Monday, November 21, 2016

Confession

The last time I wrote I touched on the importance of Holy Communion. Our Christian life is not complete without regular participation in this most important sacrament. But here Fr. Hopko puts the sacrament of the Eucharist together with the sacrament of Confession, and makes it clear that in living a Christian life we need to participate in both.


I have a beautiful little book, less than a hundred pages, entitled The Forgotten Medicine: the Mystery of Repentance by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev. I think it ought to be required reading for every Christian. It lays out clearly and succinctly why confession is important, addresses common reasons people have for not going, explains how to prepare and then make one's confession and describes the benefits of going regularly.

The recurring theme of the book is that we have succumbed to a serious illness because of the fallen world that we live in. Our God, as the great Healer of souls, has provided a remedy for our illness: Repentance.

It used to be that we were held captive by death and had no alternative but to waste away in sin and finally die in it with no hope. When Christ came and trampled down death by death He freed us from the curse and opened the gates of Paradise. We are all free to enter now, but first we must be cured of the parasitic disease that eats away at our hearts as we dwell in a world that still suffers the consequences of the Fall.

He has graciously provided the medicine which cures us, but if we do not take our medicine the disease, instead of being cured, will continue to progress. The cure is only effective when we follow the Doctor's orders, and that is what this little book shows so well; we ought to embrace the opportunity to confess our sins, because confession is the beginning of repentance.

And repentance is what sets our feet on the path that leads through those gates.




Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

WwW: Home As A Training Ground

Let thy home be a sort of lists, a place of exercise for virtue, that having trained thyself well there, thou mayest with entire skill encounter all abroad. 



~St. John Chrysostom
Homily XI on Matthew 






(Linking up for Wednesdays with Words)


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wednesdays with Words:: The Power of the Word

Every word of Holy Writ, every word of the Divine Liturgy, Of the morning and evening services, every word of the Sacramental prayers and of the other prayers, has in itself the power corresponding to it and contained in it, like the sign of the honourable and life-giving cross. Such grace is present in every word of the Church, on account of the Personal Incarnate Word of God, Who is the Head of the church, dwelling in the Church. Besides this, every truly good word has in itself the power corresponding to it, owing to the all-filling simple Word of God. With what attention and reverence, with what faith, must we therefore pronounce each word! For the Word is the Creator Himself, God, and through the Word all things were brought into existence from non-existence. 

~St. John of Krondstadt 






(Linking up for Wednesdays with Words)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Attend Liturgical Services

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.


Go to liturgical services regularly. 

This is one of the precepts that I sort of skipped over whenever I encountered Fr. Hopko's list; after all every Christian knows they should go to church, right? 

It's interesting though, how writing about a topic causes one to think much more about it than perhaps one would have thought before. As I wondered what on earth I could possibly say about the necessity for Christians to attend services regularly, I found myself focusing on the word liturgical. He didn't just say "go to church"; he said "attend liturgical services regularly". And I realized that, while this precept didn't make much of a blip on my radar at first glance, it is most definitely worth thinking about and discussing. 

So, why liturgical? Well, liturgy is the work of the people, and the Divine Liturgy is specifically the work of and for the people when we offer back to God the bread and wine, gifts graciously given us for our sustenance, which become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is a ritual wherein we offer what we have to offer and our good God in turn gives them back to us in such way as to make it possible for us to be united, physically as well as spiritually, with Himself. By partaking of the Body of Christ it thus becomes possible for us to be part of His Body. If we are not partaking, we are not part of His Body. 

Perhaps it seems harsh to say that those who do not partake are not part of the Body, but the truth is not always pleasant or palatable. There are those who would argue with me I'm sure, but there really is not a way around it. 

Thus the attendance of liturgical services is of paramount importance. The primary purpose is not prayer, though prayers are said; rather the purpose is union, communion: being united with Christ and with one another in the offering of gifts as thanksgiving and receiving the ultimate gift with thanks. 

People have often commented to me that they notice how difficult it is to bring lots of little children to church each Sunday. They notice the wriggling and the fidgeting; the loud whispers and occasional (or even not so occasional) screaming. They are sometimes annoyed, I'm sure, with us going in and out of the nave, over and over again. But the Holy Eucharist is the reason we come, and while I may not always get the opportunity to actually pray in church (wonderful as it is when I do), the important thing is that we are able to receive the Body and Blood and be strengthened and renewed. 




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On the Elevation of the Cross

As the Cross is lifted up, it urgeth all of creation to praise the immaculate Passion of the One Who was lifted up thereon. For by means of the Cross, He slew him that slew us; and He made the dead to live again, making them beautiful, granting them the Heavens 
as dwelling-place, because He is compassionate, in the unsurpassed and unspeakable excess of His goodness. With joy, then, let us all exalt His Name, while 
magnifying His infinite condescension toward our race. 

~from the Vesperal Stichera for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross




Friday, August 12, 2016

Secret Acts of Mercy

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

#10 Do acts of mercy in secret.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks about alms-giving:
 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.   ~ Matthew 6:1-4

As I spent time pondering this precept, thinking about what I'd write about it, I found myself focusing on the idea of keeping our acts secret. I also thought a lot about what acts of mercy even are: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. Usually we think we must leave our home to go and do those things; we believe that the people who need our help are far away and we must search them out.

But what if the sick, the hungry and the naked are right here, next to me? How if they live in my own home with me? Is a person only hungry when they are at the point of starvation? Is someone only sick if they are hospitalized or near death? Are those who are penniless and homeless the only people who run the risk of being unable to clothe themselves?

I've often found myself feeling badly because it's not very practical for me to leave my home and go serve meals to the homeless, or to visit the sick in their homes or the hospital. I thought that I was failing at giving alms because I didn't see myself going out and doing it. The reality is though, that my neighbor, the person right next to me, right now, is the one I must seek to serve. The acts of mercy I must do are the ones which present themselves to me throughout the course of the day through the people, big and little, who are in my path.

In one of my favorite books, Way of the Ascetics, it says this:

The externally noticeable happening is not the decisive one. The little thing can be big, and the big, little. 
You are working for the Invisible One; let your work be invisible.  
Remember: there is no place, no community, no external circumstance that is not serviceable for the battle you have chosen. 
In order to do acts of mercy then, it is not always necessary for me to seek without and go in search of opportunity. Opportunity is always available to me if only I can learn to recognize it. And perhaps that is the best way to remain secret. If I can hardly see it myself, chances are not many other people are going to notice.




Monday, June 20, 2016

Answered Prayers

Once upon a time there was a young woman who was raised by pious parents and had a childhood filled with love and a multitude of good things. This young woman was taught by her parents to love God and to seek Him throughout her life. She was content to follow her parents' example and for a long time all seemed to be well.

But one day the young woman looked into her heart and saw an ugly creature hiding and making its lair there. She had had glimpses of its ugliness marring the beauty of her heart before, but they had been fleeting and had always left her uncertain as to what it was. This time there was no doubt; she recognized it for what it was Pride. This creature had a firm grasp upon her heart and was slowly but surely dragging her further and further from her Heart's Desire. The young woman realized with dismay that she could not rid herself of the thing on her own, so she said a prayer, beseeching God to take the ugly creature from her at any cost.

God loved this young woman, and He looked upon her with tenderness. He heard her prayer and answered it again and again in many ways over the years, but His biggest gift to the woman was to send her a husband and make her a mother.

As time passed the woman had almost forgotten about her prayer, but she knew that the demon still lurked within because from time to time it would raise up its hideous head and show its face. And every time she saw it she would run to God once more and beg for His help. And every time, God heard her prayer....

____________________________________________

This story does not have a proper ending because it is not over yet. I can't say how it will end, but I pray that by the end of my days, by God's grace, the evil creature will be ousted and unable to return ever again.

What I can say though, is that I am amazed by how faithful God is. I prayed that prayer many years ago, before I had a husband or any children, and looking back over the years since that time I am beginning to see His hand at work in ways that I never thought were possible.

If I had known then what I know now I don't think I would ever have asked what I did. I tremble to think of asking it now because now I begin to understand what it means. It is a fearful thing to look into one's own heart and to see what lurks there. Spouses and children have a way of acting as living mirrors, reflecting and shining light into dark places that had previously never seen the light of day. Most of those places are dreadful and some absolutely hideous. Having a family has begun to open my eyes to see that I must be willing to bear the reality of who I am without trying to hide or make excuses.

Knowing who I am and being forced to bear the burden of sorrow that comes with that knowledge and the knowledge of its effects on those around me is a hard thing. It weighs heavily on my heart sometimes, and I occasionally forget that He who is answering my prayer by showing me my own heart, is also the One who will wipe away every tear and who turns sorrow into joy.

I pray that I might remember, and keep that remembrance ever present, so that I might give glory to God, Who hears the prayers of His children and Who never lets them walk alone.






Thursday, May 5, 2016

Silence

(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here. This post deals with numbers 8 and 9 )


Silence.

I have been thinking about this for awhile now. Mostly thinking how I don't have much to say on the subject because I am in the midst of my child-rearing years and physical silence doesn't exist is rather hard to come by. Perhaps that's why I find myself able to appreciate silence so much; I treasure those moments of peace and tranquility that are so few and far between.

But there is another kind of silence that is not the same as the absence of sound. There is a silence that is interior, one which is dependent upon the state of the heart rather than one's physical surroundings. This silence is even more valuable than the elusive exterior silence that I crave so. The silence that comes from a careful guarding of the heart and mind is the kind of quiet and steadfast stillness that is immovable and unshakable. Interior stillness allows one to remain calm in the midst of the surrounding storm and chaos that is daily life.

It is this inner silence that I am beginning to understand these days, even if only a little. I have come to realize that even when my house grows still, as little bodies rest from the laborious and joyous daily task that is growing up; even as the sounds of little voices stop and breaths slow and become peaceful; even as the lights dim and the evening song of the birds begins to quiet, my own mind is still noisy.

The swirl and rush of thoughts, ever spinning, never slowing, continuously moving in and out of my mind in a whirlwind of worries, cares and concerns leaves me with hardly a second to catch my breath.

The ability to just be, to just exist, right here and right now, without engaging my thoughts, and without getting sucked back in to the maelstrom of madness that never ceases is an ability which requires practice and patience. I am learning, slowly yes, but also steadily, how to let it all go. I am beginning to practice being mindful of this present moment, the eternity that exists now, and I am finding that this ability can carry over into my daily activities.

There is so much to say on the subject, and yet I can't seem to find a way to say it. I don't have the words at this time. Perhaps they will come some day. But for now I am thankful that I am being given the opportunity to struggle with, and even to succeed on occasion, in my search for silence. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesdays with Words: Hans Christian Anderson on Orthodox Easter

My sister sent me a link to this blog post, containing part of an article written by Hans Christian Anderson this morning. It's a beautiful and apt description of the joy that permeates the air on Pascha. A couple excerpts:

"...it is a feast which streams from the hearts and thoughts of the people, from their very life..."

"Christ was in their thoughts, as on their lips. "Christ is risen!"  was the mutual assurance, made as though it were no bygone event; no, it was as if it had taken place on that night, and in this land. It was as if the assurance had reached their ears at that moment, and for the first time."

Indeed, every time we celebrate this joyous feast, every year as we step outside of time and into eternity, we proclaim "Christ is risen!" with a joy that is eternally new, eternally fresh and full of wonder.

Glory to God!







Saturday, March 12, 2016

Words from a Nine Year Old


Yesterday my son informed me that
"Tvs and smartphones are really just flat screens full of optical illusions."
Oh, to have the wisdom of a child!  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An Encounter Through Fasting

(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.)



Today is the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican. Lent is almost here. Somehow, even though I know it's coming, this first week of preparing for the fast always takes me by surprise. Can it really be time already? There is an excited feeling of anticipation because we go through the cycle year after year. Time is moving in a circular way, a spiral* really, because each year when we come again to the same events we have the chance to go deeper. I am not the same person this year that I was last year. I will be different again next year.

This coming around again and again to the same events as a different person is a mystery. And like all mysteries it can't be known without experiencing it. My words are not able to embody the experience for someone who has never participated.

The repetition of the fasts and feasts, the anticipation and the celebration, is not set up so that we might be able to check certain deeds off our list of things to do in order to score points with God or guarantee that we "make it" to heaven. We don't fast to prove anything or to make ourselves righteous by fulfilling the law. Sure, there will always be people who approach it that way, but that doesn't mean that the practice itself is wrong or that it was instituted for the wrong reasons. It may mean that perhaps those people haven't had the chance to go deep enough yet, to peel off the layers of self-interest and come to the end of self in order to encounter the Person who is the Reason for Everything.

Encounter followed by Relationship is what we're after and it just doesn't happen without frequent and regular opportunities for interaction. Prayer is one part of the experience but without regular fasting, without learning how to deny our appetites and our passions, our addictions, our prayer is stilted and somewhat crippled.

Food is a Good Thing. There is nothing bad about, or wrong with, food. It sustains our bodies and brings us pleasure. It is important as a builder and transmitter of culture, and even our relationships often center around the act of sharing food. But there is always a danger of too much. Every good thing is good in moderation, but the moment we cross the line into too much we run the risk of stripping away the good and being left with addiction. In other words, the pampering of the appetite allows the appetite to control us rather than the other way around.

And that's where it starts, isn't it? When we are unable to exercise self-control over something as rudimentary as food, what hope do we have of being able to overcome the internal passions? Jesus knew this and He made it clear that He expects His followers to fast. The Church in her wisdom has provided ample opportunity for us to fulfill this expectation. It's not good enough to fast when we feel like it, at random times. The more often it is done, the more regular our practice, the more powerful its effects. Fasting brings with it great spiritual benefit; it is like a potent remedy which enables us to grow stronger and stronger. Indeed even those who are not Orthodox and have no set fasting periods are aware of its effects. But it seems to me that such a powerful remedy for our spiritual health is much more effective if we take it regularly, rather than waiting until we feel the need. It's like maintaining a healthy diet for the sake of the body's wellness, rather than ignoring healthy guidelines and allowing one's body to become ill and in need of medicine. The medicine will help of course, but would it not be better to avoid the illness altogether?

Fasting brings us back to reality. By denying ourselves and remembering what it is like to feel hunger and weakness, we are reminded that we are not self sufficient. We have nothing which was not given to us; nothing we can call our own. And so we turn again to the Source of All Good Things and we realize that we are helpless in the face of His Goodness and we encounter A Person. It's the only Encounter that matters and we have the opportunity to come to it again and again. Each encounter will be different, and we have the chance to be transformed if we will.







*I came across this idea of time as a spiral in the book Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin and have been contemplating it ever since.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Lesson Learned from Prostrations

(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.)



5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied. I think my first post in this little series covers this one pretty well too.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray.

I firmly believe that when we do right actions, even without full understanding, we can slowly change our hearts and eventually bring about right understanding. I experienced this in a profound way not long ago, while doing prostrations during prayer.

With a house full of children all currently under the age of 10, mothering can get pretty tough some days. Opportunities for strife and contention abound, and it's impossible extremely difficult to get through a day without at least once doing or saying something I ought not to have done or said.

This particular time happened to be pretty bad, to put it mildly. I was frustrated, ashamed and had a strong urge to just crawl back into bed and hope that tomorrow would be better. Except I couldn't do that, because it was 9a.m. and we were about to start our school work, which we always open with Morning Prayers.

I did not feel like praying. I felt like I had no business to be praying after the way the morning was going so far. But we started anyway. It was Lent and we were saying the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian.
O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk;
 (prostration)
We all bowed down to the ground on our knees. ("Yes, I need to be on my face on the ground. I can't even look my children in the eye right now.") We all got back up.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant. (prostration)
We all bowed down again and got back up again.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother,
For You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen
(prostration).  
By the end of the third prostration, it had hit me. We get down, we bow down to the ground, in a posture of humiliation. We are poor, destitute and needy. We have nothing to offer, nothing we can call our own. We cry out for mercy, and then God raises us up. He answers our prayer. We have no business wallowing in the mud of our sins. We are to get up, dust ourselves off and try again. Always with His help, always by His grace. But He lifts us up and expects us to keep on going.

Prostrations are a physical reminder of grace and mercy. The actions of our body reflect the inner actions of our souls. We fall daily, we fall hourly, even by the minute sometimes. And every. single. time we must get back up, brush of the dirt and keep on going.

"One of the fathers was asked, "What do you do all day in the monastery?" He replied, "We fall down and get up; fall down and get up; fall down and get up again." 




 
 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Prayer for Sanctity of Life Sunday

O Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it; Thou wast pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Thine All-Holy Spirit. O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask that Thou might enlighten the mind and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception, and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Thine image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For Thou art the Bestower of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Thy divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the light of Thy Truth and glorify Thee, the Giver of Life, together with Thy Father and Thine All-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

~ from The Office of Prayer and Supplication for the Victims of Abortion

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On the Feast of Theophany

Today in the Orthodox church we celebrate the Feast of Theophany - the revelation of the Holy Trinity to mankind, when Our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan. I'm sharing below an excerpt from one of the prayers said at the Great Blessing of Water:  

...Master, lover of mankind, beyond all goodness, Almighty, eternal King. We glorify you, the Creator and Fashioner of the universe.

We glorify you, only-begotten Son of God, without father from your Mother, without mother from your Father. For in the preceding feast we saw you as a babe, but in the present one we see you full and perfect man, our God, made manifest as perfect God from perfect God.

For today the moment of the feast is here for us and the choir of saints assembles here with us, and Angels keep festival with mortals.

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dwelt upon the waters.

Today the Sun that never sets has dawned and the world is made radiant with the light of the Lord.

Today the Moon with its radiant beams sheds light on the world.

Today the stars formed of light make the inhabited world lovely with the brightness of their splendour.

Today the clouds rain down from heaven the shower of justice for mankind.

Today the Uncreated by his own will accepts the laying on of hands by his own creature.

Today the Prophet and Forerunner draws near, but stands by with fear seeing God’s condescension towards us.

Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing by the presence of the Lord.

Today all creation is watered by mystical streams.

Today the failings of mankind are being washed away by the waters of Jordan.

Today Paradise is opened for mortals and the Sun of justice shines down on us.

Today the bitter water as once for Moses’ people is changed to sweetness by the presence of the Lord.

Today we have been delivered from the ancient grief, and saved as the new Israel.

Today we have been redeemed from darkness and are filled with radiance by the light of the knowledge of God.

Today the gloomy fog of the world is cleansed by the manifestation of our God.

Today all creation shines with light from on high.

Today error has been destroyed and the coming of the Master makes for us a way of salvation.

Today things on high keep festival with those below, and those below commune with those on high.

Today the sacred and triumphant festal assembly of the Orthodox exults.

Today the Master hastens towards baptism, that he may lead humanity to the heights.

Today the One who does not bow bows down to his own servant, that he may free us from servitude.

Today we have purchased the Kingdom of heaven, for the Kingdom of the Lord will have no end.

Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness.

The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid.

The Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the godhead descending in bodily form and entering it.

The Jordan turned back as it contemplated the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and flying about you.

The Jordan turned back as it saw the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant.

The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt as they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds uttered their voice, marvelling at what had come to pass, seeing Light from Light, true God from true God, the Master’s festival today in Jordan; seeing him drowning the death from disobedience, the goad of error and the bond of Hell in Jordan and granting the Baptism of salvation to the world....

...For by your own will you brought the universe from non-existence into being, you hold creation together by your might, and by your providence you direct the world. You composed creation from four elements; with four seasons you crowned the circle of the year. All the spiritual Powers tremble before you. The sun sings your praise, the moon glorifies you, the stars entreat you, the light obeys you, the deeps tremble before you, the springs are your servants. You stretched out the heavens on the waters; you walled in the sea with sand; you poured out the air for breathing. Angelic Powers minister to you. The choirs of the Archangels worship you. The many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim as they stand and fly around you hide their faces in fear of your unapproachable glory. For you, being God uncircumscribed, without beginning and inexpressible, came upon earth, taking the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of mortals.

For you could not bear, Master, in the compassion of your mercy to watch the human race being tyrannised by the devil, but you came and saved us...

We acknowledge your grace, we proclaim your mercy, we do not conceal your benevolence. You freed the generations of our race. You sanctified a virgin womb by your birth. All creation sang your praise when you appeared. For you are our God who appeared on earth and lived among mortals. You sanctified the streams of Jordan by sending down from heaven your All-holy Spirit and you smashed the heads of the dragons that lurked there...



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Evangelism?

This post is the result of a couple recent conversations about sharing the truth and about evangelism which got me thinking about some of Saint John Chrysostom's words:

"He left us on earth in order that we should become like beacons of light and teachers unto others; that we might act like leaven, move among men like angels, be like men unto children and like spiritual men unto animal men, in order to win them over, and that we may be like seed and bear abundant fruits. There would be no need for sermons if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagan if we were true Christians."

--------

Saint Seraphim of Sarov (commemorated on January 2 in the Orthodox church) is famous for saying "acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved". He was a monk and after living in the monastery community for many years, he received the abbot's blessing to go into the forest and live as a hermit. He spent years alone in prayer. He's famous for spending 1,000 days and nights kneeling on a rock in prayer. Eventually he came out of solitude and people just flocked to him. He was so full of the grace of God that people who knew him saw him shine like the sun. Thousands of people were converted or renewed in their faith because of his holiness, but he never once went out and tried to convert anybody. He did not have a goal to "win hearts for Jesus". But he was able to win them anyway because he truly and completely loved Jesus.

I am nothing like that. I wish I could be. But it is a comfort to me to know that hearts can be converted without anxious fretting or worry about whether or not my neighbor is "saved". We who are Orthodox don't actually speak in terms of people "being saved"; our mindset is one of process and gradual transformation rather than a specific point in time; but we are still called by Christ to share our faith in Him. And the desire to share is strong and it's authentic. As Christians we are in possession of the Great Truth and it is good and proper to want to share that. But there comes a problem when we start to think that the burden of bringing others to the truth rests only on our shoulders.

When we see the "right" way and we know where God is at work it's very easy to begin to compartmentalize and try to pin God down to one area. We forget that He is God and that He doesn't have to work within the framework of our limited understanding. I've heard Fr. Thomas Hopko say that we can say where God is, but we cannot say where He is not.

When we grasp a truth and desire to share it, it is very easy to begin to become judgemental and condescending. Unfortunately that's not the best way to go about winning people over. We may have a hold on something true, but we must be careful to remember that when we start to try to put God in a box and say, "God is with me, therefore He is not with you", or "I am right, therefore you are wrong", we are more likely to be setting ourselves up to judge and condemn, rather than to love.

I think that often we content ourselves with saying we "know" who God is and what He's done for us when we really only have surface knowledge. We think we have a handle on the truth and we become complacent, thinking that because we've taught others ABOUT Jesus, or about Orthodoxy, that we have done our "duty", or even that we are somehow better in some way. But knowledge about something is not the same as the living experience of that reality. The authentic, personal relationship is missing, and oftentimes the relationship is absent in our own lives, so that we are unable to even make the introduction when we want to.

Frankly, I'm not interested in listening to someone who is judging me, and I don't think most other people are either. You may have all your ducks in a row, and you may have complete understanding of right practices and teachings, but if you come to me and begin to tell me that I've got it all wrong without having made any effort to know me and to love me then it's not likely that I'll trust your words. All I'll be able to see is that you are trying to manipulate me into following your agenda and I'll miss the truth you're trying to share

Please note that I am NOT saying that we should not share what we know to be True. I am NOT advocating hiding any lamps under bushels or becoming flavorless salt. I am just trying to point out that we must be aware of the state of our own hearts before we try to convince someone else that they should want what we have. When someone looks at my life, does it seem like a life they would want? Not the outer circumstances, but the inner life - is the peace that surpasses understanding made manifest in my life, or am I spending my time worrying and being anxious because my brother has everything all wrong?

I can only work on my own repentance, my own turning away from sin. I can't make others do it and I know that the more I push, the less likely it is that others will even desire to be like me. It's so clear when it comes to parenting that we cannot save our kids, that the only recourse we have is our example and our prayers. But I think it really applies everywhere, not just in the family.

We all face the same choice as Adam and Eve - eat the fruit, and willfully disobey God, or abstain and freely submit to His restrictions, which are ultimately for our benefit. I can only hope that when others look at the choice I have made that it is one they want to follow in as well. I hope that I can grow and be transformed by my relationship with Christ so that others will see and will want that too. And that means I have to repent daily, even minute by minute sometimes. And it's hard and I sometimes want to give up and I sometimes wish I could just be ignorant of the truth and live an easier life.

But the reward that is the result of lifelong repentance is a reward indeed! And so I'll press on toward the prize. But for now I've got my hands full taking the log out of my own eye. I don't know that I'll ever be able to see to remove my brother's speck.



Friday, January 1, 2016

Our Father, Who art in Heaven

(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.)



Fourth on the list: 

Say the Lord's Prayer several times each day. 

Instead of trying to write on this myself, I'll just share with you the beautiful words of St. John Chrysostom, in his 19th homily on the Gospel of Matthew:  

...he who calls God Father, by him both remission of sins, and taking away of punishment, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and adoption, and inheritance, and brotherhood with the Only-Begotten, and the supply of the Spirit, are acknowledged in this single title... 
... But when He saith, "in Heaven," He speaks not this as shutting up God there, but as withdrawing him who is praying from earth, and fixing him in the high places, and in the dwellings above. 
He teaches, moreover, to make our prayer common, in behalf of our brethren also. For He saith not, "my Father, which art in Heaven," but, "our Father," offering up his supplications for the body in common, and nowhere looking to his own, but everywhere to his neighbor's good. And by this He at once takes away hatred, and quells pride, and casts out envy, and brings in the mother of all good things, even charity, and exterminates the inequality of human things, and shows how far the equality reaches between the king and the poor man, if at least in those things which are greatest and most indispensable, we are all of us fellows. For what harm comes of our kindred below, when in that which is on high we are all of us knit together, and no one hath aught more than another; neither the rich more than the poor, nor the master than the servant, neither the ruler than the subject, nor the king than the common soldier, nor the philosopher than the barbarian, nor the skillful than the unlearned? For to all hath He given one nobility, having vouchsafed to be called the Father of all alike.

 That's obviously not the entire sermon, but just in these few paragraphs we have reason enough to repeat the Lord's Prayer fervently and frequently.