August 25, 2010

From St. Tikhon's Will.

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

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

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

* * *

Glory be to God for everything!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pardon, my beloved, and remember Tikhon!

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

August 22, 2010

The Holy Martyr and Archdeacon Laurence

Commemorated on August 10 (O.S.)

Sermon by Fr. John McCuen

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

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

August 16, 2010

Development of the heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2010

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

By St. Theophan the Recluse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By this you can avoid:

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

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

Arrogant aspirations, ascetic feats beyond your strength.

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2010

Exercises that develop the intellect, and also warm the spiritual life

By St. Theophan the Recluse
Part 1 of 2

A Christian intellectual development occurs when all the truths of the Faith are impressed so deeply into the intellect that the intellect's whole existence is made up of these truths alone. When it begins to reason over something, it reasons according to what it knows of the Christian truths, and would never make the slightest move without them. The Apostle calls this keeping the image of a sound mind (II Tim. 1:7).

Exercises or work related to this are: reading and hearing the Word of God, patristic literature, Lives of the Holy Fathers, mutual discourse and asking questions of those more experienced.

It is good to read or listen, better to have a mutual discourse, and even better to ask questions of those more experienced.

The most fruit-bearing is the Word of God, then patristic literature and the Lives of saints. Incidentally, it is needful to know that the Lives of saints are better for beginners, patristic literature for the intermediate, and the Word of God for the perfect.

All of these are the sources of Truth as well as the means for drawing from them; obviously, impressing them in the mind along with preserving the spirit of zeal also help.

Often one text will warm the spirit for more than a day. There are Lives of which the mere remembrance is enough to inflame zeal. There are also passages in patristic writings that inspire. Therefore we have this good rule: write down such passages and save them, in case you need them later to warm your spirit.

Often neither internal nor external work helps-the spirit remains sleepy. Hasten to read something from somewhere. If this does not help, run to someone to discuss it. The latter performed with faith is rarely fruitless.

There are two kinds of reading: one-ordinary, almost mechanical, and another-discriminating, according to spiritual need and advice. But the first kind is also not useless. It is, as we have said already, what is simply repeated and not studied.

It is most necessary for everyone to have someone with whom he can discuss spiritual matters-someone who already knows all our problems and to whom we can boldly reveal everything on our soul. It is best if it is only one person; two is too many. Idle conversations carried on only in order to pass the time should be avoided at all cost.

Here is a rule for reading:

Before reading you should empty your soul of everything. [1]

Arouse the desire to know about what is being read.

Turn prayerfully to God.

Follow what you are reading with attention and place everything in your open heart.

If something did not reach the heart, stay with it until it reaches.

You should of course read quite slowly.

Stop reading when the soul no longer wants to nourish itself with reading. That means it is full. If the soul finds one passage utterly stunning, stop there and read no more.

The best time for reading the Word of God is in the morning, Lives of saints after the mid-day meal, and Holy Fathers before going to sleep. Thus you can take up a little bit each day.

During such occupations, you should continually keeping mind the main goal—impressing the truth on yourself and awakening the spirit. If reading or discourse does not bring this about, then they are but idle itchings of the tongue and ears, or empty discussion. If it is done with intelligence, then the truths impress themselves and rouse the spirit, and one thing aids the other. But if the reading or discourse digresses from the proper image, then there is neither one nor the other—truth is stuffed into the head like sand, and the spirit becomes cold and hard smokes over and puffs up.

Impressing the spirit is not the same as searching for it. This requires only that you clarify what the truth is, and hold it in your mind until they bond together. Let there be no deductions or limitations—only the face of truth.

The easiest method for this could lawfully be considered the following: the whole truth is in the catechesis. Every morning take the truth from it and clarify it to yourself, carry it in your mind and nourish yourself with it for as long as it feeds the soul—a day, two days or longer. Do the same thing with another truth, and continue thus to the end. This is a method that is easy and applicable to everyone. Those who do not know how to read may ask for one truth and proceed from there.

We can see that the rule for everyone is this: impress the in Holy little truth in a way that will awaken you. The methods for fulfilling this rule vary, and it is not at all possible to prescribe the same one for everyone.

Thus, reading, listening and discourse that do not impress the truth or awaken the spirit should be considered wrong, as they lead away from the truth. It is a sickness to read many books out of curiosity alone, when only the mind follows what is being read, without leading it to the heart or delighting in its flavor.

This is the science of dreaming; it is not creative, does not hasten success, but is devastating and always leads to arrogance. All your work should be limited, as we have said, to the following: clarify the truth and hold it in the mind until the heart tastes of it. The Holy Fathers put it simply: remember it, hold it in the mind, and have it always before your eyes.

August 12, 2010

The Three Powers of the Soul and Their Curative Exercises

By St. Theophan the Recluse

In the soul we find three powers: the intellect, the will, the heart, or, as the Holy Fathers say, the intellectual, desiring and incensive powers. Each of them is assigned particular curative exercises by the holy ascetics. These related exercises are both receptive and conducive to grace. They need not be contrived according to some theory, but rather chosen from tested ascetic labors particularly suited to a given power:

For the mind

1) Reading and hearing the Word of God, the writings of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the God-pleasers. 2) Studying and impressing upon yourself all the God-given truths in brief statements (the catechesis). 3) Asking questions of those older and more experienced. 4) Mutual informative discourse with friends.

For the will

1) Submission to the whole church rule. 2) Submission to civil order, or to family duty, for they are conduits of God's will. 3) Obedience to God's will as manifested in your fate. 4) Obeying your conscience in the doing of good deeds. 5) Subjecting yourself to the spirit that is zealous to fulfill its vows.

For the heart

1) Attending holy Church services. 2) Prayer, as specified by the Church; home prayer rule. 3) Using holy crosses, icons and other sacred substances and objects. 4) Observing holy customs established and promoted by the Church....
There are three powers: the intellect, the will and the senses. Corresponding exercises are given to them. They act directly to develop the powers, but in a way that does not quell the spirit-to the contrary, it ignites the spirit more and more. The latter serves as a measure and stabilizer to the former, which subjects itself to the latter to the point of speechless submission or even total cessation

To Be continued...

From The Path to Salvation

August 11, 2010

Karma and Christianity

I'm always amazed when I hear self-proclaimed Christians attribute something happening to being caused by karma. I'm sure that when some say it, they're just using it as a phrase, kind of an, "I deserved that." But there are some Christians I know that truly say they believe in karma. They believe that what goes around, comes around.

Karma is a direct contradiction of Christianity. There is no way you can accept the message of Jesus and also accept the idea of karma. Not only is it not compatible with Christian doctrine, but it's just plain illogical.

I'll start by really explaining what karma is defined as. When you really look at it, karma is just about cause and effect. If you do good things, good things will happen to you. If you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. When you apply this to the idea of reincarnation (the origin of the idea of karma), then a person that leads a good life will be reincarnated into a higher state of being, while a person that leads a bad life will be reincarnated into a lower state of being. The way you live your life causes you to either be rewarded or punished.

Whether or not you attribute karma to reincarnation, the idea of "what goes around comes around" is not at all compatible with Christianity. Christianity teaches that we all have done bad things, and we all deserve punishment. We can't atone for our misdeeds by trying to do good deeds. Salvation and eternal life (the reward) is only found through Christ. No person is more or less deserving of the reward.

Christianity believes in grace, not karma. They are two completely contradictory ideas, and you cannot logically believe in both. Karma says you get the reward or punishment that you deserve. Grace says you get the reward even if you deserve the punishment.

So when you're giving your waitress a big tip, do so because you want to be gracious, like Christ, not because you want to rack up some "good karma" in hopes that you'll somehow benefit later down the road.

Christopher Cummings

August 08, 2010

On Judgement by Fire

In April, European airlines and air travel were thrown into chaos by a volcano in Iceland. In July Poland, Romania and Moldova in particular were hit by terrible floods. Now Russia has been struck by a terrible heat wave, drought and forest fires.

All these countries have been hit by ‘natural’ crises, that is, the crises which happen in the fallen and so unnatural world. Now the word ‘crisis’ means judgement in Greek.

Through a volcano, Europeans are judged and taught that they can do nothing on account of a mere volcano and to stop relying on their feeble human ‘technology’ and pray. Through floods Eastern Europeans are judged and taught to stop relying on deforestation in order to pay for Western consumer goods and to pray.

Through fire Russians are judged and taught that they can no longer keep the remains of their worst enemy, the idol of the antichrist-Lenin, preserved in their chemical soup in the centre of Moscow, together with his countless statues and places named after him and his murderous followers, that they must stop aborting their children and so their national future, stop committing suicide by drinking themselves to death, stop bribe-taking and so stealing from each other, stop abusing each another in daily life and learn that Western consumerism does not bring long-term happiness, only short-term convenience.

It is no good Russians blaming science fiction for a terrible heat wave and drought. The good news is that God is in control of the climate. The bad news - for the unrepentant - is that God will not intervene in the climate or in any human affair until all ask Him to do so. When all Russia, and not just the Churched few, goes down on its knees and repents, not only in words but also in deeds, then the heat, the drought and the fires will stop and God’s rain will fall on the earth and refresh it as with the dew of His grace.

It is no good Western Europeans accusing or gloating at Russia’s misfortune. Russian misfortune was taken there from the West. Their misfortune is that they accepted it. Today a ‘natural’ catastrophe is there, tomorrow a’ natural’ catastrophe will be here. Let us all pray to the Lord and so all repent, that He may intervene and help us all to fight against our common human spiritual disease of sin. The fires of nature will only stop in the forest when the fires of repentance begin in the soul. This is the Divine law. Let us heed it.

August 06, 2010

Heaven on Earth

By Saint John of Kronstadt

The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth, during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with me, being Himself the invisible Celebrant of the service, offering and being offered. There is nothing upon earth holier, higher, grander, more solemn, more life-giving than the Liturgy. The temple, at this particular time, becomes an earthly heaven; those who officiate represent Christ Himself, the angels, the cherubim, seraphim and Apostles.

The Liturgy is the continually repeated solemnization of God's love to mankind, and of His all-powerful mediation for the salvation of the whole world, and of every member separately: the marriage of the Lamb-the marriage of the King's Son, in which the bride of the Son of God is every faithful soul; and the Giver of the bride-the Holy Spirit. With what prepared, pure, elevated souls it is therefore necessary to assist at the Liturgy, in order not to be amongst the number of those who, having no wedding garment, but a garment defiled by passions, were bound hand and foot, and cast out from the marriage feast into utter darkness. Whilst now, unfortunately, many do not even consider it necessary to attend the Liturgy at all; others only go out of habit, and go away in the same state of mind as they came, without elevated thoughts, without a contrite heart. Some stand in church irreverently, inattentively, without any concentration of mind, without any previous self-preparation at home by means of meditation and abstinence; and many manage to drink and eat more than they should before service. Before the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, the Hebrew people were ordered to prepare and cleanse themselves. In the Divine service, we have not a lesser event than God's descent upon Mouth Sinai, but a greater one: here before us is the very face of God the Lawgiver.

When the Lord appeared to Moses upon Mount Horeb in the bush, Moses was ordered to put off his shoes from his feet, but here is a greater manifestation of God than upon Horeb; there was only the prototype, here is the Typifier Himself. O, how we cling to earthly things! We do not even wish to devote one hour exclusively to God! Even during the Divine, most heavenly Liturgy we allow ourselves to think and dream of earthly things, and fill our souls with images and desires for earthly things, sometimes-alas-even with impure images; when we ought to be praying ardently, to be assiduously meditating upon this great mystery, to be repenting of our sins, longing and praying to be cleansed, sanctified, enlightened, renewed, and strengthened in the Christian life, and in the fulfilment of Christ's commandments; when we ought to be praying for the living and the dead; for the Liturgy is a sacrifice of propitiation, thanksgiving, praise and prayer. Great is the Liturgy! In it remembrance is made, not of the life of any great man, but that of God Incarnate, Who suffered and died for us, Who rose again ascended into heaven, and Who shall come again to judge the whole world!

Both learned and unlearned young men seldom go to church, and in general do not attend to their spiritual education, looking upon it as unnec-essary and giving themselves up to worldly vanity. Attention must be paid to this. It is the fruit of pride, of want of spiritual development. They consider attendance at church and Divine services as the business of the common people and women, forgetting that in the temple, angels officiate with trembling, together with men, and regard this as their highest bliss. Does not coldness towards public worship, towards Divine service, proceed from the fact that some do not understand it, and that others, although they have studied the science of Divine service, have been taught it dryly, without any examples, only according to the understanding? Whilst Divine service, being the high contemplation of the mind, is at the same time-and pre-eminently-the peace, sweetness and blessedness of the heart.

When you are in the temple, remember that you are in the living presence of the Lord God, that you stand before His face, before His eyes, in the living presence of the Mother of God, of the holy angels, and of the first-born of the Church-that is, our forefathers, the prophets, Apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, revered Fathers, the righteous, and all the saints. Always have the remembrance and consciousness of this when you are in the temple, and stand with devotion, taking part willingly and with all your heart in the Divine service.

In the Church we are freed from worldly enchantment and from the intoxication of worldly passions and desires; we become enlightened, sanctified, cleansed in our souls; we draw near to God, we are united with God ("Who, by Thy glorious childbirth, hast united God the Word with men"-Prayer to the Holy Mother of God at Compline). How worthily revered and loved should the temple of God be! How God's saints loved it! By means of its Divine services, the Orthodox Church educates us for the heavenly citizenship, by teaching us every virtue, exemplified by the lives of the Mother of God, and of all the saints, by purifying, sanctifying, and making us godly through the sacraments, and by giving unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). Therefore, it is urgently necessary for us to frequent intelligently, reverently, and willingly the Divine services, especially on feast days and to take part in the sacraments of penitence and Holy Communion. But those who withdraw themselves from the Church and the Divine services become the victims of their passions and are lost.

Those who attend the Divine services of the Orthodox Church, and study the science of Divine service, must bear in mind that the service here on earth is a preparation for all-rejoicing service to God in heaven; that in serving God with the body, it is still more necessary to serve God with the soul and with a pure heart; that in hearing the Divine service, they must learn to serve God as those saints served Him, whose lives and works of faith, hope, and love we hear of during the Divine service; that God should be above all served by deed and truth, and not only by words and the tongue. We are called to serve God by our very being: we are given an upright stature in order that we may continually look upon God, thank and glorify Him; our understanding, heart, will and all feelings are given to us for the same purpose.

Truly, the temple is heaven upon earth; for where the throne of God is, where terrible Mysteries are celebrated, where the angels serve together with men, where the Almighty is unceasingly glorified, there is truly heaven, and the heaven of heavens. And thus let us enter into the temple of God, and above all, into the Holy of Holies, with fear of God, with a pure heart, laying aside all passions and every worldly care, and let us stand in it with faith and reverence, with understanding attention, with love and peace in our hearts, so that we may come away renewed, as though made heavenly; so that we may live in the holiness natural to heaven, not binding ourselves by worldly desires and pleasures.

In the Church are all our sweetest hopes and expectations, our peace, our joy, together with cleansing and sanctification. It is there that the truth of the future resurrection, of the victory over death, is so often announced. Who that loves life would not love the Church with all his heart! Everything that is best, most exalted, most precious, holy and wise, is found in the Church. In the Church is the ideal of mankind; the Church is heaven upon earth.

Excerpts from My Life in Christ, the Spiritual Diary of Saint John of Kronstadt

August 04, 2010

The Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God

Commemorated on July 23, September 8 and on the Friday of the Bright Week
The Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God is among the most venerable sacred items of the Russian Church. It is reknown throughout all the Slavic world: they venerate it in Russia, in Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and other places. Christians also of other confessions come for veneration of the wonderworking image of the MostHoly Mother of God, alongside the Orthodox. At the Pochaev Lavra, an ancient rampart of Orthodoxy, the wonderworking icon has resided about 400 years. (The account about the transfer of the icon to the Pochaev monastery is located under 8 September). The miracles, which issued forth from the holy icon, are numerous and are testified to in the monastery books with the inscriptions of the faithful, who with prayer have met with deliverance from unclean spirits, liberation from captivity, and sinners brought to their senses.

      The celebration in honour of the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God on 23 July was established in memory of the deliverance Uspenie-Dormition Lavra monastery from a Turkish siege on 20-23 July 1675.

      In the Summer of 1675 during the time of the Zbarazhsk War with the Turks, during the reign of the Polish king Jan Sobesski (1674-1696), regiments composed of Tatars under the command of khan Nurredin via Vishnevets fell upon the Pochaev monastery, surrounding it on three sides. The weak monastery walls, just like some of the stone buildings of the monastery, did not offer much defense against a siege. The hegumen Iosif Dobromirsky urged the brethren and laypeople to turn themselves to Heavenly intercessors: to the MostHoly Mother of God and the Monk Job of Pochaev (Comm. 28 October). The monks and the laypeople prayed fervently, prostrating themselves before the wonderworking image of the Mother of God and the reliquary with the relics of the Monk Job. On the morning of 23 July with the rising of the sun, as the Tatars were holding a final meeting about an assault on the monastery, the hegumen ordered the singing of an akathist to the Mother of God. With the first words, "O Queen of the Heavenly Hosts", suddenly there appeared over the church the MostHoly Mother of God Herself, in "an unfurled gleaming-white omophor", with heavenly angels holding unsheathed swords. The Monk Job was beside the Mother of God, bowing to Her and beseeching the defense of the monastery. The Tatars took the heavenly army for an apparition, and in confusion they began to shoot arrows at the MostHoly Mother of God and the Monk Job, but the arrows fell backwards and wounded those who shot them. Terror seized the enemy. In a flight of panic and without looking, they trampled upon and killed each other. The defenders of the monastery attempted pursuit and took many prisoner. Some of the prisoners afterwards accepted the Christian faith and remained at the monastery thereafter.

      In the year 1721 Pochaev was occupied by Uniates. But even in this difficult time for the Lavra, the monastery chronicle notes 539 miracles from the glorified Orthodox sacred image. During the time of the Uniate rule in the 2nd half of the XVIII Century, for example, the Uniate nobleman count Nicholas Pototski became a benefactor of the Pochaev Lavra through the following miraculous circumstance. Having accused his coachman for overturning the carriage with frenzied horses, the count took out a pistol to shoot him. The coachman, turning towards Pochaev Hill, reached his hands upwards and cried out: "Mother of God, manifest in the Pochaev Icon, save me!" Pototski several times tried to shoot the pistol, which had never let him down, but the weapon misfired. The coachman remained alive. Pototski then immediately set off to the wonderworking icon and decided to devote himself and all his property to the building-up of the monastery. From his wealth was built the Uspenie-Dormition cathedral and buildings for the brethren.

      The return of Pochaev into the bosom of Orthodoxy in 1832 was marked by the miraculous healing of the blind maiden Anna Akimchukova, who had come on pilgrimage to the holy things together with her 70 year old grandmother, from Kremenets-Podol'sk 200 versts away. In memory of this event, the Volynia archbishop and Lavra archimandrite Innokentii (1832-1840) established weekly on Saturdays the reading of the cathedral akathist before the wonderworking icon. During the time of the rule of the Lavra by archimandrite Agathangel, archbishop of Volynia (1866-1876), there was constructed a separate chapel in the galleries of the Holy Trinity church in memory of the victory over the Tatars, which was dedicated on 23 July 1875.

translator Fr. S. Janos.