June 30, 2010

St. John of San Francisco - BE CAREFUL! WATCH!

Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don't know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare. And when the month went by, the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.
"How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?" the father asked. "My father and my lord," replied the son, "how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?" "Good, my son," remarked the king. "Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life." "Father," replied the son, "that's impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?"
Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: "Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head." The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop. When he returned to the castle, the father asked, "My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?" The son responded, "I saw nothing." "What do you mean, 'nothing'?" said the king. "Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people, animals..." "I didn't notice any of that," said the son. "All my attention was focused on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life."

"Quite right, my son," said the king. "Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of your life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations." The son obeyed his father, and lived happily. Watch, stand fast in the faith, be like men, be strong. (I Corinthians 16:13)

The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one's faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love. If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud... All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart. And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that "man's heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions."

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one's inner life, i.e., the soul.

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.

June 24, 2010

The Orthodox Christian Marriage (2 of 2)

By Fr. Alexey Young

The Orthodox Christian Home. What is an Orthodox Christian home? To answer this question we must go back to square one and talk about the three main ingredients of true love. Our Faith teaches us that love is composed of three parts - not all of them of equal importance:
  1. the physical
  2. the mental
  3. the spiritual
The physical is obvious: a boy is naturally attracted to a girl physically. This is the part of love which is usually very dominant early in a relationship. But there must also be a mental attraction between a man and a woman if they are going to have a successful marriage: by that I mean that they should have many interesting things to talk about, and genuinely enjoy each other's company, being interested in each other's total personality. This is an aspect of love that must last for the duration of the marriage, until death. Sadly, it is often the first part of love that dies; and it dies simply because it has not been nurtured by both spouses. Thirdly, love consists of spiritual attraction. When two young people can talk about God and agree. They must be able to talk about the goals of life and agree; no wall should exist between them when they talk about the purpose of life. In other words, they have common goals. If they do not have common goals, if they believe differently about God, how can they seriously travel the path of life together? So, the most important ingredient of true love is this spiritual oneness.

What most often happens, however, is this: the spiritual attraction of love is completely overlooked or ignored by two people contemplating marriage. They experience a physical and mental attraction and they get married. They have never really dealt with the spiritual aspect, so that does not exist in their marriage, and soon, because of a lack of hard work and nurturing, the mental attraction that had originally existed begins to fade and finally dies. Then they are left with the physical attraction. And if there is nothing more substantial to base a marriage on than a physical attraction, then the first time a third person comes along to whom one of the partners is more strongly attracted, the marriage dissolves, and we have the tragedy of adultery being committed by one of both spouses and, ultimately, divorce.

Our society completely ignores the spiritual side of love, and is hostile even to the importance of a mental compatibility between a man and a woman; but the physical, the sexual - that's another matter: that is one aspect of love that our society exalts above all others. You have only to walk into a bookstore and count the number of sex manuals to get the point.

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, seeks to keep all three ingredients in a state of harmony, but the spiritual aspect governing the other two. If we remember that the primary purpose of a marriage is the same as that of the Church: the attainment of eternal salvation, then we can see why the spiritual part of a marriage must not only govern the physical and mental, but must be nurtured and encouraged to grow.

Sex, Children, Birth Control, Divorce
Now we come to a delicate issue: sex. It must be stated at the outset that the commandments and prohibitions concerning illicit sex in the Old Testament do not mean that there is something sinful about sex in itself. These commandments are like a fence that God has built around sex in order to protect it, because it is something sacred, something reserved by God for a special relationship - the marriage relationship - within which He gives the gift of life to our race. And there is something else: we know from revelation that our first parents in the Garden of Eden did not have sex. The sexual relationship between a man and a woman came into existence when Adam and Eve fell; for when they fell, their bodies took on the curse of suffering, sickness and, ultimately death, and it became necessary to reproduce their kind so that the race would continue until the time that God would send the Messiah. Sex, then, is a function of our fallen human nature, just as hunger is a function of fallen human nature. Neither the appetite for sex nor the appetite for food are in themselves sinful, but both can be abused and even perverted, and so God gave laws for us to use in governing these appetites (and others), so that they would not get out of order and cause harm. The sexual function of our nature, then, is something that dies when our bodies die - and that is why the New Testament says that there will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our sexual nature is not eternal, and ceases when we die. In the same way, in Eden Adam and Eve did not hunger for food, nor were they sexually attracted to one another.

This is important to remember, because we have all grown up in a society which exalts sex and the sexual side of our nature to a very high degree, making sexual fulfillment the sign of the "good life," and despising celibacy or a controlled sexual appetite as being somehow Victorian, puritanical, or even mentally and emotionally unbalanced and unhealthy. Furthermore, we know that at the time woman was created, God said: It is not good that the man should be alone, let us make for him a help suitable to him (Gen. 2:18, LXX). This "suitable helper," woman, is of course much more than a helper; she is also bone of man's bone, and flesh of his flesh, and when a husband and wife come together in sexual intercourse, there is the coming together - the fulfillment and consummation- of two halves of a human person, two, which become one; as Scripture says, "and they shall be one flesh. This is the mystical side of our sexual nature. And this is why adultery is such a serious sin.
Just as we cannot give free rein to our appetite for food without doing severe damage to ourselves, undermining our health, and eventually even killing ourselves, so the sexual appetite must also be subject to control. Thus, even in the Old Testament we learn that married couples underwent times of abstinence from each other - usually during fast times, or before going to the Temple in Jerusalem. And this practice was affirmed in the New Testament. Saint Paul speaks of it in his first epistle to the Corinthians (7:5), when he recommends that man and wife abstain from each other at certain times of prayer and preparation. Consequently, to this day in the Orthodox Church, fast days and fast periods - such as Great Lent - are times not only of abstinence from certain foods, but of abstinence from each other as man and wife. Unfortunately, this ancient practice of our Faith is being neglected by more and more people today, who seem to think that the rules having to do with sexual activity are simply quaint old-world customs that have nothing to do with spiritual laws. Furthermore, it is the consistent teaching of the Church from the time of the Apostles, that a man and a wife abstain from one another on the evening before receiving Holy Communion and the evening after. Why? So that each individual can give himself over to prayer and preparation on the night before, and prayer and thanksgiving on the evening after Communion. This is a standard that we should be striving to attain; those of you who are not yet married should be aware of this now, and understand why the Church has these rules - not in order to be stuffy and puritanical, but in order to show us how to control and properly use our appetites and maintain harmony between the body and the soul in the marriage relationship.

We see, therefore, that just as the Church prescribes rules of fasting to keep in check our appetite for food, it similarly imposes restraints upon our sexual appetites, so that we do not ruin the delicate balance between soul and body.

This brings me to the most difficult and controversial question of all - what everyone wants to know about and no one wants to ask about: birth control.

Frankly, it is difficult to know where to start because the subject has many ramifications. Perhaps I might begin by mentioning how other churches tend to view this question. In the Roman Catholic Church, for example, artificial birth control is forbidden under any circumstances. The reason is because the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that the primary purpose and function of marriage is to have children; thus, procreation is the primary reason for sexual intercourse. This teaching is rooted in the Augustinian tradition, which treats sexuality, even within marriage, as basically sinful, and therefore procreation is held to be a necessary justification for the marriage act, as it serves to fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply. In Old Testament times there was a legitimate concern to perpetuate the human race. Today, however, that argument is unpersuasive, and many Roman Catholics feel justified in disregarding it.

Protestants, on the other hand, had never developed a clear teaching on marriage and sex. Nowhere was birth control explicitly mentioned in the Bible, so when the Pill became available in the early '60s, they welcomed it and other reproductive technologies as milestones in the march of human progress. Very soon these came a proliferation of sex manuals, all developed on the notion that God had given man sexuality for pleasure. The primary purpose of the marriage act became not procreation but recreation, an attitude which simply fortified the Protestant teaching that God wants man to be personally fulfilled and happy, and therefore sexually gratified.

Even abortion was accepted. It was only in the mid '70s, when the Roe v. Wade debate heated up, and it became increasingly evident that abortion was murder that evangelical Protestants began to rethink their position. In the late '70s they came aboard the pro-life cause, where they remain in the forefront today. It was the issue of abortion that made them realize that human life must be protected from the moment of conception, and that contraception by means of abortifacients was impermissible. Meanwhile, liberal Protestant mainline churches remain committed to the pro-abortion position, and have no restrictions on birth control.

It is important for us to be aware of the teachings of these other churches on the subject of sexuality, for they can unconsciously affect our own views. We must be aware, furthermore, of the pervasive influence on our society of the sexual revolution unleashed by the availability of the Pill. The promiscuous attitude that it fostered still prevails today. Because of our culture's obsession with sex and sexual gratification, it is essential that we have a clear understanding of our Church's teaching concerning sexuality. This teaching is found in Scripture, in the canons of various Ecumenical and Local Councils, in the writings and commentaries of various Holy Fathers of the Church, who far from avoiding or tiptoeing around this issue, write about it very frankly and at length; and, finally, this teaching is mirrored in the lives of many of the saints (the parents of Saint Sergius of Radonezh come to mind).

The specific subject of birth control is less readily accessible; one cannot simply look it up in a concordance or index. It can, however, be extrapolated from the very clear teachings of the Church on abortion, on marriage, and on asceticism. Before plunging into a discussion on the subject, we should point out that the Orthodox Church is not as dogmatic here as the Roman Catholic Church, and it is very much a pastoral issue where there may be multiple considerations. Nevertheless, liberty should not be used for license, and we would all do well to keep before us the age-old standard given us by the Church.

Having said all this, what exactly is the Church's teaching concerning birth control?

The practice of artificial birth control - by which is meant "the pill," condoms, or any other kind of device - is actually condemned by the Orthodox Church. The Church of Greece, for example, in 1937 issued a special encyclical just for this purpose, to condemn birth control.

Likewise, the Romanian and Russian Churches, to name just two others among many - have more than once, in former times, spoken out against this practice. It is only in recent times, only in the generation since World War II, that some local Churches (the Greek Archdiocese in this country, for example) have begun to teach that it "might" be all right to practice birth control in certain circumstances, as long as this is discussed with the priest beforehand and has his agreement.

This teaching of our Church, however, should not be construed as being the same kind of teaching as is found in the Roman Catholic Church. The consistent teaching of the Church of Rome has been and is that having children is the primary function of marriage. This is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy, by contrast, gives the first place to the spiritual purpose of marriage - which is the mutual salvation of the husband and wife. Each is to help and encourage the other in save his or her soul. Each exists for the other, as a companion, a helper, a friend.

But secondarily, children are the natural result of a marriage, and, until relatively recent times, they were the expected and much-desired result of a marriage. Children were sought as a fruit of the marriage union, a proof that a man and a woman had become one flesh, and this was always seen as a very great blessing on a marriage. It was considered a great tragedy, a great sorrow, if the marriage was childless; so much so that, although the Church always permitted a childless couple to continue to live together as man and wife, if a wife was barren or a husband was impotent, it was accepted by the Church as grounds for divorce, so that either would be free to enter into a marriage relationship with another, in the hope of having children.

Nowadays, of course, our society considers children more of a nuisance than a blessing, and many couples wait one, two, three, or even more years before they have a child. Indeed, some decide never to have children. And so, although in the Orthodox Church the first purpose of marriage is not merely to have children, the desire of most young marrieds today to wait before having children is considered sinful. As a priest, I must say to any couple that approaches me for marriage that, if they are not prepared and willing to conceive and bear a child, without interfering with the will of God by means of artificial birth control, then they are not ready to be married. If they are not prepared to accept the natural and blessed fruit of their union - that is, a child - then it is clear that their primary purpose in marrying is to have legalized fornication. This is a very serious problem today, possibly the most serious and the most difficult a priest has to deal with when counseling a young couple.

I've used the term "artificial" birth control because I want to point out that the Church does permit the use of certain natural methods for avoiding conception, but these methods may not be used without the knowledge and blessing of the priest, and only if the physical and moral well-being of the family demands it. These methods are acceptable to the Church under the right circumstances and can be used by a couple without burdening their consciences, because they are "ascetical" methods; that is, they have to do with self-denial, self-control. Those methods are three:

1. Total abstinence. In very pious families this is not at all as uncommon, either today or yesterday, as one might think. It often happens that after an Orthodox husband and wife have brought a number of children into this world, they agree to abstain from one another, both for spiritual and worldly reasons, living the rest of their lives in peace and harmony as brother and sister. This has happened in the lives of saints - most notably in the life of Saint John of Kronstadt. As a Church which very much cherishes and protects monastic life, we Orthodox have no fear of celibacy, and no silly ideas about how we will not be fulfilled or happy if we cease to have sexual activity with our spouse.

2. A limitation on sexual relations. This of course already happens with the Orthodox couple that sincerely tries to observe fully all of the fast days and fasting periods of the year.

3. Finally, the Church allows the use of the so-called "rhythm" or the more recently developed Natural Family Planning method, about which ample information is available today.

In former times, when poor parents knew nothing about contraception, they relied exclusively on God's will - and this should in fact be an example for us today. Children were born and they accepted the last one just as they had the first, saying, "God gave the child; He will also give what we need for the child." Such was their faith, and it often happened that the last child proved to be the greatest blessing of all.

Now, what about the size of a family? Well, one thing that has a tremendous affect on how we view this is the fact that over the last one hundred years we have changed from a mostly agrarian or agricultural society, to a mostly urban and industrial society. This means that whereas in previous times large families were actually needed in order to run the farm or ranch - and there was always enough food and work to go around - today we have the opposite problem, and it is sometimes very difficult to support a very large family, although there are people who manage to do it. From a strictly spiritual point of view, one should try to have a large family so that the family will be strong and durable and full of love, with all of its members bearing the burdens of life together. A large family accustoms children to being concerned about others, makes them more sensitive, etc. And while a small family might be able to provide more of this world's goods for each child, a small family does not at all guarantee a good upbringing. Single children are sometimes the most difficult of all, for they often grow up spoiled and self-centered. No general rule can be given about this here, but we should be prepared and expect to have as many children as God will send and the moral and physical health of the mother and the family as a whole will allow, always staying in close touch with one's priest on these matters.

We must be careful, however, not to over-emphasize this whole business of having children, having a certain number, etc. Saint John Chrysostom says, "Giving birth to children is a matter of nature. Far more important is the parents' task of educating their children's hearts in virtue and piety." Indeed, this puts the emphasis back where it belongs, rather than on negative things about birth control and family size. For what the Church wants us to understand and remember is that the children we bring into the world do not belong to us; they belong to God. We did not give them life; rather, God, using us as His instruments, called them into existence. In a certain way, we parents are really only babysitters for God's children. And so our greatest responsibility as parents is to bring up our children "in the Lord," so that they come to know, love, and serve their Heavenly Father.

Eternal salvation is the whole goal of our earthly life. It is a goal that requires a constant striving, for it is not easy to be a Christian. The influence of our society make it extremely hard. The parish church and the home are the only bastions where God can be praised in spirit and in truth. Our lives, our marriages, and our homes will remain as inferior, poor wine, however, like the wine that was served first at the wedding feast at Cana, if we do not actively seek to be mature men and women, mature husbands and wives, and mature Orthodox Christians, willing to accept the responsibilities of the position in life to which we have been called. And it is only after we work - hard - at preparing ourselves, as individuals, and our families and home in order to receive Christ, that our lives, our marriages, and our homes will become like the good wine which Christ miraculously made from water at that joyous wedding. Amen.


June 23, 2010

The Orthodox Christian Marriage (1 of 2)

By Preist Alexey Young

Orthodox Christianity is a way of life, not merely something we do on Sunday mornings and quickly forget when we leave church. A way of life is a whole coming together of habits and attitudes, ideas and actions: a style of life, a way to live. For us Orthodox, Christianity is our daily bread. Like a fish in water, we must swim in our Faith. As followers of Christ, we take our whole direction from Christ and His Church, and not from the standards of today's world. This seems clearest when we visit a monastery, where the environment, the atmosphere, the focus of life - everything is clearly and deliberately Orthodox. 

Most of us Orthodox Christians do not live in monasteries; we are married; we have homes, children, jobs. Among many married Orthodox there exists the mistaken idea that their following Christ does not require the same dedication required of the Orthodox monastic. But of course all Christians, whether monastic or not, are equally called by Christ to repentance and eternal salvation. There are no "classes" of Orthodox Christians - all are equal and all are expected to be followers of Christ, regardless of their position in the Church. 

It is, however, very difficult for us non-monastic Christians to live an Orthodox life-style from day to day and year to year because we are constantly exposed to and live within a society that is not only not Christian but even at times, and increasingly, hostile to Orthodox Christian beliefs.  But this should not discourage us, for Christ Himself understood this situation when He said: Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). 

A tremendous bastion of strength for Orthodox lay people in our circumstances is marriage and family life, a state that has been blessed by God for the salvation of each individual member of the family. In order fully to understand this, we must look at the doctrinal foundations of marriage found in Scripture and Sacred Tradition - which are the on-going conscience of the Church. 

The Old Testament and the New Testament Views of Marriage
When we look at the practice of marriage, family life, and multiplication of the human race as described in the Old Testament, we are immediately aware of the fact that great emphasis was placed on the continuation of the Hebrew race. We have endless family trees given to us in the Old Testament. But marriage was not the only way by which the race was continued at that time. Children were also begotten through the custom of concubinage and the practice of having a man marry the widow of his brother, even though he might already have a wife. We read that Solomon, for example, "had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines," and the Old Testament records that King David "took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to him." Many of the great personages of the Old Testament had multiple wives and concubines. This emphasis on perpetuating the race seems to us extreme, and the methods of doing so seem almost bizarre. However, the primary reason for all of this mating was not the gratification of lust, but the desire for descendants. Sexual promiscuity was in no wise condoned by God in Old Testament times any more than He condones it in our own times. But during Old Testament times, God began to reveal to man what His expectations were. Gradually we see that God condemned polygamous marriages, concubines, and the practice of marrying one's brother's widow. He began to shift the focus of marriage from procreation to a higher, spiritual level. Finally, God made His intentions very clear by the way He dealt with people who were involved in illicit sex. To us, who consider ourselves so "cultured" and "educated," and "sophisticated," God's actions might seem to be very harsh. But He was trying to make plain that He was the ultimate source of life, not the physical union of a man and a woman. And where God is, there can be only holiness, and mystery. What procreates and perpetuates life cannot be anything but a mystery. And holiness and mystery must be protected, guarded, and preserved against blasphemy, uncleanness, and irreverence. The way in which God dealt with sexual transgressions and perversions in the Old Testament makes it very clear that marriage is an extremely wonderful and holy mystery - so holy and mysterious, that any kind of sexual transgressions is an abomination in God's sight, and to be avoided at all costs. But the sexual aspects of marriage will be considered later. 

With the coming of Christ, marriage no longer had as its primary goal the reproduction of human beings and the perpetuation of a family line, although procreation was still regarded as an important part of marriage. But Christ had come to the world and brought with Him the proof and guarantee of the resurrection of the dead, therefore giving to Christian marriage a new primary goal - the attainment of eternal life by husband, wife, and all children. 

The marriage service in the Orthodox Church begins with the words, "Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen." This exclamation emphasizes the seriousness of marriage, and also the goal of marriage.  According to the church canons, those Orthodox Christians who marry outside the Church are deprived of the sacraments of the Church. Some people find this shocking; they feel the Church is being too harsh. But the question is: What gives validity to marriage? From a spiritual standpoint, what gives meaning to a marriage? Unlike the wedding ceremonies in most non-Orthodox churches, marriage in the Orthodox Church is not a contract - a legal agreement with the exchange of vows or promises - between two people. Rather, marriage is the setting up, by two people, of a miniature church, a family church, wherein people may worship the true God and struggle to save their souls. It is also a family church that is in obedience to Christ's Church. As Saint Basil the Great says, it is natural to marry, but it must be more than natural; it must be a yoke, borne by two people under the Church.
Thus we see that in New Testament times the focus of marriage was switched from a primary purpose of producing children, to a primary purpose of providing a way for human beings to save their souls. The wedding ceremony itself is filled with rich symbolism that makes this whole aspect of marriage very clear. 

The Husband's Responsibilities
The husband is the head of the wife...
We know that every organization, every institution - whether it be the Church, a parish, a monastery, or, in the world, a bank, a corporation, a school - must have a head, a leader. The same is true of a successful marriage, for the family is also a unit, a spiritual and physical organization. According to Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the leader in a marriage is the husband. Again, the words of Saint Paul: The husband is the head of the wife... He is the leader. He represents the principle of authority in the family. Just as the priest is the spiritual leader of the parish, and responsible to God for the parishioners, and thus the spiritual authority in the parish, so too the husband is the priest in his family, responsible for setting the tone of family life.
This does not means that he is superior to his wife. In Christ's sight, all are equal; there is neither male nor female. In fact, marriage is a partnership of equals. Let there be no mistake: there is no room for chauvinism of any kind in Orthodoxy. Nor does being the head give a husband any kind of dictatorial, tyrannical, arbitrary, or absolute authority over his wife and children.  But, as with every position of importance, certain responsibilities go with this one, and they are very heavy, very difficult, but also very challenging and potentially creative responsibilities. Scripture tells us that the husband must love his wife even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). Most Christian husbands have little idea of what this kind of love means. In the world, "love" usually refers to physical love or sentimental, romantic love. This has nothing to do with the Christian concept of love. Just recall Christ's words to His followers: Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend. Love, then, from the Christian standpoint, means sacrifice, and self-denial. A husband must take as much care, concern, thoughtfulness, attention, regard and precautions for his wife as Christ takes for the Church. The husband's attentiveness might even have to extend to death itself. For just as Christ was put to death for His love of the Church, so too the Orthodox Christian husband must yield all things - even his life, if necessary - for his wife. Again, Saint Paul says, The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church... We know what kind of head Christ was: He washed the feet of His disciples. According to our Saviour, to be head, to be first, means to serve - to be the first in giving love, in giving understanding, in giving patience, in providing his family with protection. This is the kind of leader, or head, that the husband is called to be. And when he is this kind of leader, he is a real man, a true man, faithful to his divinely ordained nature. 

A wise wife will encourage her husband to be this kind of man; she will not try to take on the position of authority herself. Psychologists tell us that the anger a woman feels towards a man who has allowed her to take over the leadership of the family is the deepest anger of all. And we are now discovering that many cases of delinquency and even mental illness come from homes where the father has ceased to be the leader, the source of compassion, love, and protection. 

A husband's duty to give love to his wife and family does not allow him to intimidate his wife. He must not treat his wife as a hired servant - which many men do. Here is what Saint John Chrysostom has to say about this:

"A servant, indeed, one will be able perhaps to bind down by fear; nay, not even for him, for he will soon leave you. But the partner of one's life, the mother of one's children, the foundation of one's every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and threats, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband have if he dwells with his wife as with a slave? Yea, even though you suffer everything on her account, do not scold her; for neither did Christ do this to the Church." 

Men, husbands, true love for us begins when we give of ourselves to others. We first really begin to love - in a Christian sense - when we first give. A husband once complained to Saint John Chrysostom that his wife did not love him. The Saint replied; "Go home, and love her." "But you don't understand," said the husband. "How can I love her when she doesn't love me?" "Go home and love her," the Saint repeated. And he was right. Where there is no love, we must put some love, and we will find it. 

Often husbands complain to a priest that their wife doesn't love them. Then the priest discovers that the husband isn't going out of his way at all to give love; he's merely sitting back and waiting to be loved, like some kind of idol, waiting to be served and worshiped. Such a husband needs to discover that the only way to receive lasting love in a marriage is to give it, for in life we usually receive what we give: if we give hatred, we receive hatred; but if we give love, we receive it back in return. 

The Fathers of the Church tell us that Christian husbands must love their wives more than their secular jobs, for there is no success greater than a happy home, and no other success that we men achieve in life will have meaning if we fail at home. Our families deserve the best. There are altogether too many of us men today who are at our best out in the world, and at our worst at home. For this reason, the Church Fathers tell us to set the highest possible value on the company of our wives, and be more desirous of being at home with them than being in the market place. Husbands, and future husbands, let us take to heart these words by the twentieth-century Frenchman, André Maurois: "I bind myself for life; I have chosen; from now on my aim will be not to search for someone who will please me, but to please the one I have chosen..." 

The Responsibilities of the Wife
Saint Paul says, Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord ... As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything. (Eph. 5:22, 24)
Today's society, especially here in America, and particularly in public media - movies, television, magazines, books - despises the spirit of obedience. We are instead exhorted at every turn to "do our own thing," to look after "number one," to satisfy our every whim and desire. But an Orthodox Christian marriage, as we have said, is not part of secular or worldly society. Its goals and the goals of society are not merely at variance; they are diametrically opposed. The aim of Christian marriage is eternal life in Heaven with Jesus Christ; the aim of worldly society is pleasure, enjoyment of the here and now, and, especially, self-indulgence and self-will. 

But it has been revealed through Scripture and Tradition, that obedience is actually a catalyst for Christian perfection - that is, obedience, submission, actually helps to speed the process of the struggle to acquire virtue in our lives. On the other hand, self-will greatly increases the passion of pride and eventually alienates an individual from a Christian way of thinking and living. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky writes:
"If you wish to be a good, intelligent person and not a stupid sheep, just another member of the herd, then do not agree with your contemporaries who are perishing spiritually and physically; do not go by the path of self-will, but by the path of obedience. Only then will you be a person. Then, perhaps ... you alone ... will preserve your faith and your heart uncoarsened, an honorable soul, you will not be battered and storm-beaten like a weathercock, as are the majority of our contemporaries." 

Christ Himself is the most perfect example of obedience, for it was through His obedience to the will of His Father that He went unto suffering and death for our sakes, and led us from sin to freedom and salvation.
We have all, at one time or another, seen examples of families where the wife "wears the pants." And what do we usually mean by that crude expression? We mean that the wife has taken over the position of leadership in the family and has tried to become the head of the husband. This may happen because the husband is very weak - or perhaps too selfish and preoccupied to assume his proper responsibilities; or it may be because the wife herself has a spiritual or emotional problem that causes her to desire authority and power. In such cases the woman often has a pushy and aggressive personality that manifests itself in her relationships outside the family as well. Such a wife lacks the most basic qualities of womanhood - gentleness, modesty of mind, and kindness. In such a situation there are only feelings of despair, frustration, discontent and even anger among family members. One of the first things a priest must do when he is counselling a husband and wife who are in such a situation is to try and persuade the husband to begin assuming a true leadership role in his family, and he must also somehow persuade the wife to relinquish some of the authority that is not hers by right.
It should be said that these roles are not exclusive: there are times when it is appropriate for a wife to show strength, or for a husband to be obedient to his wife. In the most mature, highly developed and spiritual marriages, the relationship of a man and woman evolve into one of mutual obedience. 

Characteristics of a Successful Marriage
Experience tells us that two people get married and immediately begin to discover how very different they are. The fact is, we don't really even begin to know ourselves until we are married. We live too close to ourselves. It really does take someone else to help us to see ourselves as we really are. One of the fringe benefits of a good marriage is that one acquires a built-in psychiatrist: a good spouse who cares enough to listen without having to be paid for it! We know that many emotional illnesses are a result of a person having some inner burden weighing on him which he had never been able to really share with someone else. In a good marriage, husband and wife share their burdens with one another, and this sharing is without reservation, without having to worry about how the other person will react, without having to keep up a front. 

A marriage is not a missionary enterprise!  It has enough problems and difficulties of its own without each partner trying to thoroughly change and remake the other. One of the most common and most serious illusions young marrieds have is that of marrying someone in the hope and expectation of changing that person.
True love does not force itself on anyone, and it does not force change; it evokes growth. How? First, by accepting one's spouse as he or she is. When we marry, we do not sign up to change the other person; we just agree to love him as he is. The best thing a husband can do to change his wife, or vice-versa, is to change himself, to correct his own faults - in keeping with Christ's instructions to His followers. 

We think of disloyalty in a marriage as being when one spouse commits adultery. The fact is, we can be disloyal and unfaithful just as thoroughly by putting business, or parents, or hobbies, or someone else before our spouse. That, too, is disloyalty. And anyone who is not ready to place his spouse ahead of career, ahead of parents, ahead of friends, ahead of recreation, is not ready for marriage - and such a marriage will fail. Marriage is for adults, not for children. 

If you fit the first button into the first hole of your suit, all the other buttons will fall in their proper place. But if the first button is placed in the second hole, nothing will come out right. It's a matter of putting first things in first place, of keeping priorities straight. Likewise in marriage. Husbands, if you put your wives first - and wives, if you put your husbands first - everything else will fall into its proper place in the marriage relationship.
There are many characteristics that a successful marriage has, but in my view the three most important are these: 

1. Praise. No marriage can prosper if there is no praise. Everyone in life needs to feel appreciated at some point by someone. And nothing can kill love faster than continual criticism. When we husbands and wives praise each other - in small ways as well as in big ways - we are also saying to one another: I love you; I value you. Praise nurtures a good marriage. And it is the one characteristic that is most lacking in modern marriages.

2. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential for a happy marriage. When couples ask me, "Do you think our marriage can survive?" my answer is always, "Yes, providing you are willing to forgive each other." And this forgiveness should not be just after a major crisis in a family. It should be every single day. In a successful marriage, a husband and wife are constantly asking forgiveness of each other. When we don't do this, wounds don't get healed. We grow apart from each other. We grow cold towards one another, and we don't obtain the blessings that God sends down on husbands and wives that mutually forgive one another. 

3. Time. A successful marriage takes time. It does not happen overnight. It must grow. It is a long and difficult process; like all good things in life, it comes through considerable effort and struggle. Those of you not yet married, or on the verge of marriage, should remember this: we live in a society of instantaneous gratification - we want what we want, when we want it, and that when is now. And this impatience on our part has had a very destructive effect on marriages, even in the Orthodox Church. If we have no patience with each other, and are not willing to give many years to working out a successful marriage, then our marriage is doomed. 

No marriage is so good that it cannot be better, and no marriage is so bad that it cannot be improved - provided that the persons involved are willing to grow together by God's grace toward the maturity of Christ, Who came "not to be served but to serve." 

An absolute essential requirement for a good marriage is the capacity to grow up. Emotional immaturity is one of the greatest causes of failure in marriage. Of course, we all come to marriage with our private assortment of immaturities and hangups. But we have to learn to outgrow them. When I was a child, observed Saint Paul, I thought as a child. I spoke as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. How essential it is to a happy marriage to put away childish things: irresponsibility, insisting on getting one's own way, egotism, lack of empathy, temper tantrums, jealousy. How important it is to pray every day: "O God, help me to grow up... to look beyond myself... to realize the needs and feelings of my wife/husband, and accept the responsibility God has laid upon me."

June 21, 2010

Here is a society of men of the world...

...they go on talking and talking, for the greater part amusing themselves with trifles, and there is no mention of God--the common Father of all--of His love for us, of the future life, of recompense; why is it so? Because they are ashamed to speak of God. But what is still more surprising is that even persons deeming themselves pious, themselves luminaries, seldom speak of God, of Christ the Saviour, of the preciousness of time, of abstinence, of the resurrection from the dead, of judgment, of future bliss and everlasting torments, either in their family circle or amongst men of the world, but often spend their time in futile conversations, games, and occupations! This is, again, because they are ashamed to converse upon such subjects, being afraid to weary others, or fearing that they themselves may not be able to converse heartily upon spiritual subjects. O, adulterous and sinful world! Woe unto thee at the day of judgment by the universal and impartial Judge. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."(St. John 1:11). Yes, the Lord and Creator of all is not received by us! He is not received into our houses, nor into our conversations; or, else, when a man reads a religious book or prayers aloud, why does he sometimes do so as if against his will, reluctantly, his tongue hesitating? His mouth speaketh not out of the abundance of the heart, but out of straitness and emptiness it can scarcely speak at all. Why is this so? It proceeds from the neglect of reading books and of prayer, and from false shame sown in the heart by the Devil. What miserable creatures we men are! We are ashamed of that which ought to be regarded as the highest honour. O, ungrateful and evil-natured creatures! What torments do we not deserve for such conduct.

From My Life in Christ by St. John of Krondstadt

June 19, 2010

St. Nikolai Velimirovich on the Faith of The Centurian

An excerpt from the Homily by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
on the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 8:5-13

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. What a vast difference between this burning faith and the cold, legalistic beliefs of the Pharisees! A difference no less than that of fire that burns and a picture of fire. When one of the Pharisees invited Christ to his house for supper, he thought, in his legalistic arrogance, that he was doing the Lord honor by inviting Him into his house, and not that the Lord was honoring him and his house by entering under his roof. In his arrogance and overweening pride, the Pharisee neglected even the customary expression of hospitality: he neither brought his guest water to wash His feet nor greeted Him with an embrace, nor anointed His head with fragrant oil (Lk. 7: 44-46).

See how humble and repentant was this "pagan"—to whom it was not given to know Moses and the prophets, and who had his natural mind as the only light for distinguishing truth and falsehood, good and evil—before the Lord. He, a Roman officer, knew that every other man in Capernaum would be honored to come under his roof; he saw in Christ, though, not an ordinary man but God Himself. He therefore said: I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof. What great faith in Christ and His power! "Speak the word only, and the sickness will be overcome and my servant will get up!" The Apostle Peter himself was not, for a very long time, able to come to such faith. The centurion sensed in Christ's presence the presence of heaven itself—heavenly fire and heavenly light. Why should so much fire enter under his roof when one spark would be enough? Why bring the whole sun into the house when one ray was sufficient? Had the centurion known the Scriptures, as we know them today, he might have said to Christ: "Thou, who by Thy word didst create the world and mankind, Thou canst raise the sick with a word! One little word is enough from Thee, for it is stronger than fire and brighter than a ray of sunlight; speak the word only!" Oh, how this great faith on the part of a pagan must shame many of us today, who know the Scriptures but have a hundred times less faith!

June 18, 2010

Approaching Constant Govenie.

Excerpts from the "The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation." By St. Theophan the Recluse.

Govenie is done at a certain time, but the spirit of preparation should eventually become a constant state. Certain exercises must be used that will help to root this state.

Because govenie includes three illuminating works: fasting, Confession and Communion, these three things should lead to as much constancy and frequency as possible. For this is needed:

1. Concerning Govenie.
1) Observing all the great fasts, or spending all of them in fasting; that is, more than just continence, so that the flesh feels a lack, insufficiency, or a little pain. A certain number of days are set aside during the fast for preparation, when you must abandon all business and concentrate exclusively on cleansing the conscience. Otherwise during the fast business goes on as usual, fasting relaxes and other activities are determined by opportunity. Only wearing out the flesh and denying it all consolations, as in a decent mourning period, gives ease to the spirit and attracts the grace of God. What a potent means of inspiration there is in this!

2) Observing the fasts on Wednesday and Friday. This strongly reminds man from time to time that he is not free but in slavery and bears a burden. It stanches the flood of sensuality, sobers and imparts vigor. It is as a short break for the stallion from the cruel bit and bridle.

3) Besides this, voluntary fasting on other particular days, especially Mondays, as is customary. Some people deny themselves certain foods and always eat lenten foods; others alternate days, and so on. There are various forms of fasting and all of them are beneficial and advisable according to one's strength and zeal.

2. Concerning Confession.
1) Every sin that burdens the conscience should be quickly cleansed by repentance without waiting for any particular time of preparation. It is good not to keep it in your soul for even one day, and even better for less than an hour, for sin drives away grace and deprives one of boldness in prayer; and the longer one holds on to it, the more it hardens and cools the heart. Once it is driven away by repentance, it leaves a compunctionate dew of tears.

2) Every day before you go to sleep, make a private confession to the Lord of everything in which you have sinned. Thoughts, desires, senses and passionate movements, as well as any impurity even in righteous deeds, must be revealed to God. Even though we may have sinned as it were against our own will, the sin is still within us, making us impure and indecent before God and our own sense of purity and perfection. Lying down to sleep is like departing for the other world. Confession prepares us for this. During sleep, whatever we have acquired during the day becomes part of our nature; we must cleanse it and cast out all indecency with contrition. Then we will be clean.

3) Make a confession minute by minute, that is, every impure and blameworthy thought, desire, feeling and movement confess as soon as you realize it to the all-seeing God with contrition of spirit; and ask forgiveness for it and the strength to avoid it in the future. Ask that you be cleansed from all impurity in that moment. This activity is very salvific. It is like wiping your eyes as you walk against the dust, and it requires strict attention to the heart. The concentrated man is always fervent and zealous. But whoever does not exile thoughts and desires by contrition and repentance, leaves the wound in his heart. How many unnoticed wounds we often have, how many arrows! It is not surprising that we grow cold and fall. One thought leads to another, and they easily give birth to desire. One desire and another give birth to consent, and then an inner adultery has been committed, and we have fallen. He who constantly repents cleanses himself of all this and clears his own path.

4) Reveal every perplexity, confusion or new understanding to another of like mind with you, or to your spiritual father, so that he would decide and discern its worth, and pronounce a judgment. This is how to avoid an impasse or digression. Curtail the habit of deciding everything for yourself, and, as a result, save the time that is sometimes wasted in empty daydreaming. But mainly it is a constant safeguard, a firm, unwavering conviction which engenders firmness of will and reliability of action.

Through all of these activities confession truly becomes ceaseless. The spirit is retained in contrition, compunction, self-abasement, and prayerful supplication — which means that it is alive. It is the most suitable of all activities for preserving the spirit of zeal and the heat of fervor, so that some have even limited all spiritual work for themselves as well as for others to one thing: repenting every minute and weeping over their sins.

3. Concerning Communion.
1) Go as often as possible to Liturgy, and as it is celebrated stand in firm and bright faith in the sacrifice that is being made to God. The Sacrament of the Body and Blood is Divine Food for the Christian and a sacrifice. Not everyone receives Communion at every Liturgy, but the sacrifice is brought from all and for all. Therefore all should participate in it. We participate with our faith, our pained contrition over our sins, our self-abasing falling down before the Lord Who has sacrificed Himself like a lamb for the life of the world. Concentration alone on this Mystery powerfully enlivens and awakens the spirit. Faith and contrition always bring cleansing from sins, and often also a treasured touch from the Lord upon the heart of the Christian, delighting and enlivening him as a sort of Communion in spirit.

Such a touch is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb and more fortifying than all spiritual fortifications. But it must be remembered that it is entirely a gift of God. When, to whom and how He will grant it depends on the Lord Himself. The Christian should receive it with reverence, joy, and triumph if it is granted. But he should not try to force it, or invent some method to obtain it. It is even better not to trust that it even happens, or that what does happen is truly it. This is in order to avoid getting puffed up or falling into pretest.

2) If it is impossible to go to church, then do not let the hour of the holy and Divine Sacrifice pass without sighing and turning to God. If possible, stand in prayer and make a few prostrations. Terrifying natural phenomena make all creatures tremble: for example, thunder, earthquakes, or storms. At the moment the Divine Sacrifice is celebrated in church, something occurs that is more awesome and greater than anything on earth or heaven; but it occurs invisibly, spiritually, before the face of the infinite Triune God, the holy angels, the entire assembly of the heavenly Church, before the eyes of faith of all who struggle and live on earth. It is invisible, but real nevertheless. Therefore the believer should not let these moments slip past his attention. When he remembers it, this remembrance alone warms the spirit and enraptures him to God, by which grace is drawn down.

This is how the work of govenie can approach ceaselessness, so that along with inner work, the heat of zeal and the spirit of quest can be preserved in constant tension and power. With their aid all podvigs of body and soul can be turned into salvific means of growing and strengthening our inner man.

Such is the general order of guiding rules. Being based on the existence of life, they are essential to everyone who seeks the Lord. But we have only shown the beginning, spirit and power of the rules, for example, with respect to the body — not pleasing the flesh in all its bodily functions; or with respect to the external life — removal from everything that is permeated with the spirit of passions, binding the soul at each of its powers, and living under the influence of grace-filled means. These are the essential points of ascetic labor. Because of the multiplicity of personal dispositions, the application of these means should be multitudinous, and it is impossible to set one rule for all. For example, in order to heal the mind we must impress upon it the divine truths according to the understanding of the holy Church. This can be done by reading, listening and mutual discourse on the Word of God, patristic teachings, Lives of saints and sermons. The spiritual father should discern which method is best for whom, and how it can be applied. Just do it however you can. Thus, although it is all one and the same thing, asceticism appears from the outside in infinitely varied forms. Only bear in mind that any spiritual father who extinguishes the spirit of zeal by various dispensations and indulgences or comforts, and lulls those in a state of coldness is a destroyer of souls and a murderer, for there is only one way — the narrow and sorrowful.

The fullest and most successful way to accomplish all of this is monasticism. This way of life, in its best, purest and most perfect form, is the very realization of the demands of asceticism, precisely in spirit. It is the laborious and repentant path; it always consists of the guiding and the guided; it is by nature outwardly removed; by nature it restricts the bodily needs; it offers the greatest room for practicing spiritual exercises, reading, divine services, prayer, and obedience; it especially enables an active uprooting of passions, in common with other laborers, through unacquisitiveness, austerity, comfortlessness, disregard of self, and by being personally under guidance. The attentive monk soon ripens in inward striving for God for the sake of his resolute self-sacrifice and renunciation of everything, for the sake of his greater possibility to be within, and for the sake of much spiritual nourishment by prayer. Therefore the attentive monk soon proceeds to hesychia and solitude of mind and retires to the desert, or reclusion.

June 15, 2010

Democracy or Theocracy?

Surely it is a great blessing to live in a democratic society. We are free to choose our own livelihood, our own domicile, our own recreations and hobbies, and we can read whatever books we wish, We can vote freely on those issues and for those candidates that reflect our own values. We have the right to worship according to the dictates of our conscience. These and other benefits readily come to mind. What is less obvious, and less positive, is the impact that living in a democratic society -- a society religiously committed to "equality," "freedom," and "majority rule" -- has on our lives as Orthodox Christians.

       The "Great Experiment" -- America's adoption of a democratic form of government --worked successfully insofar as it was informed by Christian principles. However, with the erosion of these principles, there is no longer any pretense to be guided by the precedents of tradition and history, or even natural law and common sense. Everything is done "democratically," which today means that everything is decided by fashion, popularity, and opinion polls, by the journalism media and the entertainment industry, and by the whim of the mob. Majority rule. Everything else yields to this brutish principle, and we end up with a society in which virtually everything and anything is allowed, no matter how coarse, vain, vulgar or immoral.

       This kind of democratic mindset is wreaking similar havoc in many western Christian Churches. In these denominations, all kinds of controversial ideas are proposed--marriage between homosexuals, women clergy, pre-marital sex, etc.--and are then voted upon at church conferences and conventions where the "majority rules/' This mindset has made it possible to turn mainline historic Christian values inside out and upside down, to literally eviscerate the traditional family of its meaning and function, and to encourage flagrant disobedience of legitimate authority, both in the state and in the Church. The defiant attitude of so many American Roman Catholics towards the Vatican, their central authority, is another example of how an insistence on democratic principles can adversely impact church life.

     Living in the United States, a country that is relatively peaceful and prosperous, we are accustomed to think of democracy as a good and desired form of government. It is perhaps natural, therefore, that we should expect our churches and parishes to be governed according to the same principles. Some Orthodox parishes are, in fact, democratically governed. This is, however, very wrong, for, at its heart, democracy is opposed to hierarchy and obedience, and it is hierarchy, not democracy, that is the God-revealed system by which the Holy Church is to be governed

      What is even more fundamental, living in a democracy can adversely affect our spiritual lives. It fosters certain unchristian attitudes which we must identify and vigilantly guard against--in our children and in ourselves.

      Since about 1800 in the West, society has been taught to believe that children are not born with a fallen human nature. Rather, they are born in a state of innocence, and they only acquire a fallen human nature as time goes by, through association with adults. Thus, in true democratic fashion, our children and youth must, we are told, be allowed to control their own lives as early and completely as possible. Thus, in many homes, children are permitted to set their own daily schedule, to eat only what they like, to dress as they please, to watch television and listen to music without guidance or censorship. We are also told, in our egalitarian society, that children should be treated as equals with adults. Many children today are in the habit of calling adults by their first names (in some homes they are even permitted to call their parents by their first names!). And because all children learn respect for God by first respecting their parents (and, in particular by being obedient to their fathers), we now see a whole generation of children who have no healthy and appropriate fear of God or fear of the consequences of sin. Nor do they have any sense of hierarchy. Children raised in such a permissive atmosphere, when they are brought to church, have no sense of reverence or respect for the house of God. They did not learn manners and politeness at home, so they have no understanding of the noble and courtly etiquette of church and Divine services. Accustomed to doing as they please, they refuse to be still or quiet, and it is a constant battle for parents to control them (and a temptation to others when the parents do not even try). As teenagers -- a difficult age in the best of circumstances -- these children tend to develop yet more serious problems: refusing to attend church or to keep the fasts, having little or no respect for the authority of the priest, disregarding the moral authority of the Church (this is, after all, a "free society"), and sometimes, tragically, falling away from the Church altogether.

      As adults, are we not also affected by the spirit of democracy? We, too, tend to have a weak sense of hierarchy. We have no monarch, our president is as often held up for ridicule as for respect, we are all (theoretically) "equal," and therefore we do not have an innate sense of how to act in the presence of the King of kings, of what it means to be a "slave" of God. We accept the authority of the Church only insofar as it does not seriously impinge on our will, our desires (our pursuit of "happiness'); using "liberty for license,'' we choose those traditions we wish to uphold and dispense with those we consider "unreasonable" or "unnecessary"; we do not give due honor to our hierarchs and priests; we have difficulty in honor preferring one another (Rom. 12:10), and in acknowledging ourselves to be chief among sinners.

      There are other contributing factors, of course: our fallen human nature carries its own seeds of rebellion against the law of God. Nor do we suggest campaigning for a monarchy. It is not a democratic government but a democratic "attitude" we must beware. Already it has seriously weakened the fabric of authentic Orthodox life here in America. We must recognize it and make a conscious and concerted effort to overcome its corrupting influence -- in our parishes, in our homes, and in our personal spiritual lives.

      Let us not fear to contradict the mob-rule psychology of our culture; rather, in our homes and parishes, let us emphasize the special values of hierarchy, theocracy (government by the law of God), and obedience. We can cultivate true piety, reverence and devotion only by submitting ourselves -not to "majority rule," but to the All-Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God. This is the authority that counts.

-- Priest Alexey Young

Taken from Orthodox America -  http://www.roca.org/OA/146/146a.htm

June 10, 2010

On the Status of the Heterodox

by Fr. Michael Pomazansky

The Orthodox teaching of the Church, which in itself is quite clear and rests upon Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, is to be contrasted with another concept which is widespread in the contemporary Protestant world and has penetrated even into Orthodox circles. According to this different concept, all the various existing Christian organizations, the so-called "confessions" and "sects," even though they are separated from each other, still comprise a single "invisible Church," inasmuch as each of them confesses Christ as Son of God and accepts His Gospel.

The dissemination of such a view is aided by the fact that side by side with the Orthodox Church there exists outside of her a number of Christians that exceeds by several times the number of members of the Orthodox Church. Often we can observe in this Christian world outside the Church a religious fervor and faith, a worthy moral life, a conviction—all the way to fanaticism—of one's correctness, an organization and a broad charitable activity. What is the relation of all of them to the Church of Christ?

Of course, there is no reason to view these confessions and sects as on the same level with non-Christian religions. One cannot deny that the reading of the word of God has a beneficial influence upon everyone who seeks in it instruction and strengthening of faith, and that devout reflection on God the Creator, the Provider and Saviour, has an elevating power there among Protestants also. We cannot say that their prayers are totally fruitless if they come from a pure heart, for in every nation he that feareth Him... is accepted with Him (Acts 10:3-5). The Omnipresent Good Provider God is over them, and they are not deprived of God's mercies. They help to restrain moral looseness, vices, and crimes; and they oppose the spread of atheism.

But all this does not give us grounds to consider them as belonging to the Church. Already the fact that one part of this broad Christian world outside the Church, namely the whole of Protestantism, denies the bond with the heavenly Church, that is, the veneration in prayer of the Mother of God and the saints, and likewise prayer for the dead, indicates that they themselves have destroyed the bond with the one Body of Christ which unites in itself the heavenly and the earthly. Further, it is a fact that these non-Orthodox confessions have "broken" in one form or another, directly or indirectly, with the Orthodox Church, with the Church in its historical form; they themselves have cut the bond, they have "departed' from her. Neither we nor they have the right to close our eyes to this fact.

The teachings of the non-Orthodox confessions contain heresies which were decisively rejected and condemned by the Church at her Ecumenical Councils. In these numerous branches of Christianity there is no unity, either outward or inward—either with the Orthodox Church of Christ or between themselves. The supra-confessional unification (the "ecumenical movement!') which is now to be observed does not enter into the depths of the life of these confessions, but has an outward character. The term " invisible" can refer only to the Heavenly Church. The Church on earth, even though it has its invisible side, like a ship a part of which is hidden in the water and is invisible to the eyes, still remains visible, because it consists of people and has visible forms of organization and sacred activity.

Therefore it is quite natural to affirm that these religious organizations are societies which are "near," or "next to," or " close to," or perhaps even" adjoining" the Church, but sometimes " against" it; but they are all "outside" the one Church of Christ. Some of them have cut themselves off, others have gone far away. Some, in going away, all the same have historical ties of blood with her; others have lost all kinship, and in them the very spirit and foundations of Christianity have been distorted. None of them find themselves under the activity of the grace which is present in the Church, and especially the grace which is given in the Mysteries of the Church. They are not nourished by that mystical table which leads up along the steps of moral perfection.

The tendency in contemporary cultural society to place all confessions on one level is not limited to Christianity; on this same all-equalling level are placed also the non-Christian religions, on the grounds that they all "lead to God," and besides, taken all together, they far surpass the Christian world in the number of members who belong to them.

All of such "uniting" and "equalizing" views indicate a forgetfulness of the principle that there can be many teachings and opinions, but there is only one truth. And authentic Christian unity—unity in the Church—can be based only upon oneness of mind, and not upon differences of mind. The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (I Tim. 3:15).

From Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 243-246.

June 07, 2010

Spritual Life in The Family

Excerpts from Family Life
by Elder Paisios the Athonite


CHAPTER I: Spiritual Life in the Family
The practice of virtue within the family
— Geronta, how can a husband become practiced in the virtues?

— God will give him opportunities. Many men, however, after asking God to give them opportunities to practice the virtues, grumble when they are faced with a certain difficulty. For example, sometimes the Good God, in His boundless love, and in order to provide practice in humility and patience, will take away his Grace from the wife, and she will begin acting outlandishly and treating the husband inconsiderately. Then the husband should not complain, but rather rejoice and thank God for the opportunity to struggle which He has given him. Or, a mother asks God to grant her patience. Her little child then comes in, and as soon as she has the table set for dinner, he pulls on the table cloth and everything spills on the floor. At such times it's as if the child is saying to his mother: "Mama, be patient!"

In general, the difficulties which exist today in the world force those who desire to live a little spiritual life to be watchful. Just as, may God protect us, in a war the people are in a watchful state, I see the same thing happening now with whomever strives to live spiritually. Look how tough the poor children have it who are close to the Church! But the war, which exists because of the terrible environment in which they live, helps them, in a way, to stay awake. You see, in times of peace, when there are no difficulties, the majority of people slack off. Instead, they should utilize such serenity for spiritual growth—to cut off their shortcomings and cultivate the virtues.

Silence greatly helps in spiritual life. It is good for one to practice silence for about an hour a day: to test himself, to acknowledge his passions and to fight in order to cut them off and purify his heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives him the feeling of a monastic cell. There, "in secret" [4], he is able to do his spiritual maintenance, to study, and to pray. A little spiritual study done before prayer helps greatly. The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm. That's why, when a person has many distractions during the day, he should rejoice if he has ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something, so as to drive away distractions.

— Geronta, is this perhaps too difficult for someone living in the world?

— No, there are laymen who live very spiritually—even like ascetics—with their fasting, their services, their prayer ropes, their prostrations—even with children and grandchildren. On Sunday they go to church, receive Holy Communion, and then return home again to their "cell," just like the hermits who go to the Kyriakon [5] on Sunday, and afterwards keep silence in their cells. Glory to God! There are many such souls in the world. As a matter of fact, I know a certain family man who says the Jesus prayer unceasingly, wherever he is, and has continuous tears at prayer. His prayer has become self-activating, and his tears are sweet; they are tears of divine rejoicing. I also remember a certain worker on the Holy Mountain—Yanni was his name—who worked very hard, doing the work of two men. I had advised him to start saying the Jesus Prayer while working, and slowly but surely he grew accustomed to it. He came to me once and told me that he felt great joy when he said the prayer. "'Dawn is breaking,'" I told him. Soon after I learned he had been killed by two drunks. How saddened I was! A few days later a certain monk was looking for a tool, but he couldn't find it because Yanni had put it somewhere. That evening Yanni appeared to him in his sleep and told him where he had left it. He had attained such a spiritual state that enabled him to help others from the life hereafter.
How simple spiritual life is! If one loves God, if he acknowledges His great Sacrifice and benefactions and if he forces himself with discernment in imitating the Saints, he will quickly become holy. He attains humility and an understanding of his own wretchedness and his tremendous ungratefulness to God.
Prayer in the family
—Geronta, should the entire family do compline together at night? [6]

—The older family members should motivate the youngsters with their solemnity. They should do compline and say to the small children: "If you want, stay a little while." When the children are somewhat bigger they can have a rule—for example, fifteen minutes for the older ones, and two to five minutes for the small children—then after their rule, as much as they want. If the parents make them stay for all of compline they'll resent it. Parents shouldn't pressure their children because they don't yet understand the power and value of prayer. Parents, you could say, are able to eat beans and meat: hearty food. But when a little child is still only drinking milk, should they tell him to eat meat because it is strengthening? Maybe it is more strengthening, but the poor thing can't even digest it. That's why starting out they should give him little pieces of meat and broth, so that he'll want more.

—Geronta, sometimes even the adults are so tired in the evening that they aren't able to do compline.

—When adults are very tired or sick they should say half of compline or at least one "Our Father." They should not completely bypass prayer. In wartime if you end up on a hill in the evening, surrounded by enemies, you let out a few shots to frighten the enemy, so they will not attack. Adults should also let out a few shots so as to scare the little demons away.

Prayer has great power within the family. I know two siblings who not only kept their parents—who had a big problem between them—from separating, but even caused them to be more in love. With us my father said: "You don't know what you're going to do; two times a day you must entrust the future to God, so as to know where you'll end up." Each morning and evening we would all pray together before the icons, father, mother and the children, ending with a prostration before the icon of Christ. When a problem arose in the family we would pray and it would clear up. I remember once, when our youngest brother got sick and my father said: "Come, let's beg God to make him well or to take him, so that he won't suffer anymore." We all prayed together and he recovered.

Even at the table, we all sat together. First we prayed and then we would begin eating. If someone started to eat before the food was blessed we would say "he fornicated." We considered a failure to remain temperate fornication. It destroys a family if each person comes home, at whatever hour he wants, and eats alone without reason.
Children and the spiritual life
—Geronta, if a mother gives holy water to her child and he spits it out, what should she do?

—She should pray for her child.  Maybe the way in which she gives the holy water to her child causes a reaction.  For the child to be on the path of God the parents must also live right spiritually.  Some parents who are religious strive to help their children to become good, not because they are concerned for the salvation of their souls, but because they what to have good children.  In other words, they are more worried about what people will say about their child instead of whether they might go to hell.  So how can God help?  The aim is not for children to go to church through compulsion, but to love the church; not to do good through compulsion, but to feel the need to do good.  The holy lives of parents instruct the souls of their children and they naturally follow. In this way they grow up piously, with health of both soul and body and without spiritual injuries.  If parents force their children out of fear of God, He helps and the child is benefited. If, however, they do it out of egoism, then God does not help. Children are often troubled because of their parent's pride.

—Geronta, some mothers ask us what prayer should a child of three or four years old do?

—You should tell them: "You are the mother; see how much your child can handle."  They shouldn't give them a rule.

—Geronta, what if the little children get tired when their parents bring them here for vigils? [7]

—During Orthros they should let them out a little to relax, and during Divine Liturgy bring them back into the church.

Without forcing their children mothers must teach them to pray.  Villagers in Cappadocia intensely lived the ascetic tradition.  They would take their children to hermitages, do prostrations and pray with tears, and in this way, the children learned how to pray. Chetes [8] would sometimes go by night to rob them; and when passing the chapels they would hear crying and stop in surprise.  "OK, what's going on?" they would say.  "During the day they are all smiles and at night they cry?"  They couldn't understand what was going on.

Miracles happen through the prayers of small children.  Whatever they ask of God He gives them because they are guileless and He hears their pure prayer.  I remember one time our parents had gone out into the field and had left me in the house with my two younger siblings.  The sky suddenly darkened and a torrential rainstorm began.  "What will our parents do now?," we said.  "How will they get back home?"  The two little ones began crying.  "Come here," I told them, "we will ask Christ to stop the rain."  The three of us knelt down before the family's icons and prayed.  In just a few minutes the rain stopped.

Parents must use discernment to help their children draw near to Christ from their early years, and from their childhood to live the joy on high—spiritual joy.  When they start school they should learn, little by little, to read spiritual books to help themselves live spiritually. In this way they will become little angels, and their prayers will have greater boldness before God. Such children are spiritual heads of the home. The lives of saints especially help small children in their spiritual lives.  As a small boy I found a little book of the lives of saints which they had back in those days. I went out into the forest to read and pray.  I was flying with joy.  From the age of ten to sixteen, when the Greek-Italian war began, I lived the spiritual life without restraint.  Childhood joys are pure; they leave an imprint on a person that greatly affects him when he grows up.  If children live spiritually they will live joyfully in this life, and in the next they will rejoice eternally with Christ.
Temptations on feast days
—Geronta, why do temptations often occur on feast days?

—Don't you know? On feast days, Christ, the Panagia, and the Saints are joyful. They treat people, giving blessings and spiritual gifts. If parents give gifts when their children celebrate their namedays and kings release prisoners when a prince is born, why shouldn't the Saints care for us on special occasions, too? Certainly the joy they give greatly endures and our souls are greatly helped. Knowing this the devil creates temptations in order to deprive people of the Divine gifts: they neither rejoice nor benefit from the feast. Sometimes you even see when a family is preparing to commune on a feast day, that the devil will send them a temptation to fight and then not only do they not commune, but they don't even go to church! That's how the little demon does it, so as to be deprived of all Divine help.

The same thing can be seen in our own monastic life. Many times the little demon—tempter that he is, because he knows from experience that we will be spiritually helped on some feast—will, beginning on the eve of the feast, create an atmosphere of temptation. For example, he might get us to quarrel with another brother, and then afterwards torment us in order to overpower us both spiritually and bodily. In this way he doesn't allow us to benefit from the feast, with its joyous atmosphere of doxology. But the Good God helps us when He sees that we had not given occasion, but that this happened only by the envy of the evil one. And God helps us even more when we humbly reproach ourselves, blaming neither our brother nor even the devil, who hates everything good. For his work is this: to create scandals and spread evil—while man, as the image of God, should spread peace and goodness.

  1. "Crowns are wont to be worn on the heads of bridegrooms, as a symbol of victory, foretelling that they approach the blessing (of Marriage) unconquered by pleasure." St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy, Homily IV, PG 62, 546).
  2. Elder Paisios means that this work is done by the spiritual father and it is effective, only as long as the two spouses have the same spiritual father, in order that the sanding happens "using the same tool".
  3. Obviously, the Elder is using a metaphor: "Bridges (i.e. relationships) aren't build like that!"
  4. St. Matthew 6:4.
  5. The main church of a Skete, in which the ascetics from nearby cells gather on Sunday and feast days for common services. The name "Kyriakon" is derived from the Greek word for Sunday, "Kyriaki".
  6. There is a tradition in Greece for pious families to do compline together each evening.
  7. This was asked at the Elder's women's monastery by one of his nuns.
  8. The "Chetes, primarily of Turkish and Kurdish descent, were irregular hordes of freed criminals who were organized into loose bands of "killing squads" in the Ottoman army. It was the Chetes who led the attack in the Armenian Genocide and Greek Population Exchange and became known as merciless and blood-thirsty outlaws whose number one joy was the screaming voices of violated women, children and dying Christians.

From the book Family Life, by Elder Paisios the Athonite (Souroti, Greece: Sacred Hesychastirion of St. John the Evangelist, 2002). © Copyright 2007, Father Luke Hartung, Priest of Dormition of the Theotokos Serbian Orthodox Church, The Dalles, OR. No part of this may be reproduced without written permission. Father Luke regularly translates a portion of Elder Paisios' book and emails it to those on his email list. If you would like to be added to this list, please contact him at frluke.hartung [at] gmail [dot] com.