Category Archives: Orthodox Spirituality

Encyclical from Metropolitan Gerasimos for the Feast of the Annunciation 2018

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;

and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 

and he willreign over the House of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will no end.”

Luke 1:32-33

Dearly Beloved,

On March 25 we celebrate the event that inaugurates our salvation. The Virgin Mary learns from the Archangel that she will give birth to a son, one that will deliver us from the bondage of sin and death.

This year, because this Great Feast of our Church occurs on a Sunday during Great Lent, we briefly interrupt our Lenten rhythm to commemorate the “crown of our salvation.” The meaning of the Annunciation should not be lost on us even as we pause from our Lenten disposition because in two weeks, we will celebrate the saving event of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. This blessed connection of the calendar should remind us that the Incarnation and the Passion are connected. For Christ came into the world “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) by giving Himself up to the Cross “for the life of the world.”

The Good News of the Annunciation was a message of hope to the oppressed people of Israel. God’s promise of a Messiah, the one who would restore Israel, was soon to be fulfilled. Mary sings joyfully in her Magnificat, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree” (Luke 1:52). This hopeful song was familiar to the Greek people who suffered under an oppressor for four hundred years. They too sought to be delivered. They heard the words of Mary in the Feast of the Annunciation year after year. And so, appropriately, the Feast of the Annunciation became the day when they initiated their hopeful quest for freedom.

Their quest also included songs of hope and liberation. We will hear our children sing many of these songs in the programs celebrating March 25 in our parishes. And of them all the song of freedom that all of us will sing will be “To the Champion” (Ti Ipermacho) to the Virgin Mary, “the defender and commander.” This triumphant and rousing hymn continues to be our anthem, as we place our hope for a better future in the hands of God.

We live at a time where a message of hope is needed. The daily stories from near and far leave many of us shaking our heads at the state of our world. The Gospel message is the hope we need today. The Good News of Jesus Christ the Savior, whose birth was announced to Mary on March 25 and the coming day of His Resurrection, offers that hope to the world and to each of us. When we celebrate the Annunciation this year, we celebrate the joy that Mary experienced when she received the glad tidings from Gabriel that the Savior of God’s people was conceived in her. And so, with Archangel Gabriel, we cry out “Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!”

Wishing to all those that are named after this glorious Feast all the blessings from God, I remain

With Love in Christ,

@ G E R A S I M O S

Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco

 

12 Reasons Why I Became and/or Remain an Orthodox Christian-Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

Lists like this are usually so much clickbait, I know, but I thought it was nevertheless worthwhile to compile a list of most of the reasons why I became and/or remain an Orthodox Christian. Some of these things were not really on my radar when I became Orthodox in 1998, but they are part of the reason why I genuinely do love belonging to the Orthodox Church (which is why “and/or Remain” is in the title). The nature of lists like this is such that they can’t constitute apologetics, really, nor is this one (at least) intended to be universally applicable — these are my reasons. They may not be someone else’s. It will also become apparent that my background as an Evangelical prior to becoming Orthodox is a major factor here. So, all that said, here’s the list.

  1. I believe the Orthodox Church really is the one, true church of Christ.

There’s a lot that could be said here, but the reason why I believe this is that I examined both the Scriptures and the early history of Christianity, and I became convinced that the only church that matches them both is Orthodoxy. Particularly formative for me were the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John. The church life he described was definitely not what I saw in Evangelicalism. Since he was someone who learned how to be a Christian from the Apostles themselves, I wanted to be in his church. Orthodoxy takes history seriously and doesn’t gloss over the hard stuff. It also doesn’t pick and choose from early Christian witness to develop a streamlined “system” of theology that is easy to swallow. Rather, because Orthodoxy is truly the community descended from the Apostles, within its theological memory are centuries of dogma, doctrine and theological reflection. Not all of it is totally consistent or easy to sort out, but it is nevertheless one great river of truth with an overall unified direction. One doesn’t see that in the same way in Roman Catholicism (there are several major turns in history), and it is impossible to find that in Protestantism. Most Protestants aren’t even concerned with it. None of that means I regard non-Orthodox Christians as damned, nor do I even regard all Orthodox Christians as definitely destined for eternal bliss. And Orthodoxy’s truth is no testament to me. Orthodoxy is true, but not because of me.

  1. Orthodoxy gives me something to do.

I don’t mean that I was bored and needed something to entertain me. I mean that the Christian life as I had been taught it prior to becoming Orthodox was essentially non-critical. I had been “saved,” and there was really nothing critical to do after that. I should try to be moral, of course, and get other people to get saved, too, but those things weren’t really necessary to the big question, which was: “Do you know what would happen to you if you died tonight?” Well, I knew. I was “saved.” I was going to Heaven. But what if spiritual life is actually all critical? What if you need to endure to the end to be saved? What if being a Christian means working out your salvation with fear and trembling? Orthodoxy provides a full-bodied, full-souled spiritual life that assumes that everything you do as a Christian makes you either more like God or less like Him, and because becoming like God is what salvation consists of, that means that everything you do is critical. You haven’t “arrived” in this life. You should be moral and you should be evangelistic not because they get you bigger rewards in Heaven but because those things are part of what it means to cooperate with God so that you can be saved.

  1. Orthodoxy gives me a way to see and touch God physically.

The Son of God became the Son of Mary, and that means that He became visible and touchable. In Orthodoxy, the implications of the doctrine of the Incarnation are that the divine presence — holiness — actually becomes present in the material world. Now, one can argue that that presence is uniquely present only in one physical place — the human body of Jesus — or one can be consistent and see how holiness shows forth in lots of other physical places both in the Bible and in subsequent Christian history. Saints’ bones, apostles’ shadows and even handkerchiefs touched by apostles have all showed forth the power of God. Within that context, when Jesus said “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” it makes more sense to take Him seriously and not just metaphorically. That’s why St. Paul warned that people who received Holy Communion unworthily could get sick or even die. If it’s “just” a symbol, why would it do that? The physicality of Orthodoxy — sacraments, incense, vestments, church architecture, icons, etc. — don’t get between me and God. They put me in touch with God. A bridge between two cliffs does not get between the cliffs but rather connects them. Orthodoxy’s many physical elements not manmade magic, but the working out of God’s gift of the Incarnation, the reconnecting of God and man.

  1. Change is really hard.

People sometimes joke that Orthodoxy is not really an “organized religion,” with emphasis on “organized.” There is no pope handing down uniform instructions to the whole Church; our chief prelates often can’t seem to get along; and it seems like we’re never going to get around to holding that Great and Holy Council we’ve been talking about for nearly a century. But all those things don’t bother me. For one thing, it means that sheer logistics make it nearly impossible for us to alter what we do. And if all that Eternity and Truth stuff is really true, why should we even think about altering it? It can’t get voted on democratically, and it can’t get imposed monarchically. So change doesn’t much happen. That’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Orthodoxy is not going to change out from under you. That lack of organization also leads me to love Orthodoxy for another reason, too:

  1. Orthodoxy really is one church.

Unlike the denominationalism of the Protestant world, the various churches of Orthodoxy really do have to talk to each other and work things out. A Presbyterian and a Lutheran may each recognize each other as Christian, but they have almost no stake in each other’s internal church life. The same even holds true of someone belonging to the PCA and someone belonging to the PCUSA (both Presbyterian denominations). They don’t have to work anything out between them. A PCA church plant does not in any way infringe on the territory of the PCUSA, because they’re not the same church. Orthodoxy may often bicker and fight (though most parishioners never see this unless they happen to be in a dysfunctional parish), but the fact that we have such bickering and fighting with each other means that we recognize in each other that we are one Church, that we have a problem and that we need to fix it. Protestants always have the option of just splitting (and once splits occur, they don’t have to bother with each other), while Roman Catholics can ultimately appeal to the Vatican, who can impose solutions that work for the Vatican but might not work for everyone else involved.

  1. Orthodoxy is a faith for the whole life.

Because Orthodoxy comes with a vast set of expressions of its tradition, you can never exhaust it all. There is always something new not just to learn but to become. While we don’t really “arrive” until the next life (and I’d argue even that is not an arrival; that is, it’s not the end of the road of salvation), there are many way-stations in this life that delight and grant joy. The difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism in this regard is that I’m talking about not just growing in wisdom, which is common to all religious traditions, but that Orthodoxy tracks many stages of spiritual development throughout a whole lifetime. I remember one time hearing a monk explain the response he got from a holy elder on Mount Athos after asking him many questions. The elder replied that some things just wouldn’t make sense to him until later, until he’d received some level of illumination (theoria). It’s true. One cannot read a “Statement of Faith” from Orthodoxy (not even the Creed) and say, “Ah, yes. That is everything Orthodoxy teaches. I understand it now.” Again, that’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Yes, we like things to be simple, to be readily accessible to everyone, but any faith that is not complex enough to address all the complexities of human experience is not worthy of the dignity of mankind. Orthodoxy provides that in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else.

  1. Orthodoxy is a faith for the whole world.

There are no “target demographics” for Orthodoxy. We don’t do market research to figure out how to attract young people, old people, urban people, suburban people, or whatever particular demographic we might desire for our parish. A parish can often have a certain degree of commonality among members, but that isn’t by inherent design. There was no committee that met saying, “How do we get the 30-something suburbanites?” Yes, Orthodoxy is sometimes plagued with ethnocentrism. But that’s a distortion of Orthodoxy, not faithfulness to it. And it’s not everywhere. I’ve belonged to both more ethnically focused and less ethnically focused, as well as ethnically non-focused Orthodox parishes, and none of them had an ethnic membership card check at the door. Orthodoxy is really a universal faith that has shaped numerous cultures and languages over many centuries. If people as diverse as Arabs, Greeks, Serbs, Georgians, Russians, Estonians and Finns can all sing the same faith, and if both their young and old can sing it together, then truly, anyone is welcome. (Some Orthodox need to remember that more than others, though.)

  1. Orthodoxy is a faith for the whole person.

Mankind is not just emotionally moved by beauty, but he aches to be near it, to create it as much as that is possible. More than any other iteration of Christian faith, the Orthodox Church knows how to envelop the worshiper with beauty in all five (or more!) senses, both otherworldly beauty that transports the worshiper and otherworldly beauty that transforms the earthly. One might describe this as aesthetic, but it is not “mere” aesthetics in the sense of something that appeals only to the senses, perhaps for entertainment value, but goes nowhere in particular. This is aesthetic in the sense that God Himself is beauty. That is why Orthodoxy, while sometimes homely or homey, is never cheesy. It is timely and timeless, but not “contemporary.” The beauty of Orthodoxy addresses the whole human person in multiple ways. It is not a faith just for the “soul” or the “heart,” but for the body, as well, including our ability to apprehend beauty.

  1. God really does love you the way you are, and he loves you so much, he won’t leave you that way.

There seems to be a constant battle these days, especially within Protestantism, over whether God should be perceived as loving or as a judge. Even those who preach that God is love still tend to preach a God Who is angry at you for your sins and has to be appeased. But Orthodoxy preaches the God Who is consistently loving, a God Who loves with such strength that His love will change you, if only you will cooperate with it. The change won’t be lousy, either, turning you into some goody-goody prude. Rather, it will be a change into authentic personhood, where virtue is striven for because of communion, not because of adherence to arbitrary rules.

  1. Orthodoxy is both mystical and rational.

Some Orthodox will oppose the mystical to the rational, but that’s a mistake, I believe. For all the apophatic theology (theology which emphasizes our inability to know God with our minds), there is also a lot of cataphatic theology (theology that makes clear, positive truth claims) in the tradition of the Church. We don’t have to choose one or the other, nor are the two really alternatives to each other. Apophatic theology is also not merely a “corrective” to cataphatic theology. Rather, both are simply ways of talking about theological emphases within Orthodoxy. It is not as though, when I am serving the Divine Liturgy, I switch on the “rational” part when preaching the Gospel and then toggle the switch to “mystical” when I drink from the Chalice. All these things are in play simultaneously. I love that, and I haven’t really encountered that anywhere but in the Orthodox Church.

  1. Orthodoxy is ascetical.

No Christian body takes asceticism as seriously as Orthodoxy does. Roman Catholicism has it in its tradition, but it is mostly ignored. Yet Orthodoxy expects all Christians to fast, to stand vigil, to be as non-possessive as possible, etc., and it provides a program for how to do that. You don’t have to make it up for yourself, because the tradition is already established. And it’s also customizable according to the pastoral discernment of your father-confessor. Asceticism is a way to do real battle with the broken modes that the human will functions in. It allows a man to take control of himself in a powerful way so that he can redirect his God-given powers and energies back toward God and away from his base appetites. Asceticism doesn’t save anyone, but it certainly does help. Why? Because we are only saved to the degree that we want it. Asceticism helps us to want it. And as anyone who has really fasted for all of Lent and then tasted that first taste of roast lamb at Pascha can tell you, asceticism actually makes the good things of this earth taste better. Far from being a denigration of God’s good creation, asceticism returns the creation to us and opens up its beauty in ways that consuming it without restraint cannot ever do.

  1. Orthodoxy aims higher than any other Christian faith.

While theosis (deification/divinization) is not the only model of salvation in Orthodox Christian theology, it certainly makes some of the strongest claims. There are hints at doctrines of theosis in Roman Catholicism. (I am not aware of any Protestant groups that teach it.) Yet it is only in Orthodoxy that one is taught that salvation means to become by grace what Christ is by nature, that “God became man so that man might become divine” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation) that becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) is actually expounded upon. “I have said, ‘ye are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High’” (Ps. 82:6) is taken very seriously. You won’t find that anywhere else. Even Pentecostals who teach that you can be chosen by God, spoken through by God, etc., aren’t really teaching that you can enter into such union with God that you begin to take on the divine attributes. But that is exactly what Orthodoxy teaches, that the transfiguration, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are all what it truly means to be a Christian, that mankind is now seated on the very Throne of God Himself, and being in Christ means being seated there, too.

Pretty daring. But why settle for less? So those are some of my reasons. What are yours?

About Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

The Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, Bearing God and An Introduction to God. He is also host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, co-host of The Areopagus podcast, and he is a frequent speaker at lectures and retreats both in parishes and in other settings. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Encyclical from Metropolitan Gerasimos for Great Lent 2018

Dearly Beloved,

“Where shall I begin the work of my salvation?” cries out a hymn of Clean Monday.

The Lenten Season, now upon us, calls us into a time of reflection on the state of our lives and our souls. We are invited by the Church to observe the Great Fast, to devote more time to prayer and worship, to engage in study, and to offer charity and serve the world around us. The hymns of the next forty days will instruct us in the fast, will encourage us in philanthropy, and will call us to renew our souls and lives through repentance. Your parish will offer many opportunities for you to participate in worship, in opportunities for study, and in philanthropic acts, and many other activities with your fellow parishioners and to carry the lessons into your homes and families.

These Lenten practices are not ends unto themselves. Rather, these disciplines serve as potent correctives to the way the world tells us we are to live all the days of our lives and not just for the next forty days. They are meant to focus our energies on improving the condition of our souls. The world says to be happy we must follow paths that lead to the accumulation of wealth, power, and status. And when we achieve all these, we are not satisfied. We become anxious, desiring to keep them, and then acquire even more.

Our Lenten disciplines remind us that we do not need all these “things” and, in fact, we can live quite well without them. The Lord says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Our Lenten disciplines challenge us to break the cycle of acquisition and anxiety and to be free of “things” that instead burden us and our souls. The Great Fast teaches us that we can live simply and with less. Our time in prayer and worship of God teaches that power belongs to Him. Our charity and study teaches us that status is fleeting.

The work of our Lenten journey is an accumulation of the fruits of the Spirit. For the next forty days we will be challenged to put aside what the world values and acquire something greater. What we are to accumulate during Great Lent is a spirit of “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Galatians 5:22). These next weeks are a time for cultivating these virtues in our lives and souls so, as a hymn states, “may be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His Holy Pascha.”

Beloved brothers and sisters, the work of salvation begins very soon. Do not despair at the task at hand. Rather, as the hymn of Clean Monday states, “Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the Holy Commandments of Christ our God”.

May this spirit of the anticipated joy of Holy Pascha at the end of our Lenten journey, be your guide during this most Holy Season of the Great Fast.

With Love in Christ,

G E R A S I M O S

Metropolitan of San Francisco

ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS’ 10 SUGGESTIONS FOR LENT

  1. Meditate on the History of Salvation

Think of the Lenten period as a time of meditating on the history of salvation.  Think about the creation of the universe and of Adam and Eve as the beginning of human life on earth.  Think about the fall of Adam and the entrance of sin in humanity.  We see in the hymnology of the liturgical book of Lent, the Triodion, constant references to the tragedy of the fall of the first human beings.  For example, in the Oikos of the Matins on yesterday’s Cheesefare Sunday, we read: “Adam sat and cried in those days across from the delights of Paradise; beat his hands upon his face, and said: Merciful One, have mercy on me who have fallen.”

The memory of what happened through the fall of Adam and Eve continues on in us to this day.  Think of the current condition of the world with its chaotic situation, confusion, violence, poverty, injustices, oppression, sickness and death, and remember it all started way back with Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin and fall.  But then contemplate the course of history and how the amazing, unimaginable, and unpredictable act of God Himself to become a human being radically changed everything.  So in the course of Lent remember the history of salvation: From the fall of humankind, to the promise of redemption, the Incarnation of God as the new Adam, His Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension into Heaven, and the Second Coming.  Take time to reflect on God’s divine actions through history.

  1. Review the understanding of fasting

Take fasting seriously as a very important aspect of Lent.  Think of fasting not simply as an item of diet, but as something related to the fall of humankind, and at the same time as a victory through Christ.  We fast for forty days in Lent before Holy Week not merely as an exercise, an ascesis, but also because there is an important Christological significance attached to fasting.  We have forty-day fasting models from both the Old and New Testaments.  In the Old Testament, Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28, Deut. 9:9, 9:18) and Prophet Elijah fasted for forty days on Mount Horeb (3 Kingdoms 19:8).  Both of these instances are connected with an encounter with God at the end of their fasting.  In the New Testament, we have the forty-day fasting in the desert by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).  At the end of the forty-day fasting by Christ in the desert, there are the well-known “Temptations” of Christ, the first of which is related to eating: And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he [Christ] answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:3-4).  Is this event in the life of Christ in any way connected to the Fall of Adam?  Indeed, the Fall of Adam was caused by an eating situation, yet the victory of Christ also happened through an eating situation.  While Adam said “yes” to the temptation and ate (Genesis 3:1-6), Christ said “no” to the temptation and did not eat.  This is why the fasting of the forty-days during Lent is not simply a matter of abstention or an issue of diet, but is a major Christological and soteriological situation; the fall of humankind, and then the restoration through the victory of Christ.  So let us take fasting seriously and prepare ourselves for a blessed encounter with God.

  1. Reconsider our life of prayer

Great Lent is a special time to pray.  But what is the content of our prayer?  What is our praying language?  For several people, their prayer is still on the same level of that when they were ten or fifteen years old; it has stayed undeveloped.  Why when speaking to God are we using a poor language?  What efforts are we making to improve and enhance our prayer in terms of content and expression?  Looking at the Triodion, we see many examples of different types of prayer language and content.  Try to pray and study the prayers that the Church has given us which are superb examples of conversing with God and try especially to prayerfully read the Psalms, the standard and universal book of prayer.

During Lent we find an increased number of opportunities for community prayer and worship.  The Church invites us each week to pray the services of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, the Presanctified Liturgy, the Salutations to the Theotokos, the Great Compline, and others.  So try to pray more frequently this Lent and develop through constant praying a more refined language of prayer.

  1. Be conscious of the gravity of sin

Sometimes we don’t take sin seriously.  Yet Scripture offers a very strong and unequivocal picture of the gravity of sin.  The hymnology of the Triodion is replete with occurrences of the word “sin” or variations of it.  Sin is a very serious issue.  In the Hebrew Old Testament, there are fourteen different words to describe sin, but chiefly four: sin as a matter of human weakness, sin as a distortion or perversion, sin as a rebellion (borrowed from the political realm), and sin as an error or mistake related to ignorance.

If we believe in God becoming a human being and willingly being crucified on the Cross for the sins of the world, then we must understand the seriousness of sin.  Let’s reflect on how sin has control in our lives, and how it has distorted the divine image within each of us.  Let us deal seriously with our sins with an understanding that they are part of the huge amount of sins and evil that led Christ to the Cross.  But then remember that God has given forgiveness as the perfect antidote through the very same Cross.  Forgiveness, however, is inseparably connected to repentance.

  1. Make Lent a season for repentance

Along with sin, we are called to reflect upon repentance. Repentance is a very important aspect in our lives and is a dominant theme throughout the Triodion.  We should not forget that Jesus Christ our Lord began His public ministry with the words, “Μετανοεῖτε· ἤγγικε γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.”“Repent [change your mind], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  The whole Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on this fundamental declaration on repentance.  The writings of St. Paul and the other New Testament writings are permeated by calls to repentance.  Repentance is not merely a shallow or superficial act, but a radical change of mind, soul, will and mentality.  It is a central issue and an essential component of the Lenten period.  God is always ready to forgive, but first we must repent.

  1. Reflect on our reading the Bible

Lent is a time to reflect on our relationship with the Holy Scriptures, because the Bible is central in the texts of the Triodion.  We must always keep the biblical element at the forefront in our worship and in our life.  How close are we to the Bible?  Most people think about the Bible only at the reading of the Epistle and Gospel on Sunday at the Divine Liturgy.  It is unthinkable that we as Christians do not have the Word of God as a central guide in everything we do.  The Lenten period assists us to come closer and more frequently to the Bible and encourages us to reflect upon the Scripture.  We should try to make reading from the Holy Bible a daily practice during this Lenten season and beyond.

  1. Be aware of the Christocentric focus

Of course, the greatest focus of Lent should be on Jesus Christ Himself.  Sometimes we can get caught up in fasting, in saying prayers, in going to Church, on our sins, or in all the rituals of this holy season; yet in the midst of all we do, we forget about Jesus Christ Himself.  Lent is above all else a time to draw closer to Christ!  Christ is the center of this Lenten period and should be the center of our lives.  As we go through Lent and arrive at Holy Week with the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Christ must be at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of all things.  This Lenten period is a tremendous opportunity to come closer to Christ, and to be Christocentric in all that we think, say, or do.

We remember that the fall of Adam and Eve occurred through eating in disobedience to the commandment of God (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-24), and that the restoration and victory in Christ was realized through His overcoming the temptation of eating (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).  But what does our incarnate God offer to us as the ultimate possibility of union with Him?  He gave us His Body and His Blood to be eaten.  He said to us, “Ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένει, κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ.” ”He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).  Here is the ultimate paradox: During Lent, abstinence from food, i.e. fasting, is accompanied by partaking of the imperishable food, i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ.  Adam and Eve fell away from paradise and from their connection to God through eating, and we are restored and united to God in the highest way through the Holy Communion by eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ.  This is much more than being Christocentric.  This is having Christ dwelling in us in a palpable way.

  1. Cultivate human relationships

The season of Lent is also an opportunity to cultivate our human relationships in more authentic ways.  Looking again at the hymnology of the Triodion, we clearly ascertain that there is an emphasis on loving and caring for each other, on moving away from evil and wrong things, on forgiving one another, and on being reconnected with our fellow human beings.  The Book of Isaiah, read in its entirety during Lent, begins with a condemnation of the people of Israel because they had abandoned God, and then continues with an admonition to the Israelites to return to God and to be fair and to establish proper relationships with their fellow human beings.  So we are called to think of any relationships that are not in the proper condition and make every effort to remedy them.  This is a very integral part of living our lives during Lent.

  1. Practice almsgiving

Almsgiving is a vital aspect of the Lenten period.  On one of the multiple occasions speaking about the need to be a person who takes care of others, St. John Chrysostom said that we are all called to give alms.  He continued to say that even those who claim to be poor are not free from offering alms.  Poverty is a poor excuse not to give.  Indeed there are poor people who give the half of what they have (see Mark 12:41-44).  It could be said that almsgiving is a requirement for living our life as Christians.  Christ said, “when you give alms” (Matt. 6:3), not if you give alms.  Almsgiving is especially emphasized during this Lenten period, evidenced again by the hymnology of our Church.

  1. Make this Lent a time for transformation

Ultimately, our Lenten season is a time of having a transformative experience.  We are challenged to resolve that at the end of the Lenten period, when we celebrate Pascha, we are different from what we are today.  The transformative aspect of Lent is an absolute necessity for spiritually enjoying this season.  We are in the process of transformation if we steadily become Christocentric in all things, through the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Lenten season provides us with a tremendous possibility to prepare spiritually, to be constantly transformed, and to be with Christ in His Passion and Resurrection.

Four Ways Fasting Helps You Love God and Neighbor

We’re just a few days away from the start of the Dormition Fast, two weeks of preparation before we celebrate the falling asleep of the Theotokos.

As with any fast, this period is an incredible opportunity that can help us in at least four ways:

  1. Fasting helps us be mindful of what we say. It’s about more than what goes into our mouths, it’s also about what comes out of them.
  2. Fasting helps us develop discipline. Choosing to avoid certain foods helps strengthen us to avoid other temptations and instead choose Christ.
  1. Fasting helps us develop gratitude.  When our stomachs grumble with hunger, it’s a reminder of the many blessings we may take for granted.
  1. Fasting puts us in a position to better serve our neighbors.  The Church has always taught that any money we save by eating simple foods should be given to those who are hungry.

And that’s perhaps the most important point to remember. Don’t simply spend the first two weeks of August worried about what you can’t eat: use those weeks to fast, of course, but also to pray, to attend services, to live with kindness and joy.

Use those two weeks to get better at loving God and neighbor with all your heart.

Science Studies the Jesus Prayer

       

Can seven words—Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me—change lives?

It may seem a lot of effort over just seven words: Finding 110 Eastern Orthodox Christians, giving them a battery of tests ranging from psychology to theology to behavioral medicine, and then repeating the tests 30 days later. But the seven words—”Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” (a.k.a. the Jesus Prayer)—are among the most enduring in history. What Boston University psychologist George Stavros, Ph.D., wanted to find out was whether repeating the Jesus Prayer for ten minutes each day over the 30 days would affect these people’s relationship with God, their relationships with others, their faith maturity, and their “self-cohesion” (levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and interpersonal sensitivity). In short, Stavros was asking whether the Jesus Prayer can play a special role in a person’s “journey to the heart.”
The answer—at least on all the scales that showed any significant effect compared to the control group—turned out to be a resounding yes. Repeating the contemplative prayer deepened the commitment of these Christians to a relationship with a transcendent reality. Not only that, it reduced depression, anxiety, hostility, and feelings of inferiority to others. So powerful were the psychological effects of the prayer that Stavros urges his colleagues to keep it in mind as a healing intervention for clients. He recommends that the prayer be used along with communal practices so that one’s relationship with God and others is “subtly and continuously tutored.” In other words, going inside to find God does not mean going it alone.

http://agapienxristou.blogspot.ca/2012/11/science-studies-jesus-prayer.html

Worshiping as a Family by Fr. Theodore Dorrance

Recently, a concern was voiced by some parents of young children regarding the difficulty of having their youngsters sit through our “long worship services.” Having been a parent of young children for many years with a wife who basically functioned as a single parent every Sunday and feast day, I am aware of how difficult it is to a young Orthodox Christian family. I realize that each Divine Liturgy is a struggle, trying to keep our children attentive and involved, wondering whether they and we are benefitting from the time and effort. This work is further compounded by the fact that many of us have not grown up ourselves in Orthodox worship. Standing for long periods of time, working hard to stay present and cut off intrusive thoughts, and entering into a rhythm and atmosphere so different from our everyday experience is even hard for us adults.

The Church has some very definite things to say about the presence of young children in the church services as full participants. Ever since the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, infants on the fortieth day of life have been brought to the Temple (church) to be blessed, dedicated and officially welcomed into the corporate worship life of the church community. From New Testament times until the present day, children have been baptized and chrismated as infants. From the day of the their baptism, they have been made full members and communicants of the holy mysteries of the Church. If young children are not expected to be in church, why does the Church bless both the mother and her child on the fortieth day and baptize and confirm them soon thereafter?! Of course, we know that they are clothed in Christ and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can be totally immersed in the life of the Church. The wisest of all men, King Solomon, affirms this truth: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov.22:6)

The Church is the Body of Christ, and it is also one big spiritual family. As members of the same Body, we are called to come together to congregate, to meet God and one another and to exercise love and work out our salvation in common as one. This inevitably means that from time to time there is going to be a little noise, a little movement, because we have little ones in our midst. They do not yet have the same attention span to stay focused as long as adults. These little ones are in training. This is why we have a “Young Family Room,” which is an extension of the Nave. It is NOT a “Cry Room,” where chaos and running around are encouraged, but it is a place for our young ones to be when they are not quiet enough to be in the Nave. It is their place of transition as they learn how to worship and participate in the Divine Services in a way that is respectful and fitting to the other members of their spiritual family.

I repeat here the words of Solomon: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Believe me, and I speak from experience, if we persevere in this struggle to bring our young children to the worship services while they are young, they will soon learn to love worship. It will become a part of them, and they will feel at home in the Church. Experts have long said that the bulk of our personality and our sense of our “self ” is formed in the first five years of life. Along with the grace of baptism and chrismation, the foundational experience of our young ones in Orthodox worship will be deeply imprinted on their souls; it will become a part of their spiritual DNA.

Allow me to interject two brief examples. A priest had regularly brought his children to church from their fortieth day. One day when one of his children was only two, he took her with him on a house blessing. While preparing for the service, his child was in another room playing and seemingly inattentive. Once the priest started the house blessing, however, from the other room this young child began chanting the responses. You can imagine how amazed and thrilled the priest was to see how much his child had absorbed just by being present at the various services. He said nothing, but throughout the rest of the service, he was accompanied by a two year old chanter.

A second example comes from my own experience. When our oldest was only 3 or 4, we had to be somewhere on a Saturday that prevented us from celebrating Vespers at our church. Presvytera and I decided we would do as much of the Vespers from heart while driving home that evening. We started, but quickly forgot how Psalm 103 continued after the opening line. Suddenly, from the back seat our young daughter proceeded to recite the entire Psalm from memory. We were astonished and learned a powerful lesson about the importance of bringing our children to church even when we are not sure they are even paying attention. It is during these formative early years that our children are like sponges, picking up and retaining all the sights, sounds and smells of Orthodox worship.

We should never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives or the powerful effect the Orthodox Church’s rich, sensorial worship services can have on young children who do not seem to be paying attention. If they see that God and the Church are important to us, it will become important to them. Our commitment to the worship life of the Church will communicate this same priority to them. Once in the church, they will see the Kingdom of Heaven all around them through the architecture, the icons, the vestments, the candles, the incense, the chanting, etc. They will hear the prayers, the petitions, the hymns and the preaching. They will taste and see that the Lord is good. All of these sensory stimuli will create an indelible mark upon their whole person that will draw them closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us all rise above our doubts as to whether this is of benefit to ourselves and our children. Let us ignore the insidious thoughts that are sent to us by the evil one and heed the words of our Lord: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt.19:14) If we as parents live our faith at all times and teach it to our children in both word and deed, namely bringing them to the Divine Services of the Church, they will grow up close to our Lord. My dear parents, hang in there and have patience. This season of bearing and raising children is brief. Your efforts will bear fruit before you even realize it. I have seen it happen to countless children whose parents were faithful. Not only will the holy and blessed worship life of the Church form and transfigure our children, but your loving and sacrificial efforts will also positively change your lives as well.

Be the Bee

Check out the latest Be the Bee episode “Pray Simply, Pray Always”

Why a Fast for Dormition?

It would be a gross understatement to say that much has been written about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Yet very little has been written about the fast that precedes it. Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Pascha and Christmas. But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, it is notable that some do not observe the fast, and more than a few question why it is there, not understanding its purpose. Given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us “suffer” gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Fasting Pleases God?

It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, with alms and prayer, and do not merely diet) that please Him.

1) We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us.

2) The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was “anxious and troubled about many things.”

3) Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of “the one thing needful.” It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God.

4) Fasting during the Dormition Fast helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.

So why do we fast before Dormition?

In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family; word that our matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned.

The Church, through the Paraklesis Service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our chief advocate at His divine throne.

The Paraclesis Service

The Service of the Paraclesis to the Theotokos consists of hymns of supplication to obtain consolation and courage. It should be recited in times of temptation, discouragement or sickness. It is used more particularly during the two weeks before the Dormition, or Assumption, of the Theotokos, from August 1 to August 14. The theme of these Paraclesis Services centers around the petition. . “Most Holy Mother of God, save us”.

If you have a problem or if something is burdening your soul, if you feel spiritually uneasy and if you are not at peace with yourself and with those around you, then, you should come to the Church during the first fifteen days of August and ask for the intercessions of the Mother of God. Even if you are fortunate enough to be one of those very few who are at peace with themselves and with God, then those blessed ones should come to these services and thank God and His Blessed Mother for the blessings that they have bestowed upon you and your family.

Since these Paraclesis Services to the Theotokos are primarily petition for the welfare of the living, let the whole Church pray for you during the first fifteen days of August and especially on the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15th. Don’t let your laziness and your apathy cause you to miss this great blessing and inspiration that the Church can bestow upon you. Let the peace and holiness that only the Mother of God can give you enter into your life. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares,” and let us truly, during these fifteen days, participate in the fasting and prayer life of the Church so that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” and so that we may fully experience the spiritual blessings that the Church offers to us at this holy time. “Blessed is he whom He shall find watching.” Come and pray to the Theotokos with us and with the Church and by her prayers and intercessions, may our souls be saved!

Observe the Dormition Fast

Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food ,evil thoughts, actions and desires) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on she who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian. In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model Christian life, embodying Christ’s retort to the woman who stated that Mary was blessed because she bore Him: blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone.

Fr. Thomas Hopko has noted, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His Word but give birth to Him. So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Dormition Fast.

When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O life of all, and I am astonished. O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired.

On Christian Marriage- St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)

Marriage was ordained by God as a blessing to the human race. A certain wise man in the Scriptures, when enumerating which blessings are the most important, included “a wife and husband who live in harmony” (The Wisdom of Sirach 25:1).

From the beginning, God in His providence planned this union of man and woman. God has put into a man’s heart the capacity to love his wife and into a woman’s heart the capacity to love her husband. There is no relationship between human beings as close as that of husband and wife – if they are united as they ought to be.

God’s purpose in ordering marriage is peace.

If a man and a woman marry to satisfy their sexual appetites, or to further the material aims of themselves or their families, then the union is unlikely to bring blessings. But if a man and a woman marry in order to be companions on the journey from earth to heaven, then their union will bring great joy to themselves and to others.

When we speak of the wife obeying the husband, we normally think of obedience in military or political terms: the husband giving orders to the wife and the wife obeying them. But while this type of obedience may be appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage.  Obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way. St. Paul writes: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:22).  Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other but of both spouses obeying each other.

When the Apostle Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives,” he does not stop at this, but gives us a measure for true love by adding, “as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25). And how did Christ love the Church? “He gave Himself up for her,” the Apostle says. So even if you must die for your wife, do not refuse.

Love is most powerfully present in a marriage when accompanied by respect. A good marriage is like a castle. When husband and wife truly love and respect each other, no one can overcome them.

In the providence of God, when a husband is spiritually weak, his wife is spiritually strong; and when a wife is weak, her husband is strong.

Nothing can destroy love that is rooted and founded in Christ.

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.

St. John Chrysostom’s advice to young husbands:  Speaking with your wife . . . .

Never speak to your wife in a mundane way but with compliments, with respect and with much love. Tell her that you love her more than your own life, because this present life is nothing, and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that in the world to come, you will be united in perfect love.

Say to her, ‘Our time here is brief and fleeting, but if we are pleasing to God, we can exchange this life for the Kingdom to come. Then we will be perfectly one both with Christ and with each other, and our pleasure will know no bounds. I value your love above all things, and nothing would be so bitter or painful to me as our being at odds with each other. Even if I lose everything, any affliction is tolerable if you will be true to me.’

Show her that you value her company, and prefer being at home to being out at the marketplace. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Praise and show admiration for her good acts; and if she ever does anything foolish, advise her patiently. Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.