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.