July 28, 2010

Indifference to God

"Deep faith in God and love for your brother are inseparable, and if a man does good deeds, loves people, perhaps even gives his life for others but does not love God, does not believe in God, then, in spite of his goodness he is spiritually dead because he does not want to know God. I happen to have met such people. They may be good, warm-hearted, ready to give away their last piece of bread, but they are indifferent to God, not accepting of Him - they may even be God's enemies. And, you know, in spite of all their 'goodness' I could see something missing in their behavior, their character, their outlook on life: they had made a religion out of their own goodness, and for them that had replaced God."

Fr. Arseny (Andreyevitch) -
Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses - Pg.15

July 27, 2010

The Challenge of Discipleship

It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master.  (Matt. 10:25)
     All talk of individual liberty not withstanding, each of us is servant to a master; our freedom lies in choosing the master we wish to serve: God or mammon. Under the constant pressure to conform to the ways of the world, many unwittingly choose to serve the latter, whether it be in the form of material prosperity, intellectual pursuit, culture, the opinion of the Jones's, pleasure, a particular ideology, the health and shape of one's body... As Orthodox Christians we claim to serve Christ as our Master, to be His disciples, the chosen people of the New Israel. If this claim is to be more than idle boasting, we must learn what it means to follow Jesus Christ Who said that "not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord. shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 7:21).

    We have become adversely affected by the general lack of seriousness in today's society. This causes us to take for granted our salvation, our membership in the Body of Christ. In such a state of spiritual laxity, how can we presume to speak of being Christ’s disciples? Have we ever seriously considered the meaning of discipleship?

    The relation of a disciple to his master is one of obedience. The supreme example here is Christ Himself Who said: "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me" (John 5:30). Increasingly today, we are taught to demand our rights. If someone tells us what to do, first we want to know by what right he tells us. Even then, our pride urges us to do things "our way". The result is anarchy, separation from God and danger to our souls. The virtue of obedience repels this worldly attitude and safeguards the soul. St. John Climacus says that obedience is the tomb of self-will and a cure for pride. Without obedience and the cutting off of self-will there can be no discipleship.

    We must, therefore, strive to learn obedience to God and His holy Church. If this duty imposed by God sounds difficult or confining--the duty to obey His holy laws and abide in His Ark of Salvation, the Church--we should realize that we gain great benefit by doing so. First, we are relieved of responsibility for deciding how to live. how to act; this has been established by God and is taught by the Church. Secondly, through obedience to the counsels of a spiritual father we gain soul-profiting insight from someone who can see us as we are. Thirdly, obedience brings internal peace--so noticeably absent in the dissensions of a life ruled by self-will. Finally, it is the precursor of that guardian of all virtue, humility.

    Humility is a necessary condition for discipleship. The Lord instructs these who wish to follow Him: "Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:29). This is a challenge indeed, for ours has become a very prideful society. Quarrels, bitterness, animosity, jealousy, a high incidence of divorce—do these not find their roots in pride? Its converse is humility which, as Abba Dorotheus says, is like a mortar cementing together all other virtues. In the sayings of the Holy Fathers we read: "As it is impossible to construct a ship without nails, so there is no hope of being saved without humility."

     Our Master Jesus Christ came not to be served but to serve, and just as the disciple is not greater than his Master, we must also place ourselves in the position of being servants--to our Lord Jesus Christ, to His holy Church, to our families, and to our neighbor. Being a true servant requires that we deny our "self" which the prideful attitude of the world works so hard to inflate. This call to give up the self is much more serious than we care to admit. Did not our Lord say: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple"?

    Together with serving, humility expresses itself in the readiness to forgive. Our Lord demands this of His disciples to such an extent that He repeats this commandment more than any other. Yet it is also the hardest to keep. Weighed down by the remembrance of wrongs, we have no strength to put away our quarrels in the family, the parish, or among our acquaintances. How then can we expect to fulfill the Apostle's command to bear one another's burdens'? But is this not the responsibility of a servant, a disciple? Not only to bear his burdens, but also to wash his feet. 

By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, that ye love tree another. (John 13:35) 

     The Fathers consistently speak of the need to acquire divine virtues if one is to be a true disciple of Christ. We have touched briefly upon the need for obedience and for humility. What shall we now say about that chief virtue, love? Our God is the God of love, and His disciples must acquire His love, a love very different from the sensual, often selfish love broadcast by the world. We may be outwardly obedient, we may be full of the knowledge of the Scriptures, but without love we are, as St. Paul tells us, no more than tinkling brass and our labors are in vain. Here we must admit our utter impoverishment and beg God to soften our hearts that we may acquire this most perfect mark of a true disciple.

      Finally, in the example of Christ's disciples we see untiring labor and zeal in spreading the Gospel. We are especially reminded of this as we approach the Feast of the Apostles. We should take every opportunity to spread the Word of Truth, to bring to thirsting souls the living waters of salvation which Christ offered the Samaritan woman at the well. This does not necessarily mean we stand on street corners hawking our wares. St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us to acquire tke Spirit of peace and thousands around us will be saved. And let us not be discouraged if our efforts seem unfruitful. Our task is to sow the good seed; the Lord is the reaper of the harvest.

     May we be inspired to meet the challenge of discipleship. This demands concentrated and ceaseless labors, an estrangement from the world and a denial of our very "self". But what has the world to offer which can compare in any way to the love and grace of God, to peace of heart and eternal joy? May we run the race in such a way as to be accepted into that cloud of witnesses, Christ's true disciples, and to be clothed together with them in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb.

Fr. Joseph Sunderland
Orthodox America: http://www.roca.org/OA/49/49a.htm

July 24, 2010

St. Benedict - Oblations to God

Today, July 11, On the Church calendar, we celebrate the memory of St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547), father of Western monasticism. As abbot, St. Benedict wrote a monastic rule known today as the Rule of St. Benedict. Apart from wonder working miracles, the Rule of St. Benedict, has become his greatest legacy due to it becoming the basis was for Western monasticism. During his time it was common for Children to be offered to God at Benedict's monastery as it was a turbulent and very difficult time for the Western Roman Empire, thus, chapter 59 of the Rule of St. Benedict outlines how the Sons of Nobles and of the Poor Who Are Offered:
If anyone of the nobility offers his son to God in the monastery and the boy is very young, let his parents draw up the document which we mentioned above; and at the oblation  let them wrap the document itself and the boy's hand in the altar cloth. That is how they offer him. As regards their property, they shall promise in the same petition under oath that they will never of themselves, or through an intermediary, or in any way whatever, give him anything  or provide him with the opportunity of owning anything. Or else, if they are unwilling to do this, and if they want to offer something as an alms to the monastery for their advantage, let them make a donation of the property they wish to give to the monastery, reserving the income to themselves if they wish. And in this way let everything be barred,
so that the boy may have no expectations whereby (which God forbid) he might be deceived and ruined, as we have learned by experience. Let those who are less well-to-do make a similar offering. But those who have nothing at all  shall simply draw up the document  and offer their son before witnesses at the oblation.
From this practice of Children being an oblation or offering to God grew into the modern pratice within the Benedictine monasteries of having lay persons know as Oblates (offering) that live a life of prayer and service in the tradition of monasticism without leaving the World. This is practiced even within the Western Rite Orthodox parish that have inherited the spirituality of St. Benedict. Oblates are required to follow a rule of life that commits them to following a deep ascetic life within their state in life. All Orthodox can adapt this rule of life to their own situation in order to be come better ascetics, regardless in they follow the Western or Eastern form of Orthodox Sprituality. Here is an outline of this rule of life by Father James Deschene OSB, Hieromonk of Christminster, a Western Rite Monestery of the Russian Orthodox Charch outside of Russia:


1. Oblates of St. Benedict are Christian men and women who join in spiritual union with the ancient Benedictine tradition of daily prayer and study.
2. Oblates do not live in the monastic house of the community, yet they remain one with Benedictine tradition while they continue faithfully to carry out the duties of their particular state in life and occupation, wherever they may be.
3. Within the framework of their daily lives in the world, Oblates strive to lead full Christian lives enlightened by personal efforts to understand Christ's teaching in the Scriptures as interpreted by St. Benedict in his Rule for monks. Oblates are guided and inspired by their continued spiritual association with the Benedictine tradition.
4. Oblates are a spiritual arm of the Benedictine tradition, reaching out into all areas of life, seeking to share with others what they themselves gain as Oblates of St. Benedict. Their affiliation with a community of monks or nuns is not therefore for their own personal good alone. It is chiefly by their Christian example, even by their very presence among others, that they hope to bring St. Benedict's ideal of service to God and man into the world where they live and work.
5. Since Oblates of St. Benedict primarily offer themselves for the service of God and man, they will therefore strive for God's honor and glory before all else, keeping in mind the Benedictine motto: "That in all things God may be glorified."


Oblates involve themselves in the full life of the Church, "sharing in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ...being witnesses to Christ and promoting the salvation of mankind." They foster the ecumenical spirit and meet with those not of the Orthodox Faith, strive to understand the religious beliefs and customs of others, look for teachings on which others agree with them, enter into friendly discussion of teachings on which there is disagreement, put aside all prejudice, and foster the spirit of universal brotherhood in God our Father. They seek to be true lay apostles according to their abilities and the circumstances of their lives, with a spirit of mission, a spirit of vocation from God through the Holy Spirit working in them, eager to help in proclaiming and spreading the Word of God to the ends of the earth. Oblates recognize that their success as lay apostles depends on their living in close union with the Spirit of Christ in the Church, and that this intimate union with the Lord is especially nourished in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Service to others will then be the immediate effect of true union with Christ.

As their states in life permit, Oblates make use of various means for improving themselves spiritually, intellectually, culturally, and socially, by making a Retreat, a Day of Recollection or Renewal, attending a Workshop, Seminar, Lecture, or Prayer Meeting, as occasion offers from time to time. They make the study and reading of Holy Scripture an important part of their lives, concentrating especially on the Gospel teachings of Christ. They listen attentively to the public proclamation of the Word of God, and to the homily of the priest as he shows how the Word of God is applied to daily life.

They combine prayer and work by living and working in the presence of God, aware of God's presence everywhere, knowing that God is nearer to them than they think.
They are patient and content with their lot in life in so far as they cannot change it for something better, calmly and courageously accepting the sufferings and hardships which sooner or later come to everyone. They practice patience, especially by accepting the daily crosses and burdens of life willingly and bravely, with full trust in God, no matter how heavy these burdens may be, knowing that God can turn sufferings into blessings.

They are generous and warmhearted to the poor, the needy, the unfortunate, the sick, the sad, the afflicted, and the lonely.
They are concerned about the needs of others, regardless of race, nationality, creed, sex, age, occupation, profession, or social status. They give generously of themselves in working for the religious education and Christian formation of youth. They faithfully fulfill the duties of their states in life, especially with regard to the care of their families and dependents.

They practice the spirit of poverty, by not being unduly attached to material things, by thanking God for what they have, and by using God's gifts in a sensible way for the glory of God and the good of mankind. They seek the Christian reformation or constant renewal of their lives by fostering the spirit of obedience, stability and fidelity in accord with the three Benedictine vows or principles of Christian living which St. Benedict asks his followers to practice.

They often read some part of the Rule of St. Benedict and meditate on how it can be applied to their lives. They seek guidance and instruction when they are in doubt or troubled.


They highly esteem the Divine Liturgy and take an active and intelligent part in the celebration of the sacred mysteries of the altar. They strive each day to pray some part of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, as the circumstances of their lives permit. They strive to appreciate the beauty and spiritual wealth contained in the Psalms which form the core of the Church's prayer. They harmonize their private and public prayers and devotions with the liturgical seasons and feasts of the year.

Oblates proclaim and practice the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity, by believing, hoping, and trusting in God, and loving God and man in thought, word, and deed.

Oblates foster a positive Christian attitude toward the many other virtues flowing from the practice of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. They observe Christian prudence, which is true divine wisdom, by directing their lives to the final attainment of God, who is known to them by faith and loved by them through charity. They therefore use the means provided them in prayer and the sacraments. Prudence guides them "in seeking first the kingdom of God and His way of holiness" and teaches them" to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

They exercise the Christian virtue of justice by recognizing their personal and social moral responsibilities toward individual persons, toward their community, city, state, and nation, and toward human society in general, by striving for the common welfare of all.

They foster a deep respect for the God-given rights of others, especially for human life, for the property of others, for freedom of religion, for the privacy of the home, for the right of all to know the truth and to speak the truth, for freedom in the education of one's children, for the right as well as the duty to work and provide for oneself and one's dependents.

They pay their laborers a just wage and give their own employers an honest return in labor for the wages they receive.

They protect the rights of the poor and the helpless, the oppressed and the persecuted, and all who are victims of injustice of any kind.

They practice Christian fortitude or courage by seeking to do God's will at all times without fear of the difficulties and sacrifices involved, bearing the burdens and trials of life with calm trust in God's mercy and goodness. They practice Christian temperance or moderation by making use of the good things of life in the way God intended them to be used for the good of mankind.

They love the Benedictine community to which they are affiliated as Oblates. They keep in touch with their community through their Director of Oblates. They let others know about their spiritual community, support its apostolic works, and encourage young men and women in their vocations to the monastic life.

They visit a monastery or convent occasionally, become familiar with the monastic life, and assist at the community Liturgy and community prayer whenever this is possible. They tell others about the Oblates of St. Benedict and encourage them to become Oblates if they seem to be in search of such a special way of life in the world.

They foster the spirit of community in their own family circle, and within the groups and organizations to which they belong.

They use all rightful means for establishing peace in the world around them, mindful of the centuries old Benedictine watchword: PEACE! They strive to practice the truth of God in love and join all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and working to bring it about.

July 22, 2010

One Hour Of Suffering

(from the book: “Eternal Mysteries Beyond The Grave”)

There was a paralytic who, becoming impatient of his suffering, cried out to the Lord and asked that his miserable life might end.

An angel appeared to him and said: “Very well. Since the Lord is unspeakably good, He will respond to your prayer. He will put an end to your life on earth, but on one condition. Will you consent to spend three hours in hell instead of suffering one more year on earth? Hell cleanses every man, as gold is purified in the fire, and your sins need cleansing. You were destined to suffer from your illness one more year, so that the paralysis of your body might cleanse you of your sins. Like all believers, you have no road to heaven except the way of the cross, opened by the sinless God-Man. This road seems to have tired you on earth; well then, experience what hell is, where all sinners go. Yet you must experience it for three hours only, and then you will be saved through the prayers of Holy Church.”

The sufferer thought about these words. A year of suffering on earth seemed and unbearably long time. “I would rather endure the three hours,” he finally said to the angel. The angel quietly took up his suffering soul, enclosed it in the abyss of hell, and then departed, saying, ”In three hours I shall appear again and take you away from here.”

The darkness that reigned all around, the closeness, the indescribable sounds of the cries emitted by sinners, the sight of the evil spirits in all their hellish ugliness - all this formed for the miserable sufferer one overwhelming feeling of fear and sickness.

Everything that he saw or heard was full of suffering, and there was no hint of any happy sound throughout the limitless abyss of hell. He saw nothing except the fiery eyes of demons glistening in the darkness, and their gigantic shadows, which seemed about to oppress, devour, and burn him with their hellish breath. The poor suffer trembled and cried out, but there was no response to his cries except an echo which died down somewhere in the far distance of the abyss, and the bubbling of the hellish fire. It seemed to him that whole centuries of suffering had already passed, and from one moment to the next he was waiting for the light-bearing angel.

Finally the sufferer despaired of the angel’s coming. Gnashing his teeth, he groaned, he roared with all his strength, but no one listened to him. All the sinners who were languishing in the dark abyss were occupied with themselves, and only thought of their own suffering.

After some time, however, the calm light of angelic glory spread over the abyss. The angel approached our sufferer and with a celestial smile asked him, “How are you, brother?” “I never thought an angel’s tongue was capable of a lie,” the sufferer whispered with a barely audible voice which was breaking with suffering.

“What do you mean?” the angel asked.

“How can you ask?”, the sufferer said. “You promised to take me away from here after three hours, but now whole years, perhaps whole centuries have passed, filled for me with unspeakable suffering!”

“What years, what centuries?”, the angel asked, mildly smiling. “Only an hour has passed since I left you here, and two more remain.”

“Two more?”, the sufferer asked alarmed. “Two more hours? I cannot endure them, I have no strength left! If only it may be possible, if only this is the Lord’s will, I beg you to take me away from here! I should rather suffer for years and centuries on earth, even to the last day, to the time of Christ’s coming at the last judgement; but do take me away, I cannot stay here! Take pity on me!” Thus the sufferer groaned and cried out stretching hims arms to the angel of light. “Good”, said the angel. “God, the Father of mercy and of comfort, will reveal His mercy to you.” At these words the sufferer opened his eyes and saw himself once again lying on his bed. All his senses were extremely weary, and the suffering of his body had affected his spirit as well.

Yet from that time he sweetly endured his suffering on earth, for he bore in memory the horror of suffering in hell, and thanked the Lord, who is merciful to all. (Taken from the letters of our Father of the Holy Mountain; page 183, letter 15, 1883)

Thank you to my Friend and Brother in Christ Andrew for typing this excerpt out.

July 20, 2010

With Fear of God and Faith Draw Near

For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep.

I Cor 11, 30

I am a companion of all them that fear Thee and keep Thy commandments.

Holy Saturday Matins, Stasis 1, 64


In recent times, especially since the 1960s, new forms of pseudo-Christianity or Churchless ‘Christianity’, have grown up. These often appear to be forms of Christianity without the Cross, often ‘charismatic’ in origin. They reflect the consumer society in which they developed, with the specific psychology and sociology of consumerism. What are they like?

The Physical Replaces the Spiritual

Pseudo-Christianity is generally a religion of manipulators and manipulated, with the self-delusion of the guru and personality cult, together with the self-isolation of the sect and the cult. It is a religion of self, self-love and self-flattery, a self-seeking therapy of ‘self-fulfilment’. It is generally a religion of comfort and convenience, which imitates the temples of the consumerist cult, supermarkets with their aisles, in other words, it is a ‘pick and mix’ religion, a ‘best of’ religion, a ‘Diet Christianity’ or ‘Christianity Lite’.

Essentially, it reflects the egoism of modern consumerism, in which men and women are victims (‘shop until you drop’) of the consumerist ‘retail therapy’ of spending on material goods (cars, the home, entertainment, electronics), alcohol, food and the cult of the body (cooking, sport, fitness, sex). Its therapeutic aspect is also reflected in the syncretistic views of this religious consumerism, as it takes elements from Hinduism (yoga and ‘Transcendental Meditation’), from Buddhism (in a Western form made into a popular philosophy for the self-centred and irresponsible with its reincarnation) and of Sufism (the ‘best of’ Islam).

Such elements are fed into the giant self-centred bubble of contemporary popular culture, with its Facebook and Myspace, MP3s, iphone, ipad and ipod (always ‘I’). Pseudo-Christianity is generally based on self-centred psychology and sociology, not on genuine religion. Essentially, pseudo-Christianity is anti-ascetic, without selflessness. There is no Cross, rather an infantile, dumbed-down pap fed by clericalist professionals to the masses. They assume that the masses only require bread and circuses and so provide them with the happy-clappy, ‘interactive’ entertainment drama shows of tele-evangelism.

The Rational Replaces the Spiritual

There is in this pseudo-Christianity little concept of prayer, repentance and the need for self-cleansing. This is because this ‘fell-good’ philosophy cannot have a concept of the Fall of Adam and the universal human inclination towards sin. The lack of the concept of prayer means that the human-being is sewn into the straitjacket of rationalism, the proud prison-house of fallen human logic. All is ‘understood’ by defective reason. There is little concept of acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit through self-cleansing – the only aim is to ‘understand’. The Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, sin, repentance, spiritual purity – these are words which have little meaning to the victims of rationalism.

Rationalism has little concept of the fear of the Lord, which is ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 110, 10), because in it reason has replaced wisdom. Rationalism reads, but does not do. And yet the fear of God is otherwise universal. It can be found in all religions, including the most ‘primitive’, from Islam to Hinduism, from old-fashioned Roman Catholicism to old-fashioned Protestantism. Soldiers and sailors know the fear of God because they have faced death. Mothers know it because they have been through childbirth. Only irrational rationalism does not know the fear of God.

The ‘feel-good’ pseudo-Christianity of modernist rationalism rejects the fear of God because its victims rely on themselves, on their own reasoning power. ‘I am saved’, they say anti-ascetically. Therefore, they have nothing to repent for. Rationalism cannot understand faith, not because faith is irrational, but because it is supra-rational, beyond the limitations of reason. Rationalists do not believe in the presence of the miraculous (hence their denial since the 1960s of the Resurrection, the Virgin-Birth and all other miracles). They believe that there is no greater power than their own tiny reasoning power.


The fear of God is the fear of losing the love of God, of losing God’s presence. It is the fear of depriving ourselves of the protection of God’s grace, which retreats from us as we retreat from it through sin. The loss of God’s love comes only from ourselves. Faith is the knowledge of God’s love, the consciousness that all is possible with God. Awareness of our weakness creates dependency on God, faith. If there is no fear of God and no faith, then we are beset with problems, the solutions to which we can only vainly seek with our human means. Nothing can work out for us without faith and the fear of God, without Whom we can do nothing. With fear of God and faith we draw near, but without fear of God and faith we draw away.


July 17, 2010

Orthodox Greetings to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


“Christian morality is as old as Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now. Those attempts to invent new morality look for me like atempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.

“When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Spirit that inspired the Bible, if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything doctrinal or moral standards? It is really the same Spirit or perhaps there are different spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions and create different theologies and different morals?

“My desire is that all Christians should contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints, as St. Jude calls us to do (Jude 1:3). And my advice as an ecumenical advisory delegate is the following: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ ” (Romans 12:2).
Arcpriest Siarhei Hardun

July 14, 2010

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

YOU must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the 236 healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

 What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion!

How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, 238 he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.

He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

July 13, 2010

The Great Reverence With Which We Should Receive Christ

THESE are all Your words, O Christ, eternal Truth, though they were not all spoken at 212 one time nor written together in one place. And because they are Yours and true, I must accept them all with faith and gratitude. They are Yours and You have spoken them; they are mine also because You have spoken them for my salvation. Gladly I accept them from Your lips that they may be the more deeply impressed in my heart.

Words of such tenderness, so full of sweetness and love, encourage me; but my sins frighten me and an unclean conscience thunders at me when approaching such great mysteries as these. The sweetness of Your words invites me, but the multitude of my vices oppresses me.

You command me to approach You confidently if I wish to have part with You, and to receive the food of immortality if I desire to obtain life and glory everlasting. “Come to me,” You say, “all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” ( Matt. 11:28).

Oh, how sweet and kind to the ear of the sinner is the word by which You, my Lord God, invite the poor and needy to receive Your most holy Body! Who am I, Lord, that I should presume to approach You? Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, and yet You say: “Come, all of you, to Me.”

What means this most gracious honor and this friendly invitation? How shall I dare to come, I who am conscious of no good on which to presume? How shall I lead You into my house, I who have so often offended in Your most kindly sight? Angels and archangels revere You, the holy and the just fear You, and You say: “Come to Me: all of you!” If You, Lord, had not said it, who would have believed it to be true? And if You had not commanded, who would dare approach?

Behold, Noah, a just man, worked a hundred years building the ark that he and a few others might be saved; how, then, can I prepare myself in one hour to receive with reverence the Maker of the world?

Moses, Your great servant and special friend, made an ark of incorruptible wood which he covered with purest gold wherein to place the tables of Your law; shall I, a creature of corruption, dare so easily to receive You, the Maker of law and the Giver of life?

Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, spent seven years building a magnificent temple in praise of Your name, and celebrated its dedication with a feast of eight days. He offered a thousand victims in Your honor and solemnly bore the Ark of the Covenant with trumpeting and jubilation to the place prepared for it; and I, unhappy and poorest of men, how shall I lead You into my house, I who scarcely can spend a half-hour devoutly—would that I could spend even that as I ought!

O my God, how hard these men tried to please 214 You! Alas, how little is all that I do! How short the time I spend in preparing for Communion! I am seldom wholly recollected, and very seldom, indeed, entirely free from distraction. Yet surely in the presence of Your life-giving Godhead no unbecoming thought should arise and no creature possess my heart, for I am about to receive as my guest, not an angel, but the very Lord of angels.

Very great, too, is the difference between the Ark of the Covenant with its treasures and Your most pure Body with its ineffable virtues, between these sacrifices of the law which were but figures of things to come and the true offering of Your Body which was the fulfillment of all ancient sacrifices.

Why, then, do I not long more ardently for Your adorable presence? Why do I not prepare myself with greater care to receive Your sacred gifts, since those holy patriarchs and prophets of old, as well as kings and princes with all their people, have shown such affectionate devotion for the worship of God?

The most devout King David danced before the ark of God with all his strength as he recalled the benefits once bestowed upon his fathers. He made musical instruments of many kinds. He composed psalms and ordered them sung with joy. He himself often played upon the harp when moved by the grace of the Holy Ghost. He taught the people of Israel to praise God with all their hearts 215 and to raise their voices every day to bless and glorify Him. If such great devotion flourished in those days and such ceremony in praise of God before the Ark of the Covenant, what great devotion ought not I and all Christian people now show in the presence of this Sacrament; what reverence in receiving the most excellent Body of Christ!

Many people travel far to honor the relics of the saints, marveling at their wonderful deeds and at the building of magnificent shrines. They gaze upon and kiss the sacred relics encased in silk and gold; and behold, You are here present before me on the altar, my God, Saint of saints, Creator of men, and Lord of angels!

Often in looking at such things, men are moved by curiosity, by the novelty of the unseen, and they bear away little fruit for the amendment of their lives, especially when they go from place to place lightly and without true contrition. But here in the Sacrament of the altar You are wholly present, my God, the man Christ Jesus, whence is obtained the full realization of eternal salvation, as often as You are worthily and devoutly received. To this, indeed, we are not drawn by levity, or curiosity, or sensuality, but by firm faith, devout hope, and sincere love.

O God, hidden Creator of the world, how wonderfully You deal with us! How sweetly and graciously You dispose of things with Your elect to whom You offer Yourself to be received in this Sacrament! This, indeed, surpasses all understanding. 216 This in a special manner attracts the hearts of the devout and inflames their love. Your truly faithful servants, who give their whole life to amendment, often receive in Holy Communion the great grace of devotion and love of virtue.

Oh, the wonderful and hidden grace of this Sacrament which only the faithful of Christ understand, which unbelievers and slaves of sin cannot experience! In it spiritual grace is conferred, lost virtue restored, and the beauty, marred by sin, repaired. At times, indeed, its grace is so great that, from the fullness of the devotion, not only the mind but also the frail body feels filled with greater strength.

Nevertheless, our neglect and coldness is much to be deplored and pitied, when we are not moved to receive with greater fervor Christ in Whom is the hope and merit of all who will be saved. He is our sanctification and redemption. He is our consolation in this life and the eternal joy of the blessed in heaven. This being true, it is lamentable that many pay so little heed to the salutary Mystery which fills the heavens with joy and maintains the whole universe in being.

Oh, the blindness and the hardness of the heart of man that does not show more regard for so wonderful a gift, but rather falls into carelessness from its daily use! If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in only one place and consecrated by only one priest in the whole world, with what 217 great desire, do you think, would men be attracted to that place, to that priest of God, in order to witness the celebration of the divine Mysteries! But now there are many priests and Mass is offered in many places, that God’s grace and love for men may appear the more clearly as the Sacred Communion is spread more widely through the world.

Thanks be to You, Jesus, everlasting Good Shepherd, Who have seen fit to feed us poor exiled people with Your precious Body and Blood, and to invite us with words from Your own lips to partake of these sacred Mysteries: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

The Imitation of Christ Book 3 - Chapter 1 by Thomas a Kempis

July 12, 2010

The "theology of a Donkey"

Try to remember what a donkey is like — now that so few of them are left. Not an old, stubborn, vicious one that would give you a kick when you least expected, but a young one with his ears up like antennae. He lives on a meagre diet, is hardworking and has a quick, cheerful trot. There are hundreds of animals more beautiful, more deft and strong. But it was a donkey Christ chose when he presented himself to the people as king in response to their acclamation. For Jesus has no time for calculations, for astuteness, for the cruelty of cold hearts, for attractive but empty beauty. What he likes is the cheerfulness of a young heart, a simple step, a natural voice, clean eyes, attention to his affectionate word of advice. That is how he reigns in the soul.
Christ is Passing By, 181

Oh blessed perseverance of the donkey that turns the water-wheel! Always the same pace. Always the same circles. One day after another: everyday the same. Without that, there would be no ripeness in the fruit, nor blossom in the orchard, nor scent of flowers in the garden. Carry this thought to your interior life.
The Way, 998

Would that you could acquire, as I know you would like to, the virtues of the donkey! Donkeys are humble, hard-working, persevering — stubborn! — and faithful, with a sure step, tough and — if they have a good master — also grateful and obedient.
The Forge, 380

Continue thinking about the donkey’s good qualities and notice how in order to do anything worth while, it has to allow itself to be ruled by the will of whoever is leading it... On its own the donkey would only... make an ass of itself. Probably the brightest thing that would occur to it to do would be to roll over on the ground, trot to the manger and start braying. “Dear Jesus”, you too should say to him, “ut iumentum factus sum apud te! — you have made me be your little donkey. Please don’t leave me: et ego semper tecum! — and I will stay with you always. Lead me, tightly harnessed by your grace: Tenuisti manum dexteram meam... — you have led me by the halter; et in voluntate tua deduxisti me... — make me do your Will. And so I will love you for ever and ever — et cum gloria suscepisti me! ”
The Forge, 381

My child, my little donkey: if the Lord, with Love, has washed your grimy back, so accustomed to the muck, and has laid a satin harness on you, and covered you with dazzling jewels, don’t forget, poor donkey, that with your faults you could throw that beautiful load on to the ground... But on your own you couldn’t put it back on again.
The Forge, 330

See how humble Jesus is: a donkey was his throne in Jerusalem!
The Way, 606

I understood you very well when you ended up saying: “Quite honestly, I haven’t even made the grade of being a donkey — the donkey that was the throne of Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. I’m just part of a disgusting heap of dirty tatters that the poorest rag-picker would ignore.” But I told you: all the same, God has chosen you and wants you to be his instrument. So your wretchedness — which is a genuine fact — should turn into one more reason for you to be thankful to God for calling you.
The Forge, 607

Roman Catholic Saint - Josemaria Escriva

July 11, 2010

Why is the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on July 12?

The holy chief Apostles Peter and Paul, according to Church tradition, received their martyrdom on the same day—June 29 (which falls on July 12 NS, for those following the Julian Calendar). This date is shown in the ancient calendars that have been passed down to us (the Roman calendar of the fourth century; the Carthaginian calendar of the fifth century), in the martyrologue of Blessed Jerome (fourth century), and in the sacramentaria of Pope Gregory the Great (fifth century).

Researchers consider that the holy Apostle Peter arrived in Rome in the year 67. There he converted many people to Christ. In Rome he wrote the Second General Epistle to Christians who had converted from Judaism and paganism, and who lived in Asia Minor. The Lord informed him of his pending departure from earthly life: Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance (2 Pet. 1:14–15). From the beginning of the persecutions begun by Emperor Nero, the Apostle Peter's disciples persuaded him to leave Rome, so that they would not lose their pastor. Peter consented out of his love for them. When he left the city, he met Jesus Christ on the ancient Appian Way. When Peter asked the Lord, ”Whither goest Thou, Lord?” the Savior replied, ”I am going to Rome, to be crucified again.” There is now a church on that place (Domine, Quo Vadis?), where is a copy of the stone upon which the Lord's footprints remained. The original stone with the Lord's footprints is in the Church of St. Sebastian in Rome. After returning from Rome, the holy Apostle Peter was imprisoned in the Mamertino Prision (Carcere Mamertino), which was situated on the slope of Capitolia Hill below the Church of St. Joseph the Bethrothed (San Giuseppe). From Mamertino prison the Apostle Peter was taken to the Vatican Hill, which is situated on the right bank of the Tiber River. Nero's circus was located on the hill. Here the holy Apostle Peter received his martyric death. Here were fulfilled the Savior's words in the Gospel of St. John to Peter about his death. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me (Jn 21:18–19). Just as his Teacher, the Apostle Peter was raised upon the cross, but out of humility asked that he be crucified upside down. Here, on Vatican Hill, he was buried by the holy Hieromartyr Clement of Rome and other disciples. Roman Christians preserved this place with great reverence. In 1941, when excavations were conducted in basement of the St. Peter's Cathedral, a slab was found in that very place bearing the quite expressive inscription in Greek: ”Peter is here.”

We do not know when the Apostle Paul came to Rome. As to the Apostle Peter, the Lord also revealed to His chosen vessel (Acts. 9:15) the time of his death: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6–8). The reverent memory of Christians has retained the place where the two Apostles parted with each other from this life. On that place, along the Via Ostiensis (in Italian, Via Ostiense), is a church dedicated to both Apostles. The Apostle Paul was taken to a place outside of the city, now called Aсque salvie. As a Roman citizen he could not be crucified, and so they beheaded him there. Most researchers place the Apostle Paul's martyric death in the year 67 A.D.

A church was built in the year 324 by St. Constantine the Great over the grave of the Apostle Paul.

Hieromonk Job (Gumerov)

July 09, 2010

Orthodox Christians & Honest Work

Who among you works honestly all the hours you are supposed to, without indulging in distractions, giving to it all your energy, knowledge and patience? This applies especially to those who work for a flat wage. We get paid in full regardless of whether we put in an honest day's work or not. If we use time at work for other things, the money we receive is yet another example of dishonest gain.

We do not consider this a sin, even though we are in fact deceiving the government, stealing time and money from society. Perhaps some of you might think, "Well, almost everyone acts that way; it's a rare individual who is a real worker." But Christians, by their calling, are supposed to be especially honest and conscientious workers, to do every job as if it were assigned by the Lord Himself, who observes with what zeal, honesty and conscientiousness we work.

We read in the Morning Prayers: ". . . by Thy loving-kindness I strive to do Thy works." What are these works of the Lord? All those tasks which we undertake at home for the family or at work, or obediences, in the case of monastics, tasks which are ours to do-these are those "works" that the Lord has entrusted us with at the present time, and we will answer first of all to Him whether we have performed our duties honestly and conscientiously. Many of us don't think about this. We work any which-way, just trying to make the time go by faster, to get more money, to work less and with less effort

Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin

July 08, 2010

Our life is children's play...

Our life is children's play, only not innocent, but sinful, because, with a strong mind, and with the knowledge of the purpose of our life, we neglect this purpose and occupy ourselves with frivolous, purposeless matters. And thus our life is childish, unpardonable play. We amuse ourselves with food and drink, gratifying ourselves by them, instead of only using them for the necessary nourishment of our body and the support of our bodily life. We amuse ourselves with dress, instead of only decently covering our body and protecting it from the injurious action of the elements. We amuse ourselves with silver and gold, admiring them in treasuries, or using them for objects of luxury and pleasure, instead of using them only for our real needs, and sharing our superfluity with those in want. We amuse ourselves with our houses and the variety of furniture in them, decorating them richly and exquisitely, instead of merely having a secure and decent roof to protect us from the injurious action of the elements, and things necessary and suitable for domestic use. We amuse ourselves with our mental gifts, with our intellect, imagination, using them only to serve sin and the vanity of this world—that is, only to serve earthly and corruptible things—instead of using them before all and above all to serve God, to learn to know Him, the all-wise Creator of every creature, for prayer, supplication, petitions, thanksgiving and praise to Him, and to show mutual love and respect, and only partly to serve this world, which will some day entirely pass away. We amuse ourselves with our knowledge of worldly vanity, and to acquire this knowledge we waste most precious time, which was given to us for our preparation for eternity. We frequently amuse ourselves with our affairs and business, with our duties, fulfilling them heedlessly, carelessly, and wrongfully, and using them for our own covetous, earthly purposes. We amuse ourselves with beautiful human faces, or the fair, weaker sex, and often use them for the sport of our passions. We amuse ourselves with time, which ought to be wisely utilised for redeeming eternity, and not for games and various pleasures. Finally, we amuse ourselves with our own selves, making idols out of ourselves, before which we bow down, and before which we expect others to bow down. Who can sufficiently describe and deplore our accursedness, our great, enormous vanity, the great misery into which we voluntarily throw ourselves? What answer shall we give to our immortal King, Christ our God, Who shall come again in the glory of His Father to judge both the quick and the dead, to declare the secret thoughts of all hearts, and receive from us our answer for every word and deed. O, woe, woe, woe to us who bear the name of Christ, but have none of the spirit of Christ in us; who bear the name of Christ, but do not follow the teaching of the Gospel! Woe to us who "neglect so great salvation"!(Hebrews ii. 3). Woe to us who love the present fleeting, deceptive life, and neglect the inheritance of the life that follows after the death of our corruptible body beyond this carnal veil!

From My Life in Christ by St. John of Krondstadt

July 07, 2010

We are an "Old Calendar" Church

By Fr. Alexander Lebedeff
  1. What is the distinction between Old and New Calendars?
  2. Why is the division so prominent?
At the risk of rattling up some acrimonious discussion, I will go ahead and wade into this one with both feet. The opinions I express are my own, and do not necessarily represent the official position of the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), in which I have been a priest for twenty-five years.

In my honest opinion, world Orthodoxy is now experiencing a polarization into two camps: for lack of a better term one can think of them as " traditionalists" and "modernists."

As we all know, the 19th century saw the development of liberal ideas that ultimately led to the revolution in Russia. A number of the clergy in the Russian Orthodox church had become involved in the liberal movement and wished to "liberalize" the Church. Their proposals included: a change to the New Calendar (the Gregorian Calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII at the end of the 16th century and rejected by all the Orthodox churches at that time, who continued to use the traditional Julian Calendar); married bishops; permission for priests to marry a second time; shortening of services; reduction of fasting periods and the strictness of the fasts; use of non-clerical garb by clergy outside of the church; eliminating the traditional requirement of beards and long hair for clergy; and many other innovations.

These priests became the kernel of the so-called "renovationist" movement in early post-revolutionary Soviet Russia, which cooperated with them, since they expressed complete support for the Communist regime. Most of the church buildings in the Soviet Union were transferred to the renovationists, andthose who didn't cooperate (the followers of Patriarch Tikhon) were persecuted and often killed.

At the same time, a rather interesting figure had had himself elected to the office of Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios Metaxakis. This individual had previously been Archbishop of Athens, then Patriarch of Alexandria. It is not exactly clear how he had been able to be the head of three independent local Orthodox Churches in succession. Suffice it to say, it is known that he was a Freemason and had "connections."

He was extremely modernist in his views. He supported all of the above-mentioned innovations of the renovationists, and shocked the Orthodox world by appearing in a civilian suit. In 1923 he instituted an official change to the new calendar, although the other innovations he proposed did not go through. He also recognized the Renovationists in Soviet Russia as the true Church of Russia and joined in their condemnation and deposition of Patriarch Tikhon.

To make a long story short, as a result of the calendar innovation, the Orthodox world was divided. Some of the Orthodox churches remained Old Calendar, some accepted the New, and the liturgical unity of the Church was shattered. In Greece, the introduction of the new calendar caused extraordinary upheaval and physical persecution of the old-calendarists was widespread.

The calendar question is one of extraordinary significance to "traditionalist" Orthodox, although it is presented as a matter of little importance by the new-calendarists ("This is not an issue of dogma, Father, just custom," one hears). The answer, of course, is that the Pope's calendar innovation had been condemned many times by pan-Orthodox Councils, so it is not a matter of "taste."

So how has this affected Orthodoxy in the United States? Today one can see the following: New-calendar churches, typically, have accepted many of the "trappings" of Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. They, for the most part, have pews in their churches, some have organs (!) and electronic carillons instead of bells, their priests, and in some cases even bishops, most often wear "clerical collars" and suits (outside of the services), almost all clergy have short hair and trimmed or no beards, and like to be called "Father Tom," or "Father Al." The services are typically shortened, frequently even Saturday-night Vigil services are eliminated. The new-calendarists have relatively few monasteries and monastic clergy. Many churches thrive on Bingo, and almost all have lay "presidents" of the congregation, who, together with a parish council, direct the affairs of the church. Being a Freemason is not considered to be in conflict with Orthodoxy.

On the other hand, traditionalist Orthodox parishes will never have pews, organs and the like; their clergy will never be seen without a rasson (they wouldn't be caught dead wearing a "dog collar" and "clergy shirt"!); no one would dream of addressing them as "Father Tom"; they typically do not cut their hair or beards (unless required by outside employment); the services follow a much fuller Typicon; the priests are rectors of their parishes and they are themselves the "presidents" of the parish corporations, with the parish council acting in a more advisory role; there are far more monastic clergy and many monasteries and convents. Freemasonry is soundly condemned as incompatible with Orthodoxy.

Another significant area dividing traditional Orthodox from their "modernist" brethren is the area of Ecumenism. To a traditionalist Orthodox,ecumenism is an outright heresy, condemned by innumerable Councils who clearly forbid praying with heretics.

The new-calendarists, on the other hand, are very active participants in the "ecumenical movement," in the WCC and the NCC, notwithstanding the incredible mixture of paganism, new-world thinking, radical feminism, and other weird stuff that goes on at WCC assemblies.

Unfortunately, the last three Patriarchs of Constantinople (Athenagoras, Demetrius, and, now, Bartholemew, have been rabid ecumenists. Patriarch Bartholemew, at least at the time he was Metropolitan) had frequently been photographed in a civilian business suit (with tie, not even an ecclesiastical collar), and studied at the Papal Institute in Rome. He recent meetings with the Pope underscore his desire to reunite with Rome by the year 2000. He, and other ecumenically-oriented Eastern Patriarchs have virtually accepted the Monophysite heretics as valid Orthodox, without making them renounce their views or accept the Orthodox position regarding the Divine and human natures of Christ.

All this is appalling to traditionalist Orthodox, who wish to preserve the faith of the Apostles and the Fathers without any change.

As a Roman Catholic, some of this may be familiar to you. You may remember the upheaval that was caused in the RC church when wholesale modernization took place.

The traditional Orthodox will struggle to keep this from happening within Orthodoxy. Although a relatively small part of the contemporary Orthodox population, the traditionalists (comprising the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has 400 clergy outside of Russia; the old calendarist churches of Greece, Bulgaria, Roumania, and like-minded Orthodox throughout the world) will continue to witness for the purity of Orthodoxy and against the heresies of modernism and ecumenism that have, so unfortunately, infected so much of World Orthodoxy.

While there are some fanatical fringe groups within the traditionalist movement (who aver that everyone else is devoid of grace), the majority of traditionalists do not agree. They consider the other (modernist) Orthodox to still be Orthodox, although in grave error, and pray for their return to the path of traditional Orthodoxy, as preserved by the Church for 2000 years. Among the "modernists" there is also a fanatic fringe, who consider the traditionalist Orthodox to be "schismatics" and outside the Church.

I think we should let the two fanatic fringes shout themselves out, while the more rationally-minded traditionalist and new-calendar Orthodox Christians should engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue in non-confrontational places such as this forum, and of course, pray for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

July 06, 2010

The Challenge of Raising Children in the 21st Century

By Fr. Alexis Miller

In the Orthodox Church we often use the expression that the home should be like "a little church." In Romania, a country the size of the state of Pennsylvania with over 500 monasteries, they take this saying a step further and say that the home should be like "a little monastery." It is my firm belief that in our increasingly secular and hedonistic culture, these sayings are true more now than ever. To raise Christian children in 21st century America, parents need all the help they can get from the church and, yes, even the monasteries.

As a parent of four children and as a youth worker in the secular arena, I have a great deal of experience working with kids. I've seen the successful results of raising kids according to God's laws and wisdom, and I've seen the damage done when parents don't draw from the rich resources of our Judeo-Christian heritage. I teach a parenting class in my vocation as a certified prevention professional and I always tell the parents, "You have to be militant against our culture to be successful at raising kids these days." Unfortunately most of these parents are outside the church and do not have the weapons they need to engage in this cultural battle. In fact, many of them are themselves caught up in the very cultural influences that are causing their kids to get involved in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, criminal behavior, sexual promiscuity, and poor school performance.

In this article I will share some suggestions for ways that we as Orthodox Christians can raise children who will be able to withstand the anti-Christian forces at work in our culture.  If some of these suggestions hit too close to home, please forgive me. It is not my intention to condemn anyone or make anyone feel guilty if they have failures in the area of parenting and family relations. My hope is to give guidance to those who are in the midst of the challenge of raising and preserving Christian families in an antagonistic culture.

I'll start with some basics: Christian parents need to have good solid marriages. They need to be "grown up" in the sense that they know who they are, they are solid in their commitment to their spouses, and they are firmly planted in the church. Many of the parents I work with are too busy going through their own personal soap operas to have the time or emotional energy to give their kids the guidance and protection that kids need.

If you have been married in the Orthodox Church and have kids, you don't get to be an adolescent. You can't be wondering if you married the right person or be busy trying to turn your spouse into "the right person." The grace of the sacrament of marriage has been given to you and the righteous response is to put your hand to the plow and never look back. If your spouse can't make you happy, remember: we are put on this earth to be holy, not happy.

Photo: www.orthphoto.net

With a good marriage and a life centered in the local Orthodox Christian parish, Orthodox parents must set about the task of parenting with vigilance and intensity. Here are some practical suggestions:

1) Every child should go to bed at night with a Bible story being read to them by one of the parents. A good Bible story book will take a child completely through the major stories, themes, and lessons of the Old and New Testament in a relatively short period of time. With my own children I have used the same book over and over for the last 23 years. When I get to the end of it, I simply start over at the beginning. Each time they hear the stories they have grown a couple inches and gained more maturity and the stories are understood at a deeper level.

2) Families need to pray together. Christ the Savior Seminary has a wonderful little book of mealtime prayers that we have used in our home for years. Each week we sing the prayers in the vesperal tone of the week. What a joy to sing the Plain Chant in our home and practice for the stichera to be sung at Great Vespers on Saturday night. Families should also try to gather at least once a day for prayers at the family icon corner. This is one of the key ways that children perceive their home to be a "little church." This also helps them to realize that worship is not a once a week go to church type thing but is rather at the heart of who we are and what we do in this life.

3) The "little church" needs to be centered in the "big church."  Attendance at Divine Liturgy, Vespers, and other services should not be optional for children. Children need to grow up knowing that this is simply what Orthodox Christians do, that the divine services are the most important, life-giving and, special events of the week. A rich liturgical life in both the small church and the big church will go along way in helping our children to grow up as worshippers of the One True God, the Holy Trinity.

4) After your spouse, your children need to be the most important people in your lives. Next to a strong marriage, your children's health and holiness need to be your highest priority as a family. Personal interests and hobbies that conflict with this priority need to be put on hold until the kids are raised. The more we invest in our children, the more they will identify with our values and take the course we have set for them. "Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it."

In addition to all of these positive suggestions, I have a list of things from which Christian parents need to protect their children. There are many things in our culture that may not appear to be intrinsically evil but in reality war against our children and hinder them in living a holy Christian life. It is in regards to these things that the Romanian reference to the "little monastery" becomes particularly relevant.

1 Video games. Video games of almost any type are a great hindrance to the development of Christian virtues. Even educational types of games can be harmful in that they can create an over-dependence on entertainment, visual and audio stimulation, and immediate gratification. Many video games are overtly anti-Christian, promoting violence, selfishness, lust, criminal behavior and pleasure seeking of all kinds.  In addition, they create hyperactivity, impatience, nervousness, and the need to be constantly entertained and stimulated. In no way do these games help the child to live a life of meditation upon God, quietness, patience, hard work, and living for others.

2. Television, music, internet, magazines and other forms of secular information media. Parents should strictly regulate what kinds of materials their children are exposed to, just as the abbot of a monastery gives his blessing for the monks to do their various tasks and activities. It is a grave error to allow children free reign on these types of materials. Everything should be scrutinized under the lens of the Holy Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the whole Tradition of the church. Any form of entertainment or information which does not lift up and edify the human person as created in the image of God, should be avoided and prohibited.

3. Tolerance of sexual impurity and promiscuity. Our popular secular culture is at war against our children to take away their innocence and virginity. Orthodox Christian parents need to talk to their children about sexual issues as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the subject. They should be taught that virginity is the highest prize of their childhood and the greatest gift they can give to their future spouse.

Parents need to set "old-fashioned" parameters for their children in terms of dating and how they relate to the opposite sex. The lives of the monastic and married saints should be lifted up as examples of marital fidelity, chastity and purity. Children should be exposed to the monastic life of the church and be allowed to consider monasticism as a life choice.

Orthodox parents should not assume their children will be able to keep their virginity in this culture which is so aggressively pushing them to be sexually active. We need to be aggressive and militant in promoting sexual purity to our children and often this will mean saying no to them. This means saying no to t-shirts that expose the belly-button, low hanging jeans that expose the waist line, and other articles of clothing bent on exposing more and more of the human body. The American fashion industry is set on making teen age girls look as sexy as possible. This is in no way compatible with Orthodox Christianity.

4. Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. These substances pose a great threat to the spiritual and physical health of our children. In fact, the use of tobacco is a primary predictor of a child who is at risk of poor school performance, sexual promiscuity, criminal activity, and other risky behaviors. Parents need to have an open line with their kids about these substances from the earliest years and kids need to have a clear message of disapproval from their parents concerning the use of any mind-altering substance including tobacco.

In conclusion, Orthodox Christian parents cannot afford to be wimps. We need to take the authority of an abbot in our little monasteries, providing our children with spiritual formation bathed in the tradition of the church. This requires courage and mental fortitude, being able to withstand our children's anger at times, and determination to stand against the current tide. Christian parenting in the 21st century is like swimming upstream in a swollen river. The good news is that if we stay firmly anchored to the arc of the Church we and our children will not be swept away in the rushing waters of a nation that has forgotten God. We have in the church every resource we need to raise holy and healthy children who will be able to keep their virginity, stay free from drug addiction, and reach their full potential as human beings created in the image of the One God in Three Persons, the Holy Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

July 05, 2010

Behold, Thy Mother

The greatest desire of every Christian should be to draw nearer to our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Many are the means provided for us to do so; among them are the sacraments, the Holy Gospel, and prayer. A special means of drawing closer to Christ is through devotion to His most pure Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary. Our Lord dwelt in her as a babe in her womb. He was always with her, either by His physical presence, as when He lived with her in Nazareth, or spiritually, in her constant prayerful communion with God. This union was not broken by death, and she now occupies a particular place of closeness to her Son in heaven. It was through Mary that God chose to come to mankind. He made her cooperation the condition for His appearance on earth. Since our Lord came to us through Mary, it is fitting that we come to Him through her. To this end He made her our mother also. At the very moment of His supreme sacrifice, as He was dying upon the Cross for our salvation, He said to His beloved disciple, Saint John, Behold thy mother, and to His Mother, Behold thy son (John 19:26-27), thus signifying that His Mother was to be the spiritual mother of all Christians, who, in the person of Saint John, became her children.

Our Orthodox affirmation that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos) confesses our belief in Jesus Christ as God. All Orthodox devotion to Mary is founded upon this principle. In Orthodox iconography, Mary is almost always represented together with her Son. She is a means, a way to the goal, which is Christ. True devotion to the Mother of God brings us unfailingly to her Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and God.

Protestants often reproach us for our veneration of the Mother of God. They say it is unscriptural, and that Christ is our sole Mediator with the Father. It's hue, in the Bible there is little about Mary. But after all, the New Testament is primarily the story of Christ, His life and teachings, and the story of His Church, as told by His Apostles. It would have been characteristic of the most pure Virgin not to seek a prominent place in the telling of that story, preferring, in her supreme humility, to remain in the background. Then again, had the Apostles written much about the greatness and glories of Mary, it might have seemed to the pagan world in which they lived that she was some sort of goddess to be worshipped, on account of her closeness to God. Much more about Mary entered the unwritten tradition of the Church, and was passed on by word of mouth for years before it was finally recorded in works of the Holy Fathers. And yet, for those with "eyes to see", the Holy Virgin is very much present in Scripture. In the Old Testament the Church sees her prefigured under many images and symbols, such as the burning bush and Jacob’s ladder. And in the New Testament she figures in the most important events surrounding the economy of our salvation: the Incarnation and Nativity of Christ, His redeeming Death on the Cross, the Descent of the Holy Spirit – when she was together with the Apostles at prayer in the upper room. It was at her behest that our Lord performed His first miracle – turning water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana. Without exaggeration one can say that she inaugurated the New Testament, when she heard the greeting of the archangel: "Rejoice, full of grace" and made the leap of faith and said "yes" to God, agreeing to bring His Son into the world as its Redeemer.

The poor Protestants who do not know the Mother of God are like motherless orphans. But what are we if, having such a mother, we neglect her? Orphans inspire pity, but children who neglect their mother are worthy of contempt. If we live in the spirit of the Church, we shall never neglect our mother, the Mother of God. There is not a single service of our Church that fails to invoke her name; the liturgical year is adorned with her feasts; no Orthodox church or home is without an icon of her. The prayer, "Virgin Mother of God, rejoice..." is part of our daily rule. Our whole prayer life echoes with the oft-repeated cry, "Most holy Mother of God, save us." [Note]

While careful not to fall into the excesses of Roman theology, we can never say enough about the Mother of God. As one hymn puts it, "Every tongue is at a loss to praise thee as is due: even a spirit from the world above is filled with dizziness, when it seeks to sing thy praises, O Theotokos" (Irmos, Ninth canticle of Matins for the feast of Theophany). However, all that we say and sing concerning the Mother of God will remain pretty poetry and sweet sentiment if we do not give her a real role in our lives. We should speak to her as to our mother, with honor and love, trusting in her maternal care and affection. If we make her a part of our lives, we shall always be striving to imitate her virtues. And when we fall short, as we so often do, we can run to her for forgiveness, knowing that she is the "Surety of sinners" and their "Unexpected Joy", reconciling us with God. We can always bring our troubles and sorrows to the Mother of God, because she who suffered so intensely together with Her Divine Son in His Passion is well able to understand our sufferings. She can give us the strength to bear our afflictions; as the "Joy of all who sorrow" she can "Assuage our sorrows."

Today, as we struggle against the imposition of a culture where everything is tolerated but the pure truth of Jesus Christ, we desperately need the spiritual support which the Mother of God offers to those who honor her. For Orthodox Christians she is an "invincible rampart" of spiritual life, "ever watchful in her prayers." Among human beings she is the summit of perfection. Her entire life was spent in conformity with the will of God. She, better than anyone who has ever lived, was blessed in hearing the word of God and keeping it. The more we come to know the Mother of God and appreciate her role in the whole scheme of our salvation, the more reason we will find to give thanks to God for bestowing her upon us as our mother.

Hieromonk German Ciuba