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 have...be 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...