends suffered the same fate.

Had an experienced spiritual instructor happened to be alongside us and peered into our souls, perhaps he would have found something good in them, but primarily he would have found idleness, gluttony, deceit, hypocrisy, self-assurance, inordinate belief in one’s powers and abilities, a critical and skeptical attitude towards the opinions of others, a tendency towards hasty and and rash decisions, stubbornness, and a trusting attitude towards all kinds of negative theories, etc.

The only thing he would not have found in our souls would be the memory of God, and the inner quiet and humbleness which it engenders.

We did not have such an instructor. Our religious teacher, a venerable protopriest, barely had time to check on our lessons in the Law of God and to explain further. And we regarded these lessons with the same boredom and indifference as all the others. Outside of these lessons we had no contact with our teacher. Confession, to which we went once a year, we approached with no understanding whatsoever.

And nothing prevented us from becoming spiritually extinguished.

Protopriest Sergey Chetverikov

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do not envy sinful people - Salvation of Sinners

Animals, such as cows, that are raised in order to be slaughtered and butchered are allowed to graze and eat freely, and they are fed to be fattened. Conversely, animals that will be used for work or provide some service to man are trained, disciplined, and kept an a strict diet. This is what God does as well. He allows malicious people in this present life to grow fat as they indulge in carnal pleasures and sinful enjoyments because
such unfortunate people will finally end up in eternal Hell.

On the contrary, He tests and disciplines virtuous and righteous people in order to keep them in His heavenly mansion forever. Fruit-bearing trees that yield a crop and produce a bountiful harvest are pruned, they are sprayed with pesticides, and have
heavy weights attached to the end of their branches, which bend and pull the branches
downward. All these harsh measures, however,
are conducive to the tree bringing forth fruit.

Conversely, trees that do not produce fruit and are of no value to man are neither pruned nor clipped like fruit-bearing trees. However, once such trees grow and reach maturity, they are cut down,
completely uprooted from the ground, and subsequently used as firewood. This is what happens with man in this world as well. Virtuous people who produce useful and good works receive sorrows and lashes, whereas the
Righteous Judge does not punish evil and sinful people here because He is waiting to consume them eventually in the fire of Hell.

The prosperity and good fortune of ungodly people is actually a severe misfortune! For when such people observe nothing bad happening to them and that they are not punished in any way, they shamelessly and impudently proceed to carry out even greater sins and worse crimes.

Furthermore, when such a person remains
undisciplined, it is a sign that he will be punished and condemned, because the enemy does not disturb or assault his own friends. Thus it is apparent, just as we have illustrated above, that the more God loves someone, the more He allows one
temporarily, and for the time being, to experience discipline that is beneficial and ultimately life
-saving for the soul.

from The Salvation of Sinners

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Spiritual journey ( Elder Joseph the Hesychast )

Our natural state is darkness in comparison to divine grace. How much more so when the gloomy demons approach us, which are dark
by nature! So when the light of grace comes, everything evil disappears---just as when the sun rises the darkness leaves, and we can clearly see even the smallest details that escaped notice before dawn. But once the sun sets, the darkness overtakes us naturally once more, and whoever walks in the darkness suffers great damage and
grievous incidents.

Likewise, the same thing happens to us in our spiritual journey. When we have divine light, we can see everything clearly, and the demons flee far away, as they are unable to stand before divine grace. But once divine grace leaves again, the darkness remains, that is, our natural state. Then the thievish demons come and fight us.

And so, since our nature is subject to so many changes, and since in a time of darkness we, without the discernment of divine grace, work many deeds that harm us, and since many times we are mortally wounded by the enemies, because it is dark and we cannot see the enemies that are hiding.

Therefore, we should never grow bold and think that everything we do is pleasing to God, nor should we trust in our own weapons and skill. But we should call upon divine aid and trust only in it, and should say with great fear, for we do not know, "I wonder, is what I say pleasing to God, or do I perhaps sadden Him?" And in times of change, we must be patient.

Elder Joseph's
"Epistle to a Hesychast Hermit"
(Chapters XI & XII & Epilogue)
From the book "Monastic Wisdom"

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sign of the Cross ( St. Anthony the Great )

The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross.

St. Anthony the Great

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Two Forms and Three Sources of Delusion..( St. Gregory of Sinai )

Here something must be said about delusion, so far as this is possible; for, because of its deviousness and the number of ways in which it can ensnare us, few recognize it clearly and for most it is almost inscrutable. 
Delusion manifests itself or, rather, attacks and invades us in two ways - in the form of mental images and fantasies or in the form of diabolic influence - though its sole cause and origin is always arrogance. The first form is the origin of the second and the second is the origin of a third form - mental derangement. The first form, illusory visions, is caused by self-conceit; for this leads us to invest the divine with some illusory shape, thus deceiving us through mental images and fantasies. This deception in its turn produces blasphemy as well as the fear induced by monstrous apparitions, occurring both when awake and when asleep - a state described as the terror and perturbation of the soul. Thus arrogance is followed by delusion, delusion by blasphemy, blasphemy by fear, fear by terror, and terror by a derangement of the natural state of the mind. This is the first form of delusion, that induced by mental images and fantasies. 
The second form, induced by diabolic influence, is as follows. It has its origin in self-indulgence, which in its turn results from so-called natural desire. Self-indulgence begets licentiousness in all its forms of indescribable impurity. By inflaming man's whole nature and clouding his intelligence as a result of its intercourse with spurious images, licentiousness deranges the intellect, searing it into a state of delirium and impelling its victim to utter false prophecies, interpreting the visions and discourses of certain supposed saints, which he claims arc revealed to him when he is intoxicated and befuddled with passion, his whole character perverted and corrupted by demons. 
Those ignorant of spiritual matters, beguiled by delusion, call such men 'little souls'. These 'little souls' are to be found sitting near the shrines of saints, by whose spirit they claim to be inspired and tested, and whose purported message they proclaim to others. But in truth they should be called possessed by the demons, deceived and enslaved by delusion, and not prophets foretelling what is to happen now and in the future. For the demon of licentiousness himself darkens and deranges their minds, inflaming them with the fire of spiritual lust, conjuring up before them the illusory appearance of saints, and making them hear conversations and see visions. Sometimes the demons themselves appear to them and convulse them with fear. For having harnessed them to the yoke of Belial, the demon of licentiousness drives them on to practice their deceits, so that he may keep them captive and enslaved until death, when he will consign them to hell.

Delusion arises in us from three principal sources: arrogance, the envy of demons, and the divine will that allows us to be tried and corrected. Arrogance arises from superficiality, demonic envy is provoked by our spiritual progress, and the need for correction is the consequence of our sinful way of life. The delusion arising solely from envy and self-conceit is swiftly healed, especially when we humble ourselves. On the other hand, the delusion allowed by God for our correction, when we are handed over to Satan because of our sinfulness, God often permits to continue until our death, if this is needed to efface our sins. Sometimes God hands over even the guiltless to the torment of demons for the sake of their salvation. One should also know that the demon of self-conceit himself prophesies in those who are not scrupulously attentive to their hearts.

Question: What should we do when the devil transforms himself into an angel of light (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14) and tries to seduce us?

Answer: You need great discrimination in order to distinguish between good and evil. So do not readily or lightly put your trust in appearances, but weigh things well, and after testing everything carefully cleave to what is good and reject what is evil (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21-2). You must test and discriminate before you give credence to anything.

You must also be aware that the effects of grace are self-evident, and that even if the devil does transform himself he cannot produce these effects: he cannot induce you to be gentle, or forbearing, or humble, or joyful, or serene, or stable in your thoughts; he cannot make you hate what is worldly, or cut off sensual indulgence and the working of the passions, as grace does. He produces vanity, haughtiness, cowardice and every kind of evil. Thus you can tell from its effects whether the light shining in your soul is from God or from Satan. The lettuce is similar in appearance to the endive, and vinegar, to wine; but when you taste them the palate discerns and recognizes the differences between each. In the same way the soul, if it possesses the power of discrimination, can distinguish with its noetic sense between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the illusions of Satan.
Source: "One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Texts", Philokalia, vol. 4.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Living according to the Faith ( Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow )

Faith in Christ has existed on earth for almost 2,000 years now, and is in no way overcome. Hundreds of thousands of people have joyously borne terrible torments out of love for Christ, for faith in Him. And if in present times there have appeared men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith (II Tim. 3:8) and stood against the Faith and the Church of Christ, all their efforts are in vain: the Lord said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His Church] (Matt. 6:18). Let us look at ourselves. Is there among us firm faith and love for Christ? Do we not stifle it with our passions, laziness, doubts?

Ah, friends, without faith in the Lord Christ there is no salvation!

We must by all means kindle in ourselves the spirit of faith, that is, stimulate it, feed it with prayer, the Word of God, patience, sincere remembrance of the Savior Who suffered for us. All of this can be done every day.

What to Do in the Morning

When you wake up, first of all let your soul and heart say "Glory to Thee, O Lord, Who has preserved us this night! Glory to Thee, Who has shown us the light! Lord, bless this day for us!" In doing this, think about how God gives you the day which you could not give to yourself, and devote the first hour, or perhaps the first quarter hour of the day given you and offer it as a sacrifice to God, in grateful, supplicatory prayer. The more zealously you do this, the more you will sanctify your day, the more strongly you will protect yourself from the temptations that we meet every day.

The Dwelling and Clothing of the Christian

From the start of the morning and throughout the day, make the thought about Christ the soul of your life, the moving force of your actions. So, for example, if you glance over your dwelling, remember Christ in the manger, in swaddling clothes, lying on straw, all this life not having a place to lay His head, finally imprisoned, nailed to the Cross, and thank God for your house, your shelter, however humble and poor it may be. Do not envy magnificently decorated mansions: the mansion of Christ is a pure heart!

As you dress in your simple clothing, remember Christ stripped naked and then robed in the clothing of mockery. Do not dwell on apparel, do not follow slavishly the whims of fashion, but try to garb yourself in goodness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, gazing mentally on the meek and humble heart of Jesus.

If you are eating a meal, remember the vinegar and gall that Christ tasted, and do not demand plentiful, luxurious food and drink: the heavenly Guest loves to enter not the house of feasting, but always to the one that opens the door of his heart to Him. Place in your heart Christ suffering and dying on the Cross, and in His unseen presence mortify your passions and lusts.

Contact with people

Later, when you deal with people, both relatives and others, before saying a word, think about what will be its effect, and think even more seriously before you do something in their presence, for actions speak louder than words.

Worldly Affairs

If you are undertaking anything, before asking any other adviser, ask the advice of faith. Appeal in the words of the Apostle: Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? (Acts 9:6). Is what I would undertake pleasing to Thee, Lord? If it is pleasing, bless it; if not, do not let me do what is displeasing to Thee. And then listen to what the Lord tells you in your conscience, in your reason, in the counsels of pious and wise people and, having begu n the course that you select, pray in your heart, O Lord, make haste to help me (Ps. 69:1).

If you are going anywhere, go with God, as our pious forbearer said as a farewell, walk before me as the Lord Himself demanded (Gen. 17:1); always see Him before you, for He is at thy right hand (Ps. 15:8). As much as possible keep in your thoughts and in your heart that God sees you, so that you may be both ashamed and afraid to attempt anything unworthy before the eyes of God.

Word and Feelings

If you enter the company of people, behave with extreme caution. If you hear a word of praise for yourself there, be careful: praises frequently conceal flattery and can arouse in you self-satisfaction and neglect of your further improvement. If you hear an insulting or humiliating word, take care not to become inflamed with anger which worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Answer the one who insults you either with silence or a meek word of truth. If you hear a word that accuses a neighbor, be careful that you not take part in the sin of someone else's tongue. Do not join in words that are more harmful to the one who judges than to the one being judged. If you hear a word that saddens one with bad news, be careful lest your sorrow become stronger than your common sense; dissolve it with hope in God's mercy and with the warm prayer: O my Rejoicing, deliver me from them which have encircled me (Ps. 31:7). Endure without complaint sorrows and misfortunes. Sorrows are inescapable on the path leading to the Kingdom of God! Many are the sorrows of the righteous! Christ Himself endured them; the Mother of God endured them as well. Without sorrows we will not be saved, but even in the depth of sorrow believe that the Lord loves you truly, and is only testing you. Remember: you sometimes return home from afar by a bad road, in a storm, in frost, or in terrible heat, but you go patiently, willingly; likewise patiently go by the difficult and sorrowful path to the heavenly home, the Kingdom of God.

Caution Regarding Harmful Books

If you see in a letter or a book a word of unbelief, irreverence, or indecency, turn your eyes away from it quickly, do not entice yourself with the thought of reading it out of curiosity or for amusement. Do not touch filth. Do not play with fire. Do not desire to experience the taste of poison.

In general, in your relations with people be peaceable, just, compassionate, do good even to your enemies, imitating Him Who shines His sun on both the evil and the good.

If you will live and act in this manner, then, when you pray, nothing will obstruct your prayer's path to heaven.

Attending Church

When the time comes, and especially the time put aside for God and His temple, a feast day or the hour of Divine Services, hurry to tear yourself away from business and worldly cares and voluntarily and zealously offer yourself to God in His church. When you enter the church bring to mind the promise of the Lord to those that gather in His name: there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20), and stand reverently in church, as before the very face of Christ, and pray to Him that he sanctify you by His holiness, animate you by His prayer, and enlighten you with the word of the Gospel and the Grace of the Mysteries. Take note of this, too: in the church, angels serve with us and guard the holiness dwelling there. Once, in the Lavra of Saint Theodosius near Jerusalem, Abba Leontius, coming one Sunday to church to receive the Holy Mysteries, saw an angel standing on the right side of the Holy Table, and when the elder, being afraid, turned to run to his cell, the voice of the angel called to him: "From the time this Holy Table was consecrated, I have been charged to stay by it." Remember this, beloved, and stand reverently. And, if you feel that only your body is standing in church, while your mind thinks of home, or the market, or a place of merriment, collect yourself. Hurry to bring back your mind that has strayed, join it to God in your heart, force it to strive towards God, Who looks upon you. When you hear the word of God, open up not only your bodily ears, but your spiritual ones as well, open your heart, receive this heavenly Bread and with it nourish not only your memory, but also your life and work.

On Communion

When you are preparing to be a communicant of the Body and Blood of Christ, or are simply present at this Mystery, cleave in mind and heart to the Cross and the Tomb of the Lord, to the Body of Christ, suffering, dying, buried, risen, glorified and believe that your faith's touching Him will be more substantial than the touching of His garment by the woman with an issue of blood, and Christ's power [will] go out (Luke 8:46) to purify and elevate your powers of soul and body.

How to Celebrate Feast days

Having left church and returned home, do not rush to worldly business on days dedicated to God: business that you illicitly conduct in festal times will bring you no benefit. Realize most of all that if you do not come to thank and glorify God in His church, then you can be sure that He will not send down His blessing on your business outside the church (Haggai 1:9). And if sometimes you decide to excuse yourself from attending the church, be in fear lest you suddenly be overtaken by death and lest it be said of you: Remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things... but now (in eternity) thou art tormented (Luke 16:25). God preserve you from this fate.

Never forget that your soul is also God's temple, and if at any time an impure thought and evil desire draws near to your soul, and will draw your body as well towards sin, hasten to protect yourself with the words said to the first Christians, and consequently to you: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (I Cor. 3:16). Then say to yourself: how can I dare to ruin the temple of God, by sin and inequity! How can I be so bold as to insult and alienate the Holy Spirit!

What to do in the evening

Now the day has ended - you are going off to sleep. Ponder the thought that God gives you rest from labors, and take the first fruits of the time of your rest and dedicate it to God with pure and humble prayer. Its fragrance will draw an angel close to preserve your rest. While preparing for sleep, remember death, of which sleep is an image and threshold, and with a prayer of faith surrender yourself to Him that is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). But when you can conquer sleep, or when it does not conquer you, remember [the Lord's] name in the night (Ps. 118:55). Such should be the constant disposition and activity of the believer that he may gradually draw near to that state of soul in which the holy Apostle Paul says of himself: I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me... Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal: 2:20)!

Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt From "Orthodox Life" [in Russian], No. 10, 1952

Sunday, January 7, 2018

''It is against Him that we have sinned, and before Him that we will be justified. '' ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

 Just as the Lord is solicitous about our salvation, so too the murder of men, the devil, strives to lead a man into despair.

A lofty and sound soul does not despair over misfortunes, of whatever sort they may be. Our life is as it were a house of temptations and trials; but we will not renounce the Lord for as long as He allows the tempter to remain with us and for as long as we must wait to be revived through patience and secure passionless!

Judas the betrayer was fainthearted and unskilled in battle, and so the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and forced him to hang himself, but Peter, a firm rock, when he fell into great sin, like one skilled in battle did not despair nor lose heart, but shed bitter tears from a burning heart, and the enemy, seeing these tears, his eyes scorched as by fire, fled far form him wailing in pain. And so brothers, St. Antioch teaches, when despair attacks us let us not yield to it, but being strengthened and protected by the light of faith, with great courage let us say to the evil spirit: “What are you to us, estranged from God, a fugitive from heaven and evil servant? You dare do nothing to us.

Christ, the Son of God, has authority both over us and over everything. It is against Him that we have sinned, and before Him that we will be justified. And you, destroyer, leave us. Strengthen by His venerable Cross, we trample under foot your serpent’s head”

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. ( St. John Chrystotom )

Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. 
Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.

St. John Chrystotom

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

God has endowed us all with gifts, but not all of us utilize them for the salvation of our souls.. ( St. Paisios )

Those who withdraw themselves from Christ are deprived of divine enlightenment, for like fools they forsake sun-drenched places so as to retire to the shade. Hence, it is natural for them to be cold and fall spiritually ill. 
God has endowed us all with gifts, but not all of us utilize them for the salvation of our souls and the salvation of our fellow men. 
Instead, most of us, most of the time, use them to the detriment of others and ourselves.

St. Paisios