Category Archives: Orthodox Spirituality

A Different Pascha (Easter)

This year, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Churches will be unable to gather in the usual manner for Pascha. This has happened before in a variety of places and circumstances. In the 1920’s, the Bolshevik’s were unleashing their persecutions. This wonderful account, from Butyrka Prison on Pascha of 1928, is a sober reminder that our “light momentary affliction” is a small thing. It also serves to remind us that the joy of Pascha cannot be quarantined or silenced. God give us patient endurance. Serge Schmemann, son of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his wonderful little book, Echoes of a Native Land, records a letter written from one of his family members of an earlier generation, who spent several years in the prisons of the Soviets and died there. The letter, written on the night of Pascha in 1928 is to a family member, “Uncle Grishanchik” (This was Grigory Trubetskoi who had managed to emigrate to Paris). This letter should become a classic of Orthodox writing and witness to the faith that sustained so many and is today being resurrected in so many placesThe triumph of the Resurrection so transcends his prison cell it’s a wonder that the walls remained. The entire book is a wonderful read. I recommend it without reservation.

30 March/ 12 April 1928

Dear Uncle Grishanchik,

I greet you and Aunt Masha with the impending Holy Day, and I wish you all the very best. For a long, long time I have wanted to write to you, dear Uncle Grishanchik; you always showed such concern for me, you helped me so generously in a difficult moment of my life, and, mainly, your entire image is so inseparably linked for each of us, your nephews, with such wonderful memories; you always are, were, and will be our dearest, most beloved uncle.

I am approaching the fourth Easter that I will spend behind these walls, separated from my family, but the feelings for these holy days which were infused in me from earliest childhood do not fail me now; from the beginning of Holy Week I have felt the approach of the Feast, I follow the life of the Church, I repeat to myself the hymns of the Holy Week services, and in my soul there arise those feelings of tender reverence that I used to feel as a child going to confession or communion. At 35 those feelings are as strong and as deep as in those childhood years.

My dear Uncle Grishanchik, going over past Easters in my memory, I remember our last Easter at Sergiyevskoye, which we spent with you and Aunt Masha, and I felt the immediate need to write you. If you have not forgotten, Easter in 1918 was rather late, and spring was early and very warm, so when in the last weeks of Lent I had to take Aunt Masha to Ferzikovo, the roads were impassable. I remember that trip as now; it was a warm, heavy, and humid day, which consumed the last snow in the forests and gullies faster than the hottest sun; wherever you looked, water, water, and more water, and all the sounds seemed to rise from it, from the burbling and rushing of the streams on all sides to the ceaseless ring of countless larks. We had to go by sleigh – not on the road, which wound through the half-naked fields in a single muddy ridge, but alongside, carefully choosing the route. Each hoofprint, each track left by the runners, immediately turned into a small muddy stream, busily rushing off somewhere. We drove forever, exhausting the poor horse, and, finally, after successfully eluding the Polivanovo field, one of the most difficult places, I became too bold and got Aunt Masha so mired that I nearly drowned the horse and the sleigh; we had to unharness to pull it out and got wet to the eyebrows; in a word, total “local color.”

I remember the feeling I had that spring of growing strength, but that entire happy springtime din, for all the beauty and joy of awakening nature, could not muffle the sense of alarm that squeezed the heart in each of us. Either some hand rose in senseless fury to profane our Sergiyevskoye, or there was the troubling sense that our loving and closely welded family was being broken up: Sonia far off somewhere with a pile of kids, alone, separated from her husband; Seryozha, just married, we don’t know where or how, and you, my dear Uncle Grisha and Auht Masha, separated from your young ones, in constant worry over them. It was a hard and difficult time. But I believe that beyond these specific problems, this spiritual fog had a deeper common source: we all, old and young, stood then at a critical turning point: unaware of it, we were bidding farewell to a past filled with beloved memories, while ahead there loomed some hostile utterly unknown future.

And in the midst of all this came Holy Week. the spring was in that stage when nature, after a big shove to cast off winter’s shackles, suddenly grows quiet, as if resting from the first victory. But below this apparent calm there is always the sense of a complex, hidden process taking place somewhere deep in the earth, which is preparing to open up in all its force, in all the beauty  of growth and flowering. Plowing and seeding the earth raised rich scents, and, following the plow on the sweaty, softly turning furrow, you were enveloped in the marvelous smell of moist earth. I always became intoxicated by that smell, because in it one senses the limitless creative power of nature.

I don’t know how you all felt at the time, because I lived a totally separate life and worked from morning to night in the fields, not seeing, and, yes, not wanting to see, anything else. It was too painful to think, and only total physical exhaustion gave one a chance, if not to forget, then at least to forget oneself. But with Holy Week began the services in church and at home, I had to lead the choir in rehearsal and in church; on Holy Wednesday I finished the sowing of oats and, putting away the plow and harrow, gave myself entirely over to the tuning fork. And here began that which I will never forget!

Dear Uncle Grishanchik! Do you remember the service of the Twelve Gospels in our Sergiyevskoye church? Do you remember that marvelous, inimitable manner of our little parson? This spring will be nine years that he passed away during the midnight Easter service, but even now, when I hear certain litanies or certain Gospel readings, I can hear the exhilarated voice of our kind parson, his intonations piercing to the very soul. I remember that you were taken by this service, that it had a large impact on you. I see now the huge crucifix rising in the midst of the church, with figures of the Mother of God on one side and the Apostle John on the other, framed by multicolored votive lights, the waving flame of many candles, and, among the thoroughly familiar throng of Sergiyevskoye peasants, your figure by the right wall in front of the candle counter, with a contemplative expression on your face. If you only knew what was happening in my soul at that time! It was an entire turnover, some huge, healing revelation!

Don’t be surprised that I’m writing this way; I don’t think I’m exaggerating anything, it’s just that I feel great emotion remembering all these things, because I am continuously breaking off to go to the window and listen. A quiet, starry night hangs over Moscow, and I can hear first one, then another church mark the successive Gospels with slow, measured strikes of the bell. I think of my Lina and our Marinochka, of Papa, Mama, my sisters, brothers, of all of you, feeling the sadness of expatriation in these days, all so dear and close. However painful, especially at this time, the awareness of our separation, I firmly, unshakably believe all the same that the hour will come when we will all gather together, just as you are all gathered now in my thoughts.

1/14 April – They’ve allowed me to finish writing letters, and I deliberately sat down to finish it this night. Any minute now the Easter matins will start; in our cell everything is clean, and on our large common table stand kulichi and paskha, a huge “X.B.” [Christos Voskrese “Christ is risen”] from fresh watercress is beautifully arranged on a white table cloth with brightly colored eggs all around. It’s unusually quiet in the cell; in order not to arouse the guards, we all lay down on lowered cots (there are 24 of us) in anticipation of the bells, and I sat down to write to you again.

I remember I walked out of the Sergiyevskoye church at that time overwhelmed by a mass of feelings and sensations, and my earlier spiritual fog seemed a trifle, deserving of no attention. In the great images of the Holy Week services, the horror of man’s sin and the suffering of the Creator leading to the great triumph of the resurrection, I suddenly discovered that eternal, indestructible beginning, which was also in that temporarily quiet spring, hiding in itself the seed of a total renewal of all that lives. The services continued in their stern, rich order; images replaced images, and when, on Holy Saturday, after the singing of “Arise, O Lord,” the deacon, having changed into a white robe, walked into the center of the church to the burial cloth to read the gospel about the resurrection, it seemed to me that we are all equally shaken, that we all feel and pray as one.

In the meantime, spring went on the offensive. When we walked to the Easter matins, the night was humid, heavy clouds covered the sky, and walking through the dark alleys of the linden park, I imagined a motion in the ground, as if innumerable invisible plants were pushing through the earth toward air and light.

I don’t know if our midnight Easter matins made any impression on you then. For me there never was, and never will be, anything better than Easter at Seriyevskoye. We are all too organically tied to Sergiyevskoye for anything to transcend it, to evoke so much good. This is not blind patriotism, because for all of us Seriyevskoye was that spiritual cradle in which everything by which each of us lives and breathes was born and raised.

My dear Uncle Grishanchik, as I’ve been writing to you the scattered ringing around Moscow has become a mighty festive peal. Processions have begun, the sounds of firecrackers reach us, one church after another joins the growing din of bells. The wave of sound swells. There! Somewhere entirely nearby, a small church breaks brightly through the common chord with such a joyous, exultant little voice. Sometimes it seems that the tumult has begun to wane, and suddenly a new wave rushes in with unexpected strength, a grand hymn between heaven and earth.

I cannot write any more! That which I now hear is too overwhelming, too good, to try to convey in words. The incontrovertible sermon of the Resurrection seems to rise from this mighty peal of praise. My dear uncle Grishanchik, it is so good in my soul that the only way I can express my spirit is to say to you once again, Christ is Risen!

Georgy

Lenten Reflection by Metropolitan Gerasimos

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
We begin our Lenten journey in troubling times. Forces of polarization and division seem to lurk everywhere, but especially in our civic life. At times, these same forces attempt to enter the life of our parishes and Church at large. If you don’t believe me, spend a little time online looking at topics about the Orthodox Church. There you will find individuals that hurl epithets and anger at almost anything and anyone; and it is usually done anonymously. Whether through a “Twitter war” or “trolling”, they seek to sow chaos and doubt, and tear us away from one another, from the Church, and from God Himself.
Our world is filled with forces that would take us away from one another. Lent is a time for us to wage combat against these divisive forces. It can start by fasting from negative on-line behavior ourselves and striving to behave civilly to one another in all our conversations, and especially in social media. But to be effective, we must combat division with our commitment to unity as a Church and as an Orthodox people. Our Lenten journey begins with this hymn, “Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat.”
Our Lord Himself prayed for unity among His followers. Our Lord links unity and faith. When we are united, others will believe. Disunity and chaos are obstacles to faith. In the Gospel of John, our Lord prayed, “for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me. The glory which You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22).
Great Lent is meant to be an event of the community, strengthening our unity, so that we may proclaim the Good News more effectively, strengthening ourselves, and bringing others to Christ. The hymn calls us to begin Great Lent as one people. While we may be observing Lent on our own, in our homes, etc., we are in this together. We are called to observe the fast together. The Church invites us to the many divine services of this season to pray together. We will study our faith together in the many lectures, retreats, and seminars our parishes offer. We will engage in philanthropic work as a community by supporting many good causes with acts of charity.
Forty days may not seem like a long time, but when we try to observe Great Lent well, when we seek to engage in spiritual combat, we need one another for support and encouragement. Our greatest weapon against the forces of division and polarization is our commitment to strengthening our relationship with Christ and to one another. We can accomplish great things when we choose unity and cooperation over chaos, division, and polarization.
The great task of Lent is to prepare ourselves for Pascha. The hymn that I quoted above continues: “Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.” Together as one people when we support one another in the pursuit of the life in Christ, we can ready ourselves spiritually to experience the Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco

No One is Good but God by Rev. Father Daniel Triant

I recently discussed the following quote from C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity with a group of high school students, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong… Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.

The resulting conversation was spirited as they wrestled with this idea. What became apparent was their concept of good and evil was pretty black and white – some people are inherently good and others inherently evil. However, this is not the Orthodox view of the world. God did not create evil people, instead he created each of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). So how then is there so much evil in the world?

In Lenten Spring Father Thomas Hopko explains, “[…] By rebelling against God ourselves. We listen to the serpent, the spirit of evil, instead of God. We do things in our own way. And we experience evil for ourselves, by our own volition, and bring corruption to our total being: mind, soul heart, and body. To the extent that this wickedness is in us, we pass it on to those who come after us, and they too become infected by evil from their very conception.

We experience evil voluntarily as we rebel against God’s will and make our own will the authority. And one of the greatest temptations is to justify our actions, to say to ourselves, “What I am doing is good.” However, none of us has any authority to make that call, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is where we go wrong. This is how goodness becomes spoiled. As we continue down this path of separating ourselves from God through sin, we infect and are infected by those around us. The bottom line is that even if we were able to follow the law to perfection we would still be lost because without Christ we are subject to the death and corruption of this world.

So it is no mistake the pre-Lenten period begins with the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. As he prayed “I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11), the Pharisee’s mistake was believing that he had no sin, that he was immune to the corruption of this world. Unable to recognize his own sin he continued to wallow in it and become infected by it. The Publican’s posture is a recognition of the wickedness in the world and our complete separation from God. In complete humility he beats his breast and cries, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

It is unsettling to think that even our most pure thoughts and desires, left to our own devices, can become corrupted and wicked. The Church tries to awaken us to this fact, not that we may despair, but that we may thirst and hunger for communion with the only One who is good, Jesus Christ. When we abide in His goodness, we are filled with His gifts and able to share them with those around us.

Let us flee the vainglory of the Pharisee, learning instead the true humility of the Publican, so that we may ascend to God and cry to Him: forgive us, Your sinful servants, O Christ our savior: you were born of the virgin and willingly endured the cross for us, raising the dead by Your power as God!
–From the Triodion for Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

“Humility Destroys the Devil” from “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man” by St. Paisios of  Mt. Athos (1924-1994)

(pages 70-71)

 

     Humility has great power and destroys the devil.  It is the strongest shock that we can give him.  Where there is humility, there is no room for the devil.  And where there is no devil, there are, of course, no temptations.  Once an ascetic pressed a devil to recite:  Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.  The devil said, Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, but he would not say, “Have mercy on us.”  The ascetic insisted, “Say, ‘have mercy on us’.”  But to no avail!  Had the devil complied, he would have become an angel again.  The devil will say anything except have mercy on me, because this requires humility.  In every have mercy on me there is humility and the soul that utters these words receives what she is seeking:  God’s great mercy.

 

     No matter what we do, we need humility, love and nobility.  It is very simple to acquire these things, but we make it complicated and difficult.  Every chance we get, we should do what is difficult for the devil and easy for human beings.  Love and humility are hard for the devil and easy for us.  Even a sickly person who cannot  become an ascetic can defeat the devil with humility.  In just one second, we can turn into an angel or a devil.  How?  We can choose pride or we can choose humility.  Do you think that it took hours for Lucifer to turn from an angel into a devil?  It all happened in seconds!  The easiest way for us to be saved is through love and humility.  That is why we must start with love and humility, and then go to the rest.

 

Pray that we may always give joy to Christ and distress to the devil, since the devil likes hell so much that he does not want to repent.

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.

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.

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.

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