October 12, 2010


Saint Theophan the Recluse 

It reached my ears that, as it seems, you consider my sermons very strict and believe that today no one should think this way, no one should be living this way and therefore, no one should be teaching this way. “Times have changed!”
How glad I was to hear this. This means that you listen carefully to what I say, and not only do you listen, but you are also willing to abide by it. What more could we hope for, we who preach as we were ordered and as much we were ordered?
Despite all this, in no way can I agree with your opinion. I even consider it my duty to comment on it and to correct it, since – even though it perhaps goes against your desire and conviction – it comes from something sinful, as though Christianity could alter its doctrines, its canons, its sanctifying ceremonies to answer to the spirit of each age and adjust itself to the changing tastes of the sons of this century, as though it could add or subtract something.
Yet, it is not so. Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings. To convince you of this, I will put forward some thoughts for you to consider.
Some said that my teaching is strict. First of all, my teaching is not my own, nor it should be. In this sacred office nobody should, nor even can, preach his own teaching. If I or someone else ever dare to do so, you can put us outside the Church.
We preach the teachings of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of the holy Apostles, and the Holy Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we make sure to do everything possible to keep these teachings whole and inviolate in your minds and hearts. Every thought we present and every word we use, we do so very carefully, so as not to overshadow this brilliant and divine teaching in any way. Nobody can act differently.

Such a law that calls for each man’s preaching in the Church to be "God-sent," was established at the creation of the world, and should thus remain valid until the end of the world. The Prophet Moses, after the delivery of the commandments from God Himself to the people of Israel, concluded: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2)
This law of constancy is so unalterable that the Lord and Savior Himself, when He was teaching the people on the mountain, said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Math. 5:17-18)
Then He gave the same validity to his teaching, before interpreting the commandments in the spirit of the gospel, by adding: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Math. 5:19)
This means that anyone who wrongly interprets the commandments of God and lessens their validity, will be an outcast in the future life. This is what He said at the beginning of His preaching. He assured the same thing to Saint John the Theologian, the beholder of ineffable revelations, to whom He described the final judgement of the world and the Church, indicating in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelations): “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Apoc. 22:18-19)

From the time of His first appearance in the world until the Second Coming, Christ has given the Holy Apostles and their successors the following law: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Math. 28:19-20)

That means “for you to teach, not what anyone else could possibly imagine, but what I ordered, and this to the end of the world.” And He adds: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (Math. 28:20)

The Apostles received this law and sacrificed their lives in order to keep it. And to those who wanted to keep them from preaching what it was they preached under the threat of punishment and death, they replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

This clear law was delivered by the apostles to their successors, was accepted by them, and has timeless effect in the Church of God. Because of this law, the Church is the pillar and the ground of truth. Can you see then what an inviolable steadfastness it has? After that, who would be so bold as to stubbornly disturb or move anything in Christian doctrine and law?

Next listen to what is said of the Prophet Ezekiel who for seven days was in the ecstasy of prayer and after seven days heard the word of the Lord: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth” (Ezek. 3:17), and he declared to the people: Here is the law for you! If you see a wicked person committing iniquity and you do not tell him: leave your iniquity and change your way, “that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezek. 3:18) Conversely, “if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezek. 3:19-21)

What a strict law! And though it sounds in the consciences of all pastors during their election and consecration, when a heavy yoke is put on them, namely the instruction of the flock of Christ that He entrusted to them, big or small, not only to guide it but also to preserve it. How could anyone be so bold, to pervert everything in the law of Christ, when this involves the destruction of both pastors and flock?

If the saving power of this teaching depended on our opinion of it and our consent to it, it would make sense for someone to imagine rebuilding Christianity according to human weaknesses or the claims of the age and adapt it according to the sinful desires of his heart. But the saving power of Christian law does not at all depend on us, but on the will of God, by the fact that God Himself established precisely the exact path of salvation. Beyond this there is no other way, nor could it exist. Therefore, anyone who teaches in any other way, is deviating from the true path and is destroying himself and you. What logic is there in that?

Notice how strict judgment was mentioned when something similar happened to the nation of Israel during the difficult years of their captivity. Some prophets out of pity for the suffering and sick talked to the people, not as the Lord had ordered, but as their heart dictated. Concerning them the Lord gave the following commands to Ezekiel: “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls.” (Ezek. 13:17-18)

This means: Woe to those who order any kind of special treatment and suggest such leniency, so no one feels the slightest displeasure, either from those on top or those at the bottom, not caring whether this is for their salvation or destruction, whether it is pleasing to God, or repulsive. Woe to them, because “thus says the Lord God...your pillows and veils,” namely your candied and comforting teaching, “upon which there you are perverting souls, I will tear from your arms and I will let their souls that you are perverting, go away...” (Ezek. 13:20-21) from this teaching of yours and I will destroy you corrupters.

This is the benefit of this special treatment and leniency, such as you want to hear from preachers! When you put all this deep in your heart, it is not right for you to want us to make any concessions in Christian doctrine, having the wrong desire to be pleased by us. On the contrary, you are obliged to persistently demand from us to remain true to doctrine, as strictly and firmly as possible.

Have you ever heard of the indulgences of the Pope of Rome? Here is what they are: special treatment and leniency, which he gives defying the law of Christ. And what is the result? From all of this, the West is corrupt in faith and in their way of life, and is now getting lost in its disbelief and in the unrestrained life with its indulgences.

The Pope changed many doctrines, spoiled all the sacraments, nullified the canons concerning the regulation of the Church and the correction of morals. Everything has begun going contrary to the will of the Lord, and has become worse and worse.

Then came along Luther, a smart man, but stubborn. He said, “The Pope changed everything as he wanted, why shouldn't I do the same?” He started to modify and re-modify everything in his own way, and in this way established the new Lutheran faith, which only slightly resembles what the Lord had commanded and the Holy Apostles delivered to us.

After Luther came the philosophers. And they in turn said, “Luther has established himself a new faith, supposedly based on the Gospel, though in reality based on his own way of thinking. Why, then, don't we also compose doctrines based on our own way of thinking, completely ignoring the Gospel?” They then started rationalizing, and speculating about God, the world, and man, each in his own way. And they mixed up so many doctrines, that one gets dizzy just counting them.

Now the Westerners have the following views: Believe what you think best, live as you like, satisfy whatever captivates your soul. This is why they do not recognize any law or restriction and they do not abide by God's word. Their road is wide, all obstacles displaced. Their way is broad, all the obstacles taken out. But the broad road leads to perdition, according to what the Lord says. This is where leniency in teaching has led!

Lord, save us from this broad way! But it is better to love each difficulty that the Lord has appointed for our salvation. Let us love Christian doctrines and let us compel our mind with them, pushing it not to think otherwise. Let us love Christian morals and let us compel our will in them, forcing it to lift the light yoke of the Lord humbly and patiently. Let us love all Christian rituals and services which guide us, correct us, and sanctify us. Let us compel our heart with them, encouraging it to convey its desires from the earthly and perishable, to the heavenly and imperishable.

Let us confine ourselves as though in a cage. Or better, let us drag ourselves, as if we were passing through a narrow passage. Let it be narrow, so no one can deviate neither to the right left, nor the left. Yet undoubtedly, through this narrow way we will obtain the kingdom of the heavens in return. For as you know, this kingdom is the kingdom of the Lord. The Lord laid this narrow way and said, “Follow exactly this route and you will obtain the kingdom of heaven.”

Could anyone then doubt whether the traveler will get to his destination? And what mind would one have who starts wanting all kinds of annulment of the commandments, when by doing this he would immediately lose his way and be lost?

Once you have fully understood this assertion, do not worry if something in our teaching seems to be strict. The only thing you should strive for is to carefully make sure if it is from the Lord. And after you have made sure it is from the Lord, accept it with all your heart, no matter how strict or obliging it may be. And not only avoid wanting special treatment and leniency with doctrine and the ethics, but even flee from all these, as though fleeing from the fire of Gehenna. Those who cannot escape from this are those who think up such things and with them lure those who are spiritually weak to follow them. Amen.

December 29, 1863  Sunday after Christ's Birth


September 21, 2010


of Sainted Andrew, ArchBishop of Crete

The present feastday is for us the beginning of feastdays. Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth. "For Christ is the end of the law" (Rom. 10: 4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph. 1: 10), enlivening the law with grace: grace hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), "so that we, – sayeth the Apostle, – be not enslaved to the elements of the world" (Gal. 4: 3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law. Here is the summit of Christ's beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinisation] assumed upon humankind – the fruition worked out by the God-man.

The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Suchlike also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Mother of God, and as its purposive end – the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible. The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Wherefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, shewing forth the light of virginity and as it were the crown woven from the unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, doth proffer creatures a common joy. Be of good cheer, – sayeth it, – behold, this is the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She groweth and is raised up and prepareth Herself to be the Mother of God All-Sovereign of the ages. All this, with the assist of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Mother of God manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous co-kinship of God with mankind.

And thus, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her, as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. Howso? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law there follows the freedom of grace.

The present day solemnity is a line of demarcation, separating the truth from its prefigurative symbol, and ushering in the new in place of the old. Paul – that Divine Trumpeter of the Spirit, – exclaims thus about this: "For anyone that be in Christ, ye are remade a new creature; the old passeth away and behold all is become new (2 Cor. 5: 17); for the law hath perfected nothing adducing for a better hope, whereby we draw nigh to God" (Heb. 7: 19). The truth of grace hath shown forth brightly...

Let there now be one common festal celebration in both heaven and on earth. Let everything now celebrate, that which is in the world and that beyond the world. Now is made the created temple for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator. Now our nature having been banished from the land of blessedness doth receive the principle of theosis and doth strive to rise up to the highest glory. Now Adam doth offer from us and for us elements unto God, the most worthy fruit of mankind – Mary, in Whom the new Adam is rendered Bread for the restoration of the human race. Now is opened the great bosom of virginity, and the Church, in the matrimonial manner, doth place upon it a pure pearl truly immaculate. Now human worthiness doth accept the gift of the first creation and returns to its former condition; the majesty darkened by formless sin, – through the conjoining by His Mother by birth "of Him Beauteous by Goodness", man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation – by theosis, and theosis – by a return to the original perfection! Now a barren one is become beyond expectation a mother, and the Birth-giver hath given birth without knowing man, and She doth sanctify natural birth. Now is readied the majestied colour of the Divine scarlet-purple and the impoverished human nature is clothed in royal worthiness. Now – according to prophecy – there sprouts forth the Offshoot of David, Who, having eternally become the green-sprouting Staff of Aaron, hath blossomed forth for us with the Staff of Power – Christ. Now of Judah and David is descended a Virgin Maiden, rendering of Herself the royal and priestly worthiness of Him that hath taken on the priesthood of Aaron in the order of Melchisedek (Heb. 7: 15). Now is begun the renewal of our nature, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, doth receive the principle of a second Divine creation.

The first creation of mankind occurred from the pure and unsullied earth; but their nature darkened the worthiness innate to it, they were deprived of grace through the sin of disobedience; for this we were cast out of the land of life and, in place of the delights of paradise, we received temporal life as our inheritance by birth, and with it the death and corruption of our race. All started to prefer earth to heaven, such that there remained no hope for salvation, beyond the utmost help. Neither the natural nor the written law, nor the fiery reconciliative sayings of the prophets had power to heal the sickness. No one knew, how to rectify human nature and by what means it would be most suitable to raise it up to its former worthiness, so long as God the Author of all did not deign to reveal to us another arranged and newly-constituted world, wherein is annihilated the pervasive form of the old poison of sin, and granting us a wondrous, free and perfectly dispassionate life, through our re-creation in the baptism of Divine birth. But how would this great and most glorious blessing be imparted to us, so very in accord with the Divine commands, if God were not to be manifest to us in the flesh, not subject to the laws of nature, – nor deign to dwell with us in a manner, known to Him? And how could all this be accomplished, if first there did not serve the mystery a Pure and Inviolate Virgin, Who contained the Uncontainable, in accord with the law, yet beyond the laws of nature? And could some other virgin have done this, besides She alone, Who was chosen before all others by the Creator of nature?

This Virgin is the Mother of God – Mary, the MostGlorious of God, from the womb of Whom the MostDivine issued forth in the flesh and by Whom He Himself did arrange a wondrous temple for Himself. She conceived without seed and gave birth without corruption, since that Her Son was God, though also He was born in the flesh, without mingling and without travail. This Mother, truly, avoided that which is innate to mothers but miraculously fed with milk Her Son, begotten without a man. The Virgin, having given birth to the seedlessly Conceived-One, remained a Pure Virgin, having preserved incorrupt the marks of virginity. And so in truth She is named the Mother of God; Her virginity is esteemed and Her birth-giving is glorified. God, having conjoined with mankind and become manifest in the flesh, hath granted Her an unique glory. Woman's nature suddenly is freed from the first curse, and just as the first did bring in sin, so also doth the first initiate salvation also.

But our discourse has attained its chief end, and I, celebrating now and with rejoicing sharing in this sacred feast, I greet you in the common joy. The Redeemer of the human race, – as I said, – willed to arrange a new birth and re-creation of mankind: like as under the first creation, taking dust from the virginal and pure earth, wherein He formed the first Adam, so also now, having arranged His Incarnation upon the earth, – and so to speak, in place of dust, – He chooses from out of all the creation this Pure and Immaculate Virgin and, having re-created mankind within His Chosen-One from amidst mankind, the Creator of Adam is made the New Adam, in order to save the old.

Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joakim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joakim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God's law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless, ‑- she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless. Thus, Joakim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition – the Immaculate Virgin. The constraints of infertility were destroyed – prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother. Thus the immaculate Fruition issuing forth from the womb occurred from an infertile mother, and then the parents, in the first blossoming of Her growth brought Her to the temple and dedicated Her to God. The priest, then making the order of services, beheld the face of the girl and of those in front of and behind, and he became gladdened and joyful, seeing as it were the actual fulfillment of the Divine promise. He consecrated Her to God, as a reverential gift and propitious sacrifice – and, as a great treasury unto salvation, he led Her within the very innermost parts of the temple. Here the Maiden walked in the upright ways of the Lord, as in bridal chambers, partaking of heavenly food until the time of betrothal, which was preordained before all the ages by Him Who, by His unscrutable mercy, was born from Her, and by Him Who before all creation and time and expanse Divinely begat Him, and together with His consubstantial and co-reigning and co-worshipped Spirit, – this being One Godhead, having One Essence and Kingdom, inseparable and immutable and in which is nothing diverse, except the personal qualities. Wherefore, in solemnity and in song I do offer the Mother of the Word the festal gift; since that He born of Her hath taught me to believe in the Trinity: the Son and Word Without-Beginning hath made in Her His Incarnation; the Father begetting Him hath blessed this; the Holy Spirit hath signed and sanctified the womb which incomprehensibly hath conceived.

Now is the time to question David: in what did the God of all forswear him? Speak, O Psalmist and Prophet! He hath sworn from the fruit of my loin to sit upon my throne (Ps. 131 [132]: 11). Here in this He is forsworn and wilt not break His oath, He hath forsworn and His Word is sealed with a deed! "Once, – said he, – I forswear by My Holiness, that I lie not to David; his seed wilt prevail forever, and his throne, like the sun before Me and like the moon coursing the ages: a faithful witness also in heaven" (Ps. 88 [89]: 35-38). God hath fulfilled this oath, since it is not possible for God to lie (Heb. 6: 18). Consider this: Christ in the flesh is named my Son (Mt. 22: 42), and all nations will worship my Lord and Son (Ps. 71 [72]: 11), seeing him sit upon a virginal throne! Here also is the Virgin, from Whose womb the Praeternal One issued forth, incarnated at the end of the ages and renewing the ages, likewise sprung forth from my loins! All this is so!

People of God, holy nation, sacred gathering! Let us revere our paternal memory; let us extol the power of the mystery! Each of us, in the measure given by grace, let us offer a worthy gift for the present feast. Fathers – a prosperous lineage; mothers – fine children; the unbearing – the not-bearing of sin; virgins – a twofold prudence, of soul and of body; betrothed – praiseworthy abstinence. If anyone of you be a father, let him imitate the father of the Virgin; and if anyone be without child – let them make harvest of fruitful prayer, cultivating a life pleasing to God. The mother, feeding her children, let her rejoice together with Anna, raising her Child, given to her in infertility through prayer. She that is barren, not having given birth, lacking the blessing of a child, let her come with faith to the God-given Offshoot of Anna and offer there her barrenness. The virgin, living blamelessly, let her be a mother by discourse, adorning by word the elegance of soul. For a betrothed – let her offer mental sacrifice from the fruits of prayer. All together rich and poor, lads and maidens, old and young (Ps. 48: 2, 148: 12), priests and levites – let all together keep the feast in honour of the Maiden, the Mother of God and the Prophetess: from Her hath issued forth the Prophet, foretold of by Moses, Christ God and Truth (Deut. 18: 15). Amen.

September 18, 2010

Interview with Abbot Seraphim (Voepel)

Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia has become one of the most rapidly growing monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Media Office correspondents spent a week living amongst the monastics in order to gain a better understanding of the daily life of monks. Reader Peter Lukianov met with the deputy abbot of the monastery, Abbot Seraphim (Voepel), for an interview on the process of joining the monastery and the the spiritual impact the monastery has on its pilgrims.asv.lg.jpg (70338 bytes)

- Having spent a week living with the monastics of this sacred community, I cannot help but notice the overwhelming presence of young novices and monastics. It is hard to believe that so many young men choose to join the monastery in a country such as ours, where everything is in abundance and life is very comfortable. Why are so many young men abandoning the secular world and fleeing to the monastery?
On one hand, what you are saying is true, there are lots of young men joining the monastery, but on the other hand, look at the size of the United States. If this were really a Christian country, we would have hundreds of monasteries.

When I look around at our contemporary society, at the abundance and luxury we live in, I am amazed that anyone can find their way out of all this to the monastic life. Our young people have been raised in a society that has developed the pursuit of pleasure to a degree unheard of in any previous society. I don’t think even pagan Rome can hold a candle to some of the things going on in our society today. Just look at the corruption that can freely enter a home through the internet. Look at the use of drugs in our elementary schools and the alarming degree of promiscuity found among high school and college students. Look at the high percentage of broken marriages and the sad effects this has on the children.

Most of our young people really are seeking something higher, something more spiritual, but there is no one to guide them, so they simply follow the crowd. After a while, some of these young men grow tired and weary of all this pursuit of pleasure, and in their hunger for something more deeply satisfying, they turn to God with all their hearts, their broken and darkened hearts. And God, who has placed this desire in their hearts, comes to them like the father with his prodigal son. He runs to them with His arms outstretched, He embraces them and binds up their wounds and consoles them with His grace. Then through repentance He leads them on the path He has chosen for them and this path is often the path of monasticism.

asv2.lg.jpg (67063 bytes)- As the spiritual father of the community, what do you look for in a monastery applicant? What can get one turned away? 
Most of all, we look for a spirit of sincerity, humility, and repentance. Men enter monastic life because they want to seek God above everything else, but how they have arrived at this place in their spiritual journey varies greatly with each man. Some come from pious homes where they were taught to pray as little children and to attend church services at an early age. Choosing a monastic life for these men almost seems natural. Others come from homes where they were taught nothing about God. They never attended church services and followed a very secular lifestyle. These men sometimes reach a stage where they realize something is wrong, something is missing, and they begin to sincerely search for a truer and deeper meaning and purpose for their life. It is this sincerity and repentance that we look for in a candidate.

- Can you explain the process that a man must go through to enter Holy Cross Monastery?

First, he would write an introductory letter telling us about himself, his education, work experience, and especially his spiritual development. Then we would encourage him to come for a visit and live in the monastery for a few days and discuss his possible vocation. If this initial contact goes well, then we would ask his pastor or spiritual father for a letter of recommendation. This would then be followed by a longer visit, perhaps a few weeks or a month. If all this goes well, then we would allow him to come to the monastery as a candidate. After a few months as a candidate, he would be blessed to wear the black cassock for church services and meals. After a few more months, if all goes well, he may write a petition to Bishop George and ask to be made a novice. If the Bishop blesses, then he would be clothed as a novice with the cassock, belt, and skoufa. After this point, he would then wear his monastic clothing at all times.

asv3.lg.jpg (89987 bytes)

After three years of novitiate, he could then petition to be made a rassophore monk. If his petition is accepted, then the bishop would tonsure him and cloth him in the rassa and klobuk (cowl). After a period of time (this can vary from a few months to a lifetime), the rassophor monk can petition to make vows as a full monk and be tonsured to the Lesser Schema. If his petition is accepted, then in a beautiful ceremony where he enters the church clothed in a white baptismal robe, he makes his vows before the bishop, is tonsured, given a new name, and clothed in the full garments of a monk, cassock, rassa, paramon, mantia (mantle) and klobuk.

- What are some of the challenges that newcomers face upon entering the monastery?
Perhaps the greatest difficulty for a newcomer is the kind of self-sacrificing that comes from living in community. If a man is really seeking God, then the words of Our Savior will challenge him: "If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me." Without this dying to self, this humility, he will not be able to persevere in the monastery.

- What are some of the major misconceptions people have about Holy Cross Monastery and the monastic life in general?

Many people think that monks are living saints, angels in the flesh, but this is simply not true. Monks are men who are called by God to be like the angels, in that they seek God and worship Him above all else. The monk must struggle with the help of God to be a man of prayer and a man of faith. The monk is only a man; even though he is called by God to be like the angels, he nevertheless falls down and then he gets back up again. This process of falling down and getting up is the spiritual struggle through which each monk goes in his journey towards union with Christ.

- One would have to be spiritually blind not to notice that the world around us is rapidly spiraling out of control. Secularism, modernism, and liberalism are eating away at the Christian roots of this great nation and many of us find ourselves feeling hopeless. Turn on any news channel and you will see that there is a sort of hidden persecution of Christians. The Evil one is clever in his attacks on those who confess Christ, and although we rarely see outright violence, a battle is most certainly raging on. We find it increasingly difficult to pray because the troubles of this world weigh greatly on the souls of Orthodox Christians. After spending several days in this holy place, one does not wish to return to the world, because the soul yearns to be with God and it is difficult to maintain a relationship with Christ in the secular world. What advice do you give departing pilgrims upon their return to the world? Is it possible to maintain a monastic spirit while living in the secular world?

What you are saying appears to be sadly true; the contemporary world has become hostile to true Christian living. We feel this even within the monastery. Sincere modern Christians must seek refuge in prayer, both liturgical and private. There is no substitute for this. If we are not praying every day from our heart, then we will be defeated. Sometimes modern Christians think that the spiritual life is just another self-help program they can try out; this is absolutely untrue. The Orthodox spiritual life is about a relationship with the God-man Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things. The spiritual life is about entering into His presence and with humility and repentance asking His mercy and guidance. Without this, we cannot have the strength or wisdom to resist the powerfully seductive secular world around us.

asv4.lg.jpg (39577 bytes)- Sometimes as Orthodox Christians, we feel that we are not of this world and that we are not relevant to it. How should we react to the changes that are happening around us, specifically the various and increasingly successful liberal and progressive movements, without losing ourselves and our inner spiritual peace?

I understand and share in your concern, but the only answer is the one St. Seraphim of Sarov gave: "Acquire the peace of God in your heart and a thousand souls around you will be saved." You as an individual Orthodox Christian cannot change the course of the world, but you can change yourself. It is, in fact, easier to think about changing the world than to try to change ourselves. If we find the world around us increasingly filled with hatred, then we must try to love; if we find the world running after material goods and pleasure, then we must try to live a simpler life; if we find the world has become preoccupied with carnal things, then we must try to be pure and chaste.

The inner peace that Christ gives us is not the peace of the world. It is not dependent upon proper social conditions or environmental factors. The early Christians would walk into the arena peacefully singing hymns as the lions attacked them. In the lives of the early martyrs, we read over and over again how bystanders and even Roman soldiers were converted by witnessing the firm faith and peaceful resolve of these early martyrs.


September 17, 2010

A Convenient Excuse

The assumption that every offense could cause violence insults Muslims.

Is Michael Bloomberg to blame for the deaths of the 18 Muslim men in Indian-controlled Kashmir who rioted over reports that someone in America burned the Koran?

Let’s think it through.

As I explained at length in an earlier column, I believe that the New York City mayor could have stopped the Park51 (“Ground Zero mosque”) project months ago, long before it became a national story. It would have taken some wheeling and dealing and a few phone calls. Instead, in his grandiose pomposity, he went a different way.

Even if you don’t buy that Bloomberg could have nipped this noxious weed in the bud, Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz is surely correct that this wouldn’t be nearly the controversy it is today if only Bloomberg had been capable of getting the “Freedom Tower” built in a timely manner.

Enter storefront pastor Terry Jones, who introduced the idiotic idea of Koran-burning to the American people. He clearly got his inspiration from the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. He chickened out, but not before he inspired others to do something similar. Two pastors in Tennessee held a private Koran-burning, and a New Jersey transit worker tore up and burned a few pages (and was fired for it). These acts, plus the media coverage of Jones’s planned stunt, sparked the deadly riots in Kashmir.

So, should we put Bloomberg in the dock? Recall him from office? Drop him, bound and gagged, into downtown Lahore?

Alas, no. While we should criticize him for his thumbless grasp of church-state issues and his megalomaniacal incompetence, he’s not to blame for the actions of others. And it isn’t fair to hold people legally accountable for the evil or misguided deeds of others.

And the same basically goes for Jones. His plan to burn the Koran was stupid, irresponsible, and repugnant, but it’s not his fault that there are a significant number of Muslim men who are not only ready but eager to riot and kill in response to insults to Islam.

If you deny this, you are basically denying the humanity of Muslims. We take it as a given in this country that not only are all men created equal, but that each individual is responsible for his own actions. Each man and woman is a captain of his or her own self.

To say that Muslims have no choice in the matter, that they must act like animals, is to say that they are animals. If you tease a bear and he kills you, your stupidity is to blame. If you tease a man and he kills you, the murderer is to blame.

Again, I think burning the Koran is reprehensible. And I could live with a local law that banned Koran-burning (and flag-burning, Bible-burning, Torah-burning, etc.) because I think communities should be able to set standards of decency. But that hardly settles things. It’s easy to condemn Koran-burning. What about those Danish cartoons of Mohammed (that Yale University won’t even reproduce in a book on the controversy)? What about highbrow novels like The Satanic Verses? When Pope Benedict XVI delivered his Regensburg address in 2006, he suggested that Islam had a link to violence. In response, many Muslims rioted. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

When Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer was asked in an interview about Koran-burning, he brought up former Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous comment that the First Amendment “doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. . . . Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”

There are a number of grave problems with the crowded-theater cliché. First, you can — even must — yell “fire” in a crowded theater. It just has to be the truth.

But more to the point, fires are not human beings. Fire has no choice but to burn because that is what fire does. Humans have choices. Yet in this formulation (from which Breyer has somewhat retreated), Muslims are akin to soulless, unthinking flames. Taken seriously, this comparison suggests rational people have every reason to fear Muslims in much the same way they fear fire.

There are complex issues here. But the simple truth is the Islamist extremists who behead and riot do have a choice. They want to murder. What they want is an excuse, and they’ll find one no matter what.

– Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

September 16, 2010

Holy New Hieromartyr Maxim Sandovich



A 2Oth Century Carpatho-Russian Martyr for Orthodoxy

The Orthodox movement in Carpatho-Russia had deep roots and causes. The infamous union with Rome did not originate with the masses of the common people, but had been imposed through the machinations of the urban merchant class and a small minority of the clergy who greatly desired the same feudal rights that their Catholic counterparts enjoyed. Thus, these two classes of people betrayed their Orthodox princes and the faithful. The two religions struggled with fire and sword, but even after the victory of the Unia, Orthodoxy was not so quickly forgotten. To counterbalance Catholic influence and to further deceive the people, the Uniates carefully preserved the purity of the Eastern Orthodox ritual, considering that a policy of slow and gradual latinization would be far more successful in the long run than one of outright imposition of the Roman ritual. Yet the cultural inclination of the Carpatho-Russian people towards the Russian mainstream, which expressed itself in undisguised sympathy for Russia and all that was Russian, could not be silenced even in the province of religion. In the eyes of most prominent Galicians and Carpatho Russians the Unia was but the instrument and means employed to sunder the one Russian family and they directed their gaze towards Orthodoxy as the ancient and original faith of their people when Holy Rus had been one. This inclination which was distinctively Russian was a crucial element in the Carpatho-Russian reaction against the "Ukrainianism" artfully contrived by the Germans as a weapon against the pan-Slavic movement that threatened their domination of the area. Even among the Carpatho-Russian Uniate clergy who perpetuated the idea of the union there were sympathies towards Or thodoxy. These sympathies were so intense that the very concept of "Catholic" was considered a sort of heresy. Indeed, their concept of the union was reduced to a purely jurisdictional recognition of the primacy of the Pope of Rome.

Orthodox sympathies were characteristic of the people of Carpatho Russia, and to a lesser extent of the Galicians. Alarmed by the growth of these sympathies and correctly concluding that this growth was being directed toward rapprochement with Russia, the Austro-Hungarian authorities began to eradicate the "Russian" sedition. Unprecedented repressions were imposed upon the Russophile clergy, both Uniate and Orthodox. The area teamed with informers. Not only the gendarmes, village clerks and sheriffs, but also teachers and some of the clergy denounced their neighbors. It reached the point where, in some areas of Carpatho-Russia, the entire educated class - priests, lawyers, judges, teachers, high school and university students, as well as peasants - were subjected to mass arrests. The prisons were quickly overflowing with those accused of treason.

In accordance with a directive issued by Vienna, the Uniate Metropolitan of Lvov, threatened with the growth of Orthodoxy, quickly shifted his ecclesiastical policy to one of isolation from all that was Orthodox and Russian. A Ukrainian Uniate ritual was concocted which differed significantly from Orthodox ritual. The names of saints especially revered in Russia were deleted from the calendar. The veneration of wonderworking icons of the All-holy Theotokos which had manifested themselves in Russia (e.g. the Iveron, Kazan and Pochaev icons) were proscribed. The word "Orthodox" was replaced in the divine services with "Catholic." Candidates suspected of harboring Russophile sympathies were refused admittance to the Uniate seminaries, acceptance being limited exclusively to those admittedly Ukrainian in outlook who were prepared to submit a written oath of hatred for Russia.

Throughout the Carpathian region a tremendous upheaval shook the parishes. Uniate priests of Russian persuasian were driven from their posts, their families were cast out into the streets, and few were the courageous souls who dared to defy the authorities by sheltering the homeless. The parishes were then turned over to newly-ordained priests who had received their education at the hands of the Jesuits of the Basilian College. The imposition of the new Ukrainian Uniate ritual was entrusted to the Jesuit-educated monks of the 'Order of St. Basil the Great." But if life had become so difficult for the Uniate Russophile clergy, it was far worse for the few Orthodox priests and their families in Carpatho-Russia and Galicia. Let us examine the case of one such priest, Fr. Maxim Sandovich, of blessed memory.

Fr. Maxim was born in Galicia in the Horlitsky District, the son of Timofei and Christina Sandovich of the village of Zdyna. His father, Timofei, was a prosperous farmer who also served as cantor (psalomschik) in the local parish church. Maxim, having completed four years of study at the gymnasium (high school) in Novy Sanch, stole across the border into Russia and entered the novitiate at the great Pochaev Lavra in Volynia. Subsequently he attended the Orthodox seminary at Zhitomir, and after marrying a young Orthodox woman named Pelagia, was ordained in 1911 to the holy priesthood and returned to his homeland. His pastoral and missionary service was not to last for long, for the militia were ever vigilant; he was denounced by a Ukrainian teacher, a certain Leos, and the Austrian gendarmes carried him off in chains to a prison in Lvov in 1912. He was to languish in prison without trial or inquest for two years, enduring indescribably horrible conditions and abuse. Finally, on the very eve of World War I he was released for lack of evidence.

Fr. Maxim returned again to his home in the village of Hrab, but was not fated to remain there long. The first shots fired in the new war were the heralds of a new repression of Russophile Carpatho-Russians. On August 4,1914, the militia arrested the young priest, his father, mother, brother and wife and after much abuse dragged them off in shackles to the district prison in Horlitsk. The road was rough and the prisoners were forced to travel on foot, prodded on by the bayonets of the gendarmes. Words cannot convey the suffering of the innocent Sandovich family.

Two days passed in prison, and Sunday, August 6th, dawned. Having rison from his bunk before the light of day Fr. Maxim read his morning prayers and three akathists. Then he stood motionless, lost in thought, gazing out the little window of his cell, trying to catch a glimpse of his wife or one of his relatives. They had all been imprisoned in different cells and were denied permission to see each other. The silence of the grave lay on the gloomy building, but beyond the walls the noise of a crowd could be heard.

What could this portend? Could they have brought in some new "spies"? Perhaps they had caught some new deserters the terrors of war for many are hard to bear. Suddenly a loud thud on the prison's black gates broke the priest's reverie. It was not yet six o'clock. A mustachioed German captain from Linz, Dietrich, a man with a reputation for cruelty and sadism, entered the prison compound with two soldiers and four gendarmes. They were followed close behind by the prison wardens, various civil servants, officers and a small group of curious ladies. This entourage was headed by Pan Mitshka, the starosta of the Horlitsky District. The order was given for the warden to bring Fr. Maxim forth from his cell.

Silence fell. Two soldiers led the twenty-eight year old Orthodox priest from the prison and suddenly he realized where it was they were taking him. "Be so good as not to hold me. I will go peacefully wherever you wish," he said humbly, and with the dignity that becomes a true shepherd of souls he walked to the sight of his final torments. The murmuring of the crowd and the venomous glances they threw the "traitor" affected his courageous bearing not in the least. He walked as befits a follower of Christ, calmly, with measured gait, to the fateful wall.

Again silence reigned. An execution was to be carried out in the name of the "apostolic" emperor - the execution of a Russian priest on Russian land! Captain Dietrich, the hero of the day, ripped the cross from Fr. Maxim's chest, cast it to the ground at the priest's feet and trampled it under foot; he then tied the prisoner's hands behind his back and bound his eyes with a black kerchief. "You do these things needlessly. I have no intention of running away." The captain laughed diabolically and with a piece of white chalk drew a line across the priest's chest on his black riassa as a target for the riflemen. Then he arranged the executioners - two gendarmes on each side. The two soldiers, heavily armed, stood only three paces from the defenseless man.

An even more profound stillness descended upon the scene. Starosta Mitshka took a blue paper from his briefcase and read the death sentence. A short command was uttered by the captain; the sabre was raised; when it was lowered the carbine rifles sounded. The echo of the shots reverberated through the back corridors of the prison, and again the silence of the cemetery ripped the prison courtyard. Across this silence the voice of Fr. Maxim was heard distinctly: "Long live the Russian people!" he cried, leaning his head against the prison wall. "Long live the Holy Orthodox Faith!" he continued, his voice becoming weaker. "Long live Slavism!" he finished, bearly audible. These were his final words. Wracked with the throws of death, his powerful frame slid down the wall to the flagstones of the courtyard. One of the gendarmes approached and ended the priest's sufferings with three shots from his revolver; the priests brains splattered against the prison wall. His aged father and mother both watched the heroic death of their son in silence, but Pelagia, his wife, wept inconsolably in her cell; and when the shots that brought an end to her young husband's life rang out, she fell senseless to the ground. Thus died Fr. Maxim Sandovich, a modern martyr for Holy Orthodoxy.


Historical Truth, Simeon Vityarevsky (Wilkes-Barre, Pa: Svit Press, 1936), pp.79-82.

Terezin and Talerof, V.R. Vavrik (pub. Archpriest R.N. Samilo, 1966), pp.20-24.


September 10, 2010

The Monk Moses Murin the Black

Commemorated on August 28

The Monk Moses Murin the Black lived during the IV Century in Egypt. He was an Ethiopian, and he was black of skin and therefore called "Murin" (meaning "like an Ethiopian"). In his youth he was the slave of an important man, but after he committed a murder, his master banished him, and he joined in with a band of robbers. Because of his mean streak and great physical strength they chose him as their leader. Moses with his band of brigands did many an evil deed – both murders and robberies, so much so that people were afraid even at the mere mention of his name. Moses the brigand spent several years leading suchlike a sinful life, but through the great mercy of God he repented, leaving his band of robbers and going off to one of the wilderness monasteries. And here for a long time he wept, beseeching that they admit him amidst the number of the brethren. The monks were not convinced of the sincerity of his repentance; but the former robber was not to be driven away nor silenced, in demanding that they should accept him. In the monastery the Monk Moses was completely obedient to the hegumen and the brethren, and he poured forth many a tear, bewailing his sinful life. After a certain while the Monk Moses withdrew to a solitary cell, where he spent the time in prayer and the strictest of fasting in a very austere lifestyle. One time 4 of the robbers of his former band descended upon the cell of the Monk Moses and he, not having lost his great physical strength, he tied them all up and taking them over his shoulder, he brought them to the monastery, where he asked of the elders what to do with them. The elders ordered that they be set free. The robbers, learning that they had chanced upon their former ringleader, and that he had dealt kindly with them, – they themselves followed his example: they repented and became monks. And later, when the rest of the band of robbers heard about the repentance of the Monk Moses, then they too gave up their brigandage and became fervent monks.

The Monk Moses did not quickly become free from the passions. He went often to the monastery hegumen, Abba Isidor, seeking advice on how to be delivered from the passions of profligacy. Being experienced in the spiritual struggle, the elder taught him never to overeat of food, to be partly hungry whilst observing the strictest moderation. But the passions would not cease for the Monk Moses in his dreams. Then Abba Isidor taught him the all-night vigil. The monk stood the whole night at prayer, not being on bended knees so as not to drop off to sleep. From his prolonged struggles the Monk Moses fell into despondency, and when there arose thoughts about leaving his solitary cell, Abba Isidor instead strengthened the resolve of his student. In a vision he showed him many a demon in the west, prepared for battle, and in the East a still greater quantity of holy Angels, likewise readied for fighting. Abba Isidor explained to the Monk Moses, that the power of the Angels would prevail over the power of the demons, and in the long struggle with the passions it was necessary for him to become completely cleansed of his former sins.

The Monk Moses undertook a new effort. Making the rounds by night of the wilderness cells, he carried water from the well to each brother. He did this especially for the elders, who lived far off from the well and who were not easily able to carry their own water. One time, kneeling over the well, the Monk Moses felt a powerful blow upon his back and he fell down at the well like one dead, laying there in that position until dawn. Thus did the devils take revenge upon the monk for his victory over them. In the morning the brethren carried him to his cell, and he lay there a whole year crippled up. Having recovered, the monk with firm resolve confessed to the hegumen, that he would continue to asceticise. But the Lord Himself put limits to this struggle of many years: Abba Isidor blessed his student and said to him, that the profligate passions had already gone from him. The elder commanded him to commune the Holy Mysteries and in peace to go to his own cell. And from that time the Monk Moses received from the Lord the power over demons.

Accounts about his exploits spread amongst the monks and even beyond the bounds of the wilderness. The governor of the land wanted to see the saint. Having learned about this, the Monk Moses decided to hide away from any visitors and he departed his own cell. Along the way he met up with servants of the governor, who asked him, how to get to the cell of the wilderness-dweller Moses. The monk answered them: "Go on no further to this false and unworthy monk". The servants returned to the monastery, where the governor was waiting, and they conveyed to him the words of the elder they had chanced upon. The brethren, hearing a description of the elder's appearance, all as one acknowledged that they had come upon the Monk Moses himself.

Having spent many a year at monastic exploits, the Monk Moses was ordained deacon. The bishop attired him in white vesture and said: "Abba Moses is now entirely white". The saint answered: "Vladyka, what makes it purely white – the outer or the inner?" Through humility the saint reckoned himself unworthy to accept the dignity of deacon. One time the bishop decided to test him and he bid the clergy to drive him out of the altar, whilst reviling him for being an unworthy black-Ethiopian. With full humility the monk accepted the abuse. Having put him to the test, the bishop then ordained the monk to be presbyter. And in this dignity the Monk Moses asceticised for 15 years and gathered round himself 75 disciples.

When the monk reached age 75, he forewarned his monks, that soon brigands would descend upon the skete and murder all that were there. The saint blessed his monks to leave in good time, so as to avoid the violent death, His disciples began to beseech the monk to leave together with them, but he replied: "I many a year already have awaited the time, when upon me there should be fulfilled the words which my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, did speak: "All, who take up the sword, shalt perish by the sword" (Mt. 26: 52). After this seven of the brethren remained with the monk, and one of these hid not far off during the coming of the robbers, The robbers killed the Monk Moses and the six monks that remained with him. Their death occurred in about the year 400.

translator Fr. S. Janos.

August 25, 2010

From St. Tikhon's Will.

Sainted Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh
Commemorated on August 13 (O.S.)

Glory be to God for everything! Glory be to God for having created me to His image and likeness. Glory be to God for having redeemed me, the fallen. Glory be to God for having extended his solicitude to me, the unworthy. Glory be to God for having led me, the sinner, to repentance. Glory be to God for having offered me His holy words, like a lamp in a dark place, thus setting me on the path of righteousness. Glory be to God for having illumined the eyes of my heart. Glory be to God for having made known to me His holy name. Glory be to God for having washed away my sins through the bath of baptism. Glory be to God for having shown me the way to eternal bliss. The way is Jesus Christ, Son of God, Who says of Himself: "I am the way and the truth and the life."

Glory be to God, that He has not brought me to perdition through my sins, but suffered them because of His kindness. Glory be to God for showing me the vanity and emptiness of the world. Glory be to God for helping me in various temptations, misfortunes, and calamities. Glory be to God for protecting me in accidents and mortal dangers. Glory be to God for defending me against the Devil, who is the enemy. Glory be to God for raising me when I was prostrate. Glory be to God for comforting me in my sorrow. Glory be to God for converting me when I was erring. Glory be to God for punishing me as a father. Glory be to God for announcing to me His last Judgment, that I might fear it and repent of my sins. Glory be to God for revealing to me eternal torment and eternal bliss, that I might flee the one and seek the other. Glory be to God for offering to me, the unworthy one, food which strengthened my body, clothing which covered my nakedness, a house wherein I found shelter. Glory be to God for all the other benefits He granted me for my comfort and sustenance. I received benefits from Him as often as I breathed.

* * *

Glory be to God for everything!

Now, my brethren, I address my words to you. I cannot speak to you as I did formerly, with my voice and my lips, for I am silent, and my breath is spent. But I can talk to you by means of this short letter.

1. The temple of my body has been destroyed, and earth returns to earth, according to the word of God: "Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return." But with the holy Church, I expect resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. My hope is sitting at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ, my Lord and God. He is my life and resurrection. He says to me: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall not die but live." With His voice will He awaken me from my sleep.

2. I have gone away from you according to the way of earthly things; I have departed, and we no longer see each other as we did before. But we shall see each other in that place where shall be gathered all the nations that have lived from the beginning of the world and to its very end. O God, grant that we may see each other there, where God is seen face to face, and gives new life to those who see Him, and comforts and gladdens them and gives them ineffable joy for all eternity. There do men shine like the sun; there is true life; there is true honor and glory; there is true joy and gladness; there is true ecstasy, and all that is eternal and endless. "Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in thee."

3. I greatly thank my benefactors, who did not forsake me in my weakness and misery, but out of their mercy and love, provided me with their goods. May God render to them their kindness on the day when all shall be rendered their due.

4. I have forgiven, and I forgive, all who have offended me; may God forgive them in His gracious mercy. I too pray to be forgiven wherein I have offended anyone, being a man. "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven," God has said.

5. As I have no belongings, nothing remains after me. I pray that those who lived at my side and served me may want nothing.

Pardon, my beloved, and remember Tikhon!

From A Treasury of Russian Spirituality  by G. P. Fedotov (1886-1951) 

August 22, 2010

The Holy Martyr and Archdeacon Laurence

Commemorated on August 10 (O.S.)

Sermon by Fr. John McCuen

The holy martyr and archdeacon Laurence of Rome shows us the labors of a martyr, and the reward, both earthly and heavenly, that is paid to one who testifies to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even at the cost of one’s life. The holy martyr Laurence was an archdeacon and servant of the Pope, St. Sixtus, and the treasurer of the Church. When St. Sixtus was arrested for his faith, Laurence wanted to go with him, but was told by the Pope that he must wait, and that he would suffer greatly and then would follow him in martyrdom. St. Sixtus was beheaded; and Laurence was arrested. As he was tortured, not only was he told that, if he denied Christ, he would be set free, but he was also offered the opportunity to obtain his release by turning over to his captors the treasury of the Church, which he had hidden before his arrest. The holy martyr refused to yield the money and also refused to deny Christ, yielding instead his body to torture. He was placed on a griddle, and roasted alive; calling to his tormentors at one point, “This side is cooked; turn me over, so that the other side may be roasted, as well!” He entered into his reward – the Kingdom of heaven – in the year 258 A.D.

Most of us, God willing, will never be tested in our faithfulness as was the holy martyr Laurence. We would do well, however, to examine ourselves, and consider the reward for which we are laboring, to which we devote the majority of our time and energy and resources. In all probability, we will find that we do very little when it comes to laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and that the vast majority of our labors are devoted to acquiring the means to obtain ease and comfort for ourselves and our families. Isn’t it amazing that we will go deeply into debt in order to purchase worldly comforts, but give no thought to the debt that we owe for our offenses against God, against others, and even against ourselves? We often say, as a form of ironic humor, that we are “slaves to our employers”; and yet we do not consider that we were bought at a price: the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross to set us free from our captivity to sin and death. It is through this act of giving that the debt we owe because of our sins, a debt we cannot possibly repay, is canceled – forgiven – because of God’s love for us. Think about this: Adam and Eve became the slaves of the enemy of our salvation because of their disobedience in the Garden of Eden; and each of us has done the same by our own actions, choosing to sin rather than to do what is pleasing to God. He might very well have abandoned us for our wickedness; but He did not leave us in such a wretched state. He came to us, and became one with us, joining His divinity to our humanity, so that we could be restored to Him, and delivered from death, which is the wages paid for sin. We cannot do this by ourselves; but the good news is that it has already been done for us. Now, we have a choice to make: to continue to live as slaves to sin, or realize that, having been redeemed by the sacrificial offering of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are now called to be slaves to righteousness. Remembering the love that has saved us, let us show our love for God by drawing near to Him each day in prayer, confessing our sins and asking for grace to overcome them; praying for those in need; and above all, praising and thanking the Lord for all He has done, and is doing, for us. Let us fast, and so teach our flesh to be obedient to our will. Let us give from what God has given to us, for the benefit of others and to set our souls free from attachments to our possessions. Let us be humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving – and in this way allow the life of our Lord Jesus given to us in baptism to be seen in what we say and do, in who we are. No earthly reward can approach the value of this gift we have been given; and any earthly suffering, whether it is as little as keeping the fasts or as great as that endured by the martyr Laurence, is treasure we set aside for ourselves in heaven. May the God Who loves us and Who has saved us grant us the grace to follow Him faithfully, as did the holy martyr Laurence, so that we may show Him to the world while in this life, and join the choir of heaven to sing His praises!


August 16, 2010

Development of the heart

Developing the heart means developing within it a taste for things holy, divine, and spiritual, so that when it finds itself amidst such things it would feel as though it were in its element. Finding them sweet and blessed, it would be indifferent to all else, with no taste for anything else; and even more—it would find anything else revolting. All of man's spiritual activity centers in the heart. The truths are impressed in it, and good dispositions are rooted into it. But its main work is developing a taste for the spiritual, as we have shown. When the mind sees the whole spiritual world and its different components, various good beginnings ripen in the will. The heart, under their influence, should taste sweetness in all of this and radiate warmth. This delight in the spiritual is the first sign of the regeneration of a soul deadened by sin. Therefore the heart's development is a very important point even in the early stages.

The work directed at it is all of our Church services in all forms—common and personal, at home and in church—and it is mainly achieved through the spirit of prayer moving within it.

Church services, that is, all the daily services, together with the entire arrangement of the church's icons, candles, censing, singing, chanting, movements of the clergy, as well as the services for various needs; [2] then services in the home, also using ecclesiastical objects such as sanctified icons, holy oil, candles, holy water, the Cross, and incense—all of these holy things together acting upon all the senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste—are the cloths that wipe clean the senses of a deadened soul. They are the strongest and the only reliable way to do it. The soul becomes deadened by the spirit of the world, and possessed by sin that lives in the world. The entire structure of our Church services, with their tone, meaning, power of faith, and especially the grace concealed within them, have an invincible power to drive away the spirit of the world. In freeing the soul from the world's onerous influence, it allows the soul to breathe freely and to taste the sweetness of spiritual freedom. Walking into church we walk into a completely different world, are influenced by it, and change according to it. The same thing happens when we surround ourselves with holy objects. Frequent impressions of the spiritual world more effectively penetrate within and more quickly bring about a transformation of the heart. Thus:

1) It is necessary to establish a pattern of going to church as often as possible, usually to Matins, Liturgy and Vespers. Have a longing for this, and go there at the first opportunity—at least once a day—and if you can, stay without leaving. Our church is heaven on earth. Hasten to church with the faith that it is a place where God dwells, where He Himself promised to quickly hear prayers. Standing in church, be as if you are standing before God in fear and reverence, which you express through patient standing, prostrations, and attention to the services without wandering thoughts, relaxation or crudeness.

2) You must not forget other services—personal services, be they in church or at home. Neither must you neglect your home prayers with all their churchly tone. You should remember that home services are only a supplement to church services and not a replacement. The Apostle, commanding us not to deprive ourselves of a synaxis, informed us that all the power of services belong to common worship.

3) You must observe all Church solemnities, rituals, customs, and rubrics, and cover yourself with them in all their forms, so that you would always abide in a particular atmosphere. This is easy to do. Such is the nature of our Church. Only accept it with faith.

But what gives the most power to church services is a prayerful spirit. Prayer is an all-encompassing obligation, as well as an all-effective means. Through it the truths of the faith are also impressed in the mind and good morals into the will. But most of all it enlivens the heart in its feelings. The first two go well only when this one thing [prayer] is present. Therefore prayer should begin to be developed before anything else, and continued steadily and tirelessly until the Lord grants prayer to the one who prays.

The beginnings of prayer are applied at conversion itself, for prayer is the yearning of the mind and heart towards God, which is what happens at conversion. But inattentiveness or inability can extinguish this spark. Then right away you should begin the form of activity that we have already discussed, with the aim of kindling a prayerful spirit. Besides conducting services and participating in them, as we have described, the closest thing related to this is personal prayer, wherever and however it is performed. There is only one rule for this—accustom yourself to praying. For this you must:

1) Choose a rule of prayer—evening, morning and daily prayers.

2) Start with a short rule at first, so that your unaccustomed spirit will nor form an aversion to this labor.

3) Pray always with fear, diligence and all attention.

4) This requires: standing, prostrations, kneeling, making the sign of the Cross, reading, and at times singing.

5) The more often you do such prayer the better. Some people pray a little every hour.

6) The prayers you should read are written in the prayer book. But it is good to get used to one or another, so that the spirit would ignite each time you begin it.

7) The rule of prayer is simple: standing at prayer, with fear and trembling say it as if you were speaking into God's ear, accompanying it with the sign of the Cross, prostrations and failing down, corresponding to the movement of the spirit.

8) Once you have chosen a rule you should always fulfill it, but this does not prevent you from adding something according to the heart's desire.

9) Reading and singing out loud, in a whisper, or silently is all the same, for the Lord is near. But sometimes it is better to pray one way, other times another.

10) You should firmly keep in mind the limits of your prayers. It is a good prayer that ends with your falling down before God with the feeling that Thou Who knowest the hearts, save me.

11) There are stages of prayer. The first stage is bodily prayer, with reading, standing and prostrations. If the attention wanders, the heart does not feel, and there is no eagerness; this means there is no patience, toil or swear. Regardless of this, set your limits and pray. This is active prayer. The second stage is attentive prayer: the mind gets used to collecting itself at the hour of prayer, and says all with awareness, without being stolen away. The attention blends with the written words and repeats them as its own. The third stage is prayer of the feelings—the attention warms the heart, and what was thought with attention becomes feeling in the heart. In the mind was a compunctionate word, in the heart it is compunction; in the mind-forgiveness, in the heart—a feeling of its necessity and importance. Whoever has passed on to feeling prays without words, for God is a God of the heart. This, therefore, is the summit of prayer's development: while standing in prayer, to from feeling to feeling. Reading may stop at this, just as may thought; then there is only abiding in feeling with the known signs of prayer. Such prayer comes very little at first. The prayerful feeling comes over you in church or at home.... This is the common advice of the saints—do not let this leave your attention: when the feeling is present, cease all other activity and stand in it. St. John of the Ladder says: "An angel is praying with you." Attention to this manifestation of prayer ripens the development of prayer, and inattention decimates both the development and the prayer.

12) However, no matter how perfect one has become in prayer, the prayer rule should never be abandoned but should always be read as prescribed and always begun with active prayer. Mental prayer should come with it, and then prayer of the heart. Without the rule, prayer of the heart is lost, and the person will think that he is praying, but in fact he is not.

13) When the prayerful feeling ascends to ceaselessness, then spiritual prayer begins—a gift of the Spirit of God which prays for us. This is the last stage of attainable prayer. But it is said that there is also prayer that is incomprehensible to the mind, or surpasses the limits of awareness (as described by St. Isaac the Syrian).

14) The easiest means for ascending to ceaseless prayer is the habit of doing the Jesus Prayer and rooting it in yourself. The most experienced men of spiritual life who were enlightened by God found this to be the one simple and all-effective means for confirming the spirit in all spiritual activities, as well as in all spiritual ascetic life; and they left detailed guidelines for it in their instructions.

By laboring in asceticism we seek purification of the heart and renewal of the spirit. There are two ways to find this: the first is the way of activity, that is, performing those ascetic labors that we have previously outlined; and the second is that of the mind-turning the mind to God. In the first way the soul is purified and receives God, in the second God burns away all impurity and comes to abide in the purified soul. Considering the latter as belonging to the Jesus Prayer alone, St. Gregory the Sinaite says: "We acquire God by either activity, labor, or the artful calling on the Name of Jesus." He then supposes that the first way is longer than the second; the second is quicker and more effective. Others after him have given first place to the Jesus Prayer among podvigs. It illuminates, strengthens, enlivens, conquers all enemies visible and invisible, and leads us to God. That is how powerful and effective it is! The name of the Lord Jesus is the treasury of blessings, strength and life in the spirit.

From this it is evident that any penitent, or anyone beginning to seek the Lord, can and should be taught complete instructions in doing the Jesus Prayer. From there he can be brought into all other practices, because through this he will become strong more quickly, ripen sooner spiritually and enter the interior world. Not knowing this, other people, or at least a large part of them, stop with bodily activities and those of the soul, and waste nearly all their labor and time.

This activity is called an "art." It is very simple. Standing with awareness and attention in the heart, pronounce ceaselessly: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," without picturing any sort of image or face, but with faith that the Lord will see you and attend to you.

In order to become strong in this, you should assign a time in the morning or the evening—fifteen minutes, a half hour, or more—however much you can, just for saying this prayer. It should be after morning or evening prayers, standing or sitting. This will place the beginnings of a habitual practice.

Then during the day, force yourself minute-by-minute to say it, no matter what you are doing.

It will become more and more habitual, and then it will start working as if by itself during any work or occupation. The more resolutely you take it up, the faster you will progress.

Your awareness should be kept unfailingly in the heart, and during the practice your breath should lighten as a result of the tension with which you practice it. But the most important condition is faith that God is near and hears us. Say the prayer into God's ear.

This habitual practice will draw warmth into the spirit, later enlightenment, then ecstasy. But acquiring all of this sometimes takes years.

At first this prayer is only active prayer, just like any other activity. Then it becomes mental prayer, and finally it takes root in the heart.

Some have gone astray from the right path through this prayer. Therefore it should be learned from someone who knows it. Deception comes mostly from placing the attention on the head rather than the chest.

Whoever has the attention centered in the heart is safe. Even safer is the one who falls down before God every hour in contrition, with the prayer that he be delivered from deception.

The Holy Fathers gave detailed instructions on this activity. Therefore, whoever takes up this work should read these instructions and throw out all else. The best instructions are by St. Hesychius, St. Gregory the Sinaite, St. Philotheus of Sinai, St. Theoleptus, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Nilus of Sora, Hieromonk Dorotheus, in the prologue to Elder Barsanuphius, and in the life of St. Paisius.

Whoever becomes practiced in this, having gone through everything set forth above, is a practitioner of Christian life. He will quickly ripen in his purification and in Christian perfection, and will acquire his desired peace in being with God.

This is the activity for the powers of the soul, which are adaptable to the movement of the spirit. Here we see how every one of them is adapted to the life of the spirit, or to spiritual feeling. But they also lead to the fortification of the primary conditions for being within, namely: mental activity—the concentration of attention; activity of the will—vigilance; activity of the heart—soberness. Prayer covers them all and encompasses them all. Even the production of it is nothing other than the interior work we have previously described.

All of these activities are assigned for the development of the powers of the soul in the spirit of a new life. This is the same as infusing the soul with spirit, or elevating it to the spirit and blending with it. In fallenness they are united to a contrary purpose. At conversion the spirit is renewed, but in the soul there still remains a cruet streak of unsubmissiveness and an aversion to the spirit and everything spiritual. These activities, penetrated with spiritual elements, cause the soul to grow into the spirit and blend with it. It is clear from this how essential these activities are and what a disservice those people do to themselves who abandon them. They themselves are the reason that their labors are fruitless. They sweat but see no fruit; they soon grow cold, and then everything comes to an end.

But we must remember that all the fruits of these labors come from the spirit of zeal and quest. It conducts the renewing power of grace through these activities and brings down life into the soul. Without it, all these activities are empty, cold, lifeless, and dry. Reading, prostrations, services and everything else are unfruitful when there is no inner spirit. They can teach vainglory and pharisaism, which become its sole support. This is why someone who has no spirit falls away when he meets with any opposition. Why, they themselves are a torture. For the spirit transfers power to the soul, which makes the soul so well disposed to these activities that it can not get enough of them and wants to have recourse to them always.

Thus it is extremely necessary when doing these activities to always bear in mind that the spirit of life must burn within, and we must in humility and pain of heart fall down before God our Savior. This state is fed and preserved best of all by prayer and prayerful activity. We must watch that we not stop with the activities alone just because they also nourish the soul. This might cause us to remain with them in soul at the cost of the spirit. This happens perhaps most often with reading, and generally any study and integration of the truth.

From The Path to Salvation, trans. Fr. Seraphim Rose and the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (Platina, 1996)

August 15, 2010

Exercises for developing the will, focusing also on awakening the spirit

By St. Theophan the Recluse

Developing the will means impressing upon it good dispositions or virtues—humility, meekness, patience, continence, submissiveness, helpfulness and so on—so that in blending with and grafting onto the will, the virtues would eventually constitute its very nature, and when something is undertaken by the will, it would be undertaken according to their inspiration and in their spirit, and they would govern and reign over our deeds.

Such a disposition of will is the safest and most stable. But inasmuch as it is contrary to the spirit of sin, its achievement requires toil and sweat. That is why the activity related to this is for the most part directed against the chief infirmity of the will, that is—self-will, unsubmissiveness, and intolerance of the yoke.

This infirmity is healed by submission to the will of God, with denial of your own and of any other. The will of God is revealed through the various forms of obedience that each person carries. Its first and most important requirement is observing the laws or commandments according to each person's duty or calling; next is observing the rubrics of the Church, the dictates of civil and family order, the dictates of circumstance that are wrought by providential will, and the demands of a zealous spirit—all done with discernment and counsel.

All of this is within the field of righteous deeds which is open to anyone and everyone. Therefore, know only how to arrange this for yourself and you will not experience a dearth of means for developing the will.

For this you must clarify for yourself the sum of righteous deeds that are possible for you to do—in your station, calling and circumstances—together with an assessment of what, when, how, in what measure, and what can and should be done.

Having clarified all this, determine the general outline of the deeds and their order, so that nothing you do would be accidental. Remember at the same time that this is only an outline—details may change according to what is required under the circumstances. Do everything with discernment.

Therefore it is best to daily go over all the possible occurrences and deeds.

Those who are used to doing righteous deeds never pre-determine what they are going to do, but do always what God sends them, for everything comes from God. He reveals His own determinations to us through different occurrences.

By the way, all of this is only deeds. Doing them only straightens you out. In order to flow also into virtues through them, you must forcefully keep a true spirit of good works. To be more precise, do everything with humility and fear of God according to God's will and to His glory. He who does something out of self-reliance, with boldness and audacity, out of self-gratification or man-pleasing, no matter how righteous the works may be, only fosters within himself an evil spirit of self-righteousness, arrogance and pharisaism.

Carrying a right spirit, you should also be in remembrance of the laws, especially the law of graduality and constancy; that is, always begin with the small and ascend to what is higher. Then, once you have begun, do not stop.

By this you can avoid:

Embarrassment that you are not perfect, for perfection does not come all at once. The time will come.

Thoughts that you have already done everything; for there is no end to the heights.

Arrogant aspirations, ascetic feats beyond your strength.

The last stage is when good deeds have become natural for you, and the law no longer weighs upon you as a burden.

The one who achieves this most successfully is one who is blessed with the grace of living with an actively virtuous man, especially if he is being taught this science. He will not have to repeat and re-do every failure he has allowed through ignorance and inexperience. As they say, even if you do not read or intellectualize, only find a reverent man, and you will quickly learn the fear of God. This is applicable to any virtue.

Incidently, it is good to choose one outstanding virtuous work according to Lour character and station, and stick with it unswervingly—it will be the foundation or basis from which you can go on to others. It will save you in times of weakness—it is a strong reminder and quickly inspires. The most reliable of all is almsgiving, which leads to the King.

This concerns only works and not dispositions, which should have their own inner framework that is founded on the spirit, and are in a certain way independent of the consciousness and free will—they are as the Lord grants. All the saints accept the beginning of this to be the fear of God, and the end to be love. In the middle are all the virtues, one building upon another. Although they are perhaps not all the same, they are inevitably built on humble, compunctionate repentance and sorrow over sins, which are the essence of virtue. A description of each virtue—its nature, activity, degrees of perfection, and deviations from them—is the subject of special books and patristic instructions. Get to know all of this through reading.

This kind of virtuous activity directly develops the will and impresses the virtuous into it. At the same time it also keeps the spirit in constant tension. Just as friction causes warmth, so do good works warm the heart. Without them a good spirit also grows cold and evaporates. This is what usually befalls those who do not do anything, or those who limit themselves to merely not doing evil and unrighteousness. No, we must also find good works to do. Incidently, there are also those who make too much fuss over their works, and therefore quickly exhaust themselves and dissipate the spirit. Everything should be done in moderation.