Orthodox Thought for the Day

ORTHODOX THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Great Martyr George & Thomas Sunday

Well done video on the life of St. George here:  http://trisagionfilms.com/project/holy-great-martyr-george/ 

PLUS: 

We are More Blessed than the Apostles 

  

Christ is Risen!
We heard in the Gospel reading today about what assurance one of the twelve apostles—the apostle Thomas—received.
The Lord appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. When He appeared, He showed them His hands and feet as proof of His Resurrection, and did so more than once. But the apostle Thomas, who was not present with them, expressed some doubt, and responded to the words of the disciples about how they had seen the Lord, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (Jn. 20:25).
Eight days later the merciful Lord again appeared to the disciples, gathered in one house behind closed doors, and said to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing (Jn. 20:27). The apostle Thomas’ doubt has become to some extent proverbial, has grown wings, and become common knowledge, and often causes us modern Christians to even condemn the apostle Thomas. We wonder, how could he have doubted? In reality, even in the Gospels we see that there is nothing surprising in this. The apostle Thomas was not alone in his doubt.
If we look closely at the Gospel events after Christ’s Resurrection, we see with what doubt the apostles often responded to what was happening. They did not believe Mary Magdalene (cf. Mk. 16:9-11), and they did not believe Luke and Cleopas, when the Lord appeared to them on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk. 24:1316), but they constantly doubted. Therefore, to confirm them in faith, the Lord gave confirmation of His human nature, by eating before them and showing them His wounds.
But what fruit the apostle Thomas’ doubt brought the Church! The Lord again proved that He is the true God, and that He is risen from the dead. And the Church even lauds this unbelief of Thomas in its hymns today, thanks to which we are strengthened in faith. Faith only asserts itself by this unbelief.
And the apostles, having often betrayed Christ, having feared just like normal people, and having experienced doubts, proved this faith with their whole lives and their apostolic ministries. They were stronger than the rulers of this world, stronger than the laws, stronger than pagan teachings, and stronger than the Pharisees with their ancient traditions; and they feared nothing, preaching the Gospel to all ends of the universe. They gave their lives for Christ, and like their Teacher, they also proved that life is mightier than death, and that the Lord is more important for us all than the temporary fulfillment of our passions. The apostles belonged to the family of those who saw Christ and believed.
Returning then to today’s Gospel reading, the Savior’s words, addressed to the apostle Thomas and the other disciples, acquire a particular importance for us. After the Lord showed Thomas His wounds, he said, My Lord and my God! (Jn. 20:28). This is the witness he brought. And Jesus answered, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn. 20:29).
This firstly refers to the following generations of Christians, to the disciples of the apostles, the disciples of those disciples, and to us all. We have not seen Christ, come into the world in the flesh, and therefore we are worthy of such blessedness—having not seen Him, we believe. The fathers of the Church say that this bliss is a pledge of great blessings for us, perhaps greater than the holy apostles were accounted worthy of, but on condition that we, like the apostles, full of this blessedness, must give our entire lives to Christ, and serve His Gospel evangelism. This is the condition for felicity. Such a great gift the Lord gives us: We are more blessed in this world than the apostles.
There is another kind of people, who saw Christ and heard the Gospel message, but remained unbelieving. First among these was the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who understood Who it was that stood before them, Who came into this world. These were people of the Scripture, perfectly knowing the prophecies, but they did not receive Christ. And we, Christians, knowing the Gospel, often find ourselves in their place. Sometimes our knowledge as if further removes us from Christ.
It is especially important for people who have studied theology. How often, as historical examples tell us, people who have seemingly reached the heights of mental knowledge of God, having studied everything, having read everything, become terrible cynics and lead others into yet greater destruction.
May it not be so with us, dear brothers and sisters; may we be along with the apostles simple, faithful, sincere, and, of course, to the best of our ability, students and preachers of the risen Christ; may we be bearers of the good news of the all-conquering Gospel truth.
Christ is Risen!
Hieromonk Ignaty (Shestakov)
Translated by Jesse Dominick
Pravoslavie.ru
23 / 04 / 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Five Rules of Paschal Joy

 Source:  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/102789.htm
(Photos which are part of this article may be viewed at the link above).

According to what rules does Paschal joy abide in the soul, and what should we do if this joy leaves us?
 
Irina Sechina of Milorsedie.ru speaks [Russian] with Archpriest Konstantin Ostrovsky, head of the Krasnogorsk Deanery near Moscow:
 
It is disappointing that after all the labors of Great Lent, Paschal joy, having barely given comfort to our souls, quickly vanishes. We sadly eat our shish kebab and despondently watch our TV series—we are finally allowed to do that. But maybe our sorrow is not about this?
 
Joy does not depend on the feast.
 
It is a common occurrence when we, like other sinful people, immediately after Pascha return to the habits that we gave up for the time of Great Lent. Father Konstantin believes that spiritual “backsliding” of this kind is in the order of things.
 
“Through this the Lord shows us our weaknesses, so that we might learn humility. Many good virtues in us are poisoned by pride. This happens to each of us when as a person gets proud of his spiritual accomplishments.”
 
True, it is disappointing that we tend to quickly and to no purpose squander all that we gained over Great Lent. But we are disappointed not because we lose something good and precious but because we thought that we were able to preserve all this, that we would be good forever. It seemed we had enough strength to do it.
 
“According to St. Theophan the Recluse, if a humble person commits some minor sin, it does not surprise him. But if an arrogant person commits a sin, it comes as quite a surprise.”
And the latter may lose heart. In Fr. Konstantin’s view, the Lord teaches us in this way, and our main task is to reconcile ourselves to it. Then peace and joy will reign in our souls, and it will not depend on feasts or daily life.
 
“The life of every single person is in the hands of God. Each one of us. In order to feel it with all our hearts we need to commit our own selves into the hands of God, so that our only desire is to do the will of the Almighty. And the Lord also leaves something in us for training, in order to comfort us when we are meek and to humble us when we are arrogant.”
Joy does not tolerate pride.
 
In Fr. Konstantin’s opinion, our pride mingles with all aspects of our life, which are poisoned by it; thus, our spiritual joy as well as genuine repentance are transient. “We are unable to rejoice in God because we always rejoice in ourselves as well. We say, ‘I am so good, I have prayed so perfectly, the experience of Gospel events touch me so deeply—I truly grieve for Christ’s Passions, I truly rejoice at Pascha…’ Thus, joy cannot abide long in our souls, which are like vessels full of holes.”
 
St. Seraphim of Sarov heartily greeted everybody with the words: “Christ Is Risen!” He always witnessed to the Resurrection of Christ, and not only on Pascha, but all year round, because he sincerely believed and felt that Paschal joy accompanies us at all times.
 
Most of us do not feel Pascha that way—and that is normal. It is not necessary to artificially engender the feeling of joy. “In order to avoid disillusionment we should admit that we are not like St. Seraphim of Sarov and are unable to greet all with the words, ‘Christ Is Risen!’ with all our hearts,” Fr. Konstantin says.
 
“Now many write about joy. They say, ‘Why are modern Christians so gloomy if Christ called upon everybody to have joy.’ I think that to propagandize joy is absolutely incorrect. We come to church in order to pray and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ—our Church unity is based precisely on these things, not on emotions. This is what the Church is like.
 
“Calling forth some emotions is a dangerous mistake. These emotions will be false. Many Church Fathers even counsel us to conceal from others the gift of abundant spiritual joy (if God should grant it to you).”
Joy does not seek for itself.
 
As a matter of fact, the Church gives us all that is needed for natural, not artificial, joy.
Even if we just go to church on Holy Week or Bright Week, we will certainly find the right spirit there.
 
Many people read the Gospel, so even if it is hard for them to concentrate, they will still find it easy to understand the meaning of Church hymns and chants.
 
Our relationship with God is much deeper than our emotions.
 
Fr. Konstantin gives an example: “A mother of many children is tired. She grows faint from exhaustion and all she wants to do is sleep. But it does not mean that she no longer loves her children at the moment or loves them less than when she is nursing them or smiling at them.
 
“We know that many saints had different [spiritual] states. The podvigs (ascetic labors) of some saints were seen by everybody, while others did not perform any special outward spiritual labors, yet they achieved perfection and were glorified by God. One striking example is St. Dositheus. Outwardly he did not exceed any of the brethren in ascetic labors. Nobody noticed that he was performing the great labor of obedience. He cut off his own will for the sake of God’s will.”
Joy cannot be earned.
 
As is generally known, after the midnight Paschal service everybody breaks his fast. There is the cracking of eggshells, the smell of sausage, joyful hugs and toasts… At last! And shish kebabs in the country-houses, premieres at cinemas, rock music in our earphones instead of the “boring” classical music are ahead of us. And so, there is an impression that we regard Church life as our “obligation”, and Great Lent—as a prolonged mining shift.
 
So when the feast comes, our “interval between the shifts” comes with it: We take our hard hats off, wash the coal dust from our faces, and hurry to the fields to drink and make merry until the next shift… Meanwhile, the time of fasting, the opportunity to pray at the Liturgy, to receive Communion and all that happens at the Church are God’s great gifts of to us, and not our duties to Him.
Fr. Konstantin holds that we must be happy with these gifts and thank God even for several hours of Paschal joy:
 
“During the period of the Fast, God loosens the fetters of passions with which we are bound. The Fast is a gift of the Church, a gift to all of us. And Paschal joy after Great Lent is another gift and evidence of the reality of Divine grace—so that when Paschal joy is taken away from us (and it will inevitably be taken away), we might remember it, remember that it is really possible to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ.” 
Joy lives by hope.
 
Our feelings are short-lived and weak, they deceive us. We have tasted a little Paschal joy, but after two movies and three evening parties our joy disappears and it is replaced with sorrow at our own weakness. How can we keep our balance? How can we not feel despondent, and at the same time, not indulge ourselves in our humility: “I am so weak, O Lord, there is no getting away from it. I admit that I am not St. Seraphim of Sarov, so let me go and watch the next TV series!”
 
Fr. Konstantin is of the opinion that humility is not enough—repentance is also needed. “Not only must we be conscious of our inability to refrain from watching entertainment shows, but we must also repent of it instead of giving way to despair. Imagine an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp who has joined an insurgent committee and is now preparing for an uprising. But while the revolt is being organized, he continues working at the fascists’ factories! Of course he is not particularly enthusiastic about it, but he does it with the hope that the uprising is underway, and that with the help of the allied army it will succeed.
 
“In our case, with the help of God we are freed from passions. So not only should we accept ourselves as we are, but we should also pray to God and ask Him to strengthen us in this struggle. ‘I have frittered away time throughout the week, have watched various rubbish on TV, have not thought about God, so I have lost the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. But I believe in Him, I believe that the Lord will reform me—however painful it may be for me to accept this—and will awaken my heart to love and joy’.”
Translation by Dimitry Lapa
18 / 04 / 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank You for an Outpouring of Paschal Love

In excess of $5,000 was given in less than a week to assist in blessing our Orthodox Christian brethren in Kosovo on this sacred Feast.  Thank you for your care, beloved readers!



CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!

 

 
Sending you the joyous Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen!”
Presbytera Candace

On the Paschal Joy


Bypassing Paschal Joy

or

Why Are We Never Happy? 


 

Why are we always unhappy about something; why can’t we rejoice and give thanks for all we have? We moan, grumble, and complain. This kind of behaviour, however, puts us at the great risk of missing out on the true joy of Pascha, of misunderstanding it, of not comprehending it… Protopriest Andrei Lorgus, the Rector of the Institute of Christian Psychology in Moscow, speaks out on this subject.  

Photo: Viktor Zazhipin, http://expert.ru/

I was an altar boy, when one Pascha, during the feast itself, I suddenly realised that I did not feel the joy of Pascha, of the Resurrection, as I had felt it before. It was a new feeling for me, very unsettling.  I saw it as a kind of symptom, an indication that something within me was not right; an indication that I was badly prepared for the Paschal feast: I might not have fasted properly, or spent Great Lent unwisely; I might have broken a rule or done something wrong forgetting to confess it later.  In other words, I assumed that the whole problem lay in my not having spent Great Lent well, and that was why the Paschal feast did not produce bright Paschal emotions in me.  And Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, did not resonate in me with the joy that could have been.

And yet, the whole point of Great Lent is to prepare for Pascha, for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ; it has no importance of its own.  Apostle Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:17).  In other words, our faith is futile, if we do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ.  And this makes us contemplate that which is most important and most significant in Christianity, namely, faith in the Resurrection of Christ the Saviour.
This is why it is important.  We all know that we all are mortal.  Approximately around the age of six to seven or eight to ten we learn that one day we too will die.   We know that everything on earth changes and that everything will come to an end.  Everything will come to an end for us as well.  But the soul cannot accept it, which is why the most terrifying affliction for anybody on earth is death.  Death is what demeans all our joy; it demeans our youth, demeans love, it demeans domestic happiness, achievements, careers, and creativity.  For if I am to exist no more, what is the point of it all?  If everyone has to die, who am I labouring for, etc.?  In other words, death is the main obstacle to life and human happiness. People live in an unceasing, almost constant fear of death.  Fear of death is like the background of life.  From the moment a child becomes aware of his mortality, fear of death becomes a constant, sometimes conscious, at times unconscious, background of his life.  This fear of death consumes all joy; it consumes the satisfaction with one’s life, the joy of love, the joy of parenthood, the joy of creative success, and the joy of prayer.
So Christ comes and says, “There will be no more death.  I have conquered death.”  This is the Christians’ main happiness – the happiness of knowing that there is no more death.  This is the joy that comes to us on Pascha.  It is the joy of our own and each and everyone’s personal immortality.  We are now immortal in Christ; we have nothing to fear from now on; we can be happy.  The joy of Pascha should mean endless rejoicing, the resounding of bells, the singing of “Christ is Risen,” and love, an “all-embracing” love, as the Paschal stichera say.

Life is Not a Zebra


However, what happens to a person who does not experience such joy?  Not just Paschal, but everyday joy. This is when we ask the soul, what is happening within to prevent you from rejoicing?  Some say, and justly, sins deprive us of happiness.  That is true.  Sin, unrepented, unrecognized, and misunderstood, stands between us and the Risen Christ.  There is Confession though, isn’t there?

Often you hear believers say, “I repent, and I confess, and I commune. I commune every Sunday of Great Lent, but I experience no joy.  I seem to be doing everything right; I attended Holy Unction, went over my whole life and confessed all my sins, but there is still no joy.”  In that case, we must assume something else. Sins, forgotten or unconfessed sins, are not the only problem; there is something else.  Sin is no longer a barrier between us and Christ; something else has become a barrier.  Could it be a lack of faith in the most important, in the very victory over death?

Some say, “It could be a lack of belief in the resurrection of Christ,” and that is true.  We go back to the words of St. Paul, “If Christ is not raised; our faith is vain.” Could it really be that our faith is vain?  Could it be that our lack of faith in the resurrection of Christ robs us of the joy of Pascha?  Very often, when faithful Christians say, “I believe in Christ’s resurrection, but I have no joy,” something is going on there, in the depths of their souls.  There is an eclipse there; an eclipse of life itself, not only of the joy of Pascha. The essential purpose of life is eclipsed; the joy of simply living.  The joy of this morning’s sunrise; the joy of the blue sky; the joy of smiling back at a person who is smiling at me because I love him and he loves me, because I am meeting the image and the likeness of God.

The ability to rejoice is at the very heart of our soul.  I should say rather that the very nature of our soul, the spiritual substance, the spiritual essence is in itself rejoicing, is in itself blessedness, for it is an aspect of the being given to us by God.  He said, “You will be in My image and My likeness.” And He is Spirit, He is Love, He is All Blessedness.  The reflection of this blessedness is in the nature of our soul.  In other words, the soul is in its very nature Christian, as Tertullian said.  It is important to add that our soul in its very nature is also happiness and love.

So why aren’t we rejoicing if our souls are a torrent of love and the energy of joy?  It is because our souls are obscured and not only with sin.  We obscured it with fear; we concealed it beneath a thick armour of self-preservation.  Sometimes people cannot rejoice just because they think they will have to grieve.  Have you never heard the expression, “Life is like a zebra; first, comes a light streak, then a dark one.” Nothing can be more blasphemous.  Life is not a zebra. If life is with God, it is a life of light, of joy, and of love despite all the existing suffering and tragedies. Joyful is not the same as carefree; joy is not devoid of sorrow; happiness is not without suffering.  Yet, joy and happiness overcome suffering.  They overcome it because they are stronger, just as the Lord is stronger than the devil, because light is stronger than darkness.

Our Paschal joy is the deep conviction that just as Christ is Risen, joy is stronger than sadness.

Lent: Tuning into Joy


I think that Great Lent naturally creates a feeling of expectation, creates festive emotions.  It introduces us into the context of the events of the Gospel, into the philosophy of the Church, into an ecclesiastical understanding of what happens to a person’s soul and of what happened to Christ two thousand years ago.  I think there is more to it though.  Our experience of joy is lastingly connected to the internal perception of the life we lead and which was given to us by the Lord.  This perception of life is like a backdrop of our entire existence. And this holds true not just for Great Lent, not just for Pascha, it applies to our entire being.

Very often I am approached by people who no longer desire to live.  In these cases, it is almost impossible to speak to them of the joy of Pascha, because for them life is a burden and constant suffering.  And don’t assume that I’m referring to people suffering physically from pain, disabled people, or people afflicted by grief or tragedy.  Absolutely not.  I’m speaking of those who lost their purpose in life.

I think that Great Lent can help guide people in their search for a purpose simultaneously providing them with a very important framework for it.  This framework is planted in the texts of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, and in other texts read during Great Lent, in the texts of the Lenten Triodion, in the texts of the Menaion and of the Octoechos, in other words, in the liturgical books that are read daily.

Those texts meditate on the heroes of the Old and New Testaments, on people searching to encounter God, who lived, suffered, rejoiced, sinned, and repented.  In other words, these texts contain, if I may say so, models of all human conditions, models of all our actions.

The ability to enjoy life is a special skill for adults, a skill that it is possible to acquire.  Traditions, culture, and the framework of life are all part of it.  Moreover, it is obviously an inner skill, an inner virtue – to live joyfully, to sense that life is joy, a gift, the greatest gift.  It is gratitude to God!  Knowing that your soul is a gift that will never be taken away, a priceless gift.  This kind of inner disposition is faith.

The disposition of the soul is the foundation of the personality.  On the contrary, fear and anxiety are like a veil that comes between the person and the world – a special perception of the world, a mistrust of the world…

For this reason, we can learn to rejoice.  Joy is an achievement; I would even call it, a commandment.  It is for this very reason that St. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

                                                                               Oksana Golovko spoke to Protopriest Andrei Lorgus

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov

Friday, April 14, 2017

Recurring Miracle of the Holy Flame

The coming of the Holy Flame (which lights an oil lamp held by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem every year on Holy Saturday) is a recurring miracle in the Orthodox Church.  The miracle has been documented consecutively since 1106 AD.  From the lighted oil lamp, the Patriarch ignites candles and shares the flame with the faithful.   

 

This miraculous flame that comes to the Patriarch while he is praying in Christ’s tomb (located within in the Holy Sepulcher Church, Jerusalem) intrigues people—whether believers of not. 

Pravoslavie.ru website has posted an excellent, if not somewhat lengthy, article titled The Holy Flame: the Greatness of the Miracle, and the Helplessness of the Skeptics.  It’s worth reading—and sharing with others who might have interest, too. 




Kali Anastasi to all!
Presbytera Candace

The personal experience of Holy Week

Therefore, no matter what we experience, or no matter how little we experience, let us attend these services, let us immerse ourselves in what they have to say to us. We will not try to forcibly squeeze some feelings out of ourselves: it is enough to watch; it is enough to hear. Let the events themselves—for these are events and not just memories—break us in body and soul. Then, when we forget ourselves and think rather of Christ, about what is really taking place during these days, we will reach also that Great Saturday when Christ is laid to rest in the tomb—and we also will find rest. When at night we hear the announcement of the Resurrection, we too will be able to suddenly come alive from that terrible numbness, from that terrible death of Christ, from Christ’s dying, of which we shall partake at least a little during these days of the Passion.