May 25, 2010

Equal to the Apostles - Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Of major importance in the history and development of Orthodoxy was the conversion of the Slavs and the shifting of the focus of the Church to the northern regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Moravia, Romania, and then Russia. In the middle of the 9th Century, Patriarch Photius initiated large scale missionary labors in these regions by sending out the two brothers Constantine (in monasticism Cyril - 869) and Methodius (885 - both are commemorated May 11), first to the Khazar State north of the Caucasus (this was largely unsuccessful) and then to Moravia (Czechoslovakia) in 863. The Prince of Moravia, Rostislav, desired that his people hear the Word of God in their own language and the two brothers were apt missionaries in this respect as they had developed an alphabet, adapted from the Greek, which later was called Cyrillic (after St. Cyril).

Using a local Macedonian dialect which they had heard near their birthplace of Thessalonica, the brothers began translating the liturgical books, Holy Scripture, etc., into this dialect, using the new alphabet which they had developed. This new liturgical language - Church Slavonic - became of crucial importance in the extension of the Orthodox faith into the Balkans and ultimately to Russia. This was so, since, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which continued to insist on the use of Latin, the use of Church Slavonic allowed the new converts to hear the Gospel and the services in a language they could understand. The Mission to Moravia was ultimately doomed to failure because of the jealousy and persecution of German missionaries working in the same area. The brothers traveled to Rome (where St. Cyril died) and placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, but this was not honored by the Germans in Moravia and after the death of St. Methodius in 885, his followers were expelled from the country.

The missionary labors of Cyril and Methodius were not in vain, however, for their disciples were successful in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Led by St. Clement of Ochrid (commemorated November 25), the missionaries were successful and in 869, Tsar Boris of Bulgaria himself was baptized. The Bulgarian Church grew rapidly and about 926, under Tsar Simeon, an independent Patriarchate was established there, recognized by Constantinople in 927 (although later supressed), and the Bulgarian Church became the first national Slavic Church.

The missionaries were likewise successful in Serbia and with the baptism of Prince Mutimir (891), Serbia became officially Christian. After a period of vacilation between East and West, Serbia came under the sway of Constantinople. Under St. Sava (l237 - commemorated January 12), the Serbian Church became partially independent with his consecration in 1219 as Archbishop of Serbia, and in 1346 a Serbian Patriarchate was established with the consecration of Bishop Ioannikios, recognized by Constantinople in 1375. Missionaries from Bulgaria traveled to the Romanian lands and by the end of the 9th Century portions of the Romanian people had been Christianized, adopting the Slavonic Liturgy, but it was not really until the rise of the Wallachian - Moldavian principalities in the 14th Century that the Church actually began to thrive. In 1359 a Wallachian Metropolitan was appointed by Constantinople to the new See of Arges in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps and in 1401, the Romanian Metropolitan of Suceava in Moldavia was recognized by Constantinople.

The missionaries had also penetrated into Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Bosnia and Montenegro, but these areas were, for the most part, under the influence and control of the Latin West during this period.

May 24, 2010

On the Day of the Holy Spirit

In the Old Testament there are only obscure indications of the Divine Mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Bible says that before the creation of man, God said, Let us make man according to our image and likeness, which indicates that God is not one Person. But there is no indication as to how many persons are in the Godhead and who these conversers and co-creators are.

Elsewhere [in the Old Testament] the Divine Trinity is revealed somewhat more clearly, in the story of the Righteous Abraham, but again, only in the visible form of three angels.

In the New Testament the mystery of the Holy Trinity is manifest three times: at the Baptism, at the Transfiguration, and at the descent of the Holy Spirit

At the Baptism the Divine voice was heard: This is My Beloved Son, when the incarnate Son of God, the God-man, set out on His exploit of saving man. Here is the glory of God the Father, and His exultation at seeing this feat of love. God the Son stands in the streams of the Jordan in the form of a servant, while God the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirms the word of the Father, which testifies to the Divinity of the Son, Who humbly bows His head beneath the right hand of the Forerunner.

Sermon by St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco 

May 21, 2010

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

The tenth day after the Ascension of Jesus Christ was the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Christ. It was the Jews’ great feast of Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.
All the apostles, the Mother of God, the other disciples of Christ, and other of the faithful were all together in one room in Jerusalem. It was the third hour of the day by the Hebrew reckoning of hours, according to our system — nine o’clock in the morning. Suddenly a sound came from Heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. There descended on them tongues that looked like fire, which rested on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak languages previously unknown to them. Thus the Holy Spirit, according to the promise of the Saviour, descended on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire as a sign that He gave the apostles the ability and zeal to preach the teachings of Christ to all peoples. He descended in the form of fire as a sign of the power to cleanse sins and to sanctify and warm souls.

On the occasion of the feast of Pentecost, there were in Jerusalem many Jews who had come from various nations. Hearing the noise, a great multitude of people came together around the house where the disciples of Christ were. They were all bewildered and asked each other, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is that each of us hears his own native language? How are they able to tell in our languages the mighty works of God?" In disbelief they said, "They are filled with new wine."

Then, the Apostle Peter standing with the eleven said that they were not drunk, but the Holy Spirit had descended upon them, and that had been prophesied by the Prophet Joel, and that Jesus Christ, Whom the Jews had crucified, had risen from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and poured out on them the Holy Spirit. Finishing this sermon about Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter said, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus, Whom you crucified."

The sermon of Peter moved those who heard it so much that many more started to believe in Jesus Christ. They asked Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; then, you shall also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

So those who believed in Christ readily accepted baptism, and there were added by that day about three thousand souls. Thus, the building of the Kingdom of God on earth, the holy Church of Christ, began.
From the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit the Christian faith quickly began to spread with the help of God, and the number of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ multiplied. Instructed by the Holy Spirit, the apostles preached boldly to all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, about His suffering for us and resurrection from the dead. The Lord helped them with many great miracles which were performed by the apostles in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. At first, the apostles preached to the Jews and then dispersed to various countries to preach to all people. To perform the sacraments and to preach Christianity, the apostles established bishops, presbyters, and deacons by the laying of hands on them.

This grace of the Holy Spirit, which was clearly conferred on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, is now conferred in our Holy Orthodox Church invisibly in its sacraments, through the successors to the apostles, the pastors of the Church, its bishops and priests.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles is celebrated by the Holy Orthodox Church as one of the greatest feast-days on the fiftieth day after Pascha because the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is therefore called Pentecost or Holy Trinity Day; for from this day, the action of the Holy Trinity was revealed to the world, and people learned to venerate and glorify the three Persons of the one God: the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit.

On this feast-day it is customary to decorate the church and its hall with greenery and to hold flowers during the Liturgy expressing thus our joy and thanksgiving to God for His Holy and Life-giving Spirit, which renews people and gives them birth through baptism into a new life. The flowers and greenery signify life.

The day following Holy Trinity Day is called Spirit Day and is devoted to glorification of the Holy Spirit.

Troparion of Pentecost.

Blessed art Thou, Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them, didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory be to Thee.

Taken from The Law of God By Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy

May 20, 2010

Confession and Thanksgiving to Christ - By St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Since You came into the world for all, o Savior, therefore You came for me, for I am one of all. you came into the world to save sinners; therefore You came to save me also, for I am one of the sinners. You came to find and to save him who was lost; therefore You came to seek me too, for I am one of the lost. O Lord, O my God and Creator! I should have come to You as a transgressor of Your law. I should have fallen at Your feet, cast myself down before You, humbly begging forgiveness, pleading with You and craving Your mercy. But You Yourself have come to me, wretched and good-for-nothing servant that I am; my Lord has come to me, His enemy and apostate; my Master has come and has bestowed His love of mankind upon me. Listen, my soul: God has come to us; Our Lord has visited us. For my sake He was born of the Virgin Mary, He Who is born of the Father before all time. For my sake He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, He Who covers heaven with the clouds and vests Himself with robes of light. For my sake He was placed in the lowly manger, He Whose throne is the heavens and Whose feet rest upon earth. For my sake He was fed with His mother's milk, He Who feeds all creatures. For my sake He was held in His mother's arms, He Who is borne by the Cherubim and holds all creatures in His embrace. For my sake He was circumcized according to the law, He Who is maker of the Law. For my sake, He Who is unseen became visible and lived among men, He Who is my God. My God became one like me, like a man; the Word became flesh, and my Lord, the Lord of Glory, took for my sake the form of a servant and lived upon earth and walked upon earth, He Who is the King of Heaven. He labored, worked miracles, conversed with men, was like a servant, He Who is the Lord of all. He was hungry and thirsty, He Who provides food and drink for all creatures. He wept, He Who wipes away all tears. He suffered and mourned, He Who is the consoler of all men. He consorted with sinners, He Who alone is just and holy. He Who is omnipotent toiled and had nowhere to lay His head, He Who lives in light inaccessible. He was poor, He Who gives riches to all men. He wandered from town to town and from place to place, He Who is omnipresent and fills all space. And thus for thirty-three years and more He lived and labored upon earth for my sake-I who am His servant. O Son of God Who ceased not to dwell in His Father's bosom! What did You behold in me of merit? Why did You come to seek me in this vale of tears? Shepherds search for their lost sheep, but for their own profit. Men seek their lost property, but out of self-interest. Travellers visit foreign countries, but for their own benefit. Kings offer the ransoms of prisoners, but they pay it in gold and silver through their ambassadors, and largely for their own gain. But You, what was it that You found in me, my Lord? What use, what interest, what good did You behold in me that You came to seek me? And it was the King of Heaven and Earth Himself who came, not His ambassadors. God himself came to find and to ransom His servant, not with gold and silver but with His precious blood. Nothing indeed did you find but corruption, weakness, misery, disobedience and enmity towards Yourself. It would have been a deed sufficiently great, had You come to seek me because I had been lost through no will of my own, wrested from You by force and imprisoned by the enemy. But the marvel is that I, of my own will, am an apostate and Your enemy. I am ashamed to admit as much, but it is the truth: I am an apostate; I have followed in the path of Your enemy. I entered this conspiracy desiring to snatch Your divine honor. I, Your creature, not content that You have dignified me above the rest of Your creation by bestowing on me a rational soul and making me in Your own image, have desired to becomeGod! This great dignity has seemed too mean to me, and I have wanted to become God, to dishonor You Who have honored me, my Lord! I have provoked You exceedingly and insulted Your immeasurable greatness, and in this manner have I become Your enemy.

Thus I stand before You, I for whose sake You came to earth. Beholding in me nothing but my need of salvation, You have come to seek me. For You so looked upon me that my misfortune and my perdition became Your loss, my salvation Your gain. That I should be saved and should attain eternal happiness, this You considered to be Your gain. For Your generosity could not bear to see me in perdition; it impelled You, Invisible One, to descend and to seek me. Not a mediator, not an angel, but You Yourself, my Lord, came to me. You came to me, for I could not come to You. The Shepherd had to come and to labor in order to find the sheep lost in the hills. You showered upon me Your loving-kindness, my Lord. You sought me disinterestedly, my Shepherd. You loved me without profit, O my God! This indeed is true love: to love without profit, to do good without hope of recompense. Thus did You love me, my Lover: You came disinterested for my salvation. Oh, what kindness and love, Son of God, Son of the Ever-Virgin! Oh, how great is our joy, poor and wretched men for whose sake our Lord and King came to live among us. God likened Himself to men and came to us for our sake. Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which gave You suck! Son of God! Blessed are the swaddling clothes in which You were wrapped! Blessed, the crib in which You were laid! Blessed are the arms which sheltered the Infant Who was our God before all time! Blessed are the robes which clothed God Incarnate, Who was arrayed in garments of light! Blessed are the eyes that beheld You and the ears that heard You and the hands that touched You, Living Word and Giver of Life! Blessed is the time in which You, O Heavenly King, came down to earth! Yet, by far more blessed are those who see You, not walking on earth, but sitting at the right hand of the Father - Jesus, in Whom now, not seeing but believing, Your faithful on earth rejoice with an ineffable and glorious joy! Grant that I may see You now with the eyes of faith and honor You through love; that I may look upon You then face to face!

But look, O my soul, and see how the King of Heaven was welcomed by His subjects, in what manner they honored their God Incarnate: what offerings, what thanksgivings, what honors they bestowed on their Benefactor, Who had come to save them, Who performed miracles before them - Who cleansed the lepers, healed the sick, made the paralytic walk and the blind man see; Who straightened the lame and the crippled, Who raised the dead and fed the many thousands who were hungry. Oh, shame covers my face, awe grips my heart, and my tongue trembles to speak! His holy Evangelist cries out in grief: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." And they repudiated him, saying: "We do not wish this man to rule over us." Terrible and piteous are these words! God in flesh came to His people, and they did not receive Him. The King and Lord came to His servants, and they rejected Him. Listen, heaven, and harken, earth! Men did not accept their God; servants did not receive their Lord; subjects rejected their King! O, my God, all this You knew, and yet You came to save me, perishing; to find me, the lost! You were not turned away by the wickedness and the ingratitude of Your enemies; You surrendered Yourself to Your love and kindness; You were persuaded by my wretchedness.

It was not enough that ungrateful men should reject their Lord and Benefactor. They piled wickedness upon wickedness, cruelty upon hardness. They considered Your divine teaching to be inspired by the devil: "He hath a devil, and is mad: why hear you Him?" They attributed Your miracles to Beelzebub: "This man casteth not out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." Because you mingled with sinners, desiring to win their souls by Your compassion and to save them, they called You a glutton and a drunkard, the friend of publicans and sinners, and they vomited forth all manner of blasphemies against You, their Lord and Benefactor, against You Who are beyond all glory! Oh, the cruelty and ingratitude of men! Oh, the patience and magnanimity that You showed, my Lord! And more - they sought to kill You, their Savior. You beheld their wicked plans, their hearts instinct with hatred. You looked into them, Reader of hearts; yet You suffered in silence. They found an instrument for their designs, Your ungrateful disciple. And he sold them Him Who is without price for thirty pieces of silver. He sold for this paltry sum Him Who is more precious than the whole world, than a thousand worlds! You witnessed this evil design, this iniquitous bargain; and You permitted it, desiring to suffer for my sake, Your unworthy servant, to cleanse me with Your blood, to give me new life by Your death, to honor me through Your disgrace. Glory be to You for all, O my Lover!

You were betrayed and sold; or, to speak more truly, You gave Yourself up to them and freely went to them, knowing all that would follow. And they bound You, the Lord inaccessible to the Seraphim and the Cherubim! They judged You, the Judge of the living and the dead! They insulted and dishonored You, spat upon Your holy face, to which angels dare not lift their gaze! And they buffeted Your check and condemned You to death - You, the Life of all! They preferred a robber and a murderer to You, the Son of God, the only good and just One! The people cried with one voice: "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas. Crucify him, crucify him." Oh prodigy! Oh, fearful and unheard-of crime! They led Him out of the city like a condemned criminal, and they hung Him like a villain, between two villains. They put to death the Immortal One, and as He hung on the cross they mocked Him and wagged their heads. They fed Your hunger with gall and quenched Your thirst with vinegar. They pierced Your hands and Your feet and numbered all Your bones. And when You expired, they pierced Your side. And then once more they mocked You in death: "We have remembered, that that seducer said, while he was yet alive: After three days I will rise again." They placed a guard over Your most pure body and scaled Your tomb. This is what Your people did to You, my Lord; to You Who came to save them!

You suffered their fury, and like a lamb led to the slaughter, You did not open Your lips. The Lord suffered at the hands of His servants, the Creator at the hands of His creatures, the King at the hands of His subjects, the Benefactor at the hands of those who received from Him innumerable gifts, the Just and Innocent at the hands of the lawless. He suffered before Heaven and earth, in the sight of angels and men, before a great multitude of spectators, in the sight of friends and enemies. He suffered, naked and abandoned by all. And because He came into the world for the sake of all, He therefore suffered for me too, for I am one of all, O my Lord! For my sake did he bear so great a humiliation, O my Lord! And who am I, and what am I? Ashes and clay, a sinner and a worthless slave! Oh, new and unheard-of miracle! Oh, unutterable and ineffable mercy! Incomprehensible indulgence! Arise, my soul, arise! Be filled with awe; humble yourself, bow low and fall at the feet of your Lord! "Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle; because He hath done wonderful things." My Lord and Creator suffered, endured His passion, and died for His worthless servant and lawbreaker. I who broke the law, I the traitor; I who utter insults and blasphemies; I who have given myself up to my enemy, the Devil. I deserve to be spat upon by the Devil; I deserve to be mocked, insulted, buffeted, beaten, tortured, to die for all eternity! But You, my Lord and Sovereign, have suffered in my place. The servant sinned, but my Lord suffered the punishment; the servant erred, but my Lord was scourged; the servant stole, and my Lord offered compensation; the servant was indebted, but my Sovereign paid the debt. And in what manner did He pay it? Not in gold and silver but with His disgrace, His wounds, His blood, His death on the cross. For me, wretched and accursed, He bore the infamy, He Who is blessed throughout all eternity. For my blasphemies and my insults, He suffered disgrace, He Who is the Lord of Glory. For me - I who was held captive for sin - He was sold, He Who is beyond price. For me He stood trial and was condemned. For me He suffered death, my Lord and Creator! Glory be to You, glory be to You, glory be to You for all things! I have nothing else to bring to Youbut this: glory be to You! You lived on earth, King of Heaven, to lead me to heaven - I who had been cast out of paradise. You were born in the flesh of the Virgin to give me birth in the spirit. You suffered insults to silence the mouths of my enemies who calumniated me. You abased Yourself, You Who are higher than all honors, in order to honor me, the dishonored. You wept to wipe the tears from my eyes. You sighed, grieved, sorrowed to save me from sighing, grieving, suffering pain throughout eternity, to give me eternal joy and gladness. You were sold and betrayed that I might be freed, I who was enslaved. You were bound that my bonds might be broken. You submitted to an unjust trial - You Who are the Judge of all the earth - that I might be freed from eternal judgment. You were made naked in order to clothe me in the robes of salvation, in the garments of gladness. You were crowned with thorns that I might receive the crown of life. You were called king in mockery - You, the King of all! - to open the kingdom of heaven for me. Your head was lashed with a reed that my name should be written in the book of life. You suffered outside the city gates in order to lead me, one who had been cast out of paradise, into the eternal Jerusalem. You were put among evil men -You Who are the only Just One - that I, the unjust, might be justified. You were cursed, the One Blessed, that I, the accursed, should be blessed. You shed Your blood that my sins might be cleansed away. You were given vinegar to drink that I might cat and drink at the feast in Your kingdom. You died - You Who are the life of all - in order to revive me, the dead. You were laid in the tomb that I might rise from the tomb. You were brought to life again that I might believe in my resurrection. You ascended into heaven in order that I too might ascend into heaven and be glorified in Your kingdom. This You have done for me, Your servant, O my Lord! "What is man that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that Thou visitest him?" Man is dust and ashes and the destroyer of Your sacred law. Yet You have honored him, who has dishonored You, Lord and Creator! You have benefited Your creature, my Creator! You have forgiven Your servant, myMaster! You have found Your lost sheep, my Shepberdl! You have called the one who had been rejected; You have released the one who was in chains, O my Liberator! You have restored to life the one who was dead, O my Life! You have raised the fallen one, O my Strength! You have honored the dishonored one and have defended the defenseless one, O my Intercessor! You have broken the chains that bound me! "I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving." I offer thanksgiving for Your grace. I kiss Your love of mankind. I adore Your kindness and Your mercy. I pay homage and sing praises to Your ineffable indulgence!

How shall I repay Your generosity, O my Lover? How shall I repay my God for all that He has given me? Had I died a thousand times for Your sake, it would be as nothing. For You are my Lord, my Creator and my God, and I am but clay and ashes, a sinner and a worthless servant, deserving of all manner of deaths, not alone in time but in eternity. How shall I thank You, my Lord, my Lover, my Intercessor, my Liberator, my Redeemer? How shall I reward You, Who did not spare Yourself, but for my sake gave Yourself up to dishonor, insult, mockery, infamy; to be spat: upon, condemned, scourged, wounded, crucified, put to death that I, poor wretch, should be made joyful? How shall I reward You? I who possess nothing that is my own except for my corruption, my impotence, my sin. My soul and body - My nature - is from You - Yours, but alas, corrupted and spoiled by me. The counsel of the Evil One and my own will have corrupted me. I shall offer You a grateful heart, and that alone You desire of me. But even this thing I cannot do without You. For without You I cannot know You, or having known You, love You. Oh, how poor, how indigent I am! how weak, miserable, corrupt! Oh, how deeply my enemy has wounded, how he has broken me! But O my Liberator, forgive me! For You have loved me and have given Yourself up for me. Forgive me, and enlighten me, that I may know You in Whom is my life. Kindle the love of You in my heart; set my feet upon the rock; and straighten my steps, so that I may follow You, my Liberator and my only Leader, guiding me to heaven and to eternal life. Draw me after You, O burning Love! Let us run in the path You have trod! I will follow the scent of Your myrrh. For wherever You are, there shall I also be, I, the servant whom You have redeemed, so that I may behold Your glory. O Merciful, O Generous, O Lover of men, give me the heart that is able to follow You; guide me along Your ways, along the path of Your chosen ones; lead me after You by Your Holy Ghost! "Thy good spirit shall lead me into the right land."

You have accomplished a deed so sublime that my mind cannot grasp it! You, the Lord, the King of Heaven and Earth, have come down from Heaven, and have given Yourself flesh of the Virgin Mother of God, and have suffered, have been crucified, have shed Your blood, for me, for the sake of Your servant! What a sublime, a sublime wonder! I believe and I confess, I acknowledge and I preach, and I marvel that so great a love has been shown me! O Lover of men, my Lover, grant me, a sinner, yet another favor, I humbly implore You: cleanse me of all my sins with Your precious blood, the blood You have shed for the sake of Your sinning servant. Confirm me in fear of You, and in love of You. Grant that I may follow in Your steps through faith and charity. And guard me by Your strength from my enemies, who seek to stay my feet and to turn me from You, O Redeemer. "And Thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life": so that, being preserved by Your grace, I shall offer You thanksgiving, face to face, with Your chosen ones, and shall sing, and praise, and glorify You, with the Eternal Father and the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

Taken from A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by G.P.Fedotov

May 18, 2010

The Story of Job the Long-suffering

On May 6 / 19 Old Style, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Old Testament suffering servant Job who was a descendant of Esau, grandson of Abraham Here is a summary of the Book of Job taken from The Law of God by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy.

In ancient times, east of Palestine, there lived a righteous man by the name of Job. He was a just and good man, who always strove to please God throughout his life. The Lord rewarded him for his piety with great wealth. He had many hundreds of large and thousands of small cattle. His large and close family of seven sons and three daughters comforted him.

But the Devil was jealous of Job. He began to vilify him before God, "Doth Job fear God for nothing?... But put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee to Thy face." Then God, in order to reveal to all how faithful Job was to Him and in order to teach people patience in their sufferings, permitted the Devil to take away all of Job’s possessions. One day robbers came and drove away all his cattle, slew his servants, and a terrible tornado from the desert destroyed the house in which Job’s children had gathered together, killing them all. Job not only did not complain against God, but he said, "God gave, and God hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

The Devil, put to shame, was not satisfied with this. Again he began to slander Job, "All a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh (that is, strike him down with disease), and he will curse Thee to Thy face." God permitted the Devil to deprive Job even of his health, and Job was stricken with the most terrible disease — leprosy. Then even his wife began to persuade him to complain against God. His friends, instead of consolation, only further grieved the innocent sufferer with their unjust suspicions. But Job remained firm, did not lose hope in the mercy of God and only begged the Lord to testify that he was suffering in innocence.

In his discourse with his friends, Job prophesied about the Redeemer and of the future resurrection: I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the last day He shall raise from the dust this my corrupted skin, and in my flesh I shall see God. I shall see Him myself; mine eyes, and not the eyes of another, shall behold Him (Job 19:25-27, Septuagint).

After this, God, having shown to all the example of devotion and long-suffering in His servant Job, appeared Himself and commanded his friends, who had regarded Job as a great sinner, to ask for prayers from him for themselves. God rewarded His faithful servant. Job regained his health. He had seven more sons and three daughters, gained back twice as much cattle as he had before, and lived another one hundred and forty years in honor, quietly, piously and happily.

The story of long-suffering Job teaches us that God sends misfortunes not just for sins, but that sometimes God sends misfortunes even to the righteous for an even greater confirmation in goodness, for the shaming of the Devil, and for the glorification of the righteousness of God. The history of the life of Job also reveals to us that earthly welfare does not always accompany a virtuous life for men and teaches us also to be sympathetic to those in misfortune. Job, by his innocent sufferings and patience, foreshadowed the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, in the days of the commemoration of the sufferings of Jesus Christ during Passion Week, this story in the Book of Job is read in church.

May 16, 2010

Maxims of Orthodox Christian Living

Fr. Thomas Hopko's “55 Maxims” - 55 things that a believer, very simply, would do if they were really a believer and were really obedient to God and wanted to live the way God would have us live.

1. Be always with Christ. Trust God in everything. Never forget God.

2. Pray as you can, not as you want. Pray as God inspires you to pray, not as you want to,but as God gives. And for a Christian, that would mean in one’s heart, in one’s room, and in one’s Church.

3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
You can’t just pray when you feel like it. You have to pray by discipline, the times of day where you would remember God and say your prayers.

4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day. Just as one is getting into one’s car or walking into one’s office or into one’s classroom or before eating a meal, when waking in the morning, when going to sleep at night. Just say the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the prayer that the Lord gave, a short prayer, but it contains everything that a human being needs to pray if Christ is crucified, raised, and glorified.

5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things. This short prayer could simply be “Lord have mercy” or “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy.” The person just might say “Jesus.” A person might say “God,” but just some short prayer that fills the mind when the mind is not working in order to have the remembrance of God in one’s life, in one’s heart.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray. We, Orthodox, would say make some prostrations when you pray. Kneel down. Bend over. Bow down. Use your body. As St. Ephraim, “If your body is not praying when you’re praying, you’re not really praying.” Prayer is not just an activity of the mind and heart. It’s an activity of the whole person.

7. Eat good foods in moderation. Fast on fasting days, and of course during Lent that’s an entire fast. But eating good foods, not the kind of foods that could harm you and eating in moderation.

8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules - when fasting, fasting in secret.

9. Spend some time in silence every day. Practice silence, inner and outer. Just sit for a few minutes everyday in total silence. Turn off all the appliances. Open one’s self to God. Don’t think about anything. Watch the thoughts that come, and turn them over to God.

10. Do acts of mercy in secret.

11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
Go to Church. Stand there. Listen. Pray. Don’t pay attention to the people—oh yes, be attentive to their presence. But be there for the sake of the service itself.

12. Go to confession and communion regularly. Participate in the Church’s sacramental life.

13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start. When feelings come upon you, when thoughts come upon you, don’t engage them. If you accept them, they’ve got you, and you will sin. So you’ve got to cut them off, right at the very start.

14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person. Normally, that would be one’s pastor, or one’s Spiritual Father or Mother, one’s elder. But every human being, every Christian, must have someone who knows everything about them. And that we regularly report to them about what is going on in our life.

15. Read the scriptures regularly.—not reading them to fight with others, not reading them to show off quoting, but reading them as fuel, as food. Because if we don’t read the Scriptures regularly, we die. It would be like trying to live without eating or to drive a car without putting fuel into it.

16. Read good books a little at a time.
Don’t gobble them up. Don’t read through it to say “I’ve read it.” Slowly read books. Sometimes, read the same book two or three times over again—trying to put into practice what it says.

17. Cultivate communion with the saints. Learn who the holy people were in Christian history. Learn who they were who taught, who suffered, who died, who lived a Christian life. And emulate them. As St. John of the Ladder said: “Anyone who does not emulate the Saints is a fool, but also a fool would be someone who tried to imitate another person in the details of his or her life.” You can’t do that, but we must learn from the holy people.

18. Be an ordinary person. Be one of the human race. Don’t ever say: “I thank you God, I’m not like other people. Try to be like others as much as you can. Be ordinary. As the Russian writer Chekov said: “Everything outside the ordinary is from the Devil.”

19. Be polite with everyone. First of all, the members of your own family. Sometimes we feel, we could be rude with our own family members but nice to people outside. No, we must begin with kindness to those closest to us first.

20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home. God doesn’t live in clutter or in filth and dirt. Yes, we don’t have to be fanatics about having everything prissy clean, but we have to have a Sophianic order, at least in some parts of our house where we live and eat and where we pray especially.

21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby. Have something where you exercise your brain just for the pure joy of it.

22. Exercise regularly.
—got to move around.

23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
Don’t be in the past, and don’t be in tomorrow. St. Benedict said: “Do what you’re doing. Be present where you are.” What does God want me to do, right now—not later tonight, not tomorrow morning, not yesterday, but right now?

24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself. Be totally honest—first of all, with yourself. The greatest sin is the lie, and the greatest lie is the lie about God, and the lie about me and God. Be totally honest.

25. Be faithful in little things. Jesus said it. “He who is faithful in little, inherits much and is put over much. And those that are not faithful in little, lose the little they have.” In St. Luke’s Gospel, the Lord even said: “lose the little, they think that they have.” Fidelity in small, ordinary things.

26. Do your work, and then forget it. Don’t carry it around with you. Be totally attentive to what you’re doing, but don’t carry it in your mind. Have your mind focused on what you’re doing at the present moment.

27. Do the most difficult and painful things first. We tend to do the easy things, the things we like, and put off the things we don’t. We should try to reverse that and do the most difficult and boring things first.

28. Face reality. Face reality. Don’t live in fantasy. There’s a Russian saying: “God is everywhere except in imagination and fantasy.” Face the realities of your life.

29. Be grateful in all things.

30. Be cheeful. Act cheerful, even if you don’t feel like it, especially in the presence of others.

31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small. The Holy Fathers say: “If you want to be known by God, seek not to be known by people.” And again, it’s simplicity, hiddeness, quiet, smallness.

32. Never bring attention to yourself.* Never, consciously, bring attention to yourself. Wherever you are, do what the other people do. That’s especially important in Church. When you go to Church, do what the people there are doing. It’s what St. Ambrose told to St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, when she asked: “What should I do when I go to Rome?” He said: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Fast as the Romans fast. Stand as the Romans stand. Sing as the Romans sing.

33. Listen when people talk to you. To be attentive to others is one of the greatest gifts. Keep your mind awake and pay attention when people speak to you.

34. Be awake and be attentive. Be fully present where you are—wakefulness, watchfulness, attentiveness.

35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
We should speak only when it’s necessary to speak. In fact the Scripture says: “We should speak only when spoken to.” The Fathers say: “We often repent of idle talk but very seldom have to repent of maintaining silence. Sometimes we do, because we have to speak. But we should talk and think about things no more than absolutely necessary.

36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly
—nothing superfluous, not putting on airs. Again, simplicity is the rule.

37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out. Once and for all, we have to stop trying to figure things out. God can illumine our mind and give us insight into the nature of things, but we can’t figure it out. We don’t have the equipment to do it, and we should stop trying.

38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance. You can’t dialogue with lust and pornea and immorality of the flesh. It always wins. It always has the arguments on its side. Flee it at its first appearance.

39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine. Complaining, thinking, looking at the faults of others, we work during Lent and all our life to stop doing that. We pay attention to ourselves.

40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
The Last Judgment is not on a curve. God doesn’t compare us one to another. Each one of us stands according to who we are, what we have received, what we have been given, and what our vocation is.

41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone. I and my friend Paul Lazar used to call it the “PP.” No praise. No pity. We always want to have people to think: “Oh, how wonderful you are” or to say “Oh my, how hard you work or how much you suffer.” We seek to flee the pity and flee the praise of others.

42. We don’t judge anyone for anything. This doesn’t mean we just say “Everyone’s fine and good.” That’s not true. But we don’t condemn them. We don’t get in to what makes them tick. We don’t tell them always what to do. What they do, we do. And we show people what we believe by what we do. But we don’t judge anyone for anything, and if we do, then the Lord judges us the same way.

43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. Once and for all, we have to stop trying to teach other people. I’m not trying to teach you now, I hope. I’m just trying to tell you what I think is true. Then you can do with it, what you want. But it can’t be my desire to convince you and to win in an argument. I can only, to use a Scriptural word, “bear witness” or “make testimony.” But I can’t have as my goal to convert the other. And that’s even true with evangelization. We’re not out there to convert people. We’re out there to bring them the joy of the victory of God in Christ. What they do with it is between them and God.

44. Don’t defend or justify yourself. The Saints say: “Those who try to justify themselves commit suicide.” We don’t need to justify ourselves. God will vindicate us. We don’t need to defend ourselves. God is our defender.

45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
Be defined and bound by God alone and not by people. We don’t let anyone define our life. God defines our life. And even the closest people to us should not be defining our life—our parents, our spouses. No, only God is defining who we are, and we’re only bound to his definition.

46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically. We are not obliged to put into practice every criticism that’s given to us. Sometimes the criticism is false. But we certainly must welcome it, be grateful for it, test it. And St. John Chrysostom said, even when we’re accused of something, even if we think it’s not true, we should accept the criticism as true and put it into practice then we’ll never go wrong. Because if our accuser is right, we have repented, and we have pleased them. If they’re not right, we put them to shame.

47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so. This is very important. You don’t go around giving free advice or counsel. If people ask us, we tell them. I was asked, “Father Tom, say some things on Ancient Faith Radio. I say: “Okay, cause you asked me.” So when we’re asked, we can answer. If it’s our duty, if it’s our job—like a parent or a pastor or a supervisor in operation or a teacher—then we must do it. That’s our work. But we never give counsel or advice, unless we’re asked or unless it’s our duty to do so.

48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves. It is not charitable to do things for others that they should be doing for themselves. We rob them of their life when we do that. So we should help people to do what they have to do themselves and not do it for them. Now there’s plenty of people who can’t do for themselves what they need to do. Then, we help them. But we should never be helping people to do things that they should be doing for themselves.

49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice. Again, the Holy Fathers teach us that idiorhythmia, capriciousness, whimsicalness is the cause of all of our downfall. We have to be disciplined. We have to have a rule for ourselves, and try and follow it. Of course, the rule is not some kind of iron law. In a sense it’s made to be modified or broken, but we have to have it. Each night when we go to sleep, we should tell ourselves what the next day should look like, and then try to keep that rule. Things will happen, but we should try to keep the rule.

50. Be merciful with yourself and with others. Of course, we’re to be merciful to others, but we must be merciful to ourselves too. We cannot judge ourselves more harshly than God does, and the worst sin is despair. So we should be living by the mercy of God all the time—taking responsibility for our life, but not berating ourselves or beating ourselves up. God does not want that. There is no merit in that. Repentance is what God wants, not remorse or some type of self-flagellation.

51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath. St. Anthony said it. He said: “A truly wise person knows the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false and clings fiercely to what is good, true, and beautiful, but fully expects to be tested, to be tried, and to be tempted til his very last breath.” He said that without being tempted, no one can enter God’s Kingdom—without temptation, no salvation. The whole life of a man on Earth is a trial, according to Scripture. Job said it. So we are being tried every moment, we should expect it. We should never expect the trial to go away. We don’t ask God to take our crosses away. We ask for the power to carry them. God doesn’t tempt anybody. But in the providence of God, we are tested all the time so that our salvation can be ours, and that we could be victorious by the victory of Christ.

52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness. That’s classic teaching. Fill yourself with good things. Don’t be mesmerized by dark things. Don’t meditate on evil things. Meditate on good things, and God will take care of the rest.

53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness. This is very important. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: “To have the Holy Spirit is to see your own wretchedness peacefully, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.” St. Therese of Lisieux, a Roman Catholic saint who died at 24, she wrote to a friend: “If you are willing to bear the trial of your own wretchedness, serenely, then you will surely be the sweetest dwelling place of Jesus.” We have to bear our own faults, serenely. St. Paul said: “Where sin has abounded, grace has superabounded.” And we cannot let the devil rejoice two times. Pythagoras said: “When we fall, the devils rejoice. When we stay down, the devils keep rejoicing.” And nothing puts the devils more to shame than having fallen, we stand up again. So we must bear peacefully, calmly, our own weaknesses, our own failings. Expect them. Don’t make them happen, but expect them. We are not God.

54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
As often as we fall, we stand up again. And we will fall. It says in Scripture that the wise person, the wise man, falls seven times a day, that meanas a lot, but he gets up again. The fool does not get up again, and the fool doesn’t even know that he has fallen. The wise person knows when he falls, but he gets up again. In fact, the tradition says: “It belongs only to God, never to fall.” It belongs to demons to fall and not get up again, but it belongs to human beings, certainly to Christians, to fall and to get up again, to fall and to get up again. One Desert Father even described human life, according to Christian faith, in that way. When he was asked by a pagan, what does it mean to be a Christian, he said: “A Christian is a person who falls down and gets up again, who falls down and gets up again, who falls down, is lifted up again by the grace of God to start over.” And you can start over every moment anew.

55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.  We all need help. A Russian saying is: “The only thing you can do alone, by yourself is perish,” is go to Hell. If we are saved, we’re saved with others. So we must have counsel. We must have friends. We must be with others. And sometimes, we need specific help, like if we’re caught on drugs or alcohol or sex. Then, we have to go and get that specific help, like we would go to a doctor when we are sick. Sometimes, we don’t know what to do, so we need help. We have to go to an elder person, a more experienced person to give us guidance. But we should never, ever, be ashamed or afraid of getting help. It’s just a normal part of the human race.

*This is a pretty exhaustive list that I found quite true with the exception of number 32 which is a good general rule but not if being "in Rome" is contrary to the Orthodox Faith. For a complete podcast of Fr. Thomas Hopko reading this list go to:

May 15, 2010

St. Theodosius - Russia's First Monastic Saint

Today, 3 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Theodosius (†1074), Abbot of the Kiev Caves Monastery and founder of Russian cenobitism. Here is a sermon by St. Theodosius' Sermon to his monks entitled "On Patience and Love." Taken from A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by G. P. Fedotov (1886-1951)

Beloved, what did we bring into this world, or what have we to take out of it? Did we not leave the world and worldly things according to the commandment of Christ, Who said, "Every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be my disciple"; and again, "If anyone love me, he will keep my word"? Love of God is expressed not in words but in actions. For He said: "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you." And "In this," He said, "is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples."
Is it not of itself astonishing, beloved, that God can be glorified by works of ours - and what love He pours out upon us, wretches that we are: "As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you... Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends"; and, "You are my friends." What then should we, miserable men, be like? Does not our heart burn, hearing these words? ... What good did we do to Him, that he has chosen us and rescued us from this transient life? For have not we all gone astray and became useless in His work, following our lusts? Yet He did not despise us in such an evil condition; he did not abhor our nature, but having taken the form of a slave, became like us. And all this He did that we may be saved.

Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

On the first Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord, the Church remembers the god-bearing fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. Here is a brief summary of the 1 st ecumenical council taken from the The Law of God by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodsky.


The First Ecumenical Council was convened in 325 A.D., in the city of Nicea, under the Emperor Constantine I. This Council was called because of the false doctrine of the Alexandrian priest Arius, who rejected the Divine nature and pre-eternal birth of the second person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Divine Son of God the Father, and taught that the Son of God is only the highest creation.

318 bishops participated in this Council, among whom were St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. James, bishop of Nisibis, St. Spiridon of Tremithus, and St. Athanasius, who was at that time a deacon.

The Council condemned and repudiated the heresy of Arius and affirmed the immutable truth, the dogma that the Son of God is true God, born of God the Father before all ages, and is eternal, as is God the Father; He was begotten, and not made, and is of one essence with God the Father. In order that all Orthodox Christians may know exactly the true teaching of the faith, it was clearly and concisely summarized in the first of seven sections of the Creed, or Symbol of Faith.

At this Council, it was resolved to celebrate Pascha on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, after the Jewish Passover. It also determined that priests should be married, and it established many other rules or canons.

May 12, 2010

Ascension of the Lord - Peace, Holy Spirit , & Forgiveness of Sins

"While He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy"...with great joy ... "and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Lk. 24:51-3).

If, during the course of six weeks, the Holy Church has been teaching us to preserve this peace which Christ granted on the first day of His Resurrection, saying: "Peace be unto you" (Jn. 20:19), then now this feeling of peace should fill our hearts. You see, this feeling of peace appears in all of us as an expectation of joy. People search for some kind of rest, some kind of comfort. For this they travel from place to place in order to find peace. And yet this peace is within them, only in an unrevealed state. Peace is that gift which the Lord gave to us, that peace which keeps a person in a kind of unearthly state of joy. This is what the Holy Church has been teaching us during the six weeks of Easter: to be close to Christ, to preserve this peace, protect ourselves from those things which, entering our heart, might disturb this peace.

You see, our heart is the place in which peace abides.

And this peace abides in the heart as long as nothing burning approaches the heart. But as soon as something Burning (some kind of passion) approaches the heart — then at once peace leaves and a storm begins. This storm thrashes all our hearts. This storm is the element of the enemy of the human race, troubling all of humanity. May this storm pass by those who are in the shelters of Christ.

And what are these shelters of Christ? these refuges for human souls from the storms of life? This is what they are. On the evening of the first day of His Resurrection, when the doors of the house where His disciples were gathered were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: "Peace be unto you!" This is His first gift, as it were, the first shelter, which through His disciples He gave to all of us Christians.

"And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands [and feet] and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose so ever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven; and whose so ever sins ye retain, they are retained" (Jn. 20:20-23). Here is the second gift, the second shelter. And now, when Christ ascends, He leaves us the Grace of the Holy Spirit which He promised on the very first day of His Resurrection. He leaves two gifts for us. The first gift is the peace which all people search for — true happiness. And the second gift, as if protecting and preserving this peace, is the Sacrament of Repentance, the gift of the Holy Spirit given to His disciples — the gift of the remission of sins.

And here today, while parting from the disciples and ascending into heaven, He blessed them. And what happened? There was a parting. Now parting always brings sadness, but they left in joy. Why? Well, because before them were revealed the ways of life, which were no longer self-reliant, but were with the Grace of God. They knew that they too would go into eternity to Christ. And while living in this earthly life, which is so bound up with the storms of life, the path they were going would be quiet and peaceful for them, because the Grace of the Holy Spirit is breathed into the priesthood, forgiving and absolving.

And what does the Apostle say in this regard? Here is what he says: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness.. .covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:3-5). In other words, you proceed and around you pass all these waves: impurity, anger, fury, slander. Your heart is tossed from one side to the other. Yet you are joyful. Around you is the Hand of the Lord, the Grace of the Holy Spirit which guides and comforts you, giving light, freeing you from darkness and anguish.

This is joy. The joy is that we are liberated. We have that inner joy which only a Christian can have, who has the Hand of God, the hand of Grace, absolving us of our sins. And we know that finding ourselves on this path of Grace, we go enlightened into Eternal Existence.


Excerpts from  "The One Thing Needful,"
Sermons of  Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

May 11, 2010


In order to live, most of us have to work. There are many types of work: manual work, such as various trades, agriculture, and so forth; and intellectual work, such as administration, law, management, education, etc. There is important and unimportant work, difficult and easy, extraordinary and conventional, work for yourself, for your family for society, etc.
All work that is not opposed to moral law and that we do to support ourselves and our families, is work entrusted to us by God Himself. It is the Lord God Who established and sanctioned various professions in human society, and it is He Who allows us or arranges for us to be in the positions or professions in which we find ourselves in life. Without God's will or God's forbearance nothing takes place on earth. God is the King of all the earth (Ps. 46:8). Therefore, the holy Apostle Paul told slaves, who were working not for themselves, but for their masters, that they didn't actually work for their masters, but for the Lord Himself Servants, he wrote in his Epistle to the Colossians, obey in all things your masters, except, of course, for sin, and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men (Col. 3:22-23).

So, whatever work you have to do in your position or profession, whether it is to hold the reins of some governmental agency, to judge people, to teach people, to write something, to engage in some kind of art or handiwork, to plow the fields, to labor in construction, to bring up children, and so on, do all of this, for whomever you do it, whether for yourself and your family, or as a duty to others-Ao all this as for the Lord God Himself. Do it because the Lord God demands it of you, and because that work is God's work. Do it and say to God in your heart: "O Lord, You assigned me this work. I am doing it in obedience to You and to please You." Or: "O Lord, bless my labor. It was not without Your will that I found myself in the position in which I live, and the work that I do or should do is work demanded by my position. You assigned it to me, so bless me and help me."

Whoever does his daily work with such an attitude, no matter what it is and for whom he does it, works actually for the Lord God, and therefore will receive a reward from Him, as the holy Apostle says to slaves, whatsoever ye do for your masters in the flesh, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23-24). But whoever works without this disposition of soul, labors as worldly people and pagans do, that is, he labors not for the Lord Jesus Christ, not out of love for the Lord God, not to the glory of God, but labors only for himself, for some temporary need or gain-for sustenance, to gain wealth and pleasure in life, to obtain honor, or to satisfy his own inquisitiveness. Or he may work temporarily for other people. But he does not think of God. The work of whoever works this way is pitiful, because this person awaits a reward only from himself or from other people, and not from the Lord God. But the reward from other people, whatever it consists of, is only earthly, temporary, and therefore of little importance; what kind of reward can you get from yourself But work for the Lord God, and expect your reward principally from Him. Only He is the true recompenser.

In doing all your work for the Lord Himself, always do it as God's work should be done; that is, do all your work from the soul, gladly and without complaining. How can one do any kind of work for the God unwillingly, grudgingly, and with grumbling? A grateful person does everything gladly, even for a low-ranking earthly boss; how, then, can we do something unwillingly or grudgingly for our greatest and constant benefactor, the Lord God?

Do every task required by your position diligently and correctly; do not in any case permit unwarranted slowness and carelessness. Do everything as well as you possibly can. Because work not done as quickly and as well as you can, just like work done incorrectly or carelessly, is done deceitfully, and the holy prophet says, cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully (Jer. 48: 1 0). My friends, remember these terrible works and be carefu!

If your work goes successfully, do not take pride in this, and in particular do not ascribe this success to your own powers. Never say in your heart my power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth (Deut. 8:17) Rather always remember that the Lord gave you that power (Deut. 8:18). For without Me ye can do nothing, He said to His disciples (John 15:5). Remember these words of the Lord. They are a great defense against pride and arrogance, toward which we are all inclined and which are spiritually ruinous for us.

If the work you have to do is difficult and demands great effort, or is unpleasant and demeaning, demanding much patience, or is hindered and slowed by ill-intentioned people or by unfortunate circumstances, and leads you to despondency, or is little respected or even despised, do not be fainthearted, do not be lazy, and do not give in to anger, impatience, annoyance, complaining, etc. Will your work go better and be finished faster if you are lazy or angry or grumble or use bad language? No, it will be harder and go more slowly, and may not even get done at all. My friend, it is bad to behave this way. Only unbelievers behave like this, because they do not have faith in God's control over the world. But we are Christians. We know that our job and our position in life is given to us by God.

To help keep your soul in a holy attitude during hard, prolonged, or unpleasant work and to protect it from any attitude that is not pleasing to God, it is good to strengthen yourself with thoughts such as the following:

"This work, which seems to me to be so difficult and unpleasant, undoubtedly helps to save my soul. I know that God does nothing without the most saving intentions for us. He truly wants to save everyone. So, of course, He desires to save me also. Without His action and foresight, I would have been lost long ago. Having assigned me the work at hand, He undoubtedly wishes to deliver me from grievous sins or from temptations, errors, or dangers. So I shall try to do my work diligently and wholeheartedly.

"Perhaps the work that I am doing right now is the last in my life, and after this work God will immediately demand from me an account of all my deeds at His eternal Judgment. How can I not work diligently and wholeheartedly?

"This work, which is so trying and such a burden, will not last forever. It will end with my earthly life. And even if it lasts a hundred years, is this earthly life long,? All of eternity is the reward for life on earth, if it is spent in obedience to God. How can I not work diligently and wholeheartedly?"

If you think such thoughts, your difficult or unpleasant work will never serve as a cause for sin, but for eternal blessedness. Because in thinking this way, you won't avoid your work, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it may seem, but will pray in your heart to the Lord that He help you to begin and furnish your work worthily, and, indeed, you will do so. And in doing so, perhaps you will be delivered from serious sins and from the perdition of your soul. For after such prayers, as holy toilers have already found out a thousand times by experience, God has often eased the difficulty and unpleasantness of hard daily labor to the point where the laborers do it and fniish it without difficulty, sometimes even easily and even pleasurably. But if this doesn't happen to us, we must remember that every diligent work and every diligent worker will indeed be rewarded appropriately, not in the present life, but in the future one. It is precisely in the future life, as the holy Apostle attests, that the Lord will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom. 2:6). So let us be patient. Are not all our temporary burdens and difficulties worth eternal happiness?


An edited and somewhat condensed portion of the book How to Live a Holy Life by Metropolitan Gregory Postnikov (1784-1860), published in Russian in 1904

All I can do now is pray.

How many times have we heard this from others and also said it ourselves? It is true: ALL we can do is pray...but that is not how this is usually said.

Usually, there is a sigh, a shrug of the shoulders and then, Well, all I can do now is pray after we have turned to every worldly solution which man has to offer for whatever problem may be facing us: troubled marriage, illness, rebellious children, trouble at work or school, misunderstandings between friends or family, etc. Although it is not the intention of the one who uses this expression, it comes across as, Well, I, in my great knowledge, vast abilities and wisdom, have done everything possible to solve this and nothing has worked; so, Lord, maybe, just maybe, You can do something. I have exhausted all my resources and now have no where else to turn.

The truth is that ALL we can do is pray. It is the most powerful thing that we can do for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world. If we keep God before ourselves at all times and turn to Him immediately in all situations, we are truly keeping the right order. It, however, does not mean that we just sit back and do nothing. No. We have to enter into that synergy with God — man reaching up from earth and God leaning down from heaven. We definitely have to do our part, but we need to turn our check list of how to handle situations around: first turn to God, then, with Him ever in our hearts and on our lips, seek help from the means that He has given us. The hard part is to put it all in Gods hands first and then work with Him.

One example of this is something that is seen in Orthodox countries, particularly in churches that have the full relics of one of the saints. Students come into the church very early in the morning before classes to venerate the relics and pray before them, especially on the day of a difficult exam. Surely, the student has studied hard for the exam, but he/she knows that without the Lords help, it is in vain. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain (Ps. 128:1).

Elder Cleopa always counseled people, When your mother, your child, your husband, anyone, is sick, first call the priest, not the doctor! The Church has prayers for everything imaginable, and those prayers are very effectual. Turn to those prayers first, then proceed. If you are building a house there is a prayer for beginning this project; traveling—there are prayers; studying — there are prayers... One way in which we witness the benefit of those prayers right here at the Monastery involves our flock of free-range chickens: many of the people who live nearby ask us why the chickens have not fallen prey to these the many predators that roam the surrounding forest. The answer: every year, on the feast of St. Blaise, protector of domestic animals, we process to the henhouse with the priest, singing the troparion of the hieromartyr, and the flock is blessed. If, at some point a hen or two disappear (which has happened about three times in six years), we keep the rest of the flock locked in their pen for a few weeks, while we continue to pray to St. Blaise to again protect them.

Pray first, then employ other means, but while keeping your main focus on God.

Actual prayer is one part of a little holy trinity; it is not isolated into only asking (often telling) God to fulfill our request. The other two members of this small trinity are fasting and giving alms. In traditionally Orthodox countries, it is very common to encounter someone who either makes an offering to a church or to a person in need, even someone unknown on the street, saying Please accept this; my husband/mother/sister/son, is ill/in need of Gods mercy. Interestingly, the answer from the recipient is not thank you, but rather, May God receive. This is very definitely a part of prayer to God to have mercy on the loved one. That offering is a sacrifice and is the second part of the ALL I can do is pray.

Offering a sacrifice, both in thanksgiving, as well as in petition in prayer is most certainly Biblical. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice was always a young animal which was purely spotless. What more precious sacrifice has there ever been in all the history of man than the Lord Himself sacrificing Himself upon the Cross for our salvation? When we pray from our hearts to God, asking Him to help either ourselves or a loved one, we must also offer whatever sacrifice we can. This is a pouring out of oneself, which the Lord certainly accepts. Whatever that sacrifice of alms consists of (financial, material, labor, etc), it must be something that is truly a sacrifice, and not simply from our surplus.

The third part of that small trinity is fasting. When we or a loved one are in great need of Gods mercy, we pray, sacrifice, and in addition to the regularly prescribed fasting days and season, we add an additional fast. Many monastic elders counsel people who are in such need to add Mondays as a fasting day, or to fast totally each day until noon.

This fasting and almsgiving, together with prayer, also helps us to be more aware of our own sins. The holy fathers tell us that misfortune, trials, illness, etc. befall us for one of three reasons: either from the devil to lead us away from God; from God Himself to wake us up and redirect us where we belong; or from our own sins. We have lost the notion in our modem society to ever believe that something has happened to us because of our own doing or fault; it is always someone elses fault, never our own. The truth is that not only do our sins bring trials upon ourselves, but they also can cause others to suffer. All of creation fell and suffered, and continues to suffer, because of our sins. Our sins have eternal and temporal consequences, but we also know that through true repentance and confession, these consequences are lessened and often eliminated.

So, in the midst of trials, need, tribulations, let us first pray, give alms of sacrifice, and fast, looking at our own sins, as we beseech God to grant what is good and needful for our own souls, for our loved ones, for the world. God does indeed answer these prayers... but not always the way that we want. His ways are certainly not our ways, and our understanding cannot begin to fathom or comprehend Gods judgments. When His answer to our petitions is not what we want it to be, we must still trust in His mercy and judgment, giving thanks always. If we but look back in our own lives and see those times when it seemed that God did not answer our prayer as we wanted, we can almost always see that He did indeed answer it as we needed for our salvation.

A broken and contrite heart, God will not despise. When we turn to God first and keep Him before ourselves throughout our lives, especially in times of trial, in humility acknowledging that without Him we can do nothing, then He truly does not abandon us. Indeed, let us remember that ALL we can do is pray: before, during and after a task; before, during and after a trial; all our life long, putting our full trust in God.

So let us continue in that synergy reaching up toward God, beseeching His mercy, help and guidance, as He leans down to take our outstretched hand and lead us along the path of peace.

From The Veil, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Great Lent/Pascha, 2006). The Veil is a publication of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Monastery. Free subscriptions to The Veil are available by writing or calling the convent: 2343 County Road 403, Lake George, CO 80827; 719-748-3999. Posted on 1/2/2007 with the permission of the convent.

May 08, 2010

What is an Orthodox Man?

Happy is the man who becomes wise – who comes to have understanding (Proverbs 3:13).

We live today in a society where husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, have been torn from their roots, ripped from time-honored and theologically-sanctioned values about what it is to be a man, a woman, a family. The old values and roles, so easily nurtured in a largely agrarian and patriarchal society, now seem almost impossible to live in our industrialized cities. The healthy psychological bonding that used to occur naturally between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, is now a rare experience.

As if this were not a difficult enough burden for the spiritually-minded to bear, we are also now inundated by strange and sometimes aberrant notions about sexuality and role models. We live in a culture of increasing “unisex,” perversion, and immorality – on the job, at home, and sometimes even in the church.

The “women’s liberation movement” was originally an understandable reaction to irresponsible, heavy-handed, arrogant and insensitive men; but instead of raising the conscience and morality of men to the traditional nurturing and moral level of women, it had the effect of bringing women down to the more animal level of men’s behavior, while at the same time shattering the “male myth” without giving in its place a proper sense of what it is to be a man – or, for our purposes, what it is to be an Orthodox Christian man.

An extraordinarily relevant model for the Orthodox man today is the Holy Prophet Job in the Old Testament. Indeed, here was a man “after God’s own heart.” His life gives evidence of certain manly characteristics by which the Orthodox man can, and should, measure himself today – providing a program of spiritual growth and struggle that is without equal.

We think of St. Job primarily in the context of his trial of faith and the afflictions of his life, for which reason the Orthodox call him “The Much-suffering.” We forget that he persevered to the end and found victory over his troubles. We seldom realize that in order to obtain this victory, he needed certain qualities of character and soul – the qualities of a true and godly man.

What are those qualities?

He was a man who did not forget God and God’s loving care for him, no matter how terrible the present affliction: God was always with me and the friendship of God protected my home (Job 29:3-4).

The Orthodox man strives never to forget God and His blessings whether in the past or in the present, and he gives this same example to his wife and children, especially in times of trial.

The Prophet loved his children and missed them sorely when he was in exile. He did not see them as an irritating intrusion into his own “lifestyle.” He rose early to pray and make sacrifice for them, in order to purify them in case they had sinned. The Orthodox man prays ardently for his children – both for wisdom in guiding them aright, and for God’s blessing and grace on them. This is also a model for a priest, who has many spiritual children.

St. Job was just and fair, both with his children and with those for whom he had responsibility outside his family. In the same way, an Orthodox man is a model of justice and even-handedness for his own children, tempering justice with mercy.

The Prophet Job received respect from old and young. Orthodox men show respect to their elders, both in the family and at work, but especially in the Church, and they earn the respect of their wives and children, doing nothing to kill this respect or to scandalize them.

The Saint was stable, like a tree whose roots always have water. An Orthodox man consciously strives to avoid the restlessness of our mobile society, recognizing the need for children to have a secure sense of place and stability in their lives.

St. Job was a seeker after God and wisdom: The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord. An Orthodox man also strives to serenely rest in God’s providence, keeping lively his commitment to the Orthodox Faith, and modeling this for his family according to his strength.

Because of all these spiritual characteristics, St. Job was able to endure terrible suffering and affliction, as a result of which the Lord blessed the last part of Job’s life even more than he had blessed the first. Here, then, is a real example for today’s men, who are often tempted to retreat into passive self-centeredness in the face of difficulty and temptation, who are too ready (and encouraged by society to do so) to jettison job, wife, and children at the slightest whim or difficulty. Here, then, is a Saint who can inspire in contemporary man a real manhood rather than a fake masculinity. 

Always obey the Lord and you will be happy. If you are stubborn, you will be ruined (Proverbs 28:14).

Father Alexey Young

May 01, 2010

Fr. Alexander Men - Sermon on the Samaritan Woman

John 4:6-38

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!

In today's Gospel we heard the story of our Lord's meeting with a simple woman. This woman wasn't going to the temple, nor to prayer, nor even on her way to perform some good deed. She was merely going for water, as thousands of women in every country, and as she had done from her youth. She would take the bucket, walk to the well which was located in a valley (this well still exists), lower the bucket to fill it, and return along the mountain path to her village. Though she would have never suspected it, this was a special day for her. As usual, she put on her cloak, placed the bucket on her shoulder, as was the custom, and headed for the well. Tradition tells us that her name was Oria, in Greek, Fontinae, and in Russian, we pronounce it as Svetlana. However, the Gospel does not mention her name. It does mention that she was a Samaritan, that sect which believed in God and was awaiting the Lord's deliverance, but considered that the most holy place was Mount Gerizim, where their temple stood. So this woman was on her way to the well, and perhaps was thinking about her heavy and bitter fate. Her life had not turned out very well; five times she had tried to create a family, and each time it had failed. Her current marriage wasn't much better. Walking down to the well, she was probably thinking about her daily chores, about washing the clothes and baking the bread. A tired traveler was sitting by the well and asked her for a drink. Here began something completely new in her life. This traveler was the Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. It was though He was waiting for her there, and asking her for a drink, He Himself would give her the living water of truth. This gospel story tells us of three things. First, that one might meet the Lord in the most usual circumstances of one's life. This Samaritan woman did not suspect that sitting by the well, where every day she drew water for eating and cleaning, there awaited a prophet, the Messiah, Christ, the Savior of the world. Just like us, when we are caught up in our daily chores, often think that the Lord is far away from us. But if our hearts have not lost the Lord, then He will meet with us even here. Secondly, this woman had lived a difficult life, and she herself was probably guilty that her personal relations had not worked out. This, however, did not stop the Lord from speaking to her about the most sublime of matters. She began to ask Him about faith, about where was the most holy of places; in Jerusalem as maintained the Jews, or with the Samaritans, on Mount Gerizim. The Lord said: "Jerusalem is the holy place, for from it comes salvation. But the time is coming, I tell you woman, when people will not worship on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, but everywhere, in spirit and truth. God is Spirit". What a great secret He revealed to her! You don't have to believe that God lives in a particular temple, building or church: there is no place on earth, where He is not living. There is only one place where He can't be found, that place where evil reigns. He is calling every one of us, telling us that God is Spirit, and that those who worship Him, must worship in spirit and truth. This doesn't mean that we ought not to gather together in church. It is a great blessing to pray with one another. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have icons before us, for they remind us about the Lord and His saints. Nor does it mean that we can't light candles before the icons, for they illuminate the holy images and symbolize our sacrifice to the church. But the most important sacrifice must be located in the heart. For no sacrifice is pleasing to God, unless the spirit is turned to Him in truth, in honesty and in bearing good witness. This spirit and truth is our faith, true and strong belief. Spirit and truth is love, spirit and truth is service. This spirit is accessible not just to holy, extraordinary people, chosen from their mother's womb, but to all. The Samaritan woman is an example for us. She was an ordinary woman, merely performing her daily chores. And God appeared to her, called her and told her about spirit and truth. This means that none of us have the right to say: "I'm too much of a sinner, too insignificant and much too unworthy to hear and understand the word of Christ." Christ's good news is directed to each one of us, to everyone in his time. The Word of God is like a sword, penetrating deep into our hearts, to the very depth of our being. Just feel this power and it will give to you eternal life, the living water which the Lord promised to this Samaritan woman. Amen.

The Conversation between Jesus Christ and the Samaritan Woman


*Fr. Alexander Men is a controversial figure in the Russian Orthodox Church not known for his Traditional Orthodox views. However, he was a very popular priest that brought many souls to Orthodoxy. He was tragically martyred in 1990. He is still beloved by many while others see him as an extreme ecumenist and renovationist. I personally see him as a Martyr for the Church that had some ill advised teaching. He wrote many books of which I feel the Son of Man: The Story of Christ and Christianity is a must read!