Orthodox Thought for the Day


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why do we need to go to Confession?


By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware 

“Why do we need to go to confession?  Is it not enough to confess our sins with sincerity in our private prayers each evening, will not God forgive us from the very moment that we confess our sins?  Yes, as soon as we turn to God in true repentance He forgives us.  God is always more ready to forgive than we to repent.  Even the slightest turning of our heart will be blessed by God.  Why then are we taught also to go to the sacrament of confession? 

First: there are no private sins, all sins affect our brothers and sisters in Christ.  All of our sins, however secret, have an effect on the community.  If I feel in my heart anger towards someone else, even if I do not show it by word or action, that evil disposition in my heart has a destructive effect on others around.  Every sin is a sin against the community; every sin however secret is a stumbling block for others and makes it harder for them to serve Christ.  In the early Church confession was public.  After the fourth century, with the growth of the Christian community, that gave scandal and so confession assumed its present form, as an opening of the heart before the priest alone, under conditions of secrecy.  But let us remember that during confession the priest is there, among other things, as the representative of the community, of the people.  The fact that we confess not just to God, but in the presence of a fellow man, shows that we acknowledge the communal social dimension of all our sins. In confessing in his presence we are also asking forgiveness from the community. 

Once before the Divine Liturgy St. John of San Francisco was hearing the confession of a man, and the man said: “Yes I know that what I have done is a sin, I ask God’s forgiveness, but my heart is like a stone, I do not feel any sorrow for my sin, it is all just in my brain.”  So St. John said to him: “Go out into the center of the church in front of the people and make a prostration before them and then come back to me.”  As the man did this and knelt to ask forgiveness from the people before him, something broke inside his heart and it came alive again.  Suddenly he felt real compunction for what he had done.  He said “now it is different,” and the Archbishop gave him forgiveness.  That was the moment of turning for him because he acknowledged that his sin was a sin against the community and he asked their forgiveness.  So in our confession let us first of all recall that dimension.  We are also asking for forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for what we have done.  That is one reason to go to confession, because sin is social. 

Second: The spoken word, the uttered word has great force.  This applies in two ways.  First of all we listen to the spoken word of the priest, the counsel that he gives, and it may be that what he says if written down and put in a book would not seem so striking.  It may be that it wouldn’t seem so remarkable.  But in confession the priest is praying and we are praying for the light of the Holy Spirit, and he is addressing those words under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to each one of us, to each penitent personally.  The words which looked at in the abstract might seem obvious, common place, can prove words of fire when we realize that they are being said to me personally here and now under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

At the Russian convent in London many years ago there was a priest, Fr. John, who didn’t much like hearing confessions, he didn’t much like giving sermons either.  He was a person of few words and very humble, and didn’t feel he really had the authority to offer counsel in confession, but he was blessed by the bishop to hear confessions so he did so.  On one occasion a woman was telling him at immense length of her quarrels with her husband: “I said this and he said this and I told him he was wrong and told him this” and so it went on “and I told him this and this.”  When she had finally stopped all Fr. John did was to turn to her and say “And did it help?” and then he gave her absolution.  That came as a sudden revelation to her, the futility of the endless arguments she had with her husband, of her endless desire to prove that she was right and that he was wrong.  Suddenly she saw that there was no point to all this, it was quite simply unnecessary and she stopped from that moment. 

So the uttered word can have great power and that applies also to what you or I utter when we make our confession.  Yes we can confess our sins secretly in our evening prayers and we should do so, but when we come before the holy icons in church, when we have listened to the prayers and speak in the presence of the priest, when we have to say these things aloud, often then it becomes powerful, immediate, personally significant in a way it was not before. 

The uttered word has great force and we find ourselves in confession, by God’s grace, saying things that we never said in our private prayers.  Suddenly we are able to understand more deeply and to express it more openly.  Therein lies much of the grace of confession.  The desert fathers say that a thought which is concealed has great power over us, but if we can find a way to bring it into the open and to speak of it, it loses its power.  That is also what the modern psychiatrists tell us, but the desert fathers said it first!  So, the uttered word that we bring in confession can have a sacramental force and a healing grace which will surprise us. 

But then there is a third thing, not just what the priest does when he offers advice, not just what we do when we try to speak the truth in Christ.  There is also what Christ does.  Confession is a mystery of the Church that confers sacramental grace, there is power within it, Divine power. When the priest lays his hand upon our head in Confession, it is Christ who lays his hand upon us, Christ who forgives and that is certainly the deepest and most profound reason why we should go to Confession.  When such grace and such healing is offered to us, who among us dare refuse to accept such an opportunity.”

Help for Confession

Son, obedient servant of the Lord, do not be so fooled by the spirit of conceit that you confess your sins to your spiritual father as though they were someone else’s. Lay bare your wound to the healer. Only through shame can you be freed from shame. Tell him, and do not be ashamed, “This is my wound, Father; this is my injury. It happened because of my negligence and not from any other cause. No one is to blame for this, no man, spirit or body or anything else. It is all through my negligence.” He who exposes every serpent shows the reality of his faith, while he who hides them still walks the trackless wastes. 

Friday, March 29, 2013


By accepting a suspicion against the neighbor, by saying, ‘What does it matter if I put in a word about my suspicion?  What does it matter if I find out what my brother is saying or what a guest is doing?’ the mind begins to forget about its own sins and to talk idly about his neighbor, speaking evil against him, despising him, and from this he falls into the very thing he condemns.  Because we become careless about our own faults and do not lament our own death, we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbor. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our life and death is with our neighbor

Our life and our death is with our neighbor.  If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On the great work of a man

This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hail, O full of grace the Lord is with you

Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace.  Wherefore, we also cry out with him, "Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you."
Full of Grace and Truth Blogspot and Mystagogy both have edifying entries for more than one year's celebration of this great Feast.  Please consider visiting these sites and reading the offerings there under the March 25 date from various years:  http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/ and http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/ 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

A lesson on the Sunday of Orthodoxy


Since the beginning, Orthodox Christians have used icons in worship. What is an icon? An icon is a holy image. How do we use an icon? During prayer, as a reminder of the All-Holy Trinity (God), our Panagia, (the Virgin Mary, Theotokos), of holy people (Saints) or holy events, such as the twelve holy feast days of the Church. 

Do we worship icons? No, we don't. We venerate icons, which means we honor them. 

Back in the year 726 AD, a heresy arose in the Church. Do you know what a heresy is? A heresy is a wrong teaching. One wrong teaching that arose in the year 726 was known as "iconoclasm." That meant the destruction of icons.  

Why did iconoclasm happen? Sadly, because some people thought the Christians were worshiping icons. Even some people who called themselves Christians thought it was wrong to venerate icons. However, to venerate means to respect or honor. It does not mean to worship. 

The problem of iconoclasm lasted more than 100 years! Many people who were holy and correct in their thinking about icons were tortured and many died for the sake of venerating icons. 

In the year 787, Empress Irene called a council to decide the Church’s teaching about icons. It was decided that the icons should be venerated by all Christians. This decision was made at the Seventh Ecumenical Council. 

Some years after this decision, other emperors/empresses came to power and said icons were not to be venerated. The church leaders and the people rebelled and again, many holy people were tortured and killed for believing the right thing about venerating icons.  

In the year 829, Emperor Theophilus came to power. He was married to Empress Theodora who was a true Christian woman. She secretly venerated icons. But her husband, Emperor Theophilus persecuted those who honored the icons, putting many into prison and killing others. Near the end of his reign as emperor (about 13 years later), he became very ill and was close to dying.  

As her husband lay dying, Empress Theodora fell asleep and had a dream. In her dream she saw the Theotokos holding Christ as a babe in her arms and saw rows of angels whipping and cursing the Emperor. She woke up and heard the emperor crying out, “Woe is me, the wretched one! I am being whipped because of the holy images!”  

At once, the Empress took an icon of the Theotokos and placed it upon the emperor and began praying to the Theotokos with tears. Even though the emperor was very ill, he saw someone near him wearing a medallion with an icon on it and he took hold of it and kissed it. At that very moment, he received relief from his suffering and fell into sleep, though before he did, he confessed it was good to honor and venerate the holy icons.  

Then the Empress removed all her holy icons from her storage chests in order to kiss and honor them with all her heart and prepared the emperor for his death.  

Shortly after the emperor died, Empress Theodora released those who’d been imprisoned or recalled those sent out of the country for the sake of the holy icons and ordered that they be allowed to live in safety. She also appointed a God loving leader known as a patriarch in the Church, one who honored the holy icons, to replace the patriarch her husband had appointed.

Meanwhile, the Empress Theodora and Patriarch Methodios received a visit from a very holy man named Isaiah. He told them that the Lord had a message for them, that those who dishonor the holy icons were to be stopped and that it is proper to honor the holy icons and the Cross. Immediately, the Empress held up the icon of the Mother of God that was hanging about her neck and kissed it saying, “If for love’s sake, anyone does not kiss and venerate these images in a correct manner, not worshipping them as gods, but as images of what they represent, let him be accursed!” And all the God loving Christians, rejoiced! 

All the people were happy, but something troubled the Empress. She asked the holy priests to pray for the soul of her husband, Emperor Theophilus. She was worried because of all the terrible things he’d done to destroy the holy icons and to destroy the people who venerated them. So, all throughout the first week of Great Lent, the bishops, priests and people prayed all night for the soul of Emperor Theophilus.  

At dawn on the first Friday of Great Lent, Empress Theodora fell asleep and had a dream. She saw men passing in her dream carrying instruments of torture. In the middle of the men, with his hands tied behind his back was Emperor Theophilus. Then she saw a man with a heavenly looking face sitting in front of the icon of Christ and Theophilus stood in front of Him. The Empress touched the man’s feet, pleading with him for the soul of her husband. Then she heard him say, “Great is your faith, woman! Know then, that for the sake of your tears and your faith and for the sake of the intercessions and prayers of my servants and my priests, I grant forgiveness to Theophilus your husband.” Then he said, “Untie him and give him back to his wife.” And she received her husband back in her dream with great happiness and then woke up. 

In the meantime, Patriarch Methodius, after all the prayers and intercessions for the Emperor were finished, took a plain piece of paper and wrote the names of all the heretical emperors on it, including Emperor Theophilus. He placed the paper underneath the holy altar in the church. He, too, had a vision on Friday and in it he saw an awesome angel coming toward him at the Royal Doors of the church. The angel said, “Your prayers have been heard, and the Emperor Theophilus has been granted forgiveness. You needn’t trouble God about him any longer.” The Patriarch was amazed at this message and in order to test whether the vision had been true or not, he took the paper from under the altar table and unrolled it. And what do you think he found? The name of Emperor Theophilus was no longer there! God had removed his name from the list! 

When Empress Theodora learned of this, she was exceedingly glad. Therefore, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, March 11, 843, she ordered the Patriarch to assemble in the Church all the people with candles, the holy images and precious crosses so that all the holy icons might be restored and that the miracle be made known unto all. So, they made a solemn procession with the holy images and the True Cross and the holy and divine Gospel Book. And every year since then, Orthodox Christians celebrate this holy festival with a procession of icons so that we never again fall into the same error and great sin of dishonoring the holy icons. 
And this is the reason why we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Remember to bring your portable icon to the church that day. And remember, too, to always hold your icon carefully and with much respect.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Nuns of Shamordino part 4

The Nuns of Shamordino:  Prisoners of Solovki 

I think there is no greater labor than that of prayer to God.  For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only be turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey.  Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest.  But prayer is warfare to the last breath.  Abba Agathon 

The angels are not absent when the saints perform their acts of courage, but keep them company.  St. Makarios of Egypt   

By this time, news of what was happening had spread throughout all the camps in the Vorkuta region. When at the end of the third day, a day far colder than any we had yet experienced that winter season, the bareheaded nuns were brought in still without the slightest trace of frostbite, everyone murmured that indeed God had brought a miracle to pass. There was no other topic of conversation in the whole of Vorkuta. Even hardened MVD men from other compounds found excuses to come by the brick factory and take a furtive look at the three figures on the hill. The women working in the pits down below crossed themselves and nervously mumbled prayers. Even the commandant was sorely disturbed. If not a religious man, he was at the least a somewhat superstitious one and he knew well enough when he was witnessing the hand of a Power that was not of this earth!  

By the fourth day, the guards themselves were afraid of the unearthly power which these women seemed to possess, and they flatly refused to touch them or have anything more to do with them. The commandant himself was afraid to go and order them out into the hill. And so they were not disturbed in their prayers, and were taken off punishment rations. When I left Vorkuta four years later, those nuns were still at the brick factory compound and none of them had done a day’s work productive for the Communist regime. They were guarded with awe and respect. The guards were under instructions not to touch them or disturb them. They were preparing their own food and even making their own clothes. Their devotions were carried on in their own way and they seemed at peace and contented. Though prisoners, they were spiritually free. No one in the Soviet Union had such freedom of worship as they.  

What their example did to instill religious faith in thousands of prisoners and guards there at Vorkuta, I cannot being to describe. Later on, when I had the opportunity as a locker-room attendant for the MVD men to talk with some of the more hardened Russian Communists about religion, not one failed to mention the Miracle of the Nuns. (John Noble: I Found God in Soviet Russia, Zondervan, Mich. 1971, pp. 112-117). 

This article in its entirety and with its beautiful image is sourced from http://deathtotheworld.com/articles/the-nuns-of-shamordino-prisoners-of-solovki/

The Nuns of Shamordino part 3

The Nuns of Shamordino:  Prisoners of Solovki 

If you love God genuinely and you also persevere in His love (cf John 15:9-10), you will never be dominated by any passion, nor will you be reduced to subjection by any necessity of the body.  For since the body cannot be moved to anything apart from the soul, so the soul that is united to God by love cannot be led astray to the pleasures and cravings of the body, nor indeed to any other desires of anything visible or invisible, whether desire or passion.  For by the sweet love of God the impulse of its heart or, rather, the whole inclination of its will is bound.  When once it has been bound to its Maker, how can it be inflamed by the body or in any way fulfill its own desires?  In no way!  St. Symeon the New Theologian


When the conversations turned to religion, as they soon did, I heard of an extraordinary happening, a miracle, which had just occurred in Vorkuta. God indeed was there with us! And the eagerness with which the men told me this story left no doubt as to the fact that the Iron Curtain could not keep God out of a country or out of the minds and hearts of its people.  

It was in November of that year, 1950, just after our own arrival, that three nuns reached the camp under the sentences of hard labor. The many thousand women prisoners at Vorkuta did not work in the mines but performed other rugged work, and the nuns were assigned to a plant which made bricks for construction work throughout the whole Arctic area of Russia.  

When the nuns were first taken to the brick factory, they told the foreman that they regarded doing any work for the Communist regime as working for the Devil and, since they were the servants of God and not of Satan, they did not propose to bow to the orders of the foreman despite any threats he might make.  

Stripped of their religious garb, the nuns’ faith was their armor. They were ready to face anything and everything to keep their vow and they did face their punishment, a living testimony of great courage. They were put on punishment rations, consisting of black bread and rancid soup, day after day. But each morning when they were ordered to go out to the brick factory, into the clay pits, or to any other back-breaking assignment, they refused. This refusal meant, of course, that they were destined to go through worse ordeals. Angered by their obstinacy and fearing the effect upon the other slave laborers, they commandant ordered that they be placed in strait-jackets. Their hands were tied in back of them and then the rope with which their wrists were bound was passed down around their ankles and drawn up tight. In this manner, their feet were pulled up behind them and their shoulders wrenched backward and downward into a position of excruciating pain.  

The nuns writhed in agony but not a sound of protest escaped them. And when the commandant ordered water poured over them so that the cotton material in the straitjackets would shrink, he expected them to scream from their pressure on their tortured bodies, but all that happened was that they moaned softly and lapsed into unconsciousness. Their bonds were then loosed and they were revived; in due course they were trussed up again, and once more the blessed relief of unconsciousness swept over them. They were kept in this state for more than two hours, but the guards did not dare let the torture go on any longer, for their circulation was being cut off and the women were near death. The Communist regime wanted slaves, not skeletons. They did not transport people all the way to Vorkuta in order to kill them. The Soviet government wanted coal mined. Slave laborers were expendable, of course, but only after years of labor had been dragged out of them. Thus the commandant’s aim was to torture these nuns until they agreed to work.  

Finally, however, the commandant decided that he was through trying. The nuns were either going to work or he was going to have to kill them in the attempt. He directed that they again be assigned to the outdoor work detail and, if they still refused, that they be taken up to a hummock in the bitter wind of the early Arctic winter, and left to stand there immobile all day long to watch the other women work. They were treated to this torture, too. When the pale light of the short Arctic day at last dawned, they were seen kneeling there and the guards went over expecting to find them freezing, but they seemed relaxed and warm. 

At this, the commandant ordered that their gloves and caps be removed so that they would be exposed to the full fury of the wind. All through the eight-hour working day they knelt on that windy hilltop in prayer. Below them, the women who were chipping mud for the brick ovens were suffering intensely from the cold. Many complained that their feet were freezing despite the supposedly warm boots they wore. When in the evening other guards went to the hill to get the nuns and bring them back to the barracks, they expected to find them with frostbitten ears, hands, and limbs. But they did not appear to have suffered any injury at all. Again the next day they knelt for eight hours in the wind, wearing neither hats nor gloves in temperatures far below zero. That night they still had not suffered any serious frostbite and were still resolute in their refusal to work. Yet a third day they were taken out and this time their scarves too were taken away from them. 

To be continued…

The Nuns of Shamordino part 2

The Nuns of Shamordino:  Prisoners of Solovki

Be ever more obedient to God and He will save you.
St. Pachomius 

In a week the commandant of the Sanitary Division entered the physician’s office and, among other things, informed us, “We’re all worn out with these nuns, but now they have agreed to work. They sew and patch up clothing for the central ward. Only they made as conditions that they should all be together and be allowed to sing quietly some kind of songs while they work. The chief of the camp has allowed it. There they are now, singing and working.”  

The nuns were isolated to such an extent that even we, the physicians of the Sanitary Division who enjoyed comparative freedom of movement, and who had many ties and friends, for a long time were not able to receive any kind of news about them. And only a month later we found out how the last act of their tragedy had developed. 

From one of the convoys that had come to Solovki, there was brought a priest who turned out to be the spiritual father of some of the nuns. And, although contact between them seemed, under the camp conditions, to be completely impossible, the nuns in some way managed to ask directions from their instructor. 

The essence of their questions consisted of the following: “We came to the camp for suffering and here we are doing fine. We are together; we sing prayers; the work is pleasing to us; have we acted rightly that we agreed to work under the conditions of the regime of Antichrist? Should we not renounce even this work?” 

The spiritual father replied with an uncategorical prohibition of the work. 

And then the nuns refused every kind of work. The administration found out who was guilty for this. The priest was shot. But when the nuns were informed about this, they said, “Now no one is able to free us from this prohibition.” 

The nuns soon became separated and one by one were taken away somewhere. 

Despite all our attempts we were not able to find out any more news about them. They disappeared without any trace. 

Years later from the mouth of an American prisoner who was in a slave-labor camp, comes the following supplementary information shedding light on the spiritual outcome of the ascetic firmness of such nuns…. 

To be continued…

The Nuns of Shamordino part 1

The Nuns of Shamordino:  Prisoners of Solovki

Upon him who labors—
God sheds mercy; but he who loves
acquires consolation.       

Elder Ambrose of Optina

In the summer of 1929 there came to Solovki about thirty nuns. Probably the majority of them were from the monastery of Shamordino, which was near the renowned Optina Hermitage. 

The nuns were not placed in the common women’s quarters, but were kept separately. When they began to be checked according to the list and interrogated, they refused to give the so-called basic facts about themselves, that is, to answer questions about their surnames, year and place of birth, education, and so forth. 

After shouts, threats and beatings they were placed in solitary confinement, and were tortured by hunger, thirst, and deprivation of sleep; that is, all the usual means of pressure were applied to them. But the nuns remained unbending and even were bold enough—a fact very rare in the concentration camp—to refuse any kind of forced labor. 

After several days, I, together with Prof. Dr. Zhizhilenko (who had been sent to Solovki because, while being the chief physician of the Taganka prison in Moscow, he had secretly accepted monasticism and had become a bishop with the name of Maxim) were called to the chief of the Sanitary Division. We were confidentially ordered to make a medical examination of the nuns with a hint as to the desirability of recognizing them unfit for labor so as to have an official bias to free them from forced physical labor. 

It was the first time in the history of Solovki that the administration found itself in such a complicated situation. Usually in such cases they acted very severely and cruelly. After a serious beating of those who refused to work, they were sent to the punishment island of Anzersk, from where no one ever returned alive. 

Why these rebel nuns were not sent to Anzersk we could not understand We gave this question to the chief of the Sanitary Division of the whole camp. He explained to us that the silent, restrained protest of the nuns was not in the least like the protests with which the administration was used to dealing. These latter protests were usually accompanied by a scene, shouting and hooliganism. But here, there was silence, simplicity, humility and an extraordinary meekness. “They are fanatical martyrs seeking sufferings,” the head of the Sanitary Division explained. “They are some kind of psychic cases, masochists, but one becomes inexpressibly sorry for them. I cannot endure to see the humility and meekness with which they bear the pressure. And it is not I only. Vladimir Yegorovich, the chief of the camp, also could not bear this. He even quarreled with the chief of the Intelligence Division and he wants somehow to soften and iron over this matter. If you find them unsuitable for physical labor they will be left in peace.”

When I went out to the barracks where the nuns were kept, I saw extraordinarily sober women, peaceful and restrained, in old, worn-out, and patched but clean monastic garments. 

There were about 30 of them. Their age one could give as an “eternal thirty” years, although undoubtedly there were those both older and younger. In all faces there was something from the expression of the Mother of God, “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” and this sorrow was so exalted and modest that totally involuntarily I was reminded of certain verses of Tyuchev. Their meek appearance was of a spiritual beauty which could not but evoke a feeling of deep contrition and awe. 

“So as not to upset them, I’d better go out, Doctor,” said the chief of the assignment who met me, who should have been present as a representative of the medical committee. I remained alone with them. 

“Good day, Matushki,” I bowed down low to them. In silence they replied to me with a deep bow to the waist. 

“I am a physician. I’ve been sent to examine you.” 

“We are well. You don’t need to examine us,” several voices interrupted me. 

“I am a believing Orthodox Christian and I am sitting here in the concentration camp as a prisoner for church reasons.” 

“Glory be to God,” several voices again replied to me. 

“Your disturbance is understandable to me,” I continued, “but I will not examine you. You only tell me what you have to complain about and I will assign you to the category of those incapable of labor.” 

“We are not complaining about anything. We are quite healthy.” 

“But without a definition of the category of your inability to work, they will send you to extraordinarily difficult labor.” 

“All the same, we will not work whether it be difficult or easy labors.” 

“Why?” I asked in astonishment. 

“Because we do not wish to work for the regime of Antichrist.” 

“What are you saying?” I asked, upset. “After all, here on Solovki there are many bishops and priests who have been sent here for their confession. They all work, each one as he is able. Here, for example, there is the bishop of Vyatka who works as a bookkeeper at the rope factory, and in the lumber department many priests work. They weave nets. On Fridays they work the whole 24 hours, day and night, so as to fulfill their quota extra quickly and thus free for themselves a time for prayer in the evening on Saturdays and on Sunday morning.” 

“But we are not going to work under compulsion for the regime of Antichrist.” 

“Well then, without examination I will make some kind of diagnosis for you and give the conclusion that you are not capable of hard physical labor.” 

“No, you needn’t do that. Forgive us, but we will be obliged to say that this is not true. We are well. We can work, but we do not wish to work for the regime of Antichrist and we shall not work even though they might kill us for this.” 

“They will not kill you, but they will torture you to death,” I said in a quiet whisper, risking being overheard; I said it with pain of heart. 

“God will help to endure the tortures also,” one of the nuns said, likewise quietly. Tears came to my eyes.  I bowed down to them in silence. I wished to bow down to the ground and kiss their feet. 

To be continued…

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Relieving the conscience of inner anxiety

O Lord and Master!  O God of heaven and earth! 
Show Thy favor and open to me the door of repentance,
pray Thee with mine afflicted soul.
Regard me according to Thy great mercy;
incline Thine ear to my prayer and forgive me,
who am guilty of falling into many sins;
forgive me all of the wretched things I have done,
for I have been conquered by my own evil will.

I seek peace and do not find it, for my conscience is stained;
there is no tranquility in me due to the multitude of my iniquities.

Hearken O Lord, to a heart which cries out to Thee with affliction. 
Attend not to my deeds, but to the affliction of my soul,
and hasten to heal me who am cruelly wounded. 

Grant that I may soon come to my senses
according to the grace of Thy love for mankind.

Take from me the burden of my sins and grant me not
that which my deeds merit,
that I may not perish in the end,
and that I may not be altogether deprived
of thought and concern for my restoration.

I fall down before Thy compassion;
have mercy on me who am cast into the dust
by the judgment of my deeds.

O Master, summon me, a captive who is held and bound
by his deeds as with chains,
for Thou alone knowest how to free those who are bound
and how to heal the invisible sores that are known only to
Thee Who knowest all mysteries.

Show Thy favor and stretch out Thine hand to me. 
Draw me out of the mire of mine iniquities,
O Thou who dost not rejoice at the destruction of man,
and Who dost not turn Thy face from those who cry to Thee with tears.

 Hearken, O Lord, unto the voice of Thy servant, who cries to Thee;
show Thy face to me, for I am beclouded;
enlighten me with the coming of Thy Holy Spirit.
Grant me, O Lord, diligence,
for I have become defiled,
and turn my labor into joy.
 Tear up my sackclothes and gird me with gladness;
may the door of Thy kingdom open to me that,
having entered therein,
I may glorify Thine all-holy name of
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Offering to God correction of offenses

A person who, knowing what faults he has committed, willingly and with due thankfulness endures the trials painfully inflicted on him as a consequence of these faults, is not exiled from grace or from his state of virtue; for he submits willingly and pays off his debts by accepting the trials.  In this way, while remaining in a state of grace and virtue, he pays tribute not only with his enforced sufferings, which have arisen out of the impassioned side of his nature, but also with his mental assent to these sufferings, accepting them as his due on account of his former offenses.  Through true worship, by which I mean a humble disposition, he offers to God the correction of his offenses. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

On healing the wounds of the soul

A fresh, warm wound is easier to heal than those that are old, neglected and festering and that need extensive treatment, surgery, bandaging and cauterization.  Long neglect can render many of them incurable.  However, all things are possible with God (cf Matt 19:26). 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dealing with hurts & forgiveness

Dear Readers, 

The meditation below came from the “deep recesses” of some old files—dated back to 2004.  We’ll all find some beneficial advice in it.   I regret that I cannot note the source for certain, although the latter part of the message probably came from Mother Alexandra’s writings in the early ‘60s.    

With the Sunday of Forgiveness nearly upon us, I ask your forgiveness for any stumbling blocks or sins that I may have inadvertently caused through the preparation of these messages or otherwise in our relationship.

Pres. Candace

Dealing With Hurts

For many of us, barely a day goes by during which we are not hurt by another person. These offenses can come in the form of a careless remark, an unkind glance, unfounded criticism or gossip. They often come from family and friends, from people nearest to us. How should we respond to these hurts? By examining the responses of Christ Himself and the writings of saints and elders of the Church, we can glean for ourselves helpful advice and worthy models.

In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, the Jews accused Jesus of being a Samaritan and having a demon. St. Gregory the Great comments that Jesus "was silent about what He knew was true and He patiently rejected what He heard falsely said. See how when the Lord is insulted He is not angry, and does not respond with offensive words," (The Orthodox New Testament, Vol. 1, Holy Apostles Convent, p.514). After verbally insulting Jesus, the Jews took up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and left the temple. By this behavior, St. Gregory says that Jesus teaches us, "Even when it is possible for us to resist we should humbly avoid the anger of the proud...Let no one raise up against the offenses he has received. Let no one return injury for injury. It is indeed more honorable to imitate God by fleeing silently in the face of insult than to prevail by answering back" (ibid., p.515). In our daily lives, we may never find ourselves in a position of being stoned, nevertheless insults and accusations from other people can feel as if rocks are being hurled at us.  Sometimes being silent and leaving the room can be the most meek and appropriate response for a Christian.

In a similar vein St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rm. 12:21).  St. John of Kronstadt, a parish priest who labored in Russia in the nineteenth century, tells us, "People offend you, irritate you, breathe contempt and malice against you; do not repay them in the same way, but be gentle, meek, and kind, respectful and loving towards those very persons who behave unworthily to you. If you are agitated yourself, and speak excitedly, rudely, contemptuously - that is unlovingly - then you will be vanquished yourself" (My Life in Christ, pt.1, Holy Trinity Monastery, 1971, p.123).

He goes on to explain that if we respond to offenses in a sinful, disturbed manner, the person might notice our weakness and offend us further. Rather we must pity our neighbor. St. John says, the more rude and irritated he is, the more hatred he nourishes towards you, the more meekness and love you must show him. Then you will surely conquer him. God is always stronger than evil, and therefore always conquers. Remember also that we are all weak, and are very easily overcome by passions, and therefore be meek and indulgent to those who sin against you, knowing that you yourself often suffer from the same infirmity as your brother. Forgive those who trespass against you, so that God may forgive your trespasses, incomparably greater than the trespasses of others against you. Be always calm, lofty in spirit, unsuspicious, firm, simple, and kind-hearted, and you will always triumph over your enemies (ibid. p.124).  The devil, seeing our irritation with our neighbor, will build on our weakness for his advantage. In other words, we should remember that the devil is working to emphasize our neighbor's sins in our eyes so that we will have enmity, rather than love, in our hearts towards our neighbor.

St. John of Kronstadt comments, "How many trifling and incessant pretexts the hater of mankind offers us for hating our neighbor, so that we are almost constantly angry with others, almost constantly bearing malice against others, and living in accordance with his infernal all-destructive will" (ibid., pt. 2, p.27). St. John goes on to explain that the devil cunningly induces us to notice the sins of others and react angrily. By this method, the devil keeps us distracted from the anger which rightfully should be directed against him, the deviser of evil and division. If indeed our brother is guilty in some way, "we must despise the sins, the faults themselves, and not our brother who commits them at the devil's instigation, through infirmity and habit." St. John continues: we must pity him, and gently and lovingly instruct him, as one who forgets himself, or who is sick, as a prisoner and slave of his sin. But our animosity, our anger towards the sinner only increases his sickness, oblivion, and spiritual bondage, instead of lessening them; besides this, it makes us ourselves like madmen, or sick men, the prisoners of our own passions, and of the devil, who is the author of them (ibid., pt. 1, p.183).

A twentieth century saint, Staretz Silouan of Mount Athos, also linked the difficulty of loving our neighbor with the presence of the devil:  if you think evil of people, it means you have an evil spirit in you whispering evil thoughts about others...I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonour on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, and say, "O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants, and turn their hearts to repentance," and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love her enemies, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God's love within him and does not know God (The Undistorted Image, Faith Press, 1958, p.125-6).

Yes, in our daily lives, hurts and offenses will come.  Personalities will clash. As St. Ambrose, an elder of Optina Monastery in Russia, wrote in simple, graphic terms to his spiritual children, "If a pot clashes with a pot, how much more impossible is it for people to live together without clashing" (Elder Ambrose of Optina, St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1997, p.157). Yet as we have seen from the above examples we must deal with these hurts through silence, meekness, prayer, pity and kindness. We need to remember that the devil stirs us to feel hatred towards others for the hurts they inflict on us, but we must react with love for neighbor, directing hatred only towards the sin. In this way we will bear the name of Christ as worthy Christians.


In the Lord's Prayer we ask of God to forgive us, even as we forgive others. To forgive, how hard this often is! It means a good deal more than not repaying evil by evil, it means repaying evil by good. Actually, it demands that we wipe from our memory the resentment, the hurt and indignation aroused by a wrong done us; and this is still much more difficult than repaying evil with good.

Strangely enough we can be as hurt by unintentional slights as we are by intentional ones.  We may be faced by a hurtful action that cuts to the quick, which seems and probably is unbearable. At such moments, besides a prayer for fortitude remembering the Lord Christ's words as He hung on the Cross, a positive act of will can free us. It is almost like a physical reaction, a positive gesture like the throwing off of a heavy coat and casting it aside.

Every resentment we carry on with us, every scar upon our wounded pride becomes like a chain about our ankles impeding our progress. We are in fact slaves bound by invisible but powerful ties to those who have harmed us. We cannot be freed of them unless we forgive, utterly and completely; then and then only are we free to approach our Heavenly Father, praying Him to forgive us our many faults knowingly or unknowingly committed.

We pray to be forgiven our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. How much have we forgiven and therefore how much forgiveness can we ourselves expect?

--by Ileana, Princess of Romania (Mother Alexandra) approximate date 1961
PS:  Links to Ortho Thought blog entries from 2012 by  +Metropolitan Anthony Bloom with reflections on preparing for the start of Great Lent: