Orthodox Thought for the Day


Friday, February 28, 2014

Feb 28 Holy Martyr Kyranna of Thessaloniki

Today I would like to bring attention to an Orthodox Christian female martyr of the 18th century--St. Kyranna of Thessaloniki.  Please visit this link which will take you to the Full of Grace and Truth blogspot where you will find a beautiful and extensive account of this holy martyr's life.  Wondrous is God in His Saints!  http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/01/st-kyranna-new-martyr-of-thessaloniki.html

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Loving one's enemies

Not only must we love our enemies, but we must also pray for them:  it is a great thing in the sight of God to pray for those who hurt our feelings and injure us.  For this the Lord will grant us grace, and by the Holy Spirit we shall come to know the Lord. Then we shall bear every affliction with joy for His sake and the Lord will give us love for the whole world.  We shall ardently desire the good of all men, and pray for all as for our own souls. 

Continual repentance

The Lord's call to repentance does not mean that we are to be converted once only, nor that we should repent from time to time (though one ought to begin with that). It means that our whole life should be a conversion, a constant repentance. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Faith that works

Faith is the beginning of our union with God: the true believers are the stone of the church of God, prepared for the edifice of God the Father, which is raised up to the heights by the power of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Cross and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Faith without works is dead," (James 2:26).  The works of faith are love, peace, longsuffering, mercy, humility, bearing one's cross and life by the Spirit.  True faith cannot remain without works.  One who truly believes will also surely perform good works. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Part 2: As I find you, so shall I judge you

Our challenge in the spiritual life is to live the Commandments that Christ has given to us; all of them all of the time. We need to work at this with the best of our ability, recognizing that we are not fully capable of doing this. Because of this imperfect condition, we need to always be repentant and seeking forgiveness from others and our Lord.

This is an issue of obedience. We must learn to become obedient to God's commandments not to our own self-gratification. Saint Basil points out that in these times there is a widespread practice of being obedient for human reasons. This is where we use our obedience to get a promotion or earn a favor of any kind. This is how we learn to survive in the modern workplace.  We become obedient to the organizations rules and norms and learn to do what we are asked for the benefit of those who are paying us. We know about obedience and have the ability for it. Our challenge is to transfer this skill we have learned to use for our own benefit, to follow God's commandments in the same way. 

Saint Basil of Poiana Marului

Saint Basil points out, “one who forces himself in obedience for Christ  alone and submits themselves to his precepts will find relief from his passions. The one who forces himself for the things of the world hoping to obtain prestige and riches along with physical pleasures is unaware of his burden. This is why the fathers rightly say that there is obedience for God's sake and obedience for the devil's sake.... As for us, let us force ourselves to demonstrate the power of obedience for the sake of God."

He also shows us that the most powerful way to deal with this weakness is the practice of what we know as the Jesus Prayer.  He says, if we turn to God saying with our mind, 

"'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,' beyond all doubt this will obtain forgiveness of sins for him, and with this prayer also he will fulfill his entire rule, following the example of that widow of the Gospel who used to cry out to the judge day and night claiming her due (Luke 18:1–8 ).  

The Jesus Prayer had its beginnings in the days of the apostles. It has been practiced  by the Saints since that time. Many of them  have written much about this practice. It is a common practice within the Orthodox Tradition.

The practice of the Jesus prayer does not come without effort. We have to commit  ourselves to a daily prayer rule were we repeat this prayer over and over and over each and every day.  By doing this, prayer becomes ingrained, etched, programed in our physical brain, so that when it's needed, it is instantly available to us. Living a life with this prayer at the tip of our tongue is the easiest way to constantly be reconciled to our God.

The first step that we must make is to recognize our nature. We must acknowledge that we are continually, both willfully and unknowably, using our free will to act against the Commandments of our Lord. We also must recognize that our Lord is most merciful and wants to give us help. The only way that we will receive this help is through a life of continual repentance. He has given to us the Jesus Prayer as a powerful way for us to learn to practice obedience to his commands.


Part 1: As I find you, so shall I judge you

St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom commented on the following saying of our Lord, “As I find you, so will I judge you,” (Ezekiel 33:20) saying that forgetting to practice the smallest of the Commandments of our Lord is all that is sufficient to send one to Gehenna and exclude us from the kingdom of heaven.

Think about this for a moment. How many of us are ignoring the reality of our sinfulness?  How many blame others for our shortcomings? How much time to spend complaining about what others do?  Do we spend the same amount of time thinking about our own actions?

Saint Basil of Poiana Marului says the following,
Yes, we sin every day, at times unconsciously or out of forgetfulness, without intending to or involuntarily, or because of weakness we sin every day willingly and unwillingly. Because of our human nature and weakness we sin every day willingly and unwillingly. Is this not what the apostle Paul refers to when he says, “I do what I do not want and what I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:15)? All of us commit excusable sins without asking to be excused. Or rather, we fall into sins that can be forgiven and yet we feel no contrition and thus become guilty of God's judgment and bring God's wrath upon ourselves. In the words of an ancient saying, “we have made a habit of sitting with her own free will”–– that is, we are consciously aware of committing sins and have developed the habit of sitting with our own free will.
The recognition of the reality of our sinfulness, the fact that we do sin many times each and every day, is the starting point for our salvation. It is important for us to recognize that we must continually ask the Lord for forgiveness as well as those whom we transgress. Saint Basil tells us that “we should ask forgiveness of our fellow man face-to-face and beg forgiveness of God with the intellect and secret.” 

We all have particular passions that we have grown up with, that have given us great pleasures, that we have continued to nurture and develop habitually. This passion will be different for each individual. For one person it may be an insatiable appetite for food, for another love of money, anger, self-esteem, arrogance or others. All of these increase over time through habit. St. Hesychios reminds us what the great lawgiver Moses teaches when he says,  “Pay attention to yourself so that you have no secret thoughts in your heart” (Deuteronomy 15:9). Needless to say, it is imperative that we learn to closely examine ourselves each and every day. It is a matter of recognizing that we have weaknesses and that we need to pray to God continually with a broken heart and the contrite spirit. We must avoid accusing others but instead forgive others as this is what is pleasing to God. With our forgiveness of others and our recognition of our own weaknesses God will forgive us through his great mercy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Damage done by anger

What we gain by fasting is not so great as the damage done by anger; nor is the profit from reading as great as the harm done when we scorn or grieve a brother.  St. John Cassian 


There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.  The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence.   

Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. 

The days passed and the boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, it leaves a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.   It won't matter how many times you say ‘I'm sorry,’ the wound is still there.  A verbal wound is every bit as bad as a physical one.”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Christ does not want

Christ wants you never, in any way or for any reason, to cultivate a spirit of hatred, bitterness, anger or ill-feeling.  The four Gospels proclaim that on every page. 
Dear Readers, 
Below is a link to a song that, I think, can be useful as we contemplate the coming Sunday evening Forgiveness Vespers which ushers us into Great and Holy Lent.   
The song, “A Heart That Forgives,” is a contemporary Christian song.  Personally, I’m not a fan of contemporary Christian music.  However, as I was looking for resources for this upcoming event focused on forgiveness, I came across this song by Kevin Levar.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUV5T9JIJZ0  Perhaps it will speak to hearts apart from my own.   
God’s peace,
Pres. Candace 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Visit of Christ video

Please enjoy this beautiful Orthodox video presentation which complements the message of the Sunday of the Last Judgment: 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The unhealed grief of suicide

There was an occasion during the life of the Optina Elder Leonid (Lev in the Great Schema), who died in 1841. The father of one of his disciples, Paul Tambovtsev, had died an unhappy and violent death by suicide. The loving son was deeply grieved by this and poured out his sorrow before the elder thus: “The hapless end of my father is a heavy cross for me. I am now upon a cross whose pain will accompany me to the grave. While imagining the terrible eternity of sinners, where there is no more repentance, I am tortured by the image of the eternal torments that await my father who died without repentance. Tell me, father, how I can console myself in this present grief?” The elder answered, “Entrust both yourself and your father’s fate to the will of the Lord, which is all-wise, all powerful. Do not tempt the miracles of the All-high, but strive through humility to strengthen yourself within the bounds of tempered sorrow. Pray to the All-good Creator, thus fulfilling the duty of the love and obligation of a son.” Question: “But how is one to pray for such persons?” Answer: “In the spirit of the virtuous and wise, thus: ‘Seek out, O Lord, the perishing soul of my father: if it is possible, have mercy! Unfathomable are Thy judgments. Do not account my prayer as sin. But may Thy holy will be done!’ Pray simply, without inquiring, entrusting your heart to the right hand of the All-high. Of course, so grievous a death for your father was not the will of God, but now it rests completely in the will of Him Who is able to hurl both soul and body into the fiery furnace, of Him Who both humbles and lifts up, puts to death and brings to life, takes down to Hell and leads up therefrom. And He is so compassionate, almighty and filled with love that before His highest goodness the good qualities of all those born on earth are nothing. You say, ‘I love my father, therefore I grieve inconsolably.’ That is right. But God loved and loves him incomparably more than you. And so, it remains for you to entrust the eternal lot of your father to the goodness and compassion of God, and if it is His good will to show mercy, who can oppose Him?”" 

Excerpted from http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/prayer_nonorth.aspx


I have personally shared the same grief as Paul Tambovtsev.  I understand the grief which is described.  Some people who know me know of my grief, however, most do not.  However, after 13 years, I no longer feel the need to hide this pain.   

I have taken the advice as given above and I believe with a great deal of certainty in the compassion of God above all.  Whatever eternity will reveal as regards my father will be according to the unfathomable mercy of God.   

Take heart, any of you who have lost a loved one to suicide.  We are wounded in this life by the barbs of the adversary of our souls.  Yet, God is great and we can co-labor with Him for His glory and the well-being of others, even those who’ve died without repentance.  If God wills to show mercy, who can oppose Him as the Elder said.  Indeed, who can oppose Him?  I make myself available to any reader who is grieving due to suicide.  I understand the pain; I also understand the hope that one may yet hold before the Living God. 
Pres. Candace

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Message of consolation: This was from Me

 “This Was From Me” is a famous letter attributed to  St. Seraphim of Viritsa that was sent to his spiritual child, a bishop, who was in a Soviet prison at that time. The consolation and counsel offered to the bishop can help anyone widen their perspective in a way that makes the impulses appear smaller and God’s providence even larger than life.

Have you ever thought that everything that concerns you, concerns Me, also? You are precious in my eyes and I love you; for this reason, it is a special joy for Me to train you. When temptations and the opponent [the Evil One] come upon you like a river, I want you to know that this was from Me.

I want you to know that your weakness has need of My strength, and your safety lies in allowing Me to protect you. I want you to know that when you are in difficult conditions, among people who do not understand you, and cast you away, this was from Me.

I am your God, the circumstances of your life are in My hands; you did not end up in your position by chance; this is precisely the position I have appointed for you. Weren’t you asking Me to teach you humility? And there – I placed you precisely in the “school” where they teach this lesson. Your environment, and those who are around you, are performing My will. Do you have financial difficulties and can just barely survive? Know that this was from Me.

I want you to know that I dispose of your money, so take refuge in Me and depend upon Me. I want you to know that My storehouses are inexhaustible, and I am faithful in My promises. Let it never happen that they tell you in your need, “Do not believe in your Lord and God.” Have you ever spent the night in suffering? Are you separated from your relatives, from those you love? I allowed this that you would turn to Me, and in Me find consolation and comfort. Did your friend or someone to whom you opened your heart, deceive you? This was from Me.

I allowed this frustration to touch you so that you would learn that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and tell Me everything. Did someone slander you? Leave it to Me; be attached to Me so that you can hide from the “contradiction of the nations.” I will make your righteousness shine like light and your life like midday noon. Your plans were destroyed? Your soul yielded and you are exhausted? This was from Me.

You made plans and have your own goals; you brought them to Me to bless them. But I want you to leave it all to Me, to direct and guide the circumstances of your life by My hand, because you are the orphan, not the protagonist. Unexpected failures found you and despair overcame your heart, but know that this was from Me.

With tiredness and anxiety I am testing how strong your faith is in My promises and your boldness in prayer for your relatives. Why is it not you who entrusted their cares to My providential love? You must leave them to the protection of My All Pure Mother. Serious illness found you, which may be healed or may be incurable, and has nailed you to your bed. This was from Me.

Because I want you to know Me more deeply, through physical ailment, do not murmur against this trial I have sent you. And do not try to understand My plans for the salvation of people’s souls, but unmurmuringly and humbly bow your head before My goodness. You were dreaming about doing something special for Me and, instead of doing it, you fell into a bed of pain. This was from Me.

Because then you were sunk in your own works and plans and I wouldn’t have been able to draw your thoughts to Me. But I want to teach you the most deep thoughts and My lessons, so that you may serve Me. I want to teach you that you are nothing without Me. Some of my best children are those who, cut off from an active life, learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. You were called unexpectedly to undertake a difficult and responsible position, supported by Me. I have given you these difficulties and as the Lord God I will bless all your works, in all your paths. In everything I, your Lord, will be your guide and teacher. Remember always that every difficulty you come across, every offensive word, every slander and criticism, every obstacle to your works, which could cause frustration and disappointment, this is from Me.

Know and remember always, no matter where you are, That whatsoever hurts will be dulled as soon as you learn in all things, to look at Me. Everything has been sent to you by Me, for the perfection of your soul. All these things were from Me.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The door to mercy

Repentance is the door to mercy, open to those who seek it diligently; by this door we enter into divine mercy, and by no other entrance can we find this mercy. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ortho Christian Prison Ministry

The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry has a brochure download on their site http://theorthodoxprisonministry.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Pamphlet-battling-evil-thoughts-3-fold.pdf titled “Battling Evil Thoughts.”  It’s worth a read and something you can print out for yourself or make available in your parish.   

Along with the brochure download above, OCPM has other excellent spiritual literature available.  Here’s a link to their full line of resource materials:  http://theorthodoxprisonministry.org/resources/ 

Icon available from St. Isaac of Syria Skete 

Please consider the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry as a place you can wisely invest in your ”eternal savings plan.”  Visit their uplifting website to learn more.  Here is a link to get you going:  http://theorthodoxprisonministry.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/One_Pager_2013.pdf. 

You might gain some ideas to share for the Sunday of the Last Judgment when visiting those in prison is mentioned in the Gospel reading. 


Coming soon:  OCPM is about to unveil details for its Lenten Youth Project.  What I’ve heard of it sounds really neat so as soon as I get the details, I’ll be sure to share them with you!  It’ll be a positive and practical way to expose young people to this vital ministry, giving them a way to invest themselves through prayer and sacrificial giving during the season of repentance. 
...inasmuch as you did it to one
of the least of these My brethren,
you did it to Me. 

God’s peace,
Pres. Candace

St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome

St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome / February 18
Sainted Leo I the Great, Pope of Rome (440-461), received an exceedingly fine and diverse education, which opened for him the possibility of an excellent worldly career. But his yearning was in the spiritual life, and so he chose the different path of becoming an archdeacon under holy Pope Sixtus III (432-440) – after whose death Saint Leo in turn was chosen as Pope of the Roman Church, in September 440.
These were difficult times for the Church, when heretics besieged the bulwarks of Orthodoxy with their tempting false-teachings. Saint Leo combined within himself a pastoral solicitude and goodness, together with an unshakable firmness in questions of the confession of the faith. He was in particular one of the basic defenders of Orthodoxy against the heresies of Eutykhios and Dioskoros – who taught that there was only one nature in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was a defender also against the heresy of Nestorius. He exerted all his influence to put an end to the unrest by the heretics in the Church, and by his missives to the holy Constantinople emperors Theodosius II (408-450) and Marcian (450-457) he actively promoted the convening of the Fourth OEcumenical Council, at Chalcedon in 451, for condemning the heresy of the Monophysites.
At this OEcumenical Council at Chalcedon, at which 630 bishops were present, there was proclaimed a missive of Saint Leo to the then already deceased Sainted Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople (447-449). Saint Flavian had suffered for Orthodoxy under the Ephesus "Robber Council" in the year 449. In the letter of Saint Leo was posited the Orthodox teaching about the two natures [the Divine and the human] in the Lord Jesus Christ. And with this teaching all the bishops present at the Council were in agreement. The heretics Eutykhios and Dioskoros were excommunicated from the Church.
Saint Leo was likewise a defender of his fatherland against the incursions of barbarians. In the year 452, by the persuasive power of his word, he stopped a pillaging of Italy by the dreadsome leader of the Huns, Attila. And again in the year 455, when the leader of the Vandals [a Germanic tribe], Henzerich, turned towards Rome, he boldly persuaded him not to pillage the city, burn buildings, nor spill blood. He knew about his death beforehand and he prepared himself by ardent prayer and good deeds, for the passing over from this world into eternity.
He died in the year 461 and was buried at Rome, in the Vatican cathedral. His literary and theological legacy is comprised of 96 sermons and 143 letters – of which the best known is his missive to Saint Flavian.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to be remembered by God and others

Whoever has faith in God and a sacrificial spirit does not consider himself. When someone does not cultivate the spirit of sacrifice, he thinks only of himself and wants everybody to sacrifice themselves for him. But whoever thinks only of himself is isolated from others as well as God—a double isolation—in which case he cannot receive divine Grace. He becomes a useless person. One can readily see that he who thinks constantly of himself, his difficulties and troubles, and so on, will not find even some human assistance when a need arises…. On the contrary, someone who does not think of himself but thinks constantly of others, in the good sense, will be thought of constantly by God, and then others will also think of him. 


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The parable of the prodigal son is known so well that some of its phrases have passed into ordinary spoken language. We all remember book illustrations relating to it from our childhood.

Christ's parable of the prodigal son replies to the reproaches of the Pharisees that "He receiveth sinners, and eateth with them" (Luke 15:2). Christ forgives them and calls sinners to repentance, saying "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:10). All three of these parables-the good shepherd, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son, stress forgiveness in the final time, are found in chapter 15 of the Gospel according to Luke:

"A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:11-32).
This parable is inexhaustible; its themes, too many to count. Every man who studies it with reverence, finds consolation for his anxiety about his own soul.

The first theme of the parable is history - God's chosen people and the pagan nations. The elder son in the parable could be Israel, and the younger son, the pagans. According to Proto-presbyter Michael Pomazansky, this parable may summarize the Old Testament period, when men committed the original sin and withdrew from God. "The Father grieves over the departure of the beloved son. But, not infringing upon his filial dignity and filial freedom, He waits until the son himself, on having come to know all the bitterness of evil, and having remembered his past life in the Father's home, begins to yearn for this home and opens his heart to the Father's love. Thus it was with the human race."

The second theme is guilt. The parable of the prodigal son is read at the Liturgy on the third preparatory Sunday before Great Lent, when the faithful prepare to cleanse themselves from sin through the endeavor [podvig] of repentance.

Its third theme is repentance: the gradual, inner process of the sinner's turning towards full repentance, which calls for awareness of his fall, his sincere remorse, and his humble conversion of spirit toward the Heavenly Father.

Its fourth theme is the Church and her Liturgy. According to the Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the best robe, in which the father arrays his son who has returned, is the Mystery of Baptism; the ring and seal of the Holy Spirit is the Mystery of Chrismation; the feast with the eating of the fatted calf is the Eucharist, the Mystery of Communion. The music and dancing are symbols of the Church celebration of her restored fullness and oneness.

The fifth theme is the Savior Himself, Who appears as the Eucharistic slaughtered calf, referred to in Scripture as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

The elder son represents envy, legalism and need for mutual, brotherly forgiveness. The younger, prodigal son is all fallen mankind as well as each individual sinner. His portion of goods, that is, the younger son's share of the property, are God's gifts to each man. According to Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, these are "the mind and heart, and especially the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to each Christian. The demand made to the father for the portion of goods falling to the son in order to use it arbitrarily is the striving of man to throw submissiveness to God off from himself and to follow his own thoughts and desires. The father's consent to hand over the property depicts the absolute authority with which God has honored man in the use of God's gifts."

One of Proto-presbyter Alexander Men’s sermons for the "Sunday of the Prodigal Son," mentions some details of ancient economics: "In those times which the Lord is speaking about people would try to live as one family. Nowadays, it is more natural for children to separate from and leave their parents when they grow up. Then, men jointly owned the land, which they worked together, and the larger the family was, the more working hands there were, the greater the ability to labor was. Therefore, to divide the home, to divide the property and the household was considered a detriment, a loss. If the children acted thus, it was considered an offense to the parents."

Having taken his portion, the younger son departs to a far country, a foreign place of estrangement from God. There he stops thinking of his father and "lives riotously," in a life of sin that alienates him further from the Creator. He quickly squanders his property, his share of God's gifts of mind, heart, and body. His poverty is spiritual desolation. Such a man does not really control what brings him pleasure. It controls him. This is why Apostle Paul warns Christians: "I will not be brought under the power of any [thing]" (I Corinthians 6:12).

One Church thinker has written: "This far country, this foreign land reveals to us the profound essence of our life, of our condition. Only after having understood this, can we begin the return to real life. He, who has not felt this at least once in his life, who has never realized that he is spiritually in a foreign land, isolated, exiled, will not understand the essence of Christianity. And he, who is completely "at home" in this world, who has not experienced a yearning for another reality, will not comprehend what repentance and remorse are . . . Remorse and repentance are born out of the experience of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him . . . It necessarily includes in itself the profound desire to come back, to return, to find anew the lost home."

Before Great Lent, beginning with the Sunday of the prodigal son, the Church chants the psalm "By the waters of Babylon," to remind us of the captivity of the Jews in that far country. This same captivity in sin alienates the Christian from God. But this psalm likewise speaks of repentance, love, and return to the father's home.

Having lost his inheritance, the younger son begins to hunger. To survive, he herds pigs as a swineherd. And he would gladly eat the swine's food-"with the husks," but no one would give him any. A saving thought awakens in him: "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!"

The prodigal son could recall this fact because he had not dissipated his one remaining gift--memory of his father and his home, which amounts to his conscience (God's voice within us). And here, conscience life returns and he understands his terrible situation. Resolve comes to him, to forsake his sins and to repent his offences to the Lord. Finally, his humility, repentance, and awareness of his unworthiness bring the sinner back to the father.

When God allows calamities to sinners, He brings them to their senses. They are God's call to repentance.

Bishop Theophan the Recluse compares the typical sinner to a man in a deep sleep. In man's turning to God, the recluse finds three psychological moments that match the parable: (1) awakening from the sleep of sin (Luke 15:17); (2) the ripening of resolve to forsake sin and to dedicate himself to pleasing God (Luke 15:17-21); and (3) investing the sinner with power in the mysteries of repentance and communion.

The vivid parable image of this father of two sons stands for the Heavenly Father. The Father is the primary allegory of the parable, Whose goodness exceeds all human concepts, in His love for the sinner and His joy when the prodigal son's returns to Him. The Gospel says to us, "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him." The waiting father has looked every day to see whether his son were returning. When He sees him, He has compassion, and runs and falls on his neck, and kisses him. The son starts his confession, but the father does not let him finish. The Father has already forgiven and forgotten everything, and he receives the dissolute and starving swineherd as a beloved son. The father does not require proofs of his son's repentance, because he sees that his son has overcome shame and fear to return home. He commands his servants to give him the best robe, shoes, and a ring on his hand. The ring is God's gift to the forgiven sinner, the gift of God's Grace. According to Blessed Theophylact, the ring restores the sinner's marriage to the earthly Church and the Church in Heaven.

Words cannot convey the fullness of God's love for fallen sinners. Perhaps Apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians has it best: "Charity suffereth long and is kind . . . charity vaunteth not itself, . . . is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (I Corinthians 13:4-7). Because every sin is against love, repentance can be real only before God, the face of Perfect Love, for "God is love" (I John 4:8).

The Father's joy is there because "my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." The prodigal son was spiritually dead when he was living without God, and he come back to spiritual life by returning to life in God. Sacred Scripture often represents return to God as a resurrection from the dead (cf. Romans 6:13, Matthew 8:22, Revelation 3:1, Ephesians 2:1).

The elder son of the parable is also problematic. The return of his younger brother and his reconciliation to the father displeased the elder son. Here is how the parable sets it forth:

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."

The elder son, Jesus Christ implies, is the Pharisee or Scribe whose legalism blocks him from coming to the Father. The elder son is all of us. The elder son was not much at fault until his brother returned and provoked the terrible sin of envy, which had led to the first murder and to the later murder of the Savior Himself. In the house of the Father (an image of the Church) angels feel joy and exultation over one sinner that repents, but this joy is sealed off from the elder son. The father invites the elder son to enter this joy, but he prefers to calculate legal considerations and contracts. Such cold, juridical attitudes prevail wherever love has dried up. The elder son does not really value his father's gifts. His soul holds a void more fearful than his brother's before repentance. The elder son has choked his conscience.

At some time, we all behave like the sons of the compassionate father. By our sins, we all alienate ourselves from His love. The service for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son describes our alienation from God: "I have wasted the riches which the Father gave me; I have spent them all and now am destitute, dwelling in the land of evil citizens." The prodigal son was in that state until the Gospel parable says, "he came to himself."

What does "he came to himself" mean? One Holy Father says that our salvation begins in self-knowledge. We may argue that self-knowledge is a cumulative lifetime pursuit, toward which a man always strives. But the Holy Fathers would say that until you have come to know who you are; until you have sensed the image of God in yourself; until you, living amidst earthly citizens, have felt that you are a citizen of heaven and have been enslaved to "foreign citizens"; until you, amid the filth of your soul, have come to know the image of God in yourself - until then you have not entered on the path of salvation at all.

Salvation begins when you come to know your own divine nature, as the prodigal son did. In one instant he saw that he was a slave to sin in a foreign land without genuine life. After a such self-recognition, a man may contrast himself with God's image in him, however bruised and calloused by habitual sin. Then a man begins to thirst for regeneration from sin and conversion back to being God's image.

Conversion may take a great change in perspective. A monk came to Venerable Antony and began to ask that he forgive and have mercy on him. Antony replied to him: "Neither I, nor God will have mercy on thee, if thou wilt not have mercy on thyself."

This rebuff from Saint Antony may seem strange to us. How is this so? Saint Antony asks us to understand that each of us must first discover the image of God in himself. Each of us must say "Have mercy on my inner man who, though brutalized by sin, possesses the image of God; until I myself have mercy on God's creation in myself; until in my conscience I have mercy on myself, who am sinful, defiled, and prodigal, until I take pity on my immortal soul - until then, God also will not have mercy on me. Until then, my entreaty will be in vain."

Patristic experience teaches that our requests for mercy will be in vain until we must sense in ourselves the image of God, the remnants of Divine beauty in us although distorted. The prodigal son saw how badly he was living and how well his father's servants lived. At that point, he had mercy on himself, and so went to God to beg for mercy from Him.

When we have mercy on ourselves and feel the contrast between ourselves in creation and ourselves in life, then we too can follow the path of the prodigal son toward God and can beg for mercy. Renewal of the image of God in ourselves is conversion, our sole business on earth. For us to keep God's creation - the image "of God's ineffable Glory" - constantly before our eyes, means we have more mercy on ourselves. We shall perceive the joy of life in God while we endure. Then we shall come to God and shall beg Him, as the prodigal son: "make me as one of Thy hired servants." And we shall be received by God.

From http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm#n16

Orthodox Christianity & F. M. Dostoevsky

"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. 
My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." 

Fyodor M. Dostoevsky

Orthodox Convert

1821–1881 (January 28/February 9)http://www.pravoslavie.ru/img/print22x20.gif

On February 9, 1881, Feodor Dostoevsky parted this world as his family read to him the Gospel parable of the prodigal son. This article in Orthodox America from the 100th anniversary year of Dostoevsky's death commemorates the great writer, and shows his significance to the Orthodox Church. 

Feodor Dostoevsky on his deathbed 

January 28/February 9 of this year (1981) marked the hundredth anniversary of the death of Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, the great Russian writer who was probably the most powerful Orthodox voice in the world literature of recent centuries. In marking this anniversary with an Ukase decreeing the celebration of memorial Services for him in all dioceses, as well as recommending gatherings and lectures devoted to him, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia noted that "his creative activity was highly valued by outstanding church thinkers. His burial is remembered as an extraordinary event, and in the name of the St. Alexander Neysky Lavra (in Petersburg) his widow was asked to bury him precisely there, since Fyodor Michailovich was a defender of Orthodoxy."

Unlike most Russian novelists and writers of the 19th century, Dostoevsky's intent in his creative activity was precisely to exemplify Orthodox principles. After a youthful fascination with Western ideas and his involvement with a socialist-revolutionary group, Dostoevsky returned from a term of exile in Siberia fully converted to the truth of Orthodoxy and resolved to use his literary talent to defend this truth against its many enemies, and to illuminate with its light the spirit of his times. In The Possessed (literally, “The Demons”), he made a devastatingly precise analysis of the radical revolutionary mind and foresaw the hundred million people it would be necessary to kill to make the revolution successful in Russia (Solzhenitsyn has noted the exact correspondence to the number of victims of Soviet Communism). In Crime and Punishment he traces the effect of the philosophy of nihilism (the foundation of the revolution) on one person’s soul, and its salvation by Christianity. In “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamozov, he set forth the difference between the Western distortion of Christianity and true Orthodoxy, and in The Diaspora of a West he showed further the underlying unity of papalism and socialism and their ultimate merger in the reign of Antichrist. In these and other books he laid bare the intent and the final goal of modern secular humanism: a society without God. He expressed the "theological'' definition of this goal several years before Nietzche in the West: There is no God (or: there is no immortality), therefore everything is permitted. But unlike Nietzche, whose inability to believe drove him insane, Dostoevsky with his diagnosis gave also the answer to this modern sickness of the soul: a return to the fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity.

Dostoevsky was a passionate man and had many falls and mistakes. But he is remembered as one who, being a thoroughly "modern'' man who had come to see the "one thing needful" in life, offered a sincere struggle against his passions and helped us all to see more clearly the nature of the workings of passion and sin in fallen man. Elder Ambrose of Optina said of Dostoevsky, after he visited the monastery, that he was "one who is repenting.'' Thus he is closer to today's Orthodox converts than many more perfect men, such as the great Russian ascetics of the 19th century, and can help to open up to them the way to the saving truth of Orthodoxy. Above all, his compassionate portraits of the suffering and downtrodden, and even of those possessed by passions, can help Orthodox converts to develop the basic Christian concern and compassion which are so often lost sight of in our overly intellectual times.

09 / 02 / 2012

Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Theophan on Prayer

Why is it, you ask, that one can pray for so many years with a prayer book, and still not have prayer in his heart? I think the reason is that people only spend a little time lifting themselves up to God when they complete their prayer rule, and in other times, they do not remember God. For example, they finish their morning prayers, and think that their relation to God is fulfilled by them; then the whole day passes in work, and such a person does not attend to God. Then in the evening, the thought returns to him that he must quickly stand at prayer and complete his evening rule. In this case, it happens that even if the Lord grants a person spiritual feelings at the time of the morning prayer, the bustle and business of the day drowns them out. As a result, it happens that one does not often feel like praying, and cannot get control of himself even to soften his heart a little bit. In such an atmosphere, prayer develops and ripens poorly. This problem (is it not ubiquitous?) needs to be corrected, that is, one must ensure that the soul does not only make petition to God when standing in prayer, but during the whole day, as much as possible, one must unceasingly ascend to Him and remain with Him.

In order to begin this task, one must first, during the course of the day, cry out to God more often, even if only with a few words, according to need and the work of the day. Beginning anything, for example, say ‘Bless, O Lord!’ When you finish something, say, ‘Glory to Thee, O Lord’, and not only with your lips, but with feeling in your heart. If passions arise, say, ‘Save me, O Lord, I am perishing.’ If the darkness of disturbing thoughts comes up, cry out: ‘Lead my soul out of prison.’ If dishonest deeds present themselves and sin leads you to them, pray, ‘Set me, O Lord, in the way’, or ‘do not give up my feet to stumbling.’ If sin takes hold of you and leads you to despair, cry out with the voice of the publican, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Do this in every circumstance, or simply say often, ‘Lord, have mercy’, ‘Most Holy Theotokos save us”, ‘Holy Angel, my guardian, protect me’, or other such words. Say such prayers as often as possible, always making the effort for them come from your heart, as if squeezed out of it. When we do this, we will frequently ascend to God in our hearts, making frequent petitions and prayers. Such increased frequency will bring about the habit of mental conversation with God.