Orthodox Thought for the Day

ORTHODOX THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Monday, October 9, 2017

On Serenity and its Development


If we look to correct ourselves and look more intently towards our inner activity - rather than our external, giving precedence to divine help - we can, in turn, be of greater and more positive help to others.  We will also achieve an inner serenity that will quietly help the souls of the people we encounter, because spiritual serenity reflects the virtue of the soul and transforms souls.




When someone applies himself to external activity, before having polished his spiritual inner state, he may struggle spiritually; but he will be fraught with worry, anxiety, lack of confidence in God and frequent loss of serenity.  If he does not improve himself, he cannot say that his interest for the common good is pure.  When he is liberated from the old self and all worldly things, then he will receive divine Grace; and be not only at peace with himself, but also able to bring peace to everyone else. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

Forgiveness Requires Courage

A blog posting from Fr. Alexis Trader, Orthodox monastic, on his website: https://ancientchristianwisdom.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/forgiveness-requires-courage/

July 8, 2014  


Anyone who has experienced forgiving another human being recognizes that the act of loosening our grip and extending our hand that has recently been bitten requires courage, courage to act like Christ when our impulses drive us to act like wounded beasts. We know this on an experiential, intuitive level. Psychologists, however, have confirmed that fact in their study of forgiveness.


In his dissertation, John W. Beiter writes, “Thoresen (2001) highlighted that forgiveness was difficult, demanding and requiring courage.” Courage can be defined as a willingness and ability to face fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, hardship, death, or public disapproval. Courage is also required in order to let go of anger and the desire for revenge when one has been wronged or offended by another, to leave behind the dog-eat-dog world where we usually live, and to step into the unfamiliar terrain of the Gospel of Christ.


That forgiveness requires courage means that forgiveness is not a moral calculation or a balance on the scales of justice. Courage means we leave those calculations and balances on the side. Courage is required to forgive our brother without reflecting upon whether he deserves it. Forgiveness is, moreover, a courageous act of love that requires patience. Saint Ephraim the Syrian once said, “The life of the righteous was radiant. How did it become radiant if it wasn’t by patience? Love patience, O monk, as the mother of courage.” Patience in keeping God’s commandments provides the courage to do so in times of trial and temptation.


How is courage linked to forgiveness? In so far that it takes courage to be a Christian, in so far that it takes courage to be a person of faith, in so far that it takes courage to be obedient to the Gospel of Christ in a world that runs on the basis of other laws and criteria, it requires courage to forgive. After all, Saint Paul described the Christian as a courageous warrior of light: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17). Is courage useful in forgiveness? In so far as it is linked to doing all to stand, meaning doing all to be bearers of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, benevolence, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:23), courage is undoubtedly most useful for those who long to forgive.


Consider for a moment, the absence of courage. In such a condition is forgiveness even possible? Saint Isaac the Syrian writes in Homily 40, “Faintness of heart is a sign of despondency, and negligence is the mother of both. A cowardly man shows that he suffers from two diseases: love of his flesh and lack of faith; for love of one’s flesh is a sign of unbelief. But he who despises the love of the flesh proves that he believes in God with his whole heart and awaits the age to come. . . A courageous heart and scorn of perils comes from one of two causes: either from hardness of heart or from great faith in God. Pride accompanies hardness of heart, but humility accompanies faith. A man cannot acquire hope in God unless he first does His will with exactness. For hope in God and manliness of heart are born of the testimony of the conscience, and by the truthful testimony of the mind we possess confidence towards God.”


Saint Isaac makes the important point that Christian courage is the courage of the humble and soft-hearted, not the courage of the proud and hard-hearted. To have a humble and soft-heart after being wounded requires more courage than the most lion-hearted soldier, a super-human courage that can only be attained and sustained through faith and hope in God. To stop nursing one’s wounds and to start turning to God are acts of courage that are also antecedents to forgiveness, turning to our neighbors and nursing their wounds. The notions of courage, faith, hope, patience and a strengthened heart are expressed most beautifully in psalm 26: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be thou manful, and let thy heart be strengthened, and wait on the Lord.”


Since forgiveness is central to the Christian life, courage is an indispensable virtue. It is not possible to live the Christian life without the heroic courage of the righteous. Saint John Chrysostom remarks, “Sin makes man a coward; but a life in the Truth of Christ makes Him bold” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues, VIII. 2).


The more we forgive, the more courage we gather within our heart which in turn makes it easier to forgive the next time, and the time after that, and seventy-times seven that follow. When we begin living according to a life in Christ, our world changes, we perceive those around us differently. We begin to see them as Christ sees them. Most importantly, we recognize the grace of Christ operative in our lives. We can then echo the words of Saint Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phillippians 4:13) and that includes forgiving everyone, even those who have wronged us grievously.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Remember, O Lord, those who have Fallen Asleep

Today we solemnly remember those who lost their lives, suddenly, unexpectedly here in the United States through terrorism attacks on September 11, 2001. 

 What recourse do Orthodox people have in remembrance of all these individuals?  We have a beautiful akathist, The Akathist for the Reposed, which covers all manner of departures from this life and may be prayed for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox people.  It is a consoling canon of prayers.  Here is a link to the akathist:  http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-for-those-who-have-fallen-asleep.pdf

 
 

Here is a way to bring comfort to the souls that only God really knows.  May His will be accomplished in ways unknown to us, that lie beyond our comprehension.  While we yet have time, let us pray. 

Photographs of those killed during the terrorist attacks* on Sept. 11, 2001.
Photo credit: Jeeny via United States Department of Justice
*missing are photos of 92 additional victims (apart from the terrorists which do not appear above)


Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Prayer Against Bad Weather


A Prayer Against Bad Weather
 

O Master, Lord our God,
Who through Thy Consubstantial and Beginningless Word
and Thy Life-Giving Spirit Who is equal in honor,
hath brought everything out of nothingness into being;
 Who hath set sandy barriers to the sea,
and weighed the mountains and the valleys in a balance;  
Who hath measured the skies and holdeth the water in the palm of Thy hand;
Who hath given to this visible world of the senses its laws and rules,
its harmony and order;
 Who hath appointed changes to the weather
and variations in the orbit of the sun;
Who, through the mingling of the elements,
holdeth all things together by Thine inexpressible power,
and keep them from harm and intact:  
Do Thou Thyself, O All-Good King,  
extending to us Thine innate and customary love and goodness,
visit the works of Thy hands. 
Do not deprive us of Thy mercies and Thy compassion,
 and do not destroy Thine inheritance,
 for Thou didst ineffably create us in Thine own image. 
 Thou hast given Thine Only-Begotten Son as a ransom for us,
and through the mystical communion of Thy Spirit
hath made us to share in Thine own Divinity;
forgive, we pray, the multitude of our sins,
in the far greater multitude of Thy mercies. 
Thou didst wash away the sin of mankind
through the Cross and the Blood of Thy Son. 
 Restore the world of nature,
which hath been grievously disturbed into an unnatural state
because of the unruliness and disorderliness
of our lawless and corrupt behavior,
and bring it back to its natural harmony and order. 
Make the great ocean return to its usual calmness,
 bring to an end the tempest and the disturbance of the elements
that threaten us,
 order the winds to blow once more with gentleness and moderation. 
Rebuke the raging of the sea and the unnatural violence of the gales;
allow the spirit of the storm to be stilled, 
and the tempest to be returned to tranquility. 
Through the intercessions of the Most-Blessed Lady Theotokos,
of the God-like Angels and all the Saints,
and through the good pleasure and love of Thine Only-Begotten Son,
with Whom Thou art blessed,
together with Thine All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit,
now and ever,
and unto the ages of ages.
AMEN.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey--Providing Relief


From the IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities) website:

IOCC is closely monitoring the progression of Hurricane Harvey as it continues to impact Southern Texas and Louisiana. IOCC staff remains in contact with partners, including members of national and local VOADs (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and expresses concern for the well-being of the people in the path of the storm.
Additionally, IOCC is activating its Emergency Response Network, the Frontliners, to deploy in the coming days to help the people affected by the storm with emotional and spiritual care and conducting needs assessments. Even after their deployment, IOCC’s work to clean and rebuild homes will continue into the weeks and months following the storm’s devastation.

How Can You Help?

IOCC continues praying for the safety and well-being of those affected by this storm. Your gift to our Hurricane Harvey Response Fund will help us to react quickly and effectively to conditions in Southern Texas and Louisiana as they unfold. Your help will provide immediate relief, as well as long-term support through the provision of emergency aid, recovery assistance, and other support to help those in need.

To make a donation, visit:
https://www.iocc.org/

Sincerely,

Pres. Candace

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What's happening in Kosovo these days?


Pogrom

from the Russian meaning literally

destruction or devastation

(usually referring to a town or country).   

On behalf of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund
+ Very Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, President
 
If you knew someone was suffering under a pogrom, would you step in to deliver the person? Would you make an effort, because if you turned a blind eye or deaf ear, someone’s suffering would intensify? What if death would result without your intervention?
Sounds drastic, doesn’t it? It is. What if the intent of the pogrom was targeted at members of your family? Today, members of Christ’s Body, our Christian family, are suffering a pogrom in Kosovo. An on-going pogrom—now in its 20th year! Hard to believe, isn’t it? Imagine living with both deprivation and Christian persecution in various forms for two decades running. It is no small thing.

Is suffering intensifying in Kosovo & Metohija? Yes! Could death result without intervention? Yes! Has death already occurred? Yes! The pogrom in Kosovo has taken various forms over the years. The express purpose has been to demoralize and drive the remaining Serbian Orthodox Christian population from their native province.


Terror is the Game


The on-going pogrom includes various forms of terror—physical harassment and harm, unexpected deaths. Property damage. Destruction of homes, leaving some homeless and others now living in shipping containers. Destruction of 160 churches and monasteries in the region, some dating back to the 12th century. Vandalizing and desecration of 400 cemeteries in the area. Theft of vehicles, farm equipment and farm animals. Unexpected loss of utility services (electricity—often resulting in food spoilage, lack of light and water service in some areas). A growing scarcity of food. High gas prices. Lack of medical services—only two hospitals in the region are allowed to serve the Serbian population—and they are very poorly equipped as of this writing. Most pregnant women opt to take the long ride to Belgrade (a 6 hour drive away) in order to deliver a child safely.

All the above are deplorable circumstances, DELIBERATELY inflicted on the Serbian population by the current Albanian majority to drive them out of Kosovo for good! 
 

aka Ethnic Cleansing

Marko Djuric, Republic of Serbia Director of the Office for Kosovo & Metohija, recently reported, “We should also bear in mind the fact that two-thirds of Kosovo’s pre-war Serbian population remain refugees and only about 120,000 still live in Kosovo and Metohija in poor economic conditions and political isolation while over 200,000 now live in central Serbia.” He also pointed out that over 80,000 houses and apartments in Kosovo are now used by other people, and together with security problems, are the biggest obstacles preventing the Serbs’ return to Kosovo. Those who do return may find bullet holes in their homes along with routine harassment by their Albanian “neighbors.”

How the EU Spends Money in Kosovo

It’s interesting to note that the European Union has invested the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo with 60 billion Euros to date. However, for the Serbian population of Kosovo—NOTHING.
Serbs previously driven from Kosovo, who then want to return, face obstacles as noted. Is it any wonder why the ethnic Albanians continue to push for their ouster? Thus, the long-standing, intensified pogrom continues.

Neutralizing the Assault


One of the more effective tools used in the pogrom is the lack of available food. Lack of food is the greatest concern right now. The Decani Monastery Relief Fund is routinely tapped for assistance in providing food. With your help we will continue to source and provide needed food for the oppressed population. Most often this requires us to travel outside the province to source provisions. This is just one of the many ministries the fathers of the Decani Monastery provide for the brethren.

Funds received by the DMRF are applied in these ways:
• Routinely providing staple foods for families and monasteries
• Providing farm animals and farm equipment
• Providing food for six active soup kitchen ministries in the region
• Providing needed medical supplies and equipment
• Providing funds to help cover utility bills for families and monasteries
• Providing a hot lunch for students (a necessity during cold seasons)
• Providing firewood to heat homes, schools & monasteries during cold seasons

Overcoming Evil With Good

You can relieve those who are suffering a spiritual pogrom thinly disguised as a physical one. Yes, this pogrom is physical and needs are acute. Even so, the Christians recognize the true battle is spiritual as it is in every place where Christian persecution exists. Now is the time to save the brethren by your prayers and your material support.
The Decani Monastery Relief Fund exists for this purpose. With your support, we will let the brethren know, TANGIBLY, that they are not forgotten by God. His people remain the lifeline for their support during these times of crisis and uncertainty.

You CAN Provide Deliverance--TODAY!

Help us meet this crucial need, please. Let the persecutors be put to shame by the loving care these Christians receive from you! There is a genuine need—there is a pogrom in progress and you can be deliverers in Christ’s name through the Decani Monastery Relief Fund. Your generous response will speak volumes to the hearts of suffering Serbian Christians. You cannot know the depth of their need or their appreciation when they find there is a way to cope with these on-going hardships. Assuredly, God knows and will reward everyone for their generous and loving deeds.
Donations can be made on-line via Paypal on our website: www.thedecanifund.org
Or by mail: Decani Monastery Relief Fund
c/o Very Reverend Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, ID 83702
You will receive a receipt for your gift.
The DMRF is a tax-exempt charity. For those who might be wondering, the DMRF runs “lean.” We have no paid staff, all who serve the Fund do it voluntarily. We are a “no overhead” organization. All the proceeds given to the Fund go to Kosovo to meet needs there. So, the money you give yields maximum effect.

The Love of God will Reign in Kosovo
Because You Care

Unless we see with our own eyes we may not realize the severity and its effect when food runs short. But I assure you, the situation is critical and the DMRF will help with whatever means God provides. Your gift today will nourish people physically. In doing so, you will save this now Christian minority population from a severe humanitarian crisis.
We ask, too, that you remember and sustain the brethren of Kosovo and Metohija spiritually through your prayers. They pray for you, too—their benefactors!
God remember your love and reward it eternally in His Kingdom! Thank you!  Peace to your soul!
Humbly in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Very Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who always prays for you!
 


Friday, July 28, 2017

The Armor of God


Putting on the Armor of God:

Being a Warrior When it’s Popular to Be a Weaner 


Being a warrior for Christ has no minimum age or athletic qualifications. All warriors for Christ, however, must want to “be men” or “be manly”. It means to be what a human is really meant to be: brave, courageous, and authentic in obedience to God. 

Archpriest Thaddaeus Hardenbrook | 08 November 2014 



Saint Nestor was only a teenager when he decided he’d had enough of the local Christians being slaughtered in forced combat against a giant named Lyaeus. The Emperor Maximian had set up a raised platform in the center of Thessaloniki where he forced Christians to fight for their lives against the seemingly unconquerable Vandal mercenary “who was a beast in both appearance and character.”

Nestor was thin and not very tall, but apparently that did not concern him. He visited Saint Demetrios in prison and took his blessing to challenge Lyaeus. The saint made the sign of the cross over his head and heart, prophesying, “You will both be victorious and suffer for Christ.”

Nestor entered the city center and approached the combat platform. Around the platform were numerous spears set into the ground. Lyaeus had made a name for himself by hurling his defeated victims down onto the spears.

So young and slight of build was Nestor that both the emperor and the Vandal hesitated to accept his challenge. But when he explained he would be victorious by the power of Christ, both men longed to see him dead. Mounting the platform, Nestor cried out, “O God of Demetrios, help me!”

Lyaeus charged at him from across the platform, and wonder of wonders, Nestor engaged him, deftly steered his momentum, and threw him from the platform onto the very spears that had killed so many Christians. The crowd exploded spontaneously, “Great is the God of Demetrios!”

Soon afterwards, both Saints Demetrios and Nestor were put to death for their faith. Yet clearly they were not “afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Lk. 12:4). They had “put on the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11). They stood, girded their waists with truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, shod their feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace, and took up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. They were warriors of Christ and victors to the end.

Being a warrior for Christ has no minimum age or athletic qualifications; the child-martyr Kyriacos was only three years old, but that’s another story. All warriors for Christ, however, must want to “be men” or “be manly” (1 Cor. 16:13). This doesn’t mean to be masculine (the term “manly” is used to describe female saints as often as male); it means to be what a human is really meant to be: brave, courageous, and authentic in obedience to God.

When we are little, obedience to our parents teaches us how to obey. As “men,” adults, we put that ability into action in our relationship with God. Obeying God is manly; it’s what authentically mature humans do. And that obedience leads us to a courageous and brave Christian existence. It leads us on the way of being warriors for the heavenly kingdom, where we vanquish, by the power of Christ, “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Spiritual battle is the life, and the identity, of the Christian warrior, the grown-up Christian.

When I was a kid, my grandfather once took me to look over a bunch of young calves on the ranch next to his. They were in a large corral, newly separated from their mothers, mooing mournfully, and clearly unhappy with the new arrangement. Some fretted their loss, some lashed out angrily at their neighbors, while others just found a corner to mope in. “All of them just got finished being weaned from their mothers; that’s why we call ’em weaners. It’s time for them to grow up whether they want to or not. It’s just the way life is.”

He laughed aloud as he surveyed the self-pitying critters. “Take a good look at them, the way they’re all acting as if life’s too tough.” Then he turned to me with a little “get-ready-for-some-words-of-wisdom” in his eyes. “You can be a lot of things in life, but don’t be a weaner.”

Through the prayers of the holy warriors Demetrios and Nestor!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Overcome Evil With Good

 
Give thanks to God for everything. Try to be manly. Pull yourself together a bit. Do you know what Christians are suffering in other countries? There are such difficulties in Russia! But here many exhibit indifference. There’s not enough disposition to kindness, love of devotion. You see, if we don’t begin to make war against evil, to expose those who tempt believers, then the evil will grow larger. If we throw aside fear then the faithful will be emboldened a bit. And those who wage war against the Church will have a harder time. In the past our nation lived spiritually, so God blessed her, and the saints helped us in miraculous fashion. And we were victorious against our enemies, who always outnumbered us. Today we continue to call ourselves Orthodox Christians, but we don’t live Orthodox lives.  


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Great Martyr George & Thomas Sunday

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

PLUS: 

We are More Blessed than the Apostles 

  

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Five Rules of Paschal Joy

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank You for an Outpouring of Paschal Love

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



CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!

 

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

On the Paschal Joy


Bypassing Paschal Joy

or

Why Are We Never Happy? 


 

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

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

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

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

Life is Not a Zebra


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent: Tuning into Joy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                               Oksana Golovko spoke to Protopriest Andrei Lorgus

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov