Orthodox Thought for the Day


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As light as lifting four strands of hair

Saint Kosmas the Aitolian used to say: 

Brothers, if you want to cure your souls, you need four things!  Shall we make an agreement?  From the time you were born until now, whatever sins you committed, I will take on my back, if you’re willing to lift only four strands of hair in exchange!  Is that too heavy or hard for you?  And what will I do with your sins?  I have a bottomless pit and I will throw them in!  What is this bottomless pit?  It is the compassion of Christ. 

The first hair is:  when you want to confess your sins, the first foundation is to forgive your enemies.  Do you do this?  If you do, you have lifted the first strand of hair.

The second hair is:  find a good, educated, and virtuous spiritual father to whom you can confess your sins.  The time to be ashamed is when commit sin.  When making your confession you should not be ashamed.  When confessing, tell all your sins clearly.  First, say to your spiritual father, “Father, I will go to hell because I don’t love God and my brothers with all my heart, as I love myself.”  Have you done this?  Then you have also lifted the second hair. 

The third hair is:  when you have confessed your sins, the spiritual father will ask you, “Why, my child, did you commit all those sins?”  Be careful not to accuse others!  Accuse only yourself and say, “I have done them through my own wicked will; I am to blame.”  Is it too much for you to accuse yourself?  It isn’t?  Then you have lifted the third hair, also. 

Now we come to the fourth hair.  When you finish confessing your sins, and your spiritual father gives you his blessing and you leave, decide with a firm resolve and decision that it is better to die, better to shed your blood in martyrdom, than to fall again into sin.  Do you do this also?  If yes, you have lifted the fourth hair as well. 

These are your remedies, brother.  As light as lifting four strands of hair!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another Salvation Opportunity

Sincere thanks to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco for making this article available for us: 


It seems like yesterday when the summer heat was upon us. And here we are again preparing to enter the transformative period called Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is a marvelous and sacred time in our church calendar. Advent is a forgotten 40 days of invitation to renew our commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is forty days to inventory the quality and direction of our lives. It is forty days to avail ourselves of the opportunity of saving our souls. By the Grace of God it is a time to bring balance, holiness, peace and purpose to our lives.
Thanksgiving and Christmas become meaningless and devoid of joy if we only see it as a time of just feasting. Indeed, we ought to also fast, according to our church guidelines. We ought to learn self-denial and bodily self-discipline. But if we only center the Holy season on our stomachs, eating or not eating we miss the whole spiritual purpose. A saying attributed to the Holy Fathers of the church says: “The devil does not eat, he does not drink and he does not marry and this great ascetic formally is not less a devil”. We must put this into the proper context. Fasting should be a means to draw us closer to God by focusing on Him. In addition to food considerations, the holidays should be a time of spiritual growth and personal life changes. Let us pray for positive attitude adjustments and habit rehabilitation that brings out the good in all of us and reconciles us to God and to one another. Do you want to make your holidays really count? Do you want to greet Jesus the new born babe with a joyous “Christ is born, Glorify Him”? Consider the following 10 “unofficial” Commandments as part of personal renewal. Put them on your refrigerator door, read them frequently and practice them with conviction and prayer.

  1. Keep skid chains on your tongue; always say less than you think. Cultivate a low, persuasive voice. How you say it, often counts more than what you say.

  1. Make promises sparingly, and keep them faithfully, no matter what it costs.

  1. Never let any opportunity pass to say a kind and encouraging word to or about somebody. Praise good work, regardless of who did it. If criticism is needed, criticize helpfully, never spitefully.
  1. Be interested in others, their pursuits, their work, their homes and families. Make merry with those who rejoice; with those who weep, mourn. Let everyone you meet, however humble, feel that you regard them as a person of importance. 

  1. Be cheerful. Don’t burden or depress those around you by dwelling on your minor aches and pains and small disappointments. Remember, everyone is carrying his own cross. 

  1. Keep an open mind. Discuss, but don’t argue. It is a mark of a superior heart to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. 

  1. Let your virtues speak for themselves. Refuse to talk of another’s vices. Discourage gossip. It is a waste of valuable time and is extremely destructive. 

  1. Be careful of another’s feelings. Wit and humor at the other person’s expense are rarely worth it and may hurt when least expected. 

  1. Pay no attention to ill-natured remarks about you. Remember, the person who carried the message may not be the most accurate reporter in the world. Simply live so that nobody will believe them. 

  1. Don’t be anxious about the credit due you. Do your best and be patient. Forget about yourself, and let others remember. Practice forgiveness and charity. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Advent!

Rev. Father John Bakas, Dean
Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral – Los Angeles, California

Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving: The Last Sermon of Fr. Alexander Schmemann

The Last Sermon of Fr. Alexander Schmemann preached on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. Father Alexander Schmemann celebrated the divine liturgy for the last time on Thanksgiving Day. This was particularly appropriate since Father Alexander had devoted his whole life to teaching, writing and preaching about the Eucharist (Greek word defined as “thanksgiving”). At the conclusion of the liturgy, Father Alexander took from his pocket a short written sermon, in the form of a prayer, which he proceeded to read. This was a strange occurrence since Father never wrote his liturgical homilies, but delivered them extemporaneously. These were his words, which proved to be the last he would preach.


Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

Lord, it is good to be here! Amen. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On the virtues of the Theotokos

St. Ambrose of Milan on the Virtues of the Theotokos

The Entrance of the Most-Holy Theotokos to the Temple (http://pravicon.com/images/icon/0051/0051006.jpg)

St. Ambrose of Milan on the Virtues of the Theotokos
6. Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life, showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to effect, and to hold fast.

7. The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbours? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? Being wont only to go to such gatherings of men as mercy would not blush at, nor modesty pass by. There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant, that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the very threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within.

8. Why should I detail her spareness of food, her abundance of services—the one abounding beyond nature, the other almost insufficient for nature? And there were no seasons of slackness, but days of fasting, one upon the other. And if ever the desire for refreshment came, her food was generally what came to hand, taken to keep off death, not to minister to comfort. Necessity before inclination caused her to sleep, and yet when her body was sleeping her soul was awake, and often in sleep either went again through what had been read, or went on with what had been interrupted by sleep, or carried out what had been designed, or foresaw what was to be carried out.

9. She was unaccustomed to go from home, except for divine service, and this with parents or kinsfolk. Busy in private at home, accompanied by others abroad, yet with no better guardian than herself, as she, inspiring respect by her gait and address, progressed not so much by the motion of her feet as by step upon step of virtue. But though the Virgin had other persons who were protectors of her body, she alone guarded her character; she can learn many points if she be her own teacher, who possesses the perfection of all virtues, for whatever she did is a lesson. Mary attended to everything as though she were warned by many, and fulfilled every obligation of virtue as though she were teaching rather than learning.

10. Such has the Evangelist shown her, such did the angel find her, such did the Holy Spirit choose her. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, how worthy she was that the Son of God should be born of her. She, when the angel entered, was found at home in privacy, without a companion, that no one might interrupt her attention or disturb her; and she did not desire any women as companions, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Moreover, she seemed to herself to be less alone when she was alone. For how should she be alone, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?

11. And so, too, when Gabriel visited her, (Luke i. 28.) did he find her, and Mary trembled, being disturbed, as though at the form of a man, but on hearing his name recognized him as one not unknown to her. And so she was a stranger as to men, but not as to the angel; that we might know that her ears were modest and her eyes bashful. Then when saluted she kept silence, and when addressed she answered, and she whose feelings were first troubled afterwards promised obedience.

12. And holy Scripture points out how modest she was towards her neighbours. For she became more humble when she knew herself to be chosen of God, and went forthwith to her kinswoman in the hill country, not in order to gain belief by anything external, for she had believed the word of God. “Blessed,” she said, “art thou who didst believe.” (Luke i. 56). And she abode with her three months. Now in such an interval of time it is not that faith is being sought for, but kindness which is being shown. And this was after that the child, leaping in his mother’s womb, had saluted the mother of the Lord, attaining to reason before birth.

13. And then, in the many subsequent wonders, when the barren bore a son, the virgin conceived, the dumb spake, the wise men worshipped, Simeon waited, the stars gave notice. Mary, who was moved by the angel’s entrance, was unmoved by the miracles. “Mary,” it is said, “kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke ii. 19). Though she was the mother of the Lord, yet she desired to learn the precepts of the Lord, and she who brought forth God, yet desired to know God.

14. And then, how she also went every year to Jerusalem at the solemn day of the passover, and went with Joseph. Everywhere is modesty the companion of her singular virtues in the Virgin. This, without which virginity cannot exist, must be the inseparable companion of virginity. And so Mary did not go even to the temple without the guardianship of her modesty.

15. This is the likeness of virginity. For Mary was such that her example alone is a lesson for all. If, then, the author displeases us not, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires its reward for herself may imitate the pattern. How many kinds of virtues shine forth in one Virgin! The secret of modesty, the banner of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the mother at the temple.

16. Oh! how many virgins shall she meet, how many shall she embrace and bring to the Lord, and say: “She has been faithful to her espousal, to my Son; she has kept her bridal couch with spotless modesty.” How shall the Lord Himself commend them to His Father, repeating again those words of His: “Holy Father, these are they whom I have kept for Thee, on whom the Son of Man leant His head and rested; I ask that where I am there they may be with Me.” (John xvii. 24). And if they ought to benefit not themselves only, who lived not for themselves alone, one virgin may redeem her parents, another her brothers. “Holy Father, the world hath not known Me, but these have known Me, and have willed not to know the world.” (John xvii. 25).

17. What a procession shall that be, what joy of applauding angels when she is found worthy of dwelling in heaven who lived on earth a heavenly life! Then too Mary, taking her timbrel, shall stir up the choirs of virgins, singing to the Lord because they have passed through the sea of this world without suffering from the waves of this world. (Ex. xv. 20). Then each shall rejoice, saying: “I will go to the altar of God; to God Who maketh my youth glad;” (Ps. xliii. [xlii.] 4). and, “I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay my vows unto the Most High.” (Ps. l. [xlix.] 14).

18. Nor would I hesitate to admit you to the altars of God, whose souls I would without hesitation call altars, on which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body. For if the virgin’s body be a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapour of the divine fire. Blessed virgins, who emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest.
(Note: hosted by a non-Orthodox site: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf210.iv.vii.iii.ii.html)
The Most-Holy Theotokos: "All creation rejoices in thee..." (http://pravicon.com/images/icon/0219/0219001.jpg)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
The above entry appeared as the Nov. 19, 2011 posting on the Full of Grace and Truth blogspot

Monday, November 19, 2012

Debating the Faith

In debates, if you say a few words about religion you will prevail.  Let the person who has a different opinion give free rein to his thoughts and speak as much as he likes.  Let him sense that he is addressing himself to a calm and uncontentious person.  Influence him through your graciousness and prayer and then speak briefly.  You achieve nothing if you speak heatedly and tell him, for example, ‘What you’re saying is untrue, a downright lie!’  What will you achieve?  Be as sheep among wolves.  What should you do?  Show indifference outwardly, but be praying inwardly.  Be prepared, know what you are talking about and speak boldly and to the point, but with saintliness, meekness and prayer.  But in order to be able to do this, you must become saints. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mastery of a subject is a great thing...

Mastery of a subject is a great thing when it is combined with meekness, graciousness and love.  This is true in all fields.  When you have the relevant mastery of the subject, then speak.  Otherwise, speak through your example. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ministry through life example

…we need to employ a very delicate manner so that people accept what we are offering, whether it be words, books or whatever, without reacting negatively.  And something else:  use few words.  Words often provoke irritation.  Prayer and living example find resonance.  Living faith moves people, regenerates them and changes them, whereas words alone remain fruitless.  The best form of mission is through our good example, our love and our meekness. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fanaticism incompatible with Christianity

Fanaticism has nothing to do with Christ.  Be a true Christian.  The you won’t leap to conclusions about anybody, but your love will ‘cover all things.’ Even to a person of another religion you will always act as a Christian.  That is to say, you will show respect for him in a gracious manner irrespective of his religion…There must be respect for the freedom of the other person.  Just as Christ stands at the door and knocks and does not force an entry, but waits for the soul to accept Him freely on its own, so we should stand in the same way in relation to every soul. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In tribute to St. John Chrysostom

The Heavenly Glory of St. John Chrysostom

By St. John Moschos

The same Athanasios also told us this concerning the same Bishop Adelphios, which he heard from Amma Joanna, his sister:
When John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, was exiled to the Caucasus, he stayed at our house; from which we drew much boldness and love towards God. My brother, Adelphios, said that when the blessed John died in exile, it was an unbearable pain to him that such a man, the ecumenical teacher of Christendom who made glad the Church of God with his words, should have fallen asleep away from his [episcopal] seat. He said further: "I prayed to God with many tears to show me his present state of existence and whether he was ranked among the patriarchs. I prayed like that for a long time and then, one day, I fell into a trance and saw a very fine-looking man. Taking me by the right hand, he led me into a bright and glorious place where he showed me the proclaimers of piety and the doctors of the Church. For my part, I looked around for him whom I so greatly desired to see, the great John, my beloved. He showed me them all and spoke the name of each one of them; then he took my hand again, and led me out. I followed, lamenting that I had not seen the saintly John among the fathers. As we were coming out, he who stood at the door said to me: ‘Nobody who comes here goes forth sorrowing.’ Then I said to him: ‘This grief is upon me because I have not seen my most dear John, Bishop of Constantinople, among the doctors.’ Again he spoke to me: ‘Do you mean John [the prince] of repentance? A man in the flesh cannot see him, for he stands in the presence of the Lord’s throne.’"   From The Spiritual Meadow, 128.
From the November 13, 2012 posting on John Sanidopoulos' blog, Mystagogy

On Christian "zealotry"

We should be zealots.  A zealot is a person who loves Christ with all his soul and who serves his fellow men in Christ's name.  Love for God and for our neighbor; they go together and cannot be divorced.  Passion, yearning and tears along with contrition, not for a purpose, but all as an overflowing of the heart! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In order to benefit others...

Let our love be only in Christ.  In order to benefit others you must live in the love of God, otherwise you are unable to do good to your fellow man.  You mustn't pressurize the other person.   His time will come as long as you pray for him.  With silence, tolerance and above all by prayer, we benefit others in a mystical way.  The grace of God clears the horizon of his mind and assures him of His love.  Here is the fine point.  As soon as he accepts that God is love, then abundant light such as he has never seen will come upon him.  Thus, he will find salvation.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Insisting on good in others

It is a kind of self-projection of our own when we insist on other people becoming good.  In reality, we wish to become good, but because we are unable to, we demand it of others and insist on this.  And whereas all things are corrected through prayer, we often are distressed or become outraged and pass judgment on others. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On those we consider as 'lost'

Souls that have known pain and suffering and that are tormented by their passions win most especially the love and grace of God. It is souls such as these that become saints and very often we pass judgment on them.  Remember what Saint Paul says, Where sin abounded, grace flowed even more abundantly.  When you remember this, you will feel that these people are more worthy than you and me.  We see them as weak, but when they open themselves to God they become all love and all divine eros.  Whereas previously they had acquired different habits, they now give all the power of their soul to Christ and are set on fire by Christ’s love.  That is how God’s miracle works in such souls, which we regard as ‘lost.’

We shouldn’t be discouraged, nor should we rush to conclusions, nor judge on the basis of superficial and external things.  If, for example, you see a woman immodestly dressed, don’t have regard only for her outward appearance, but look more deeply into her soul.  She may be a very good soul with an existential restlessness, which she expresses through her shocking appearance.  She has a dynamism within her, the power of self-projection; she wishes to attract the eyes of others.  But through lack of awareness she has distorted things.  Think what would happen if she were to come to know Christ.  She would do everything to attract the grace of God.  She would become a saint. 

The secret to changing the ungodly

When we see that the people around us have no love for God we are distressed.  But with our distress we achieve nothing at all.  Nor do we achieve anything by trying to persuade them to change their ways.  That’s not right, either.  There is a secret, however, and if we understand it, we will be able to help.  The secret is our prayer and our devotion to God so that His grace may act.  We, with our love, with our fervent desire for the love of God, will attract grace so that it washes over those around us and awakens them to divine love.  Or rather God will send His love and will rouse them all.  What we are unable to do, His grace will achieve.  With our prayers, we will make all worthy of God’s love. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A win-win for the adversary of our souls

Restraint of the tongue is a great thing.  In a mystical way, silence radiates out to our neighbor.  Let me tell you a story. 

A nun who was very concerned that life in her monastery should be perfectly ordered came to her spiritual father in exasperation and said, ‘Sister so-and-so is disrupting the whole monastery with her problems and her character.  We simply can’t endure her.’  Her elder replied, ‘You are worse than she is.’  To begin with, the nun was taken aback and protested, but after her elder explained things to her she understood what he meant and was very pleased.   

What her elder said was, ‘The evil spirit that takes hold of the other nun and causes her to behave badly takes hold of you, too, even though you think you are in a better state, and it makes a mockery of you both.  The other nun gets into the state she does without wishing to, but you, with your over-reaction and lack of love, do exactly the same.  In that way, you do no good to your sister and you yourself are harmed. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Love with sincerety

Love needs to be sincere.  And only the love of God is sincere love.  To a person whom we find tiresome and troublesome, love needs to be offered in a subtle manner without the person being aware that we are striving to love him.  It shouldn’t be given much outward expression, because then the person will react.  Silence saves us from all evils. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rage is harmful

We shouldn’t be enraged by people who blaspheme or who speak and act against God and the Church.  Such rage is harmful.  We may hate the words and the malice behind them, but we must not hate the person who spoke them nor become enraged against him.  Rather we should pray for him.  A Christian has love and graciousness and should behave accordingly.