Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Importance of Having a Merciful Soul

Elder Porphyrios (February 7, 1906 - December 2, 1991)

The following is from one of my favorite books of all times, Wounded by Love:  The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios (pgs. 213-214).  This section is entitled 'The noise of murmurings shall not be hidden' which are words spoken by the Wise King Solomon. The Elder's reflection is on the necessity of having a merciful soul.  This marvelous book can be purchased here from Uncut Mountain Supply. 

Within us there is a part of the soul called the 'moralist'.  This 'moralist', when it sees someone going astray, is roused to indignation, even though very often the person who judges has strayed in the same way.  He does not, however, take this as an occasion to condemn himself, but the other person.  This is not what God wants.  Christ [through St. Paul] says in the Gospel:  You, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself?  While you preach against stealing, do you steal? Romans 2:21 It may be that we do not steal, but we commit murder;  we reproach the other person and not ourselves.  We say, for example: 'You should have done that and you didn't do it.  So see now what's happened to you!'  When we think of evil, then it can actually happen.  In a mysterious and hidden manner we diminish the power of the other person to move towards what is good, and we do him harm.  We can become the occasion for him to fall ill, to lose his job or his property.  In this way we do harm, not only to our neighbor, but also to ourselves, because we distance ourselves from the grace of God.  And then we pray and our prayers are not heard.  We 'ask and not receive'. James 4:3 Why?  Have we ever thought of this? 'Because we ask wrongly.' James 4:3  We need to find a way to heal the tendency within us to feel and think evil of others.

It's possible for someone to say, 'The way that person is behaving, he will be punished by God,' and to believe that he is saying this without evil intent.  It is not a simple thing, however, to discern whether he had or does not have evil intent.  It does not appear clearly.  What is hidden in our soul and how that can exercise influence on people is a very secret matter.

The same is not true if we say with a sense of awe that another person is not living well and that we should pray to God to help him and grant him repentance;  that is, neither do we say, nor deep down do we desire that God will punish him for what he does.  In this case not only do we not do harm to our neighbor, but we do him good.  When someone prays for his neighbor, a good force proceeds from him and heals, strengthens and revives him.  It is a mystery how this force leaves us.  But, in truth, the person who has good within him radiates this good power to others, mystically and gently.  He sends light to his neighbor and this creates a shield around him and protects him from evil.  When we possess a good disposition towards others and pray, then we heal our fellows and we help them progress towards God.

There is an invisible life, the life of the soul.  This is very powerful and can have effect on the other, even if we are miles apart.  This also happens with the curse, which is power that works evil.  But if, conversely, we pray with love for someone, whatever the distance that separates us, the good is transmitted.  So distances do not affect the power of good and evil.  We can transmit these across boundless distances.  Solomon the Wise [King Solomon] says this very thing: 'The noise of murmurings shall not be hidden.'  Wisdom of Solomon 1:10  The noise of our soul is transmitted mysteriously and affects the other, even if we don't say a word.  Even without speaking we can transmit good or evil, irrespective of the distance which separates us from our neighbor.  What is not expressed generally has greater power than words.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Merciful Counsels from St. John of Kronstadt

The following quotes are from the book Father John of Kronstadt:  Spiritual Counsels, which is a collection of excerpts from a larger book from Fr. John, My Life in Christ.  Father John (1829-1908) was a humble but yet quite charismatic pastor.  A married parish priest assigned to the cathedral in the Russian naval port of Kronstadt, Fr. John's simple down-to-earth counsels drew thousands of people to wherever he happened to be.  I can remember reading a booklet on his life once and thinking that Fr. John drew crowds of people like a celebrity would today.  However, unlike a modern celebrity, Fr. John was mobbed  because the people were drawn to the love and compassion he so naturally exuded.  His spiritual counsels brought mental, physical and spiritual healing.  To quote St. Seraphim of Sarov "acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved."  This is precisely what Fr. John had done.

From the chapter entitled "Our Attitude to the Sins of Others", here is just a small sampling of what Fr. John has to say:

You are angry with your neighbour, and say of him that he has done this or that, and so on.  What business of yours is it?  He sins against God, not against you.  God is his judge, not you, and to God he shall give an account, not to you.  Know how sinful you are yourself, how difficult it is for you to master your own sins, and to get the better of them, how afflicted you are by them, how they have ensnared you, how you wish indulgence from others.  Your brother is a man like unto you; therefore you must be indulgent to him, as to a sinful man similar in all things to you, as infirm as you.  Love him, then, as yourself:  These things I command you, that ye love one another.

He who does any evil, who gratifies any passion, is punished enough by the evil he has committed, by the vice he has served, and above all by the fact that he withdraws himself from God, and God withdraws himself from him - it would therefore be insane, and inhuman, to nourish anger against such a man; one might as well drown a man who is already sinking, or push into the fire one who is already burning.  To such a man, as to one in danger of perishing, we must show more love than ever, and pray fervently for him, not judging him, nor rejoicing at his misfortune.

Do not be irritated with those who sin; do not develop a habit of noticing every sin in others, and judging them, as we are so inclined to do.  Everyone shall give an answer to God for himself.  Correct your own sins; and amend your own heart.

This book can be purchased here at St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mercy spoken by Solomon, expounded by a Saint

Kings David and Solomon by the hand of Nicholas Papas.  This icon can be purchased here at Come and See Icons.

 Rejoice not when your enemy falls; and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult.  Proverbs 24:17

He is a man; do not rejoice in his fall. He is your brother; let not your heart leap for joy when he stumbles.  God created him for life, and God does not rejoice in his fall.  And you also, do not rejoice at that which grieves God.  When a man falls, God loses; do you rejoice in the loss of your Creator, of your Parent?  When the angels weep, do you rejoice?
When your enemy falls, pray to God for him, that God will save him; and give thanks to God that you did not fall in the same manner.  You are of the same material, both you and he, like two vessels from the hand of the potter.  If one vessel breaks, should the other one smile and rejoice?  Behold, the small stone that broke the vessel only waits for someone's hand to raise it to destroy this vessel also.  Both vessels are of the same material, and a small stone can destroy a hundred vessels.
When one sheep is lost, should the rest of the flock rejoice?  No, they should not.  For behold, the shepherd leaves his flock and, being concerned, goes to seek the lost sheep.  The shepherd's loss is the flock's loss too.  Therefore, do not rejoice when your enemy falls, for your Shepherd and his Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, does not rejoice in his fall.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Good Shepherd, remove malicious joy from our hearts, and in its place plant compassion and brotherly love.
To Thee be glory and praise forever.  Amen.
St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue of Ohrid, pg. 621

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mercy as defined by the All-Merciful Lord

The icon is named "Jesus Christ the All Merciful Lord" and can be purchased here at Come and See Icons.

 From today until the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas, all posts will be reflections on mercy.

The first is from Jesus Christ Himself recorded by St. Luke, a physician by profession, and a Gentile by birth from Antioch.

From Luke 6: 27-37:

27 But I say to you who hear:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you,
29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also.  And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.
30 Give to everyone who asks of you.  And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

32 But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.
33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

37 Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

May we always remember to ask God to help us to carry out this nearly impossible request.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Final thoughts on feminism or whatever this has morphed into...

Before I write this last post on feminism or whatever else it has morphed into at this point, I just want to say this.

These posts, the last one especially, have been about how our culture, through sex, has managed to distort
how women should view themselves in terms of their worth.  And although I used unmarried girls as examples, this idea extends to all women, married or not. Wrong thought patterns don't end with a wedding ring. 

Additionally, I know the Orthodox Church's stance about sex outside of marriage.  However, these posts were not meant to talk about the Church's beliefs, but more about how women are being taught to view themselves in western culture.  The Orthodox Church does not teach women that their self-worth is based on how sexy they are. And, if you can recall the first post, I mentioned how the Church holds women in extremely high regard.  It is world that does not.  Most of us live in the world and not in a self-contained monastery.  I can walk into my local grocer and see a stand-up cardboard cut-out of a nearly naked young woman greeting me by the check-out.  She has a six pack in one hand while the other grasps the string of her swimsuit bottoms.  Oh, so just turn my head the other way you say?  Okay, I've turned my head and now I see a stack of magazines promising me "101 Ways To Be Sexy Well Into My 50's" staring right back at me.  Okay, then look ahead.  Alrighty, I'm looking ahead and in front of me is a painfully thin 60 year old woman in "skinny" jeans with just slightly less plastic to her than a Barbie doll.  It's unavoidable.

And lastly, I don't think I'm wrong in assuming that most mothers, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheist/agnostic want "good" things for their daughters.  They have hopes of raising happy and loving young women.  However, as we cannot meet in the religious forum to discuss this, we must meet in the secular one and call out the lies that has the potential to ruin our daughter's lives.  It was from this point of view that I wrote the last post. I don't think I said anything un-Orthodox, but it certainly did not have a religious "flair" to it if you will that most of my blog posts have. Truth be told, the initial idea for this topic came from an agnostic mother.  We both love our girls and expressed our terror of this demented world that they face.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

So what to do?  I have a few ideas, although I am certainly open to others.

1 - The obvious. Always reassure our daughters of our love for them.  Their worth to us is obviously not based on sexiness, but it also is not based on academic, athletic or musical ability either.  My eldest plays on a competitive sports team.  Although she may be disappointed in her performance certain days, and I will agree with her that she has the ability to play better, I never ever compare her to other players or withhold love from her as a method to perform better.  Maybe that works for some parents, but not for me.

2 - The idea of self-awareness (which I think I meant to say instead of self-control).   It seems to me that too many people (male & female) just float at the surface of life.  They indulge every whim that their body tells them to do without being aware of how it affects both themselves and others.  Be conscious.  Be aware. Don't give into every craving you it food, sex or whatever.  You have much more power over yourself than you realize.   

3 - Don't lie to yourself and be realistic.  It's okay to have dreams and plans, but it's also okay to change course.  If you are having a hard time balancing a career and children, it is not a disappointment to anyone that you stop working, or work less and spend more time with your family.  You are no less of a woman if you decide to do this despite what some "feminists" may say.  I read an article* a few weeks ago where the editor-in-chief of More magazine, Lesley Jane Seymour, suggested that women need to "...suck it up for the sisters, girlfriend" and try for higher-paying, more stressful jobs in the workplace.  You don't answer to Ms. Seymour or any other "expert".   "They" are not there for you when you have to miss another chorus recital, wipe away a child's tear because of hurt feelings or clean up throw up at 4:30 in the morning because your child has just gotten sick all over the bathroom and now you are completely stressed because you have to give a presentation at 8 am.  I'm not saying that women cannot work outside the home and still be good mothers.  My point is that you should not feel like you "have" to live up to expectations set by other people, especially people you don't even know. 

*(This article was published in the 11/2/11 Arizona Republic, section CL, page 1, sourced from Gannett news service.  I've tried to find the online version, but only came up with one that not surprisingly omitted the "suck it up" comment.  Most of the article is found here. It's a good read. ) 

Again, I apologize if these string of posts weren't religious or offered an Orthodox Christian response to modern day feminism.  I'm sure someone much smarter than myself has written something on the topic, but for now, all I can offer are the things that I have discovered to be true or untrue.  It really turned out to be more of a public lament more than anything else I guess.

Okay, well now in the Orthodox Church we are heading towards the Feast of the Nativity, aka Christmas.  The Nativity Fast starts today actually.  From here until the feast, the topic will be mercy.  I love mercy.  My favorite Old Testament story, the story of Joseph and his brothers, and my favorite parables in the New Testament either center around mercy or somehow allude to its importance.

...Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy....

See you soon...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's a sexy sexy world

It is no revelation that women today are objectified more as sexual beings than human beings and that our current culture  is a strongly sexualized one.  Everything is sexy.  People and every single piece of their bodies can be sexy, clothes can be sexy, shoes can be sexy, cars can be sexy...I even read in the sports section a month or so ago about a sloppy victory by a team as not being a sexy win.  You cannot open a magazine/newspaper, go to the grocery store or even turn on a G-rated kids television show (I have heard it on Good Luck Charlie) where there isn't some sort of sexual content hinted at or stated outright.  Women have plastic surgery to attempt to look younger and more attractive (attractive meaning sexually attractive obviously.  What else are you trying to attract?  Bees?  Metal objects?) and to "feel better about themselves".  Our whole idea of worth has become centered around how well a woman can attract and then manipulate others with their appearance.  And although this isn't new, prostitution is called the world's oldest profession, our culture today is so blatantly sexual, there is no way of avoiding it even if you wanted to.

I'm not denying that we are sexual beings.  Of course we are.  I wouldn't be here if there had not been generations of people having sex.  Sex is part of being a member of the human race, but we have given it WAY too much power in the role that it plays in society.  And I have an extremely difficult time in understanding how this sexualization of society has benefited women in even the slightest manner.   Diseases and unplanned pregnancies don't sound like freedom to me.  And although people can point to vaccines, safe sexual practices, and birth control to avoid such things, none of it is 100% effective. And most importantly, we forget that there is a human being with a heart, a soul, and feelings attached to all of this. Women can and are left feeling empty, hurt and at times, suicidal when trying to live out this promised bliss of sexual freedom that is so heavily promoted in our culture.  It is not unheard of a girl committing suicide after naked pictures of her are forwarded around her school.  I am no expert on the history of the women's rights movement in America, but I can guarantee you the women weren't picketing the streets so one day girls would have the opportunity to text naked pictures of themselves to boys. This is not empowering, it's insanity.

I just finished reading a book called Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen.  The author relays story after story of young women who have led promiscuous lives in order to find their self-worth.  I don't condemn any of these young women.  In fact, my heart hurts for them.  They were duped by our over-sexualized culture into thinking that their worth was dependant on how much they were desired by boys/men.  Here are some quotes from the book from the girls:

As years went by sex became exactly what I wished to win, because it told me that I was valuable and beautiful, and those things were important to me. (pg.25)
and this
When we broke up, I slept with guy after guy to fill the emptiness that I felt.  I started cutting and became addicted to drugs.  I became known as either "That Girl That Cuts" or "That Slut". (pg.99)
and this
I have a Pavlov's dog-reaction to the sound of a text coming in.  I immediately think, "Could it be someone who wants me?" (pg.135)
Doesn't sound like good times to me.  This book was a pretty interesting read, and although I did not agree with the author's hopes for the future which wishes for casual sex without the emotional strings attached, it was brutally honest about what is really going on in the lives of young women today.   She had this to say which is spot on:

A huge part of being a loose girl is believing in a fantasy, and that fantasy is of course not factual.  We have been handed the lie about men by our media and culture. A boy will make you worth something.  A boy's loving you means you matter in the world. We've bought the idea entirely...(pg. 170) 

Now certainly, not every woman's story is like the ones mentioned above, but the fact remains that there are some that are. They have become collateral damage in this sexual revolution that is grounded in fantasy and not reality.   There are real consequences to this sexy world we live in.  And more often than not, the consequences have to be handled by a woman, alone.   Notice the MTV reality show about teen pregnancy is aptly named "Teen Mom" and not "Teen Parents".

As I mentioned in a prior post, I have two daughters of my own.  My daunting job is to now somehow convince them that despite whatever is being marketed by our culture at every waking moment about their self-worth is false.  It's an uphill battle for sure.  However, allowing them to figure it out entirely for themselves and giving them the power to do whatever "feels right" to them is not the answer.  When we get drunk our judgement is impaired and we honestly believe that we are okay to drive, but an outside observer will tell you otherwise.  I have to be that sober outside observer for everything for my children. But in order to do that, I have to be sober myself.  Screaming "Don't do it! Don't do it! God hates fornicators! You'll go to hell!" is not sober.  I think that the only way to counter our present enslaving culture is to expose the illusion in an un-fanatical and completely honest manner and through my own actions show that the only way to truly be free in any aspect of life, is through self-control. 

Self-control, the purported archenemy of topic.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Undefining Feminism

Okay, I've had a while to think some of this through.  Actually a few nights ago I woke up at 3 am and had my thoughts all sorted out. However, I kept arguing with myself that I shouldn't get up and write them down because I needed to get back to sleep. I had promised the kids that we would go to the zoo that day and I wanted to be well rested for the outing.  And sure enough, here I am grasping for those cohesive thoughts.

Having said this, I can remember one thing that I was going to say, so maybe I can start and then (hopefully) things will work themselves out.  So, here it goes.

I came to the conclusion that there is no way to define a feminist or a woman and that the popular idea of "defining oneself" is a false one. There are people who feel the need to say they are X, Y or Z. No you're not. You are a human being who likes X, or is Y by birth or Z by deliberate choice because you despise Y but ultimately you are not any of those things.  You are someone, not a list of adjectives whose definitions can be blurred or misunderstood.

Secondly, what I thought it meant to be a woman 20 years ago at the age of 21 is drastically different from what I know it to be now at the age of 41.  So what a 21 year old believes with her limited life experience and a what 41 year old believes with 20 additional years can and should be worlds apart.  There comes a point when one must take off their rose colored glasses instead of upping the prescription.  I think I reached that somewhere in my late 30's. 

And lastly, which sort of ties in with the second point, there seems to already exist certain conditions that one must meet in order to be regarded as a "feminist".  For the same reason I am a registered Independent when it comes to voting, I refuse to be categorized within the constructs of what society has predetermined to a feminist.  I hold certain beliefs  because I have either experienced something personally and know it to be true or have been close to people who have experienced something that really blew away my preconceived notions of what I had thought to be true.  That is what life is about and why we should always be free to change our minds without fear of being called a hypocrite.

With this in mind it is imperative that we avoid demeaning or belittling women whose actions appear contrary to our belief system. We have no idea what it is like to be them.  I am not suggesting that we sit by idly and watch someone self-destruct through addiction or that we not teach our children from our own mistakes.  Nor am I saying we should keep our opinions to ourselves.  There is always room for honest discussion and debate if people are willing to listen and not judge.  But once we start name-calling and casting people into hell, we destroy each other.  One of my biggest pet peeves EVER is when someone I don't know well (or at all!) says to me "You shouldn't feel that way about such-and-such. How can you believe such a thing!"  How do you know how I should feel?  Do you know how I arrived at this juncture and all the extenuating circumstances?  Unless it someone close to the situation that can provide an honest perspective, no celebrity or public figure has the right to assert that my beliefs or feelings about something should be one way or another.   And quite frankly, we shouldn't be turning to pop culture for any sort of advice about anything.  Unfortunately that is all we have and it is in our face.  That's what's next.  The fantasy created by our culture and how it further enslaves women. 

See you soon!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Women Rock. And Don't Let Anyone Try To Convince You Otherwise.

Last November (2010) I dedicated the month to "Women Who Rock".  I wrote about a few women from various periods of history.  There was the smokin', drinkin' nun who rescued children from the Nazi's, Mother Maria Skobtsova, in the 20th century and then there was the 4th century beauty queen turned fearless witness for Christianity St. Katherine.  I also wrote about a famous American woman, who had TWELVE children, but still managed to get various degrees, serve as an advisor to several US presidents, and was an engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth.

They rocked. All women rock. If you are a woman and are reading this, you rock. And don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. 

In October, I want to present my case as to what I think true feminist is or should be, and she's no shrinking violet.  However, a real feminist to me is not a woman trying to be like a man.  Let the men do their own thing.  There is a difference between men and women, and it's okay.   My husband is physically stronger than I, and I don't care that I have to go to him to open a jar of pickles.  I don't feel inferior to him because there are things that he can do that I can't.  I know some women have a huge problem with Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism because women are not permitted to hold the office of priest. Quite honestly, I don't have a problem with that.  I have never viewed it as anti-woman or some sort conspiracy to keep women down.  As a matter of fact, the most honored human being in the Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic Church is A WOMAN!!!!  And, the Virgin Mary was no push-over for sure.  Without the Virgin Mary's un-coerced consent (the Archangel Gabriel did not threaten her to agree to carry a child while being unwed), there is no Messiah entering into the world, hence no crucifixion, no resurrection, and ultimately no salvation.  The fact that women cannot be priests is so minuscule of a matter when you realize that there would be no priesthood in the Church at all if had not been for a woman agreeing to a take on such an enormous responsibility. (Here's the story in case you are unfamiliar with the details. Luke 1:26-56) 

Again, these won't be male-bashing posts.  I am married to a man and I have a son. Obviously, I don't hate men.  And I do believe that men are more "useful" than just for opening the lids of jars. (I chose the word "useful" as a joke.  In reality I find it to be a disgusting word when applied to human beings.)   It is just that I am also the mother of two girls, so it is very important to me to expose the falsities of how American culture portrays women to them and what the reality of the situation is.  I am very very close to banning television in my home for this very reason.   When our culture preaches that the entertainer Madonna opened so many doors for women in regards to expressing their sexuality, I have to honestly counter that by saying (and truly believing!) that she set us back into slavery.  She is a businesswoman, a self-proclaimed "Material Girl", nothing more, nothing less.   Sex sells and she took advantage of that.  From an American capitalist point of view, you could say "Bravo Madonna! Well done! You can now afford to buy and do whatever you like! American dream accomplished!" But from where I sit and observe, women, now more than ever, believe their self worth is based on how much men desire them and they can "get" through manipulation of that desire, a truly heinous and potentially deadly lie.      

See you all in October.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Death, post 5, Death and Mercy

This is the last post on death for the time being.  I have not been exhaustive on the topic by any stretch of the imagination.  As I mentioned in the first few posts there are many different facets to the topic, and I ended up approaching death by explaining what it means as an Orthodox Christian to be "dead to the world" and to live one's life with the end in mind, and the remembrance of death is the vital means to this end.  I gave both the ordinary example of my simple grandfather who lived as a layman (a carpenter by trade) and the extraordinary example of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

Some people may make the argument that living your life with the end in mind is depressing and robs you of everyday joy.  An atheist that does not believe in an afterlife or a Christian that believes that they are already "saved" and hence somehow will avoid judgment may say this I suppose.  But to those of us that believe that our actions (or inactions) actually have eternal consequences, remembering that our lives can end at any given moment (google September 11, 2001 for details) should keep us in check.  Living a self-examined life and continually confessing and changing those areas that fall short of what God asks from us is really the only way to prepare ourselves for the inevitable judgment.  However, the more and more we tie ourselves up with unnecessary cares of this world, the more and more impossible this becomes.  Being dead to the world doesn't mean ignoring all other people and focusing on yourself.  It is forgetting about your own needs, and focusing on the needs of other people.  And what do people need?  The obvious answer is, they need our love, and they need it unconditionally, regardless of whether they believe in our religious or political ideas.  And, I think, that the most important aspect of this love, is mercy and not judgment. 

Fr. Gabriel Cooke of blessed memory once relayed the following story to us one Sunday.  I think this really underscores the Orthodox Christian world view.

Fr. Gabriel had been invited to a pan-Christian event of the greater Phoenix metro area.  Leaders of various Christian denominations gathered together for a general discussion of ideas and the topic of what was to be hoped for at the Last Judgment came up.  One pastor stood up and proclaimed "Justice!  I want justice to be done!"  This announcement brought up great applause and agreement.  After a minute or two, things settled down and Fr. Gabriel stood up and replied "Justice?  Really?  My hope is in mercy.  I will need mercy from God, because it will be in His mercy that I will be saved."  No grand applause for this comment.
Realizing that we are all in need of mercy levels the playing field.  It deflates the ego and self-righteousness dissipates.  However if we occupy ourselves with judging others, with obtaining more and more stuff, or with zombifying our souls with entertainment, there is no time in our self-absorbed lives to give thought to another person. It's a very hard thing and life long struggle to be sure, but this being "dead to the world" is the only way.

Here's a quote from St. Innocent of Alaska, another Orthodox saint of North America.  I highly recommend his biography, St. Innocent, Apostle to America, it reads like a page turning adventure novel. The courage, the determination and above all, the love St. Innocent had for God and His children is almost beyond belief.  Anyhow, St. Innocent said the following: 

To deny oneself means to give up one's bad habits; to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad thoughts and desires; to suppress every evil thought; to avoid occasions of sin; not to desire or to do anything out of self-love, but to do everything out of love for God. To deny oneself, according to St. Paul means "to be dead to sin. . . but alive to God."
or from Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (emphasis mine)

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Death, post 4, Life of the Living Dead

Pretty cool title if I do say so myself.

So this next post is about the saints. Now before anyone gets their proverbial undies in a bunch, let me say one thing.  We are all called to be saints. A saint is someone who is "sanctified" or "holy".  One who is holy is someone who is separated from the ordinary.  Like the sabbath day is a holy day to be separated from the other six, so is a holy person. However, there are human beings who have lived such Christ-like, humble and loving lives that they stand out more than the rest of us "saints".  The saints that are officially recognized by the Church are those whose lives you should look to and emulate.  They made it to the end of their lives, dying to the old Adam, and living like the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  The Orthodox Church bestows them with the title "St. So-and-So".   We have feast days and icons to remember these amazing men, women and children, and their continual intercessions are before the throne of God. (Revelation 5:7-9).     

Now it goes without saying, that there are tens of millions of others who qualify for this honor, however they lived and died without anyone really knowing about them.  My own grandfather was eulogized as "a saint walking among us".  He lived humbly and quietly. He glorified God at all times not only with his mouth, but more importantly with his actions.  He did not spend his life in vain pursuit of money or glory, but kept his eye on the end.  Will there ever be a "St. John of Syracuse" with an icon painted of him?  Probably not.  However, there is no doubt that he lived the life Christ asked him to and that he rests in Paradise.  I remember the day of his death each year because it marks the successful end of a life lived in love and truth, and the day he entered into the life he had been working towards.  My grandfather did not leave me money, real estate or any other item that is deemed as important or having value by this passing and corrupt world.   He left me his example of his life, one lived within the bosom of the Orthodox Christian church, fed by her sacraments and the understanding of the Scriptures as passed down from the other saints through the 2000 years of the Church's life.

Anyhow..back to death. The saints are death-conscious individuals.  They put off the old man, and day by day they become more and more like Christ, fulfilling their "death" in baptism.  And as this happens, the natural result (although people call it supernatural because it is so different from the reality of our present distorted world)  is that they too are able to heal people of sickness, avert disasters and the like.  The following is just a very minuscule example from the modern day life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who passed into eternal life in 1966. 
The miracle-working power and clairvoyance of Saint John were well known in Shanghai. Once, during Bright Week, Saint John came to the Jewish hospital to visit the Orthodox [Christian] patients there. Passing through one ward, he stopped in front of a screen, concealing the bed upon which an elderly Jewish woman lay dying. Her family members were awaiting her death nearby. The Saint raised a cross above the screen and loudly proclaimed: Christ is Risen! upon which the dying woman regained consciousness and asked for water. The Saint approached the nurse and said, the patient wants to drink. The medical staff was stunned by the change which had taken place in one who only moments earlier was dying. Soon the woman recovered and was discharged from the hospital. Such incidents were numerous.
It so happened that Saint John was urgently called to administer Holy Communion to a dying man in the hospital. Having taken the Holy Gifts, the Saint headed there with another clergyman. When they arrived they saw a young man, about 20 years of age, playing on a harmonica. He had already recovered and was to leave the hospital shortly. The Saint called him over saying, I want to give you Holy Communion right now. The young man immediately came up to him, confessed, and received Holy Communion. The amazed clergyman asked Saint John why he did not go to the one dying, but detained himself with an obviously healthy young man. The Saint answered simply, He will die tonight, but the other, who is seriously ill, will live yet many years. That is precisely what came to pass. The Lord manifested similar miracles in Europe and America through His Saint.
This is not unusual.  Just the result of a person who lives in deep humility and with great love for God and every human being. Here's more on St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.  I also recommend the book Blessed John the Wonderworker, published by St. Herman Press.  A quick google will give you tons of information as well.   To this very day, St. John still prays for those of us still struggling in this life.  The miracles are countless and true. Prayer services are done every Saturday at his tomb where you can have your name and/or the name(s) of those needing God's help read. [click here to do so].  The testimonies to his intercession before God are everywhere by all different kinds of people.  Here is a short podcast (about 20 minutes or so) of one such encounter from the Illumined Heart.
Well, that was a long post.  I think I'll do one more post on death and then head on into mercy.  I leave you today with these parting words that were spoken about St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I think it really sums up what I have been trying to say.

In these frightening days of general apostasy from God, the Lord has not abandoned his people and has sent them a great intercessor. Standing before the throne of God is a courageous defender of the Church of Christ; a struggler and ascetic according to the tradition of the stylites who took upon themselves the strictest form of self-mortification and, at times, taking upon themselves foolishness for Christ's sake, which exceeds the wisdom of this world; a good and loving pastor who laid down his life for his sheep; a teacher and nurturer of Orthodox youth; a miracle-worker and unmercenary healer; an apostle and missionary; a deep theologian; a beholder of mysteries and a hierarch of universal significance, who unwaveringly followed that which he had promised before God and men in his testimony read during his election to the episcopacy: What greater benefit can one bring to one's neighbor, other than to prepare him for eternal life…

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Death, post 3

One of my children entering into the baptismal waters.
Okay I've opted not to talk about baptism.   The purpose of this blog is not to be about "apologetics", and since there are many varying beliefs about baptism within the spectrum of Christianity I really don't feel like getting into it at this point. However, I will say this...the traditional belief held by Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics is that baptism is not a mere symbol.  It is holy.  It is sober.  It is *grace-filled.  It is entrance into the Church and her life. A person is born again through baptism, becomes dead to the humanity we have inherited in being descendants of Adam and ultimately raised up into the life of divinity in the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  The journey after baptism is narrow and difficult, because the old Adam (with his passions) doesn't give up so easily.  The propensity to break the commandments is still there. However the Church is a place of healing and love, and through her sacraments like confession and partaking of communion, we are aided in our journey to become more and more like Christ.  The Orthodox Church has been preaching this since 33 AD and if you read the lives of the saints from the 1st to the 21st century they all witness to this truth.  It works.  Men and women become more like Christ.  The wonders performed by Christ in the Gospel are also manifested in these people, and then some.  However, it really isn't about the wonders and miracles, it's about the humility and complete love that these people have acquired.  Boundless love.  Love without limits.  Love to the point of complete self-sacrifice, love to the point of death.  That is REAL Christian love. That is the love of Christ.  And it all begins in baptism.

Well for someone who wasn't going to talk about baptism, it looks like I did.  Next post will be about these people, the saints who were all martyrs of one sort or another. (And by martyrs I don't mean people that strap a bomb to their chest and jump onto a bus.  The word martyr has been usurped and perverted.) No, these men and women were dead to the pleasures and deceits of this world and lived their lives with the end in mind, that is, physical death followed by eternal life.  

See you soon!

*a note on grace. Grace, when used in the Orthodox Church, does not mean "good favor". It specifically refers to the actual divine energy of God.  It is an infusion of God's energy through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.  Here's an official definition of grace from the book  The Incarnate God, Volume I:

Grace: it is love, the gift of God, which bestows his divinity on us through his energies, in order to make us partakers of divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  The Fathers of the Church insist on the fact that God bestows his grace, but it is up to man to receive it and make it operative. (page 181) 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Death, post 2

I've been torn as to where to head with death.  Death is so complex and it could be looked at from a number of ways..our death in baptism, the accomplishment of Christ's death, death to the worldly things, the remembrance of death.  Then there are things to say about life after death, judgment at death, grieving at the death of others, praying for the dead.  See?  There's lots and lots of ways to go.

So what to do?  Well wouldn't you know it, the man I am about to quote died 8 years ago today.  The irony was too great to ignore.  The following article was written by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (here's a very short bio about him from a prior blog post) entitled "Death: Our Way of Life".

Death is the touchstone of our attitude to life.  People who are afraid of death are afraid of life.  It is impossible not to be afraid of life with all its complexity and dangers if one is afraid of death.  This means that to solve the problem of death is not a luxury.  If we are afraid of death we will never be prepared to take ultimate risks; we will spend our life in a cowardly, careful and timid manner.  It is only if we can face death, make sense of it, determine its place and our place in regard to it that we will be able to live in a fearless way and to the fullness of our ability.  Too often we wait until the end of our life to face death, whereas we would have lived quite differently if only we had faced death at the outset.

According to St. John Climacus, one of the essential steps in the transformation of our fallen nature and the acquisition of the virtues is "meleti thanatou", or the remembrance of death.... In fact, Step 6 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent is dedicated to this very practice.  On October 3rd the Church guides us to read this specific chapter from beginning to end, because at the end is the tale of the Blessed Hesychius the Horebite whom we celebrate today.  St. John thought his tale to be the perfect seal on this beneficial chapter dedicated to the remembrance of death, and below I offer the ending portion of this chapter to see why:

"Some inquire and wonder: 'Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?' - not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation.  For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance.  From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.

And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite.  He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul.  Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired.  And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately.  And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water.  And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears.  But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone is all we heard from him: 'Forgive me!  No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.'  We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation.  We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them.  So by Hesychius' true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence."
This article was taken from Issue #23 of the zine publication/website Death to the World.    Just a word of warning if you are not familiar with this publication,  it is a little dark at times, but it definitely serves a certain demographic of Orthodox young adults.  I have read a large variety of Orthodox Christian literature, so I know where this fits in and I understand the perspective from which it comes.  However, I could see a person really freaking out if this was their only exposure to Orthodox Christianity.   All in all I really like the publication, but maybe your typical baba (an endearing name for a Slavic grandmother) would take a different route in which she presented her grandchildren the Faith. 

Next up (probably) is baptism and it's meaning in regards to death.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Death, post 1

My great-grandparents at rest at St. Tikhon's Monastery. 
Okay, I made it to August.  I'm not sick or anything, but you just never know.

So why did I pick death?  A few reasons really.
  1. Everybody dies.  I read the obits every day and that is the conclusion to which I have arrived.  Old people, young people, people that had been sick, people that had, until their sudden demise, been healthy, wealthy people with large families and homeless people who had not a single person to claim them (only their names were known and no other information).   As they say, the only two unavoidable things in life are "death and taxes", and death is certainly more interesting to talk about than taxes.
  2. Over the past 9 months I have known several people (including a child) that have died, so I have had it in my thoughts on a consistent basis.  
  3. Christianity, at least traditional Christianity, is all about death.  It is about Christ's death on the cross, and His resurrection.  All of this is proclaimed every Sunday in traditional Christian churches and most especially celebrated on Easter.   Without His death and resurrection, Jesus is just another man with high moral standards.  So to truly call ourselves Christians, then our lives must also be about death.   Baptism, the very first sacrament in a person's life, is the experience where one dies to the old world and rises out of the waters into the new life in Christ. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" to quote St. Paul [Galatians 3:27 ]  However this death doesn't end in baptism. To quote St. Paul again [1 Corinthians 15:31] "...I die daily".  It's the daily renunciation of the crap and falsity that the world has to offer.  Death every day.  When this death is properly lived, it is real life, real living, no fear of physical death.  Read the lives of the saints, they testify to this truth.  Whether it is a saint martyred in the 1st century or 21st century, it is all the same beautiful story that this life of death worked to their salvation. (read the above page about salvation in case this is confusing to you).    
  4. Being that Orthodox Christianity has been around for 2000 years, and death is the crux of the faith, there certainly isn't a lack of things written about it. 
And so, we begin. Now don't be superstitious and not read this month's posts because if you read about death it must mean that you'll be hit by a bus tomorrow.  There is NO ROOM for superstition in reality. And, if superstition were for real, then I should be dead by now because the neighborhood black cat has darted in front of my car at least 2 dozen times in the past six years. Actually the dopey cat is the one who should be dead having engaged in such a dangerous activity.

God-willing, I'll see you soon with Post 2.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm back.

I haven't been here in awhile, not due to lack of things to say, but more in the lack of time in which to say it.  My postings in the past few months have been sparse.  No real excuses other than the end of the school year activities and then keeping the kids occupied on summer break.  They're back now (we are on a modified year-round school year) so now I can return to what I enjoy most, avoiding housework and blogging.

After much thought I have decided that the topic for August will be.....death, but not like scary sad death, but good and thought provoking ideas about death.  In Orthodox Christianity, the remembrance of death plays an essential role in spiritual contemplation.  To quote the 7th century theologian St. John Climacus (the author of the intense book The Ladder of Divine Ascent) "The remembrance of death is as necessary as prayer".

See you in August...of course God-willing that I don't meet my end!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Laughing at Yourself

One of my biggest pet peeves is people taking themselves too seriously.  It usually is the same people who are never wrong and/or know everything about everything.  I'm not saying that there are not occasions in which to be serious or times that people are genuinely experts in something, but if you can never admit you are wrong or never take a little jab at yourself, then IMHO, you've got problems.

I offer to you this terrific article published on the Pravmir website found here about the theological necessity to poke fun at yourself.  Enjoy!

The Theological Necessity for Humor

By, David Athey Jun 14th, 2011

In a collection of essays called “Holy Laughter”, Conrad Hyers says, “A common trait of dictators, revolutionaries, and ecclesiastical authoritarians alike is the refusal to laugh at themselves or permit others to laugh at them.”

Of course, “them” can easily mean “us.” At times we all take ourselves too seriously, forgetting to laugh at the mirror and refusing to let others see us as we are, as little children toddling toward the Kingdom. If we do not laugh at ourselves, and allow others to laugh at and with us, we tend to worship ourselves. Making fun of ourselves is like making a good confession. Letting others make fun of us is like accepting prophecy.

Many of the sayings of the Desert Fathers are pointed jokes. Did you hear the one about holy Abbot Moses? When he ran into some pilgrims who were coming to see him, the Abbot refused to act important and said of himself, “What do you want with him? The man is a fool and heretic!”

Did you hear the one about the disciple who was instructed to reward everyone who insulted him? For a period of three years, he agreed to exchange money for verbal abuse. When the three years ended, the disciple was relieved of his obligation and journeyed to Athens. When he tried to enter the city, he was greeted by an old man who immediately insulted him. The disciple burst out laughing. “Why are you laughing,” asked the old man. “Because,” the disciple replied, “for three years I have been paying for this kind of thing, and now you give it to me for nothing.”

Like the disciple in the story, we all need to act childlike, letting our laughter shine before men, even before grumpy old men. If we kill the laughter in our lives, some rough beast will rise up to fill the void. God spared Laughter (Isaac) and provided another sacrifice. The ram, a symbol of war, was burned up in Isaac’s place. Now some people in the world, and some people in the Church, would have us put Laughter back on the funeral pyre. In The Joyful Christ, Cal Samra says, “Humor is a balancing, disarming, and therefore peacemaking force that touches on the divine.”

Peaceful men and women have a divine sense of humor, a healing force. They have an accepting way of rejecting things. The peaceful ones can fight without hating, and therefore seldom fight. As Cal Samra says, “It is possible to wage peace with humor.”

So did you hear the one about the two Desert Fathers who wanted to have a quarrel? The two holy men decided to fight over a brick — a good symbol for land and property — but neither of them won, because in their years of praying and fasting they had forgotten how to fight. “You say the brick is yours? Okay, then you keep it.”

The best humor occurs when the supernatural Gospel is acted out in real life: a three-star general turns the other cheek; a president of a major corporation works for minimum wage; a Paris fashion designer gives up the runway to make robes for nuns. Whenever someone lives out the Gospel, it is a hilarious contra-diction to what the world takes seriously. The world laughs at those who wish to be perfect. The world laughs at people like Xenia of St. Petersburg who sold everything she had and gave the money to the poor. The world laughs and calls Xenia a fool. The Church smiles and calls her a Fool for Christ, and a Saint.

As we all know, the mirror can be the funniest place in the world. You should have seen me this morning. Thirty-five years old, and I’m still learning how to shave. I had lather up my nose and in my ears, and by some amazing law of bathroom physics, there was a blob of shaving cream snug as a bug in my belly- button. Was that God’s revelation that He really does favor Christians with beards? More likely, the mess was simply a matter of my own impatience, a daily sin of believing I’m too important to live in the given moment.

In Medieval England, there was typically one person who could challenge the ruling king and live. That was the court jester, foolish enough to spout the truth instead of flattery. And in sixteenth-century Russia, Ivan the Terrible would take no criticism from anyone except Basil the Fool. Perhaps today we all need to employ a jester, if not a Holy Fool, in our own little kingdoms.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 2011, not as merry as hoped for

I've been away from blogging for a little bit.  There was a tragic accident in my neighborhood involving a young child (4 yo) and although we are not close friends with these neighbors, it was a sharp reminder as to the fine line between life and death.  May healing be swift to this family.

I'll be back in a few days...just wanted you to be aware that I was still here and was not "raptured" last Saturday.  FYI, the whole rapture interpretation of the "end times" is a relatively new heresy conjured up by some highly imaginative fellow named John Nelson Darby in the mid-19th century.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Very Merry Month of May

Welcome to May!  The entire month of May in 2011 is spent in celebration of the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, aka Pascha or Easter. After completing a 7 week period of fasting, we now rejoice in 40 days of feasting until we celebrate Christ's Ascension on June 2nd of this year. 

In light of this, I would like to keep this month's posts joyful and refreshing.  I was going to post something about the recent demise of OBL, but that doesn't really work with "joyful and refreshing."  OBL's dead, and this time of year is about rejoicing in life for Christ is Risen!

My first post of the month comes from a book that I quoted from in the very beginnings of this blog called In Thy Presence written by Lev Gillet, a French Orthodox Christian monk.  The book can be purchased at SVS Press (link on the side bar).  From the back cover of the book: "These meditations reveal the nature of God's love in its depth, splendor and tenderness.  By opening our minds to the immense energy of God's presence in the universe, within and through human tribulation, they illuminate the most commonplace actions of daily life and identify our hunger and hope for communion with God, for a spiritual journey with a transcendent purpose and destination."

Today's reflection is entitled "Morning Dew" (p.30)

My child, I want thee to feel thyself in communion with the greatness of my universe, with its unformed aspiration, with its unformed thanksgiving.  But above all, in those moments when thou seekest to become one with limitless Love, I want thee to be very humble.

Thou hast seen the morning dew.  It forms trembling pearls on the blades of grass and on the leaves, before or shortly after the rising of the sun.

Dew is abundant where the earth is humid and exposed, when the weather is fine and perfectly calm.

Each small iridescent drop mirrors the colours of the rainbow.  No matter how minute, it reflects the basic colours of the universe.

My child, be thou this infinitesimal drop of dew coming to life on the humid earth of tenderness, as the sun rises in a loving heart.

Be this drop which for all its smallness, in its whole extent, reflects the beauty of the world.

And then be re-absorbed thyself into the light and heat of the sun.  Because it is the sun that gives dew-drops their being.
Here's a link to the other two posts from this book.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bright Week Joy - Part 2

More joyful singing (and drumming and dancing!)  This time from an Orthodox Christian church in Ghana.  The video is in English.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bright Week Joy - Part 1

It is hard to convey the inward feeling of is not like super duper happiness.  It is something completely "other".  The following video, although in Serbian, does an amazing job at conveying the joy felt, not only on the Feast of Pascha (Easter), but the days following in Bright Week.  The words were written by none other than St. Nicholai Velimirovic, a very recent saint who I quoted a few times during Great Lent.  For those of you who don't know Serbian, myself included, the English translation follows. 

People rejoice, all nations listen:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

O little lambs rejoice and be merry:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Nightengales joyous, lending your song:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

All angels join us, singing this song:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Glory to Thee, God Almighty!

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Glory to Thee, God Almighty!

Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!






Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen!

This icon is by the hand of a priest that wishes to be anonymous.  It can be purchased here from Come & See Icons.
 The following is the Paschal (Easter) sermon first delivered in the late 4th Century by St. John Chrysostom.  This sermon was read in every single Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world today (as it is every year).  

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Great Lent Week 7, Day 1

St. Joseph of Arimathea, by the hand of Nicholas Papas.  It can be purchase here from Come & See Icons.
Our final week of this exercise, also Holy Week, is dedicated to final corporal work (or act) of mercy which is to:

Bury the Dead.

How appropriate for this final week of the Lenten season, when on Good and Holy Friday, we bury Christ, the suffering servant, that this act of mercy should be recalled.  As the noble Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-46Matt 27:57-60,  and John 19:38-42) with the utmost of respect (and tremendous courage) took the Lord's body and buried it, so too should we respect the bodies of our brothers and sisters and carry out this final act of love.  Orthodox Christians believe that the body is not evil, but a temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  So even if the soul has departed the body, it remains a sanctified vessel.   We have countless accounts in Orthodox Christianity, of both recognized saints and simple believers, whose bodily remains do not corrupt and when touched by the sick, they are healed.  If you ever happen to be in San Francisco, stop by the Joy of All Who Sorrow Russian Orthodox Cathedral where one can visit the incorrupt remains of St. John of San Francisco and Shanghai.  I have not yet been myself, but have heard first hand accounts of people, who have received healing and/or consolation of their sorrows.  This is not un-scriptural by the way. (See the account of Elisha's death 2 Kings 13:20-21 and the subsequent healing of a man that falls on his relics)

As an FYI, I wrote a post several months ago regarding the act of the noble Joseph removing the Lord's body from the cross which can be found here.  It contains a short video of a hymn that is sung at the service of the Lord's burial.

So...back to the task at do we bury the dead?

Other than the obvious, which is actually burying our loved ones, you can help people to do so.  Read your local paper's obituary section and you may come across people who state that they cannot afford burial, and there is a bank account number at the bottom of the obituary as to where you can donate.  I've done it, it's really easy.  You just walk into the bank and tell them that you would like to make a deposit into such-and-such account, and it gets done.  I don't recall them asking for ID or my name, so it can by done anonymously as well.  Another option, and I see these a lot in Phoenix, is going to a memorial car wash which raises money for funeral costs.  Now maybe you may not be comfortable with a bunch of kids washing your car, or you don't have the time to wait in line, but just walking/driving up to them and handing them a few bucks works too. 

This will be the last post prior to Pascha (Easter).  I'm going to do my best to stay off the Internet as much as possible for this final week of Great Lent.  Have a blessed Holy Week and I'll see you on that bright and beautiful day of the Lord's resurrection.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Great Lent Week 6, Day 2

We are now in the home stretch of Great Lent.  At the end of this week we have Lazarus Saturday, followed by Palm Sunday and then we are plunged into the quiet and sanctity of Holy Week.  It is time to really start putting off the everyday and preparing ourselves for the balance of the Lenten journey which is somber and sober.  

So we are now left with the final two Acts of Mercy.  This week it is to visit the sick, pretty self explanatory, but not easy.

Visiting the sick can be daunting.  Many times we don't know what to say, or we are uncomfortable with hospitals and nursing centers.   Not to be crass, but those places can really smell awful, and there can be people with dementia crying out making it an "unpleasant" experience.  These people are us though.  They too worked hard, raised children, buried their parents, defended our nation, and dealt with all the other harshness that is inherent with life on this planet ...and now they are sick and sometimes alone, with their lives seemingly to have meant nothing because now they are no longer "useful".   Oh what a horrid thing to say! May God help the society that adopts this type of ideology.   

Again, this is no easy task, especially since we live in a culture that likes to keep things sanitary and pleasant.  Try to find a way though.  I'm sure if you called a local nursing home and asked if they needed volunteers for bingo night or someone to play the piano during dinner hours, they would find a place for you.  If you can't do that, send a card to someone, make phone calls on a regular basis, or drop by for even 10 minutes with some cookies or whatever.  I'm telling you from experience, that even the slightest of acknowledgments can make a difference.          

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Great Lent Week 5, Day 2

It's Week 5 people...can you believe it?

Week 5's Chief Corporal Work of Mercy (which I have been just calling Acts of Mercy) is:

To Shelter the Homeless

To be quite honest, I can't say that I would take a stranger off the street and put him/her in my home.  For a number of reasons, I just wouldn't do it.  If I "knew" someone that need a place to crash for a while, well that might be different.  But I don't, so I need some other options.

There is of course the easy option of donating to a homeless shelter.  With a credit card and a few clicks, you can knock this one off the list quite easily.  But, let's put ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Do you know someone that seems kinda lost or maybe doesn't have many friends?  Although they may have physical shelter, they may not have any sort of emotional shelter.  Perhaps there is someone in your church or community that appears to be alone alot or due to social anxiety just can't make friends.  I know lots of people who are very quiet, introverted people and are often mistaken for being jerks because they appear to be aloof. I have found that, more often than not, these quiet folks just have a difficult time in social circumstances. So....make an effort to start a conversation, even if it to just introduce yourself and talk about the weather. You don't have to become best buds or divulge your deepest darkest secrets!  It's just that never know what even a simple smile can do for a this for confirmation of this thought:   Just a Smile and a Hello on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Great Lent Week 4 Meditation

Icon from biography at the OCA website (link below)

Today in the Orthodox Christian Church we remember St. Mary of Egypt.  Additionally, during Great Lent we also remember her on the the 5th Sunday of the fast, which will be April 10th this year.

St. Mary was born in Egypt in the fifth century, and at the age of 12 began to live a life of "debauchery" in Alexandria and spent the next 17 years in such an unfortunate manner. It wasn't until a life-changing encounter in Jerusalem that the course of her life took a 180° turn and St. Mary fled to the desert to live the rest of her days in repentance.  St. Mary's life is tremendous witness of battle and victory and it is no wonder why we remember her specifically during Great Lent.  Here's a longer version of her life and that of Abba Zosimas, the priest who discovered her living in the desert as a hermit: St. Mary of Egypt

Continuing with the reflections from The Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovic, here is his reflection on St. Mary of Egypt:

Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women?  Because the saints alone are considered victors.  Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering?  In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious or heroic who has not been in combat, endured much or suffered greatly.  The more so in spiritual combat, where the truth is known, and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it.  He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with this world, with the devil or with one's self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ?  How then is it with Christ's fellow victors?  St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to Elder Zosimas: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness, I struggled with my deranged lusts as though with fierce beasts.  I desired to eat meat and fish, which I had in abundance in Egypt.  I also desired to drink wine, and here I did not have even water to drink.  I desired to hear lustful songs.  I cried and beat my breast.  I prayed to the All-pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me.  When I had sufficiently wept and beat my breast, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides, and a certain miraculous peace filled me."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Great Lent Week 4, Day 1

This is a tough one...the fourth act of mercy is Ransoming the Captives.

I have to admit to not knowing a single person in captivity that would need financial ransoming, which I am assuming was the original meaning of this act of mercy. (I could be wrong's happened before..) However, there are others ways in which people are held captive.

The first could simply be someone who is an invalid.  They are being held captive by their physical or psychological infirmities.  A visitation, a phone call or a card, anything that could relieve them, even for just a little while from their "captor" certainly would fulfill this act of mercy.

The second requires a little more legwork.  Believe it or not, the child sex trafficking business is a horrendous problem that plagues many of America's cities.  According to Streetlight PHX, a group dedicated to eradicating child sex slavery in Phoenix, Arizona, the average age in which a child enters prostitution is 13. Unbelievable. Finding an agency such as Streetlight PHX in your area and supporting it in any way you can, even if it's a couple bucks just once would certainly help ransom some poor kid stuck in such a desperate situation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Great Lent Week 3 Meditation

Don't wait to win the lottery to do good works!

Here's a reflection from St. Nikolai Velimirovic about this very thing from The Prologue of Ohrid:

You will hear this kind of justification from many who pursue riches: "When I become rich, I will be able to perform good works!"  Do not believe them, for they deceive both you and themselves.  St. John Climacus knew in depth the most secret motives of men's souls when he said: "The beginning of love of money is the pretext of almsgiving and the end of it is hatred of the poor." This is confirmed by all lovers of money, both the very rich and the less rich.  The average man says: "If only I had money, I would carry out this and that good work!"  Do not believe him.  Let him not believe himself.  Let him look, as in a mirror, at those who have money and who are not willing to do this or that good work.  That is how he would be if he acquired some money.  Again, the wise John says: "Do not say that you must collect money for the poor, that through this assistance you might gain the Kingdom.  Remember, for two mites the Kingdom was purchased." (Luke 21:1-4)Truly, the widow in the Gospel purchased it for two mites, and the rich man, before whose gates Lazarus lay, could not purchase it for all of his countless riches (Luke 16:19-31) If you have nothing to give to the poor, pray to God that He will give to them, and by this you have performed almsgiving and purchased the heavenly Kingdom.  When St. Basil the New prophesied to the empress, the wife of Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, that she would first give birth to a daughter and then to a son, the empress offered him much gold.  The saint refused it.  The empress implored him in the name of the Holy Trinity that he take the gold.  Then St. Basil took only three pieces of gold and gave it to his needy servant, Theodora, saying: "We do not need too much of these thorns, for they prick much." 
BTW, May you all have a blessed Feast of the Annuciation today!  March 25 + 9 months = December 25th.  Click here for more info.