Category Archives: Orthodox Spirituality

This time is that time… Holy Week thoughts from Fr Stephen Freeman

At the very heart of traditional Christian worship is an understanding of time. “This time is that time.” When the Jews gathered for Passover and recited the words given to them, they said, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Passover was not (and is not) a historical re-enactment, nor a simple memorial in which things done long ago are remembered. The key word is “we.” The events in Egypt and at the Red Sea are described as happening to us. “This time is that time.”

This same understanding runs throughout the liturgies of the Church. The Eucharist is not a memorial meal that remembers something Jesus did “back then.” Everything is present tense – this meal is that meal – that sacrifice is this sacrifice – everything is for us.

Orthodox Christians complete their Lenten Fast this weekend and enter the days of Holy Week. Very specific events are recalled: the raising of Lazarus; the entrance into Jerusalem; the tears of the harlot; the betrayal by Judas; the arrest and trial; the mocking, scourging and crucifixion of Christ; the harrowing of Hell; the resurrection from the dead. All of these are marked in the present tense. This time is that time.

The sacraments and liturgies of the Church are not meant to be exceptional. Rather, they reveal the true nature of our lives and the true nature of creation itself. Our contemporary world is dominated by an extreme historical consciousness in which time stretches out in a linear fashion. That which has passed no longer exists, except as we think about it. It has the unintended consequence of declaring that we ourselves are the only people who exist. Others are either dead and gone or do not yet exist. We are the center of all things. The inherent arrogance of such a worldview creates a cultural amnesia as well as an imaginary notion of our own power. We can create our world however we wish for there is only us.

As Christians, we affirm that it is God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” That which has existence does so only because God sustains it in existence. Only God is self-existing. For God, all times are present. And if, in Him, all times are present, then all times exist as present. That this time and that time should coincide is nothing strange. Indeed, the “fullness” of time can only be known in that manner.

Learning to listen and pray in this manner is a threshold to noetic perception – that means by which we see the truth of things and God’s work in the world. When we choose to see the world in a non-sacramental manner, with a linearity that immediately destroys everything we see, we become spiritually blind. We neither see nor hear what God is doing. Noetic perception sees things as a whole, rather than analyzing the world in separate pieces (a function of reason). The modern linear imagining of time represents a championing of reason at the expense of the fullness of human experience.

The liturgical life of the Church is not a rationalizing activity. It is a sacramental presentation of the whole universe in the presence of God. All things are there as are all times. The actions of Holy Week are not required as an exercise in historical memory. They allow us to be present to the fullness of time. We do not merely think about the events of that week – we walk in their midst and take a share in their reality. All of those things are “for our sake.” St. Paul can say, “I am crucified with Christ,” because he is utterly present to that day, just as that day is utterly present to and in him.

St. Gregory the Theologian’s First Paschal Oration is filled with this understanding:

Yesterday the Lamb was slain and the door-posts were anointed, and Egypt bewailed her Firstborn, and the Destroyer passed us over, and the Seal was dreadful and reverend, and we were walled in with the Precious Blood. Today we have clean escaped from Egypt and from Pharaoh; and there is none to hinder us from keeping a Feast to the Lord our God — the Feast of our Departure; or from celebrating that Feast, not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, carrying with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.

Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorifiedwith Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us — you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honorour Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.

This is the Day of days.

Encyclical for Pascha 2019 from Archbishop Demetrios

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Χριστός Ἀνέστη! Christ is Risen! 

On this glorious Feast of Feasts, we hear in the Gospel of those who came to see the tomb of our Lord.  The myrrh-bearing woman came early in the morning of this day to anoint His body, to show their commitment to Christ through an act of love and care.  They expressed concern regarding the large stone covering the door of the tomb, but as they approached there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone…. (Matthew 28:2)

The angel said to the women, Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matthew 28:7)  These are the words that filled their hearts with joy.  These are the words they took to the disciples with rejoicing.  These are the words, He is risen, that we proclaim today in our joyful celebration of Holy Pascha and the Resurrection of Christ.

We sing with abundant gladness in our hearts, He is risen!  We sing these words because through His glorious Resurrection, He has revealed God’s power to bestow abundant and eternal life.  Christ has defeated death.  He has broken the bonds of Hades.  He has shown to those in the graves the life that awaits them.  Our Risen Lord has won the ultimate victory so that we can be free to enter the everlasting light and life of His glory.

Today, we proclaim He is risen! because the power revealed in His Resurrection is not a temporal power.  It is eternal.  The power of the Resurrection is not confined to one day or one event.  It is an ever-present power that fills our celebration.  It fills our hearts and our minds.  In the presence of the One who holds and offers this power, the power of grace and life, we are both comforted and challenged.  In our worship, we experience awe.  In our joy we have an eagerness to go out rejoicing so that all the world may know, He is risen!

As the women who came to the tomb that morning heard the words of the angel, He is risen, we must also hear these words.  We must hear them deeply.  We must experience the transforming power through our faith in what He has done.  We must believe that He is risen and our Risen Lord is in our midst, filling our hearts with an everlasting joy.  But as we hear these words, we must also affirm that they should be shared.  Today, our exclamation is universal.  On this day our hearts are united in the joy of Pascha, and together with voices loud and clear we proclaim to all, He is risen! Go and tell your family and friends.  Go and share the good news in your communities.  Go into all the world and proclaim, “It is the day of Resurrection! He is risen!”

Christ is risen! He truly is risen!

With paternal love in the Risen Lord,

 †  D E M E T R I O S

Archbishop of America

Encyclical for Great Lent from Metropolitan Gerasimos

Dearly Beloved,
“The Great Commission” was the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Assembly: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
As we begin the Great Fast, these words of the Lord can enlighten our Lenten journey. We call this passage “The Great Commission” because with these words, our Lord and Savior, shortly after His Resurrection, sent forth His disciples into the world. They went from “disciples” or followers of Jesus, to “apostles” sent out by Christ to continue His mission to the world.
Our Lenten journey that will culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will also prepare us for the apostolic work of going into the world to share the good news first proclaimed by Jesus. The Lenten practices of the Church will prepare us when we observe them: prayer, fasting, study, philanthropy and charity. Jesus Himself becomes our example. Jesus prayed to His father, so we must pray regularly during this season. The New Testament recounts many occasions when the Lord “went off to pray”. The Church, in the parish, offers us many opportunities for prayer and worship.
Jesus fasted, especially during the forty days in the wilderness, before He began His public Ministry. The Church continued to observe a fast, especially before beginning significant work (Acts of the Apostles 13). The Church has taught us to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, which also prepares us for the work of the Church.
Jesus knew the scriptures. We remember how He used the words of the Scripture to respond to those who would challenge Him or merely ask a question, whether it was the Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, even Satan himself. We should devote time to studying the Scriptures and the Teaching of our Holy Orthodox Faith during Great Lent so that we may edify and equip ourselves for the mission ahead.
Jesus’ philanthropic acts were seen in His many miracles of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. His ultimate philanthropic act was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Great Lent is our time to increase our philanthropic and charitable acts to support reconciliation, healing, and care for those around us. Our parishes offer many opportunities for service and giving during these days.
We typically think of Great Lent in individualistic and pietistic terms. It is a time of turning inward personally. And indeed, it has these strong elements. Yet, when we consider the goal of our Lenten journey, we can see how the inward dimension is preparing us for the outward work of sharing the Gospel with all. The first people we must share the Gospel with is our children, both at home and in your parishes. Witnessing our example, our children will see the significance of Great Lent in our lives. We should also instruct our children in the ways of the Church, connecting Lenten discipline and practices with our faith in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, “The Great Commission” has been given to each of us, just as it was given to those first followers of Christ. The Church, during Great Lent, shows us the way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and for our apostolic work in the world.
May our Lord grant you and your families a Holy Season of Great Lent filled with soul saving experiences as we proceed to witness His Glorious Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco

Archbishop Demetrios’s Encyclical for Great Lent

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we begin this blessed time of Holy and Great Lent, we are invited to enter into a period of intense prayer, fasting and service, so that we may draw closer to God, commune with Him, and experience His grace as we reflect on our lives, our relationship with Him, and our journey to salvation.  In doing this we are challenged—challenged to face what separates us from God and His will; but we are also shown the way to overcome this separation both now and for eternity.

Great Lent is most certainly a challenge as we have experienced in the weeks of preparation for this season.  We have reflected on the parables of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee and the Prodigal Son.  We have considered the true nature and impact of repentance and humility.  We have heard the words of our Lord concerning the Last Judgment and the manner of life and service that leads to eternal life.  As we enter into this holy season, we will continue to be challenged as the truth of the Gospel and the presence of God lead us to examine our lives.  We are challenged to address anything that separates us from Him and that prevents us from revealing His grace to others through our lives.

We know that as we enter this solemn season we will be equipped to meet these challenges. It is a time that provides us with more opportunities to worship, more times during the ebb and flow of our daily lives to gather together to commune with God.  We are called to more frequent prayer, to dedicate time each day to speak to God and to listen, and to live each moment prayerfully, affirming that He is present and guiding us.  We are guided by the Church in fasting, abstaining from excess and from certain foods, as a means of living measured and discerning lives that place holiness and the will of God above all things.

These disciplines of our faith equip us to reveal God’s grace in all that we do.  Through our repentance, we are prepared to offer forgiveness to others.  Through our contrition of the heart, we show the power of complete surrender to God.  Through our dedication of our time to prayer and worship, we affirm the true purpose and goal of life.  Through our obedience to His will, we are led in service to those in need.  Through our commitment to Him, Great Lent prepares us to overcome anything that separates us and others from the love of God.

This holy season is also a guide, leading us on a spiritual journey.  It is a journey that leads us to joy and light; and at its inception we sing, “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 Pascha!” (Hymn of Vespers). It is also the journey of our lives into the blessedness of eternal life and communion with God.  As we enter this solemn and sacred season, my prayer is that you will be filled with strength and grace for the Lenten journey.  May this journey continue to equip you with all that you need to complete this journey in our celebration of Pascha, and ultimately, unto the blessed condition to be eternally united to God.

With paternal love in Christ,

  † DEMETRIOS

Archbishop of America

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.

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