Orthodox Thought for the Day


Monday, February 29, 2016

On humility and patience in trials

January 27, 2016 by Fr. Michael Gillis

In my last blog post, I spoke of two categories of trials discussed by St. Isaac in homily 42: trials that are the fruit of pride and trials that are allowed by God to create longing and are evidence of one drawing near to God.  Before I get into what St. Isaac says about patience and humility at the end of homily 42, I want correct a potential misunderstanding some of you might have based on St. Isaac’s use of two categories.  The mistake modern people might make is to assume that because St. Isaac defined two categories of trials and temptations, he therefore understands these two categories to be the only categories and that all trials and tribulations of necessity fall into either one or the other of these categories.  This is not how St. Isaac nor the people he was writing for in the seventh century would have understood this use of categories.
For St. Isaac, categories are useful to point toward mystical realities, but are not used to define or limit those realities.  So in one of his homilies, St. Isaac can speak of two categories of trials, and in another homily speak of three or four quite different categories of trials.  His purpose is not to define or delimit the kinds or purposes of trials; but rather, his purpose it to point to a mystical reality that is experienced in the spiritual life, a reality that cannot be defined or delimited with words, but a reality that he can nonetheless point toward using words and categories.  So when St. Isaac speaks of trials as either coming from the fruit of pride or evidencing our drawing near to God, he is pointing toward an experience those pursuing the spiritual life in Christ sometimes have.  That is, sometimes we are aware that the trial we are experiencing has come upon us as a result of our arrogance or pride, leading us to repentance.  Other times, we are unaware of any specific repentance necessary on our part, and the trials merely constrain and limit us, leading us to deeper longing for God.  Are there other ways we experience and learn from and grow from trials?  Certainly.  But in homily 42, St. Isaac is specifically contrasting these two in order to help the reader understand certain spiritual experiences he or she might encounter, experiences that may even appear contradictory, like joy and fear, or different sorts of trials coming from different sources and evidencing different aspects of one’s relationship with God.
St. Isaac begins wrapping up homily 42 with the following words,
“Hear yet another consideration.  Every adversity and affliction, if not accompanied by patience, produces double torment; for a man’s patience casts off distress, while faintness of heart is the mother of anguish.  Patience is the mother of consolation and is a certain strength which is usually born of largeness of heart.  It is hard for a man to find this strength in his tribulations without a gift from God received through the ardent pursuit of prayer and the outpouring of his tears.”
Patience, according to St. Isaac, can cut in half the adversity and affliction one experiences in trials, regardless of the source.  Whether the source of the trial is my own sin and pride, or “a blow inflicted by divine love,” as he earlier puts it, if I accept and endure the trial with patience, the suffering is cut in half.  St. Isaac contrasts faintness of heart with largeness of heart.  In this homily, largeness of heart seems to be a synonym for humility of heart which it gives birth to patience and is a gift from God received through ardent pursuit of prayer and the outpouring of tears.  Largeness of heart has to do with a humility that is able to accept and even be aware of the nearness of God even in the midst of a painful or difficult trial—even if that trial has come upon me as a result of my own sin and stupidity.  It is a humility that “with a thankful heart [is] patient in evils for His love’s sake.”  In other words, it is a humility both given as a gift from God and born out of a love for God and faith in God that is so intense that even evils can be endured patiently and with thankfulness to God because one knows that God will use even evil things to perfect our souls.
What?  How can the evil that we suffer perfect our souls?  Is St. Isaac saying that God causes evil?  No.  But he is saying that God allows evil to come upon us and that by enduring that suffering with thankfulness, patience and love, we can be perfected, or made mature in Christ.  This is a mystery.  It is not reasonable or logical.  It’s completely ironic.  Therefore to complain that this doesn’t make sense or isn’t fair doesn’t help at all.  St. Isaac isn’t explaining a theory of Christian maturity, he is describing an experience—an experience that crucifies even our mind.  And the very first step toward this kind of humility is to acknowledge that you don’t have it.  It is only through the “ardent pursuit of prayer and the outpouring of tears” in the midst of the irrational and unfair evil that has come upon us that we begin to experience the grace and gift of humility that produces patience which, St. Isaac says, cuts our suffering in half.
St. Isaac also has a few things to say about faint-heartedness, the opposite of largeheartednens or humility.  He says that sometimes God allows a person to fall into faint-heartedness which, instead of patience,
“begets in him a mighty force of despondency, wherein he feels his soul suffocated.  This is a foretaste of Gehenna.  From this there is unleashed upon him: the spirit of distraction (from which ten thousand trials gush forth); confusion; wrath; blasphemy; protesting and bewailing one’s lot; perverted thoughts; wandering from place to place; and the like.”  St. Isaac goes on to say, “If you should ask me what the cause of these things is, I answer that it is you yourself, for the reason that you have not taken pains to find the remedy for them.”

And so, St. Isaac tells us that when we experience these things—wrath; blasphemy; protesting and bewailing one’s lot; and wandering from place to place (perhaps looking for a spirit-filled elder who can tell us how to get out of our situation), these symptoms particularly hit home to me—when we experience these it is likely that we have fallen into faint-heartedness.  And although God may have allowed faint-heartedness to come upon us, we continue to experience faint-heartedness because we have not sought the remedy.  What is the remedy for the faint-heartedness producing such Gehenna-like despondency in all of its manifestations?  St. Isaac answers: “The remedy for them all is one, and therein, in [your] very hand, a man can find immediate consolation for his soul.  And what is it?  Humility of heart.  Without this, no man can destroy the barrier [set up by] these evils, nay rather, he will see them triumph over him.”
Humility of heart is the key.  It is the largeness of heart that produces patience and reduces anguish and distress in trials.  Listen to St. Isaac’s words:
“If you wish, enter into [the realm of humility] and you will see how it disperses your wickedness.  For in proportion to your humility you are given patience in your woes; and in proportion to your patience, the burden of your afflictions is made lighter and you will find consolation; in proportion to your consolation, your love of God increases; and in proportion to your love, your joy in the Holy Spirit is magnified.”

This humility, or largeness of heart, is a gift that comes from God that one receives through “ardent pursuit of prayer and the outpouring of his tears.”  It’s not something—at least in my experience—that one can just decide or make happen.  Trying to be humble generally only produces self-consciousness, self-evaluation, and ultimately pride mixed with any or all of the following: despondency, anger, blaming God, blaming others and delusion (that pride can be linked with all of these may seem ironic, but as already noted, the spiritual life is full of irony).   And so then, how do we get humility?  In my experience, asking God for humility is a rather painful route.  Instead of asking specifically for humility, I have found it most helpful to ask God for mercy.  I ask God for mercy acknowledging that I am not humble, that I am not patient, and that the evils that come upon me in the form of trials and tribulations come largely from my pride and that I am too spiritually dull to know what to do about them—except to beg for His help.
For St. Isaac, the spiritual life is a life of transformation: transformation from being a stranger to God to being a son of God.  Alluding to Hebrews 12:5, where sonship is linked to chastisement, St. Isaac too says that patient endurance of trials and tribulations is the very thing that matures us and perfects our souls.  The “way of escape” from trials that St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is not an avoidance of the trial—for even the text of 1 Corinthians says, “so that you may bear it.”  Rather, according to St. Isaac, the way of escape is patient endurance to the perfecting of our souls, which is the fruit of humility, which is a gift from God to those who beg His help.

I’ll end today with St. Isaacs words.  This is the final paragraph of homily 42:
Once men have truly become His sons, our tenderly compassionate Father does not take away their temptations from them when it is His pleasure to ‘make a way of escape,’ but instead He gives His sons patience in their trials.  All these good things are given into the hand of their patience for the perfecting of their souls.  May Christ God deem us worthy by His grace with a thankful heart to be patient in evils for His love’s sake.  Amen. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Beloved brethren! The Holy Church, the loving mother of all her children, who gave them birth unto salvation, and takes upon herself all care to ensure that her children not lose their inheritance—Heaven, preparing them for the successful completion of the forthcoming podvig of the Forty Days Fast, has ordained that we read today at the Divine Liturgy the parable of our Lord Jesus Christ about the prodigal son.


In what does the podvig of the holy Forty Days Fast consist? In the podvig of repentance. During these days, we stand before the time dedicated largely to repentance, as before the doors of repentance, and sing the song that is filled with contrite feeling: Open unto me the doors of repentance, O Giver of life! What does our Lord’s Gospel parable that we hear today reveal to us? It reveals the unfathomable, infinite mercy of our Heavenly Father for sinners who bring forth repentance. The Lord made it known to people, calling them to repentance: Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Lk. 15:10). So that His words would become even more strongly impressed in the hearts of His listeners, He decided to supplement them with a parable.

A certain man had two sons, says the Gospel parable. The younger of them asked his father to give him his share of the inheritance. The father did so. After not many days, the younger son took his inheritance and left for a far country, where he spent all his inheritance on a wanton life. When he had spent it all, there came a famine on that country. The son of the rich man not only found himself wanting, but was in a desperate state. In this serious plight, he asked assistance from one of the local inhabitants, who sent him to the field to herd his swine. Exhausted with hunger, the wretch would have been happy to fill his belly with the coarsest swine feed! But this turned out to be impossible. In such a state, he finally came to his senses, and remembering the abundance of his father’s house, resolved to return to his father. He prepared mentally what he would say to his father in order to gain his propitiation: he would admit his sin and his unworthiness, and humbly ask to be accepted, not into his father’s family, but as one of his host of slaves and hired servants. With this in his heart, the younger son set out on his way. He was still far from his father’s house when his father saw him. He saw him and had compassion on him; ran, fell on his neck, and kissed him. When his son pronounced the confession and request he had prepared, his father called the servants, saying, 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! The older son who was always submissive to his father’s will was in the field, and he when returned to the house, the feast was on. He found his father’s behavior toward the younger son strange. But inspired by the righteousness of love, before which every other righteousness is pathetic and insignificant, the father remonstrated, 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 (See Lk. 15:11-32).

According to the holy fathers,[1] the younger son could also be an image of all fallen mankind and of every sinner. The younger son’s inheritance is God’s gifts, with which every person is endowed, especially Christians. The most supreme gifts of God are the mind and heart, and especially the grace of the Holy Spirit given to every Christian. The son’s demand that the father give him his inheritance to use according his own will is man’s attempt to cast off his submission to God, and follow his own thoughts and desires. The father ceding the inheritance is a portrayal of the self-governance with which God honored man for the use of His gifts. The far country is a sinful life, distancing and alienating us from God. The squandering of the inheritance is the exhaustion of the powers of our mind, heart and body; in particular the outrage against the Holy Spirit and its expulsion from ourselves through our sinful deeds. The younger son’s poverty is the soul’s emptiness, which comes about from a sinful life. The permanent inhabitants of the far country are the princes of the darkness this age, the fallen spirits, permanently fallen and alienated from God. The sinner submits to their influence. The herd of unclean animals [swine] is the sinful thoughts and feelings that roam in soul of the sinners, grazing on its pastures. They are the inevitable consequence of sinful acts. In vain does a man think to silence these thoughts and feelings by fulfilling them—they are most impossible to satisfy! Man can carry out these passionate thoughts and dreams, but that does not destroy them—it only rouses them to redouble their strength. Man is created for heaven; only true goodness can be his satisfying, life-giving food. Evil, which attracts and seduces the heart’s taste damaged by the fall, is only capable of despoiling man’s nature.

How horrible is the emptiness of soul brought on by a sinful life! Unbearable is the torment from passionate, sinful thoughts and feelings, when they roil like worms in the soul, when they tear at the soul that has submitted to them, the soul that has been violated by them! Often a sinner who is tormented by fierce thoughts, dreams, and unfulfilled desires comes to despair. He often tries to take his own life, both temporal and eternal. Blessed is the sinner who comes to his senses during that terrible period and remembers the boundless love of the Heavenly Father, and the measureless spiritual riches overflowing in the house of the Heavenly Father—the holy Church. Blessed is that sinner who, horrified by his own sinfulness, wants to be free of its oppressive weight through repentance.

We learn from the Gospel parable that for successful and fruitful repentance, a man needs to provide on his part: seeing his own sin, recognizing it, repenting of it, and confession of it. God sees a person who has made this pledge in heart while he is yet a long way off; He sees him and runs to meet him, embraces and kisses him with His grace. No sooner had the penitent pronounced his confession of his sin than the merciful Lord commanded the slaves—the servants of the altar and the holy Angels—to clothe him in bright garments of purity, to place his ring upon his finger as a testimony of his renewed union with the Church both on earth and in heaven, and to place shoes upon his feet, so that his actions would be protected from spiritual thorns by steadfast ordinances, for that is the meaning of the shoes—Christ’s commandments. To complete the action of love, a feast of love is held for the returned son, for which a fatted calf is killed. This feast signifies the Church feast to which the sinner is invited once he has made his peace with God—the spiritual, incorruptible food and drink—Christ—promised long ago to mankind, prepared through the unspeakable mercy of God for fallen man from the very moment of his fall.

The Gospel parable is a divine teaching! It is deep and exalted, regardless of the extraordinary simplicity of the human words in which God’s Word deigned to be clothed! The holy Church most wisely ordained that this parable be read to all before the beginning of the coming Forty Days Fast. What more consoling news could there be for a sinner who stands trembling before the doors of repentance than this news about the Heavenly Father’s infinite and unspeakable mercy for repentant sinners? This mercy is so great that it amazed the very Angels—the first-born sons of the Heavenly Father, who had never transgressed a single commandment of His. Their bright, lofty minds could not fathom the unfathomable mercy of God for fallen mankind. They needed a revelation from on High regarding this subject, and they learned from this revelation that it is meet for them to make merry, and be glad, for their lesser brother—the human race—was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found, through the Redeemer. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God even over one sinner that repenteth.

Beloved brethren! Let us make use of the time appointed by the holy Church to prepare ourselves for the ascetic labors of the holy Forty Days Fast, in accordance with its purpose. Let us use it to contemplate the great mercy of God for people and for each person who wishes to make peace with God and unite with Him through true repentance. Our time in this earthly life is priceless; for during this time, we decide our eternal lot. May we be vouchsafed to decide our eternal lot unto our salvation, and to our joy! May our rejoicing be endless! May it be joined to the rejoicing of the holy Angels of God! May the joy of Angels and men be fulfilled and made perfect through their fulfilling the will of the Heavenly Father! For, it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones—human beings, deprecated and humiliated by sin—should perish (Mt. 18:14). Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

03 / 03 / 2013

[1] See the Explanations of St. Theophylact. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lenten cookbook suggestions from Ortho Thought readers

Thanks to everyone who shared their favorites:

My very favorite Lenten cookbook has been, The Festive Fast, a Greek meatless cookbook, with some color pictures.  It is written by Marigoula Kokkinou and Georgia Kofinas.  It's filled with wonderful recipes.  My second favorite is Food for Paradise, also a meatless  cookbook that is compiled by St. John the Russian Orthodox Church in Ipswich, Mass.  This is also an excellent cookbook that was recommended by my dear friend Ellada Nayfa, Presbytera at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Spartanburg, SC.  She said it was her favorite.  Loads of good recipes between the two books......you won't need any others!
Skip Sutherland, member of St. James Orthodox Church (OCA) in Port St. Lucie, FL

Tell them to subscribe to Vegeterian Times magazine . The recipes are very good. Also they can check out vegetariantimes.com. But  I think the print version is easier to read. With that said, they seem to have all the recipes that they print in the magazine on their website too.  Alexandra

I love the Festival of Greek Flavors Cookbook!  It has a whole Lenten Section with a variety of wonderful recipes.  The best part is that the ladies Philoptochos Society of the Denver Cathedral put this cookbook together and have received many compliments on all of the recipes.  Alexandran Hellen

Here's a new one that will be out in just a few weeks, but looks good.  http://store.ancientfaith.com/fasting-as-a-family/  I've also used the blue Lenten Cookbook, which I think everyone has. There's an apple cake in it that we really like.  Melinda Johnson  From Pres. Candace:  see link for the “blue cookbook”—also, other Lenten cookbooks, toohttp://www.stnectariospress.com/cookbooks/

Check out Presvytera Eleni Klostri’s blog, Fields of Basil, for her 40 days-40 Lenten recipes feature:

One of my favorite cookbooks is From the Monastery Kitchen.  It has Lenten recipes, some seafood recipes, and, also some cheese recipes, too.

Available at The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration

                    321 Monastery Lane, Ellwood City, PA 16117



Presvytera Vasiliki Constantine 

My favorite book is The Festive Fast and my favorite website is The Greek Vegan. Blessings, Sophia in CA

The Festive Fast  Venus in AK

When You Fast: recipes for Lenten seasons by Catherine Mandell (published by SVS Press)

Embracing Lent through prayer, worship, recipes (Published by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Lexington, MA - not sure if it's for sale online or anymore at all.)  In Christ, Tatyana

My favorite Lenten cookbook is The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos, by The Monk Epiphanios of Mylopotamos.  With love in Christ, Elaine

One of my favorites is - Taste & See II, More American Orthodox Cooking.  It is a collection of Recipes by the Women of St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church in Murfreesboro TN.  http://www.stelizabethtn.org  Eva

Some cookbooks from my collection where you can find Lenten recipes too: 

Teshome Berhe: ETHIOPIAN 
A table avec la Reine de Saba
Dining with the Queen of Sheba
ISBN 978-99944-995-0-2

Archimandrite Dositheos: MONASTIC
Greek Monastery Cookery
ISBN: 960-8360-36-6

Dawn Elaine& Selwa Anthony: LEBANESE
The Lebanese Cookbook
ISBN: 1-89825 921 6

Merab Beradze GEORGIAN
Georgian dishes
ISBN: 978-9941-0-3865-5

With love in Christ, Iraiida in Helsinki

On-line:  Jamie Oliver
Top five vegan recipes:  http://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/top-five-vegan-recipes/#VtvtdFiwZCPhABmq.97
111 vegan recipes from Jamie Oliver: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/category/special-diets/vegan/#FLMZupPdwM75GTtu.97
An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Cookin’ Southern Vegetarian Style by Ann Jackson  (haven’t used it yet, but the recipes look pretty good)

Do a search on Amazon.com for vegan cookbooks and you’ll come up with plenty of options.  Searching for vegan recipe sites on-line will also yield a treasure-trove of possibilities. 
Your sister in Faith, Presbytera Candace

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Some questions answered: on the Publican & Pharisee

Hieromonk Job (Gumerov) answers some questions:  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/76967.htm

Why we don’t fast during the week of the Publican and Pharisee, and other questions

Hello Father! Why don’t we observe the Wednesday and Friday fast during the week of the Publican and the Pharisee? Thank you! Respectfully, Olga.

Answer by Hieromonk Job (Gumerov):

The parable of the publican and the Pharisee gives an image of the spiritual truth that God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (Js. 4:6). The Pharisees were representatives of the social-religious trend in Judea during the second century B.C. Their distinguishing characteristic was an intense zeal for observing the Law of Moses. Religious life requires that a person be attentive to himself, that he have moral sensitivity, humility, and pure intentions. If he doesn’t have these, a hardness of heart gradually creeps in on him. Then a pseudo-spirituality inevitably comes. The result is spiritual death. If instead of humility there is self-opinion and pride, instead of sacrificial love there is spiritual egoism, then it is not hard for the devil to take over such a person and make him an accomplice in his evil deeds. People who are unbelieving or spiritually inattentive do not even know or guess how often they do just what the enemy of our salvation wants them to do.

Phariseeism is not a vocation or a membership in some kind of religious organization. Phariseeism is a state of the soul. It begins with self-opinion and self-aggrandizement. Just as soon as a person’s attention to himself and strictness with himself relaxes, the first shoots of a dangerous plant appear, the fruits of which can kill the soul. Death comes as a result of poisoning with the poison of pride.

The main moral characteristic of a Pharisee is self-love and egoism, which directs all the movements of his soul. We rarely think about how much egoism and therefore, phariseeism we have in ourselves. Our insensitivity to our surroundings, our constant coldness, the lack of a constant readiness to sacrifice our time, energy, and convenience for the sake of others shows how far we are from the repentant publican, who with a contrite heart pronounced only five words, but departed justified.

By cancelling the Wednesday and Friday fast during the week of the Publican and the Pharisee, the holy Church desires to keep us from pharisaical self-complacency, when the formal observation of Church rules (fasting, prayer rule, and church attendance) becomes the goal of spiritual life. The holy fathers teach that all this must be fulfilled, but it must be seen as a means for acquiring spiritual fruits.

The Pharisees considered themselves to be wise and knowing. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (Js. 3:17-18)


Hello! Christ tells the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple. The Pharisee says that he does this and that, including that he fasts two days out of the week. Tell me, please, what days of the week were these, and why were they fast days? Thank you! Evgeny.

Answer by Hieromonk Job (Gumerov)

According to the law of Moses there was only one day established as a day of fasting (Heb. tsum—to draw out) during the year—on the day of Purificaton (Yom Kippur): Lev. 16:29; Num. 29:7. Nevertheless, any of the sons of Israel could voluntarily take on a fast. Such fasts are often written about in the Old Testament. A fast could be for one day, or it could go on for many days: the prophet Moses on the mountain in the presence of God spent forty days without food and water (Ex. 34:28), and the prophet Elias fasted for just as long (3 Kings 19:7-8). Fasting for the Jews presupposed total abstinence from food. David ate nothing for seven days (2 Kings 12:16-21). The faster usually put on sackcloth, refrained from daily washing, sprinkled his head with ashes (3 Kings 21:27; Nem. 9:1). The Jews had voluntary recourse to fasting: 1) Before decisive events, the outcome of which depended upon God’s mercy; (2 Kings 12:16, 21-23; Eph. 4:3-16, and others); 2) During sincere repentance and humility before God (1 Kings 7:6; 3 Kings 21:27); Ezd. 10:6; Nem. 9:1); and 3) To attain full communion with God (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18).

In Babylonian captivity, a one-day fast was established for the Jews: On the ninth day of the fourth month (tammuza), as a sorrowful remembrance of the Chaldean capture of Jerusalem (587/6 B.C.), on the tenth day of the fifth month (ava), on which the city was destroyed and the temple was burned (Jer. 52:12-13), on one of the days of the seventh month (tishri) in memory of the murder of Godolia (Jer. 41:1-3)

The Pharisee from the Lord’s parable fasted twice a week voluntarily, and boasted of it. The Pharisees had a custom of fasting on the fifth day of the week, when the prophet Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, and on the second, when he descended from the mountain.

The prophets condemned external fasts without repentance and humility. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee speaks of this. Such a fast leads to pride and spiritual blindness.


Who are the Pharisees?

Answer by Hieromonk Job (Gumerov):

The Pharisees (according to one etymology, the Hebrew perushim—set apart) were representatives of the most influential religious-social trend in Judea. They are first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (3:7-9). The lack of mention of them in the Old Testament leads us to believe that this sect was formed significantly later than the conclusion of the canon of sacred Old Testament books (c. fifth century B.C.). There is a convincing theory by certain researchers who see the sect of the Pharisees as an answer to Hellenism—the tendency toward cultural-historical synthesis among the Mediterranean peoples. This tendency was the result of Alexander the Great’s successful military campaigns (356-323 B.C.). The Hellenic influence on Israeli society apparently brought to life this party of zealous defenders of national tradition. Josephus Flavius first speaks of the Pharisees as one of the three sects (along with the Sadducees and Essenes) in the thirteenth book of Judaic antiquity (13.5:9), talking about the activities of one of the Maccabees—the high priest Jonathan (c. second century B.C.).

The Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, accepted the future resurrection, and the existence of angels and spirits. They preached a strict life, ritual purity, and exact fulfillment of the law. Representatives of this movement struggled against pagan influence upon the people, and stood for national independence. All of this attracted people to them.

But the farther time separated them from the God-revealed source of truth, the stronger a purely human origin showed itself in their teachings and actions. Formalism began to grow. The Lord through Moses forbade the introduction of new commandments and the repeal of those already given: You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Deut. 4:2). Despite this, they introduced 613 new rules: 248 commands (according to the number of bones in the human body) and 365 prohibitions (according to the number of days in the year). They ascribed more significance to their innovations than they did to God’s commandments. The Savior rebuked them for this: Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Mt. 15:3); For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men (Mk. 7:8). They characteristically treated with contempt sinners, publicans, and people not of the book: But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed (Jn. 7:49). Although there were many sinners in Israeli society during the time of the Savior, the Lord never rebuked anyone like he did the Pharisees. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them (Lk. 11:42-44). Jesus Christ rebuked the soulless formalism of the Pharisees and Scribes, who accused the Savior of violating the Sabbath by healing seriously ill people. Without doing away with the law, the Lord placed works of love and mercy for suffering people higher than ritual: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27).

Pride and self-opinion about their righteousness lead the Pharisees to spiritual blindness and made them incapable of humbly accepting anyone higher, purer, and more righteous than themselves. The Lord’s miracles, His teachings, which astounded the people by their moral heights, and His meekness all evoked wrath in the representatives of this sect. This was the main reason why they did not see in Jesus Christ the Messiah promised by the prophets, and, along with the Sadducees, demanded His crucifixion.

The better representatives of the Pharisees, who had a living faith and were not deadened by formalism, became Christians: the Apostle Paul, righteous Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and others.

Our Lord Jesus Christ warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:11). Phariseeism as a spiritual state is a danger to any believer. It begins when a person prays formally, with his lips and not his heart, out of habit, and thinks he is pleasing to God. “People who are trying to conduct a spiritual life sometimes have the most subtle and difficult battle through their thoughts every moment of life—a spiritual battle. One has to be a bright eye to everything in every moment in order to notice the thoughts flowing into the soul from the evil one and deflect them. Such people must always have a heart burning with faith, humility, and love; otherwise, devilish deceit easily settles into it, and after deceit comes little faith or faithlessness, and then also all kinds of evil, from which they cannot soon cleanse themselves even with tears. Therefore do not allow your heart to be cold, especially during prayer, and avoid all cold indifference” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ). Spiritual pride, assurance of your own righteousness, ostentatious piety and hypocrisy are all phariseeism. The Holy Church in its struggle with the danger of falling into this state puts forth the example of the repentant publican. With his humble prayer we begin our daily morning prayers: “God, by merciful to me, a sinner.”

Hieromonk Job (Gumerov)
Translation by OrthoChristian.com
02 / 02 / 2015

Saturday, February 20, 2016

On what God offers us

With thanks to Sergei Khudiev for this thoughtful article which appeared under the title “Not What You’re Looking For” on Pravoslavie RU:

From time to time, one hears questions from people who are afraid, because some foe has set out to harm them. People believe that their health, work, and personal problems are directly linked to this. They search for some kind of sacred action to resort to, in order to repel this attack of the dark forces.

People ask about some kind of icon or prayer that would set things straight. But you cannot set matters straight this way. The Church has no "white magic" to neutralize the "black". This is not the school of protection against the dark arts. The Church offers something altogether different. Yes, it offers protection as well, but not exactly that which people are looking for.

The spiritual forces of evil are real, and different kinds of magicians and sorcerers concern themselves precisely with this, but their goal is not at all to cause petty troubles to you at work and in personal life. They would willingly provide you a calm life with every good fortune and pleasure, if they could achieve the main task of destroying your soul, cutting it off from God.

All the earthly ills of this world are the result of sin, of defying the will of God; but this is a consequence, which for the forces of evil is incidental, even undesired. Their goal is to prevent you from starting on the path to salvation, or to divert you from this path if you already are already approaching it.

The forces of good—God, His saints and angels—do not seek to deliver you from petty troubles inflicted on you by demons, or to give you health and prospecty. Of course, a life in obedience to God's commandments, as a rule, will be more successful, peaceful, and safe, but that is not the primary goal.

The message proclaimed by the Church is much greater than anything of which we could dare to think. The Church proclaims that God wants to give you - you precisely - life eternal and blessed, because you are precious in His eyes and He loves you. He wants to bring you to His house and to make you a member of His family. As the Gospel says: But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:12-13).

This message is too immense for us, who are accustomed to small pleasures and afflictions. We often do not hear it, do not understand it, and even hearing, we turn away from it, but it remains true.

Imagine a young beggar, homeless, asking for change from passersby. Now imagine that the king loved him, wanted to make him a member of the royal family and an heir, to bring him to the palace. He invites the homeless boy, but the latter does not really want to hear about adoption or the palace. He wants something a bit simpler. A couple of coins. A hamburger. A can of beer. Riddance of the other beggars who make competition for him. Or anything of this kind, that might improve his vagrant life a bit. But the king does not want to give him this. He really wants to take him to the palace—not to improve this life a little, but to give something different altogether.

Man often ends up in the position of this beggar, who wants to ask God for some small change. Something that will make his earthly life more comfortable, or at least more pleasant. But the Gospel is about something else.

"As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ," the Church sings during its great feasts. These are words from the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Galatians: For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). We are called to be children of God. This is not easy. The life of a vagrant can be difficult and bleak, it contains no discipline, obedience, or study, unlike the life of the crown prince. But God offers us precisely this: adoption by the Lord of the Universe.

And in order to accept His gift we should give to Him our hearts and entrust our lives to Him completely. It is not necessary to ask the question, "How do I make God solve my problems?" It is about something else: how to trust and submit to God, how to be rid of the tramp's deeply ingrained habit of lies, both voluntary and involuntary.

When we decide to submit to God, we see our problems altogether differently. Probably some of them will simply disappear, and others will become the lessons we should learn in the school of our Heavenly Father.

But this is our choice, and no one can force us to do it. Even God decided not to do this. He is always waiting for our voluntary consent. We can refuse, go away to the outer darkness, and remain there forever. The goal of the force of evil is this exactly—not just to create small troubles for us.

The goal upon which the Church was established is to lead us on the path to salvation.
Sergei Khudiev
Translation by Tatiana Ozereva
03 / 11 / 2014

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Praying for my enemies

Bless My Enemies, O Lord

St. Nikolai Velimirovic

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The historic Saint Valentine

Please visit this previous blog post from 2012 to learn about the historic Saint Valentine:

Here is the jacket of the DVD mentioned at the end of the blog post:

Movie is also available in streaming format through amazon video for instantly play: 

Discover Love the Orthodox Way


Feb. 11, 2016

By Andrew Estocin

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Barna Group has released a study showing that young people view failing to recycle items like cardboard and aluminum cans as more immoral than pornography.  The Porn Phenomenon survey of teenagers and young adults found that 32% of those surveyed believe that viewing porn is “usually or always wrong” compared to 56% who say not recycling is “usually or always wrong.”

St. Valentine must be rolling in his grave.

More than ever we see that the opposite of real love is not hating people but using people.

As Valentine’s Day becomes more and more about sex rather than real love, here are three Orthodox lessons about love to remember this Valentine’s Day:

Real Love Does Not Use – It Gives: What Orthodox Christianity teaches about love is very different from the popular idea of love. Popular love focuses on what other people do for us. This is reflected in a popular culture where people constantly use each other sexually and mistake such actions for genuine love. Seeing people as objects instead of icons of God’s love is dangerous. When men and women lose their intrinsic worth in the eyes of others, they are easily damaged. Real love in Orthodox Christianity is never about using people to feel good about ourselves. Men and women are not designed to use each other, but to empty themselves and give to each other. This is the foundation of healthy love and part of being created in the image and likeness of God. St. Basil the Great tells us that real love is “ …not to seek what is for your own benefit, but what is for the benefit of the one loved, both in body and in soul.”

Real Love Practices Chastity: Orthodox Christianity understands that sex is good and has always been a special gift of creation. However, like any gift, it can be used in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. The teaching of the Church shows us how to use the gift of sexuality in a healthy way. Orthodoxy offers some of the most progressive and healthy advice when it comes to sex. At the heart of this advice is the practice of chastity. Popular love says that the freedom to do whatever we desire sexually is healthy. Chastity says that we find real freedom and real love when we give up the notion of unrestrained sexual freedom for the greater good of the one we love in an eternal commitment. For this reason, chastity says no to any sex outside of sacramental marriage as well as no to unhealthy sex in marriage because real love strives for something more beautiful than pleasure alone. St. Augustine of Hippo reminds us that “Chastity, or cleanness of heart, holds a glorious and distinguished place among the virtues, because she, alone, enables man to see God; hence Truth itself said, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.’”

Chastity protects people from being objects and becoming numb to real love. It teaches us to love in the way that makes our lives meaningful. Real love practices chastity because it understands that behind each “NO” God gives us, there is a greater and more beautiful “YES”. Every person–without exception–is able to experience the “YES” of real love that the gift of chastity gives us. This real love is far more enduring and fulfilling than anything in popular culture. And contrary to popular belief, chastity even leads to a healthy sex life.

Real Love Makes Us Vulnerable: Real love is never safe. It never hides the broken reality of the world. Loving people does not make us perfect, nor does it conceal our flaws. Real love makes us vulnerable and exposes our deepest weaknesses so as to transform them into something beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote the following: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one. . . Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

An Orthodox Christian understanding of love is one in which each of us become the people God intended us to be. This type of love is more than the feeling of falling in love. It is more than romance. It is more than sex. Real love is an ascetic choice to live our lives as a gift. Real love is a choice to submit every aspect of our lives to the good of another person. In this way, real love is not only vulnerable but healing. One of the great secrets of living an Orthodox Christian life of love is that by being vulnerable, we find a joy that far transcends the commercial feeling of love the world celebrates every Valentine’s Day.

The commercial onslaught of Valentine’s Day can be overwhelming. It is easy for Orthodox Christians to resign themselves to moving along and doing nothing. February 14th is just one day. However, each of us would do well to remember the words of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware who wrote that “In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of the Creator in us.” History has shown that this energy has the capacity to change the world in the face overwhelming odds and the most broken of circumstances.

Real love has radically changed countless lives before, and it can do so time and again.

Source:  http://orthodoxoutpost.com/?p=156