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By Hieromonk Moses the Hagiorite, Vatopaidi Monastery, Mt.Athos 

Many people ignore or do not will to acknowledge the true meaning of these days (of fast), consuming themselves with their routine (monotonous) everyday life. The modern man complains that life is tiring him, yet makes no step towards a fundamental change. He takes on strict diets sometimes, yet disregards the fast. He can make time for a counseling psychologist, can spend hours in front of television, but finds no time for a spiritual father or for the church.

  Today’s man does not want to offer but he’d rather receive with not much effort or personal sacrifice. Too afraid to look himself in the eyes, he runs away from himself and struggles in his inner emptiness.

  The Great Fast works like an X-Ray, like a (video) camera or like a mirror. In a certain way, we do not welcome it because it reveals our hidden reality.

  Today’ spirit of consumerism, comfort and pride leaves man a prisoner of the many unnecessary things that have filled his life. The Great Lent is a halt in the routine rush of life and an opportunity for transfiguration. The prayer of blessed Ephraim the Syrian that in this period it is said hundreds of times during the religious services, urges us to abandon sloth, a lot of care, love of power and idle talk and gain purity, humble thoughts, patience and love. This beautiful and meaningful prayer ends by asking God: “Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother…”

  Let’s abandon gossip, judgment of others that continually stain our soul and let’s move the focus on ourselves correcting our fallings.

  The Great Lent urges us to return to one-self and it contributes to our healing from the spiritual diseases that darken our minds and make our lives difficult and bitter.

  If we manage to reach this self-knowledge and repentance, then the Great Lent will not be a gloomy and barren time for us, or a simple time to fulfill the “moral duties”, but an opportunity to soften our hardened hearts, which will lead us to the love of people and the love for God.

  The excessive rationalism of the difficult time we live in, strives to keep us away from what is mystical, from all that is holy – unspeakable and beyond nature – mystery.

  And the result of this state comes to light. Everywhere melancholy and despair reigns, wounding the soul. It is time to see from the depth of our hearts, that we have become estranged and, the time is ripen to return to the cradle of Crucified Love.

  Often during the time of Great Lent, temptations, trials, tribulations and failures occur. These will come for us to mature, to acquire balance and a child like nature. Let’s not forget that the life of the Christian is one with the Cross. Without crucifixion comes no resurrection.

  The Great Lent is a beautiful time for preparation, a semi-darken corridor leading us to the chamber full of light. The members of this preparatory time are prayer and fasting. But prayer and fasting without humility and love, bares no fruit. The fasting and prayer aim to temper our selfishness.

  Let’s not loose this opportunity offered once again by the Great Fast, as we’re slowly approaching its end. In the Church, our problems find their solution. The cold winter is followed by spring. Following the clouds, the sunny weather is even more beautiful. The Triodion is followed by the Pentecostarion. And now, as a wonderful hymn says, is the “time of repentance and the hour for prayer.”

(Translated by blog author).

A prayer composed by Rev Fr Eusebius Vittis (+2009) 

“O Lord my Jesus, meek and humble in heart, I wholeheartedly beg and beseech You:

From the desire to be admired by others, release me.
From the desire to be loved by others, release me.
From the desire to be sought out by others, release me.
From the desire to be honored by others, release me.
From the desire to be praised by others, release me.
From the desire to be preferred by others, released me.
From the desire to give advise to others, release me.
From the desire to be commended by others, release me.
From the desire to be cared for by others, release me.

Release me from the fear that they will humiliate me.
Release me from the fear that they scorn me.
Release me from the fear that they will reject me.
Release me from the fear that they will slander me.
Release me form the fear that they will forget me.
Release me form the fear that they will offend me.
Release me from the fear that they will suspect me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be loved more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be esteemed more than me.

Lord grant me to desire that the good view of others increase, and that my own decrease.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be put to use more than me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be praised more than me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be remembered, and not me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be preferred and chosen over me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others make progress in virtue more than me, if of course I could achieve something like that on my own.

Some Thoughts On Fasting

Source: Conciliar Press

(From an Orthodox Pastor, From the Fall 2008 issue of The Handmaiden Journal – Vol. 12)

Fr. Seraphim serves a moleben to St. Panteleimon in the monastery church.

   

   Fasting is not optional for Christians. Neither are prayer and almsgiving. Our Lord did not say “if you fast,” but rather “when you fast.” He Himself fasted. Those to whom He personally directed His words and teachings maintained a tradition of fasting. Perfecting that tradition by coupling it with prayer and almsgiving, our Lord revealed that the very heart of our lives as Christians is rooted in these ascetic traditions.

  However, our Lord was also clear in chastising those who observed the fast, who prayed, and who gave alms for the purpose of being observed and applauded by others or as a means to fulfill the law. Indeed, the Pharisees received their reward: “My,” they delighted in hearing, “aren’t they spiritual, aren’t they righteous, aren’t they generous, and aren’t they worthy of emulation?” But their actions were to no avail, and brought with them no heavenly blessing. Hence, we are taught to fast “in secret,” to pray “in secret,” to give alms “in secret,” not allowing our left hand to know what our right hand is doing, so that our heavenly Father will reward us openly.

Fasting as Preparation for True Celebration

  Our Lord fasted for forty days before beginning His public ministry. This indicates that one aspect of fasting is preparation. The Church’s fasting seasons prepare us to celebrate, to feast, and to focus our attention on that which we anticipate celebrating, rather than on the mundane things that all too often compete for, or dominate, our attention.

  While food is an essential element of any celebration—as we are reminded on Pascha, as our festal food is blessed, or as we bless fruit on the Great Feast of Transfiguration—it can also be a preoccupation, something that can dominate our time and attention to the detriment of more important aspects of our earthly existence. Sadly, before major celebrations we tend to spend inordinate amounts of time planning menus, testing new recipes, and the like, all with the hope that our celebration will be memorable, enjoyable, and tasty. In the process, the very thing we gather to celebrate is often obscured, misplaced, and lost.

  This is especially so in the days—or, to be more specific, the months—leading to the celebration of Christmas, during which we are tempted to focus our preparations on foods, decorations, gifts, and the like, rather than on the glorious mystery of the Incarnation, which is at the very heart of our faith as Christians. The Nativity Fast (like all the fasting seasons) is meant to remind us to prepare ourselves spiritually, to bring under control those things, including food, that are well within our control, but that we have allowed to control us, and to apply the self-control that fasting teaches us to other areas of our lives.

Fasting from Passions, not from “Prohibited Foods”

  During the first week of Great Lent we are reminded that, while fasting from food, we must fast from our passions—anger, gossip, jealousy—while intensifying our vigilance, our prayer lives, and our ministry to others, especially the least among us. Hence, fasting as a preparation is quite the opposite of the worldly preparations that all too often focus our celebration on ourselves, rather than on our Lord and the joyous mysteries He so lovingly shares with us and engages us in celebrating.

  Of course, fasting from food is at the very heart of the ascetic life. Food can be a passion, a preoccupation that can easily dominate our lives. We fret over what to eat and what not to eat. We agonize over trans fats, cholesterol, carbs, and calories. We drink Ensure to gain weight, and then sign up at a weight loss clinic to lose it. In fact, we have an entire TV network devoted to food! All too often, we have ceased “eating to live” and instead “live to eat.”

  If fasting is ever to become a real solution to this preoccupation with food, we need to recognize that fasting does not mean merely avoiding certain “prohibited” foods while partaking of others that are “approved.” Years ago, I was given a Lenten cookbook that, in the preface, offered an extremely detailed explanation of the Church’s fasting tradition. As was to be expected, it noted that one should refrain from eating meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, wine, and oil. And also, as was to be expected, it noted that eating shellfish—lobster tail, crab legs, scallops, prawns and shrimp, clams, and the like—does not violate the fast. But, curiously, this preface offered a warning, in bold underlined letters, that when eating shellfish, one should not use drawn butter, but melted margarine, since butter is a dairy product! How ridiculous, I thought. Emptying ourselves of our passion for food involves reducing not only how much and what we eat, but also how much time we spend thinking about food, preparing food, reading about food, discussing food, and manipulating food to fit the fasting tradition of the Church.

  The same cookbook offered a recipe for a Lenten chocolate cake, at the end of which was written, “Your family will enjoy this delicious cake so much that you’ll want to serve it all year ’round!” Consider this: One could devise a Lenten weekly menu that, while fully avoiding meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, wine, and oil, would be anything but ascetic—lobster tail on Monday, grilled prawns on Tuesday, Alaskan king crab legs on Wednesday, lemon-drenched shrimp on Thursday, and scallops on Friday, all with melted margarine so as to avoid butter, of course! Legally, this indeed fulfills the fasting laws, but it completely misses the spirit of fasting, as does the yummy Lenten chocolate cake or the tofu Italian “sausage” or “chicken wings” guaranteed to “taste like the real thing.”

  It’s only my opinion, but approaching fasting in this manner—”this is permitted, but that isn’t”—not only misses the mark of fasting, but can become a spiritually dangerous temptation, the same temptation to which the Pharisees succumbed by adhering meticulously to the externals of the law while remaining clueless as to its internal spirit. This approach can easily lead to spiritual pride and delusion and the self-satisfaction that comes in assuring oneself that “while I’m delighting in this tasty cake, I’m relieved to know that it meets all Lenten requirements since there’s not a drop of half-and-half in it.” This, it seems to me, is neither fasting, nor ascetical, nor a desire to free oneself from a preoccupation with food. In fact, it reflects the opposite, as more time is spent figuring out how to make tofu taste like sausage than it would take to simply and mindlessly fry a link of real sausage.

Putting the Time Saved and Money Saved to Work

  Taking things one step further, this legalistic approach to fasting is utterly detached from prayer and almsgiving. The time saved by not worrying about what we’ll eat or how we’ll prepare it, much less adapting recipes to fit Lenten rules, could be more wisely spent in prayer, in worship, in meditation and the reading of Scripture or the Holy Fathers. To the degree we rely on very simple and basic foods and spend little time in food preparation during the fast, we’ll have time to reflect on the countless other things (our anger, our jealousy, our self-centeredness, our sloth, our despair, our lust for power, our idle talk) that are surely within our control, but that we so often have allowed to control us.

  And, to take all of this one step further, might not the money saved by purchasing simple food be stewarded more wisely by giving it to those who have less, or nothing? By quietly and anonymously giving it to an agency that assists those who are out of work or homeless or abused? Might we not devote a portion of our time to volunteering at one of those agencies, feeding those in need with the loving and personal human contact that reveals God’s presence in this world?

Preparation for the Heavenly Banquet 

  Fasting is not optional. Neither are repentance, prayer, almsgiving, preparation, asceticism, ministering to the least among us, wisely managing our time and talents and treasures, struggling to overcome our passions, and so on. They’re all related, interconnected, essential. So fast we must—to the extent that we can—without comparing ourselves to others. Still less should we engage in endless and spiritually dangerous public discussions on what we’ve given up this Lent or how weary we’ve become by fasting from those things (including but hardly limited to food) that we’ve allowed to control us even though we have the ability, with God’s help, to control them.

  Fast we must, in the Holy Spirit rather than in the spirit of the Pharisees, and in secret, without fanfare or discussion. And fast we must, delighting not in our ability to transform chocolate cake into a Lenten delight, but in allowing our Lord to transform us as we delight in tasting and seeing how good He, the “Bread which came down from heaven,” truly is. Such fasting not only prepares us for the celebration of His Incarnation or Resurrection, but prepares us for the eternal heavenly banquet, to which He invites us, in His Kingdom.

(The author, a priest of thirty-four years, is rector of a parish of the Diocese of the Midwest of the Orthodox Church in America). 

 

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Grest and Holy Wed. and Thursday (Video link, req. RealPlayer)

Great and Holy Friday (Video link, req. RealPlayer)

 

Orthodox Easter Jerusalem 2007,  Holy Fire: the great miracle of Orthodoxy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Fire – Holy Sepulcher 2006, Orthodox Easter

 

  

Starting with Saturday of Lazarus, April 11.

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The Saturday of Lazarus is counted as one of the great feast days of the Church. It is celebrated with a great deal of joy and reverence.

The Gospel of John (11.3) tells us that while Christ was preaching elsewhere, Mary and Martha, sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick. Jesus did not leave at once to go and visit His ailing friend, however, because through His divinity He knew that Lazarus’ sickness would not result in permanent death. Christ knew that Lazarus would be brought back to life by Christ, an act which would bring glory to the Father and the Son. So Jesus waited two days before making the journey to Bethany to visit Martha and Mary and Lazarus, who by this point had been dead for four days.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming she went out to meet Him and immediately fell at His feet and worshipped Him saying “Lord had you been here then my brother would not have died.” Christ then asks her to go and call her sister Mary and to show Him where they buried Lazarus.
When Martha called Mary she told her sister that the Lord was asking for her and they immediately left their home and went to the tomb. When Jesus saw the tears of the sisters and the sorrow of all those who had come to mourn Lazarus He felt a great deal of sorrow in His heart and wept (John 11:35).

Jesus then asked that the stone which was placed in front of the tomb be removed. Martha immediately protested stating that her brother has been dead for four days and that his body will have a terrible smell, but Christ insisted and they rolled away the stone.

It is significant that Lazarus had been dead for four days. According to ancient Jewish Tradition, it is said that the soul remained near the body for three days but by the fourth day a person was truly considered to be dead.

Jesus, then lifts up His voice in prayer and cries out, “Lazarus come forth,” and Lazarus exited the tomb still wrapped in the linen shroud. They immediately unbound him and offered glory to God. During His earthly ministry, Christ had performed many miracles, curing the mother-in-law of Peter, healing the paralytic, healing lepers, those possessed by demons, and the blind. Never had anyone raised someone who had been dead for four days! Everyone in attendance offered praise to God. It did not take long for word of what happened to spread throughout Jerusalem which explains the reception He receives the following day (Palm Sunday).

In today’s celebration we clearly see the two natures of Christ being revealed. His Divinity through the pre-knowledge of Lazarus’ Death and coming Resurrection and His Humanity through His asking to be shown where they buried Lazarus and His weeping.

 

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The Life of St Mary of Egypt: http://www.comeandseeicons.com/groups/udn03.htm

Sermon on the Sunday of Great Lent: Fr. Hopko 

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TROPARION OF ST. MARY OF EGYPT

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother Mary, for you took up the cross and followed Christ.  By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away; but to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.  Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Mary,  rejoices with the angels

Troparion, tone 8

In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to the divine image. For thou didst take the cross and follow Christ, and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing. Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

Kontakion, tone 4

Having escaped the fog of sin, and having illumined thy heart with the light of penitence, O glorious one, thou didst come to Christ and didst offer to Him His immaculate and holy Mother as a merciful intercessor. Hence thou hast found remission of transgressions, and with the Angels thou ever rejoicest.

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Writings of the Holy Fathers:
Saint Theophan the Recluse

 

IS IT SUFFICIENT ONLY TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST
IN ORDER TO BE SAVED?

Compiled from the works of St. Theophan the Recluse

 

[Note: The following text written by an Orthodox saint follows the general impression received from Protestants who teach people “Once saved, always saved,” meaning that once one has received Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour that one cannot but go to heaven. (Webmaster)]

According to Protestant teaching, if one has believed in Christ, one is saved, that is, one’s sins are forgiven. According to this belief one does not have to fear falls, and virtues will proceed from the heart by themselves. Christ is within the believer and will not abandon him for any reason, paradise and the kingdom of heaven are his, etc.

All that is left to do is to rejoice: there will be no more labors, no fears, no struggles with the passions – the road will be smooth and full of gladness. And it is no wonder that many cling to this teaching. It is very attractive. However, there is no truth in it, but only deception. In order to refute this false teaching, Theophan the Recluse begins by directing our attention to the way into the kingdom of heaven as described in the word of God.

The Savior said: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in therein…” [Matt. 7:13]. And He further taught: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” [Matt. 16:24]. “The kingdom of heaven is taken by force (i.e., by forcing oneself and by the earnest labor in searching), and the forceful (i.e., those who force themselves to labor without feeling sorry for themselves), take it by force” [Matt. 11:12].

The holy Apostle Paul writes: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [2 Cor. 7:1]. By all means strive that “…your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Thess. 5:23]. If you want to be a true Christian, imitate those who are of Christ, for they have”…crucified the flesh with the affectations and lusts” [Gal. 5:24].

After that, St. Theophan with special force points out how strict the commandments of the Savior are concerning passionless and purity of heart, and how much attention and labor are needed to fulfill them. Do not dare to allow the slightest impulse of displeasure or anger against your brother: sin the slightest in this and you are already judged and in Gehenna [Matt. 5:22]. Meanwhile, we have another serious conflict. With regard to the opposite sex, how severe! One has only to glance in an improper way and already there is lust, and again Gehenna [Matt. 5:28-29]. And for judging others, how strict is the sentence! He who judges, in that very moment when he judges, and for that act alone, even if there are no others, is already judged, and not just some empty judgement like one’s own, but judged by God, immovable and eternal [Matt. 7:1]. Even for every idle word one must answer [Matt. 12:36], and concerning a loose tongue, who can tame it [James 3:8]? Therefore, what strict attention one must pay to oneself and how vigilantly one must labor over oneself!

If the trifles which we do not now consider to be sins are dealt such strict sentences and judgements, then what can be said about serious sins and passions? They are so abhorrent to the Holy Spirit and Christ that they should not even be brought to mind by Christians. If they are in the heart of one who desires to enter the kingdom of heaven, undoubtedly it is necessary to drive them out of there. What labors it requires and what battles with oneself.

Take the passion of lust, or take pride or vainglory, take stinginess, envy, lewdness, self-will and disobedience, or whatever passion you take, the eradication of it requires bloody sweat and tears. Therefore, see how those are forced to torment themselves who are entangled with some kind of passion and have undertaken to uproot it. One cannot reassure oneself that all of one’s sins are forgiven simply by the Cross of Christ and simply by approaching the Lord with faith. Whoever reassures himself with this hope and neglects the cleansing of his heart is deceiving himself. In the Mysteries of Baptism and Repentance indeed all former sins are completely blotted out and already forgotten. But then having once received from God such mercy, one must thereafter guard oneself from all sin, from all passionate impulses, attractions and thoughts. With the forgiveness of former sins one is given the grace of the Holy Spirit in order to help eradicate from the heart those harmful habits and passions which remain in it and give birth to further sin. If one begins to sin again, this deprives him of the gift and again he enters the ranks of the unforgiven and graceless. That is why those who are zealous for the salvation of their souls, following their conversion to the Lord, immediately begin, with the help of the grace of God, a battle with their passions and lusts, an unyielding battle.

So then, this – and not rejoicing – is what greets those who come to the Lord in faith. While being preoccupied with rejoicing one cannot fight with passions. Such a struggle does not even begin in these cases. Passions will remain in such a person, turning him into a whitened sepulchre, the outside beautiful, but the inside filled with dead men’s bones. Such people call themselves blessed, with such words as: “How fortunate I am! How glad I am! Christ has saved me, Christ has taken away my sins, Christ has granted me paradise!” Whereas Christ, looking at them, judges them righteously and condemns them to Gehenna.

The necessity of cleansing ourselves from all things sinful and passionate in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven, St. Theophan supports by example of God’s Saints. In the lives of the Saints, those who pleased and glorified God, we are told that they conducted their entire lives in struggles of self-modification and in labors by occupying themselves in virtues with unceasing recourse to God and to the source of grace – the Sacraments of the Church. This brought them at last into a state where evil inclinations and passions were completely removed from their souls and bodies; and instead of them there were installed good inclinations. When by this means all sins and passions are cast out, human nature again takes on its pure, original appearance; their spirit, soul, and body, permeated with grace, shine with divine light, which serves as an obvious sign that they finally became temples of the Triune God, as the Lord Jesus Christ promised.

Here are the most important of these points and the basis for the refutation of each of them:

 

ALL WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST ARE ALREADY SAVED.

 One cannot agree with this. All those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ have only stepped onto the path which truly and undoubtedly will lead to salvation, but they are saved when they finish this path without fail and without falling away. Therefore, according to the Evangelist Mark the Lord says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” [Mark 16:16], but is not saved yet.

 

HAVING BELIEVED IN CHRIST, THROUGH THIS ALONE
ONE APPROPRIATES TO HIMSELF THE GRACE OF REDEMPTION.

 This is not enough. The Lord redeemed us by His Blood, or by His death upon the Cross. We acquire the redeeming power of the Lord’s death in the Mystery of Holy Baptism, as the Apostle Paul explains [Romans 6:4]. Here man is crucified with Christ, washed in His Blood, and cleansed from sin. This power is renewed in the Mystery of Repentance, which is a second baptism in the font of tears. Faith precedes and accompanies both of these Mysteries, but faith alone, without these Mysteries, does not attract and does not renew the redeeming power of the Lord’s death on the Cross. Even with these Mysteries, faith alone does not attract such power, but is accomplished together with contrition of heart for sins, firm resolve to live a holy life, and confession of sins to a spiritual father.

ALL WHO HAVE BELIEVED IN CHRIST ANDARE CONVINCED
OF FORGIVENESS OF THEIR SINS THROUGH THIS,
RECEIVE CHRIST INTO THEMSELVES.

 From where have they taken this? asks St. Theophan, and then he points out how the Lord and the holy Apostles taught how one receives Christ in oneself. St. Paul writes: “As many as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27]. Having put on Christ, one, of course, has received Him into oneself. Therefore, whoever has been baptized has become a receiver of Christ in himself. The Lord said: “He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me and I in him” [John 5:56]. If the Lord abides in one who has received Communion, then it is because, certainly, in Holy Communion he receives Him. Therefore, whoever has received the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, has become through this a receiver of Him. Faith only opens the way to the Lord, for receiving Him in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

In another place in the same Evangelist, John the Theologian, the Lord shows still another way to receive Him, namely, by fulfilling His commandments. “He that hath My commandments,” says the Lord, “and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” [John 14:21]. And further: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” [John 14:23]

Do not think that this fulfilling of the commandments will open the way for the dwelling of the Lord in us in a special or separate way apart from Holy Baptism or Holy Communion. The grace of Baptism and Holy Communion gives the power to faithfully fulfill the commandments. Having fulfilled all the commandments, one adorns his soul with all virtues and makes his heart a temple worthy to be a habitation of the Lord. Only then will He dwell in him. He abides in him from the moment of Holy Baptism and even more completely communes with him in Holy Communion. Though helping him in a holy life, still the Lord does not completely rest content in him, because there does not dwell in the soul all the virtues acquired through the fulfillment of the commandments. In him are left still traces of passions and he falls into sins offensive to the Lord. He will not dwell in him, not trusting him and as yet only preparing in him a dwelling for Himself. But when the soul is sanctified by virtues, then He enters in good faith, as into a house, and dwells peacefully, undisturbed by the movement of offensive sins and passions in him…Here are all the means for accepting the Lord which He Himself has established. Without the Mysteries, neither faith nor virtues will attract the Lord.

 

IF WE HAVE RECEIVED CHRIST, HE WILL NEVER ABANDON US,
NO MATTER WHAT.

 St. Theophan asks: “Is it possible that Christ will abide where a person, by his sins committed after receiving Him, tramples on His Blood and crucifies Him again?” [See Heb. 6:6; 10:26-29]. It is known that sins make the soul and body foul. How can those who are deluded have the audacity to claim Him while in such foulness? God Himself testifies that our sins separate Him from us. Consequently, Christ the Lord forsakes him who sins, in whom He was formerly, and the good will of the Father withdraws from him, and the grace of the Holy Spirit is driven away. There other spirits begin to rule – the unclean.

THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED CHRIST ARE INCAPABLE OF MORTAL SIN

 In this statement there is no truth. The first among angels fell; one formerly among the Apostles fell; how many examples there are of falls of holy men of high life and wonderworkers! Freedom always remains with man. And he can fall, no matter how high he stood or close to God he was.

ONE WHO HAS RECEIVED CHRIST AND THEN SINNED AGAIN
NEED ONLY TO REPENT,
AND
HE INSTANTLY RECEIVES
IMMEDIATE FORGIVENESS, SINCE CHRIST IS AN INEXHAUSTIBLE
SOURCE OF COMPASSION

 This statement is made in order to suggest that when a Christian sins, confession of sins and absolution from a spiritual father in the Mystery of Repentance as prescribed by God is not necessary, but that it is enough to sigh in the heart over a sin and one is immediately forgiven, as a sigh flies from the breast. Even a firm intention to refrain from sinning in the future is not required.

Indeed this is too simplistic, notes St. Theophan. The sin of every man is a great offense to God Who has written His law in our hearts. The sin of a Christian offends God incomparably more, since the Christian has received a clearer and fuller knowledge of commandments, and has received grace to strengthen him in the fulfillment of those commandments. And a Christian, who has received in himself Christ the Lord – which is the highest degree of Christian perfection – in sinning offends God immeasurably. The Apostle thus concludes that he tramples on the Blood of Christ, even crucifies Christ Himself, Whom he has received in himself, and offended the Holy Spirit.

(Source: Orthodox Life, the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., vol. 37, No. 5. Sept.-Oct. 1987., pp. 10-14.

 

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 Fr. Thomas Hopko on the 4th Sunday of the great Lent:  stt_lent4_pcby-fr-thomas-hopko

 

On March 30th , The Holy Orthodox Church calls for example St. John Climacus, the righteous John of the Ladder, and one of the greatest ascetics, who is the author of the LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT. St. John Climacus lived on Mount Sinai, which exist today a monastery dedicated to St. Catherine, one can visit the holy moanstery and feel the spiritual presence of St. John. When the holy monastery was first founded it was dedicated to our Lord’s Holy Transfiguration, later onwards it was dedicated to St. Catherine.

Perhaps all of us have to seem to get to know spiritually who are the great and holy ascetics of the holy Orthodox Church, where we can reflect on how we ourselves can live in God. This immortal work, and spiritually rewarding book of the LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT, we see how, by means of thirty steps, the Christian gradually ascends from below the heights of supreme spiritual perfection. Finally, we see how one virtue leads to another, as a man rises higher and higher and finally attains to that height where there abides the crown of the virtues, which is called “Christian love.”

It is my most earnest God-loving prayer that all of us gradually ascends, and to be aware spiritually to employ our efforts in correcting ourselves and our lives. At the same however, to be aware we can fall too! Let us ask of our King and our Immortal God for His Great Mercy and Love.

Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, O’ Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us and save us.

Amen.

Father Demetrios Serfes
Who prays for you!

Dismissal Hymn. Third Tone:


Having raised up a sacred ladder by thy words, thou wast shown forth unto all as a teacher of monastics; and thou dost lead us, O John, from the purification that cometh through godly discipline unto the light of Divine vision. O righteous father, do thou entreat Christ that we be granted great mercy.

 

Kontakion, Fouth Tone:


On the height of abstinence did the Lord establish thee as a true and unerring star, guiding the ends of the world by thy light, O John, our instructor and father.

 

Megalynarion:


Like the lofty ladder which Jacob saw reaching to the Heavens, even so, by thy godly works, thou hast raised a ladder that bringeth all the faithful unto the heights of virtue, O blessed Father John.

 

The ladder metaphor is used to describe how one may ascend into heaven by first renouncing the world and finally ending up in heaven with God. There are thirty chapters; each covers a particular vice or virtue. They were originally called logoi, but in the present day, they are referred to as “steps.” The sayings are not so much rules and regulations, as with the Law that St. Moses received at Sinai, but rather observations about what is being practiced. Metaphorical language is employed frequently to better illustrate the nature of virtue and vice. Overall, the treatise does follow a progression that transitions from start (renunciation of the world) to finish (a life lived in love).

The Ladder was written by a solitary for cenobites. So, the audience he has in view is monastic. Although written primarily for monastics, St. John affirms God’s universal love for the monastic and non-monastic alike, also pointing out that celibacy is in no way a requirement for purity.
St. John places an emphasis on personal experience in The Ladder. He wants to evoke in his readers an experience similar to his own. Thus, Fr. Georges Florovsky states, “The Ladder is an invitation to pilgrimage.”

St. John’s basic image, which the book is based on, is that of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, similar to that which the Patriarch Jacob saw. The ladder has thirty steps, each symbolizing a year in the hidden life of Christ before his baptism. It begins with the basic notion of turning or conversion, continuing with a detailed analysis of the virtues and vices, and then ending with union with God.

St. John is emphatic about the necessity of a spiritual father to guide one in “climbing the ladder”. There were many examples of monks who fell after much labor because they relied on their own work. He speak of the need for everyone to have “some Moses” to guide them away from Egypt and Pharaoh to the Promised Land.

The disciple receives guidance from his spiritual father through modeling himself after the life of the spiritual father and through disclosing his thoughts (opening his heart) to him. The spiritual father becomes physician, intercessor, and mediator.

 

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The steps are:

  1. On renunciation of the world
  2. On detachment
  3. On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have
  4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals)
  5. On painstaking and true repentance which constitutes the life of the holy convicts; and about the Prison
  6. On remembrance of death
  7. On joy-making mourning
  8. On freedom from anger and on meekness
  9. On remembrance of wrongs
  10. On slander or calumny
  11. On talkativeness and silence
  12. On lying
  13. On despondency
  14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
  15. On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
  16. On love of money, or avarice
  17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
  18. On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
  19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
  20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practise it
  21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice
  22. On the many forms of vainglory
  23. On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts
  24. On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and about guile
  25. On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception
  26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned
  27. On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them
  28. On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
  29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
  30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book

 

 

From the

“Ladder of Divine Ascent”

of Saint John Climacus

on

Vainglory, Pride and Humility

 

 

capul-sf-ioan-scararul

 

 

  

On Vainglory (step 22)

 

Some would hold that vainglory is to be distinguished from pride, and so they give it a special place and chapter. Hence their claim that there are eight deadly sins. But against this is the view of Gregory the Theologian and other teachers that in fact the number is seven. I also hold this view. After all, what pride remains in a man who has conquered vainglory The difference is between a child and a man, between wheat and bread; for the first is a beginning and the second an end. Therefore, as the occasion demands, let us talk about the unholy vice of self-esteem, the beginning and completion of the passions; and let us talk briefly, for to undertake an exhaustive discussion would be to act like someone who inquires into the weight of the winds.

From the point of view of form, vainglory is a change of nature, a perversion of character, a taking note of criticism. As for its quality, it is a waste of work and sweat, a betrayal of treasure, an offspring of unbelief, a harbinger of pride, shipwreck in port, the ant on the threshing floor, small and yet with designs on all the fruit of one’s labor. The ant waits until the wheat is in, vainglory until the riches of excellence are gathered; the one a thief, the other a wastrel.

The spirit of despair rejoices at the sight of increasing vice, the spirit of vainglory at the sight of the growing treasures of virtue. The door for the one is a multitude of wounds, while the gateway for the other is the wealth of hard work done.

Observe vainglory. Notice how, until the very day of the burial it rejoices in clothes, oils, servants, perfumes, and such like.

Like the sun which shines on all alike, vainglory beams on every occupation. What I mean is this: I fast, and turn vainglorious. I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and am vainglorious in either case. I talk or I remain silent, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me.

A vainglorious man is a believing idolater. Apparently honoring God, he actually is out to please not God but men. To be a showoff is to be vainglorious. The fast of such a man is unrewarded and his prayer futile, since he is practicing both to win praise. A vainglorious ascetic doubly cheats himself, wearying his body and getting no reward. Who would not laugh at this vainglorious worker, standing for the psalms and moved by vainglory sometimes to laughter and sometimes to tears for all to see?

The Lord frequently hides from us even the perfections we have obtained. But the man who praises us, or, rather, who misleads us, opens our eyes with his words and once our eyes are opened our treasures vanish.

The flatterer is a servant of the devils, a teacher of pride, the destroyer of contrition, a ruiner of virtues, a perverse guide. The prophet says this, “Those who honor you deceive you” (Isa. 3:12).

Men of high spirit endure offense nobly and willingly. But only the holy and the saintly can pass unscathed through praise. And I have seen men in mourning who, on being praised, reared up in anger, one passion giving way to another as at some public meeting.

“No one knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit within him” (1 Cor. 2:11). Hence those who want to praise us to our face should be ashamed and silent.

When you hear that your neighbor or your friend has denounced you behind your back or indeed in your presence, show him love and try to compliment him.

It is a great achievement to shrug the praise of men off one’s soul. Greater still is to reject the praise of demons.

It is not the self-critical who reveals his humility (for does not everyone have somehow to put up with himself?). Rather it is the man who continues to love the person who has criticized him.

I have seen the demon of vainglory suggesting thoughts to one brother, revealing them to another, and getting the second man to tell the first what he is thinking and then praising him for his ability to read minds. And that dreadful demon has even lighted on parts of the body, shaking and stirring them.

Ignore him when he tells you to accept the office of bishop or abbot or teacher. It is hard to drive a dog from a butcher’s counter.

When he notices that someone has achieved a measure of interior calm, he immediately suggests to him the need to return from the desert to the world, in order to save those who are perishing.

Ethiopians have one kind of appearance, statues another. So too is it the case that the vainglory of those living in community is different from that of those living in the desert.

Vainglory anticipates the arrival of guests from the outside world. It prompts the more frivolous Christian to rush out to meet them, to fall at their feet, to give the appearance of humility, when in fact he is full of pride. It makes him look and sound modest and directs his eye to the visitors’ hands in the hope of getting something from them. It induces him to address them as “lords and patrons, graced with godly life.” At table it makes him urge abstinence on someone else and fiercely criticize subordinates. It enables those who are standing in a slovenly manner during the singing of psalms to make an effort, those who have no voice to sing well, and those who are sleepy to wake up. It flatters the presenter, seeks the first place in the choir, and addresses him as father and master while the visitors are still there.

Vainglory induces pride in the favored and resentment in those who are slighted. Often it causes dishonor instead of honor, because it brings great shame to its angry disciples. It makes the quick-tempered look mild before men. It thrives amid talent and frequently brings catastrophe on those enslaved to it.

I have seen a demon harm and chase away its own brother. For just when a brother had lost his temper secular visitors arrived, and the wretched man gave himself over to vainglory. He was unable to serve two passions at the one time.

The servant of vainglory leads a double life. To outward appearance, he lives with Christians; but in his heart of hearts he is in the world.

If we really long for heavenly things, we will surely taste the glory above. And whoever has tasted that will think nothing of earthly glory. For it would surprise me if someone could hold the latter in contempt unless he had tasted the former.

It often happens that having been left naked by vainglory, we turn around and strip it ourselves more cleverly. For I have encountered some who embarked on the spiritual life out of vainglory, making therefore a bad start, and yet they finished up in a most admirable way because they changed their intentions.

A man who takes pride in natural abilities-I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them–this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much. And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things. The man who seeks a reward from God in return for his labors builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

When the winnower tells you to show off your virtues for the benefit of an audience, do not yield to him. “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and destroy himself?” (Matt. 16:26).

Our neighbor is moved by nothing so much as by a sincere and humble way of talking and of behaving. It is an example and a spur to others never to become proud. And there is nothing to equal the benefit of this.

A man of insight told me this: “I was once sitting at an assembly,” he said. “The demon of vainglory and the demon of pride came to sit on either side of me. One poked me with the finger of vainglory and encouraged me to talk publicly about some vision or labor of mine in the desert. I shook him off with the words, ‘Let those who wish me harm be driven back and let them be ashamed’ (Ps. 39:15). Then the demon on my left at once said in my ear, ‘Well done! Well done! You have become great by conquering my shameless mother.’ Turning to him I answered appropriately, making use of the rest of the verse, ‘Defeat and shame on all who say, “Well done! Well done!” “And how is it, I asked him, that vainglory is the mother of pride?” His answer was this, “Praise exalts and puffs me up, and when the soul is exalted, pride lifts it up as high as heaven-and then throws it down into the abyss.”

But there is a glory that comes from the Lord, for He says, “I will glorify those who glorify Me” (I Kings [I Sam.] 2:30). And there is a glory that follows it which is contrived by the demons, for it is said, “Woe to you when all men shall speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). You can recognize the first kind of glory when you look on it as dangerous and run from it in every possible way, hiding your life-style wherever you are. And you may be certain of the other sort when you find yourself doing something, however small, with the hope that men may notice you.

Dread vainglory urges us to pretend that we have some virtue which does not belong to us. It encourages us with the text, “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds” (Matt. 5:16).

The Lord often humbles the vainglorious by causing some dishonor to befall them. And indeed the first step in overcoming vainglory is to remain silent and to accept dishonor gladly. The middle stage is to restrain every act of vainglory while it is still in thought. The end – insofar as one may talk of an end to an abyss – is to be able to accept humiliation before others without actually feeling it.

Do not conceal your sin because of the idea that you must not scandalize your neighbor. Of course this injunction must not be adhered to blindly. It will depend on the nature of one’s sinfulness.

If ever we seek glory, if it comes our way uninvited, or if we plan some course of action because of our vainglory, we should think of our mourning and of the blessed fear on us as we stood alone in prayer before God. If we do this we will assuredly outflank shameless vainglory, that is if our wish for true prayer is genuine. If this is insufficient let us briefly remember that we must die. Should this also prove ineffective, let us at least go in fear of the shame that always comes after honor, for assuredly he who exalts himself will be humbled not only there but here also.

When those who praise us, or, rather, those who lead us astray, begin to exalt us, we should briefly remember the multitude of our sins, and in this way we will discover that we do not deserve whatever is said or done in our honor.

Some of the prayers of the vainglorious no doubt deserve to win the attention of God, but He regularly anticipates their wishes and petitions so that their pride may not be increased by the success of their prayers.

Simpler people do not usually succumb to the poison of vainglory, which is, after all, a loss of simplicity and a hypocritical way of life.

A worm, fully grown, often sprouts wings and can fly up high. Vainglory, fully grown, can give birth to pride, which is the beginning and the end of all evil.

Anyone free of this sickness is close to salvation. Anyone affected by it is far removed from the glory of the saints.

Such, then, is the twenty-second step. The man untouched by vainglory will not tumble into that senseless pride which is so detestable to God.

 

 

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On Pride (step 23)

 

 

Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the precursor of madness, the cause of downfall. It is the cause of satanic possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the guardian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter Pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.

Pride begins where vainglory leaves off. Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out. It ends with the spurning of God’s help, the exalting of one’s own efforts and a devilish disposition.

Listen, therefore, all who wish to avoid this pit. This passion often draws strength initially from the giving of thanks, and at first it does not shamelessly urge us to renounce God. I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glorifying themselves, something demonstrated by that Pharisee with his “O God, I thank You” (Luke 18:11).

Pride takes up residence wherever we have lapsed, for a lapse is in fact an indication of pride. And an admirable man said once to me, “Think of a dozen shameful passions. Love one of them, I mean pride, and it will take up the space of all the other eleven.”

A proud Christian argues bitterly with others. The humble Christian is loath to contradict them.

The cypress tree does not bend to the ground to walk, nor does the haughty Christian bend down in order to gain obedience.

The proud man wants to be in charge of things. He would feel lost otherwise.

“God resists the proud” (James 4:6). Who then could have mercy on them? Before God every proud man is unclean. Who then could purify such a person?

For the proud correction is a fall, a thorn (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7) is a devil, and abandonment by God is madness. Whereas in the first two instances there are human cures available, this last cannot be healed by man.

To reject criticism is to show pride, while to accept it is to show oneself free of this fetter.

Pride and nothing else caused an angel to fall from heaven. And so one may reasonably ask whether one may reach heaven by humility alone without the help of any other virtue.

Pride loses the profits of all hard work and sweat. They cried out, but there was none to save them, because they cried out with pride. They cried out to God, but He paid no heed since they were not really trying to root out the faults against which they were praying.

An elder, very experienced in these matters, once spiritually admonished a proud brother who said in his blindness, “Forgive me, father, but I am not proud.” “My son,” said the wise old man, “what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?”

A help to the proud is submissiveness, a tougher and humbler way of life, and the reading of the supernatural feats of the Fathers. Even then there will perhaps be little hope of salvation for those who suffer from this disease.

While it is disgraceful to be puffed up over the adornments of others, it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of God. You may be proud only of the achievements you had before the time of your birth. But anything after that, indeed the birth itself, is a gift from God. You may claim only those virtues in you that are there independently of your mind, for your mind was bestowed on you by God. And you may claim only those victories you achieved independently of the body, for the body too is not yours but a work of God.

Do not be self-confident before judgment has been passed on you. Remember the guest at the marriage feast. He got there, and then, tied hand and foot, he was thrown into the dark outside (cf. Matt. 22:13). So do not be stiff-necked, since you are a material being. Many although holy and unencumbered by a body were cast out of Heaven.

When the demon of pride gets a foothold for himself among his own servants, he appears to them, in sleep or awake, and he looks like a holy angel or martyr and he hints at mysteries to be revealed or spiritual gifts to be granted, that the wretches may be deceived and driven utterly out of their minds.

If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we would still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants.

We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Fathers and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.

A real Christian is one whose soul’s eye is not haughty and whose bodily senses are unmoved.

A Christian is one who fights his enemies, like the wild beasts that they are, and harries them as he makes his escape from them.

To be a Christian is to know ecstasy without end and to grieve for life.

A Christian is shaped by virtues in the way that others are shaped by pleasures.

A Christian has an unfailing light in the eye of the heart.

A Christian is an abyss of humility in which every evil spirit has been plunged and smothered.

Pride makes us forget our sins, for the remembrance of them leads to humility.

Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginary light where in fact there is darkness. This abominable vice not only stops our progress but even tosses us down from the heights we have reached.

The proud man is a pomegranate, rotten within, while outwardly radiant.

A proud Christian needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself.

Darkness is alien to light. Pride is alien to every virtue.

Blaspheming words rise up in the hearts of the proud, heavenly visions in the hearts of the humble.

A thief hates the sun. A proud man despises the meek.

It happens, I do not know how, that most of the proud never really discover their true selves. They think they have conquered their passions and they find out how poor they really are only after they die.

The man ensnared by pride will need God’s help, since man is of no use to him.

I captured this senseless deceiver once. It was rising up in my heart and on its shoulders was vainglory, its mother. I roped them with the noose of obedience and flailed them with the whip of humility. Then I lashed them and asked how they had managed to gain access to me. “We have no beginning and no birth,” they said, “for we are the source and the begetters of all the passions. The strongest opposition to us comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience. We can endure no authority over us, which is why we fell from heaven though we had authority there. In short, we are the authors and the progenitors of everything opposed to humility, for everything that favors humility brings us low. We prevail everywhere except in heaven. So, then, where will you run to escape us? You will find us often where there is patient endurance of dishonor, where there is obedience and freedom from anger, where there is willingness to bear no grudge, where one’s neighbor is served. And our children are the falls of those who lead the life of the spirit. Their names: Anger, Calumny, Spite, Irritability, Shouting, Blasphemy, Hypocrisy, Hatred, Envy, Argumentativeness, Self-will, Disobedience.

“There is only one thing with which we cannot interfere, and the violence you do us will make us admit what this is. If you can honestly condemn yourself before the Lord, then indeed you will find us as flimsy as a cobweb. For, you see, Vainglory is pride’s saddle-horse on which I am mounted. But holy Humility and Self-accusation will laugh at the horse and its rider and will joyfully sing the song of triumph: ‘Let us sing to the Lord, for He has been truly glorified. Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea’ (Exod. 15:1), into the depths of humility.”

Such is the twenty-third step. Whoever climbs it, if indeed anyone can, will certainly be strong.

 

Concerning unspeakably blasphemous Thoughts

 

As we have already heard, from a troublesome root and mother comes a most troublesome offspring. What I mean is that unspeakable blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride. Hence the need to talk about it, since it is no ordinary foe but is far and away the deadliest enemy of all. Worse still, it is extremely hard to articulate and to confess it and therefore to discuss it with a spiritual healer, and the result has been to cause frustration and despair in many people, for like a worm in a tree this unholy enemy gnaws away all hope.

This atrocious foe has the habit of appearing during the holy services and even at the awesome hour of the Mysteries, and blaspheming the Lord and the consecrated elements, thereby showing that these unspeakable, unacceptable, and unthinkable words are not ours but rather those of the God-hating demon who fled from heaven because, it seems, of the blasphemies he uttered there too against the Lord. It must be so, for if these dreadful and unholy words are my own, how could I offer humble worship after having partaken of the sacred gift? How could I revile and praise at the same time?

This deceiver, this destroyer of souls, has often caused men to go mad. And no other thought is as difficult to admit in confession, which is why so many are dogged by it all their days. In fact nothing gives demons and evil thoughts such power over us as to nourish them and hide them in our hearts unconfessed.

If you have blasphemous thoughts, do not think that you are to blame. God knows what is in our hearts and He knows that ideas of this kind come not from us but from our enemies.

Drunkenness leads to stumbling. Pride leads to unholy thoughts. The drunkard will be punished not for his stumbling but for his drunkenness.

Those unclean and unspeakable thoughts come at us when we are praying, but, if we continue to pray to the end, they will retreat, for they do not struggle against those who resist them.

This unholy demon not only blasphemes God and everything that is divine. It stirs up the dirtiest and most obscene thoughts within us, thereby trying to force us to give up praying or to fall into despair. It stops the prayer of many and turns many away from the holy Mysteries. It has evilly and tyrannously wearied the bodies of some with grief. It has exhausted others with fasting and has given them no rest. It has struck at people living in the world, and also at those leading the monastic life, whispering that there is no salvation in store for them, murmuring that they are more to be pitied than any unbeliever or pagan.

Anyone disturbed by the spirit of blasphemy and wishing to be rid of it should bear in mind that thoughts of this type do not originate in his own soul but are caused by that unclean devil who once said to the Lord, “I will give you all this if only You fall down and adore me” (Matt. 4:9). So let us make light of him and pay no regard whatever to his promptings. Let us say, ‘Get behind me, Satan! I will worship the Lord my God and I will serve only Him’ (Matt. 4:10). May your word and your effort rebound on you, and your blasphemies come down on your own head now and in the world to come.” To fight against the demon of blasphemy in any way other than this is to be like a man trying to hold lightning in his hands. For how can you take a grip on, seize, or grapple with someone who flits into the heart quicker than the wind, talks more rapidly than a flash, and then immediately vanishes? Every other kind of foe stops, struggles a while, lingers and gives one time to struggle with him. But not this one. He hardly appears and is gone again immediately. He barely speaks and then vanishes.

This particular demon likes to take up residence in the minds of simpler and more innocent souls, and these are more upset and disturbed by it than others. To such people we could quite rightly say that what is happening to them is due not to their own undue self-esteem but to the jealousy of the demons.

Let us refrain from passing judgment or condemnation on our neighbor. If we do, then we will not be terrorized by blasphemous thoughts, since the one produces the other.

The situation here is like that of someone shut up in his own house who overhears but does not join in the conversation of passersby. The soul that keeps to itself overhears and is disturbed by the blasphemies of devils who are merely transients.

Hold this foe in contempt and you will be liberated from its torments. Try cleverly to fight it and you will end up by surrendering, for the man who tries to conquer spirits by talk is like someone hoping to lock up the winds.

There was once a zealous monk who was badly troubled by this demon. For twenty years he wore himself out with fasting and vigils, but to no avail, as he realized. So he wrote the temptation on a sheet of paper, went to a certain holy man, handed him the paper, bowed his face to the ground and dared not to look up. The old man read it, smiled, lifted the brother and said to him, “My son, put your hand on my neck.” The brother did so. Then the great man said, “Very well, brother. Now let this sin be on my neck for as many years as it has been or will be active within you. But from now on, ignore it.” And the monk who had been tempted in this fashion assured me that even before he had left the cell of this old man, his infirmity was gone. The man who had actually experienced this told me about it, giving thanks to Christ.

He who has defeated this vice has banished pride.

 

 

On Humility (step 25)

 

 

 

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Do you imagine that plain words can precisely or truly or appropriately or clearly or sincerely describe the love of the Lord, humility, blessed purity, divine enlightenment, fear of God, and assurance of the heart? Do you imagine that talk of such matters will mean anything to someone who has never experienced them? If you think so, then you will be like a man who with words and examples tries to convey the sweetness of honey to people who have never tasted it. He talks uselessly. Indeed I would say he is simply prattling. The same applies in the first instance. A man stands revealed as either having had no experience of what he is talking about or as having fallen into the grip of vainglory.

Our theme sets before us as a touchstone a treasure stored safely in earthen vessels, that is, in our bodies. This treasure is of a quality that eludes adequate description. It carries an inscription of heavenly origin which is therefore incomprehensible so that anyone seeking words for it is faced with a great and endless task. The inscription reads as follows: “Holy Humi1ity.”

Let all who are led by the Spirit of God come with us into this spiritual and wise assembly. Let them hold in their spiritual hands the tablets of knowledge inscribed by God Himself. We have come together. We have asked our questions. We have searched for the meaning of this precious inscription. “Humility is constant forgetfulness of one’s achievements,” someone says.

“It is the admission that in all the world one is the least important and is also the greatest sinner,” another says.

“It is the mind’s awareness that one is weak and helpless,” a third says.

“It is to forestall one’s neighbor at a contentious moment and to be the first to end a quarrel.”

“It is the acknowledgement of divine grace and divine mercy.”

“It is the disposition of a contrite soul and the abdication of one’s own will.”

I listened to all this and thought it over carefully and soberly, and was not able to grasp the sense of that blessed virtue from what I had heard. I was the last to speak; and, like a dog gathering crumbs from a table, I collected what those learned and blessed fathers had said and went on from there to propose my own definition: “Humility is a grace in the soul and with a name known only to those who have had experience of it. It is indescribable wealth, a name and a gift from God. ‘Learn from Me,’ He said; that is, not from an angel, not from a man, not from a book, but ‘from Me,’ that is, from My dwelling within you, from My illumination and action within you, for ‘I am gentle and meek of heart’ (Matt. 11:9) in thought and in spirit, and your souls will find rest from conflicts and relief from evil thoughts.”

The appearance of this sacred vine is one thing during the winter of passions, another in the springtime of flowering, and still another in the harvest-time of all the virtues. Yet all these appearances have one thing in common, namely, joy and the bearing of fruit, and they all give sure signs and evidence of the harvest to come. As soon as the cluster of holy humility begins to flower within us, we come, after hard work, to hate all earthly praise and glory. We rid ourselves of rage and fury; and the more this queen of virtues spreads within our souls through spiritual growth, the more we begin to regard all our good deeds as of no consequence, in fact as loathsome. For every day we somehow imagine that we are adding to our burden by an ignorant scattering, that the very abundance of God’s gifts to us is so much in excess of what we deserve that the punishment due to us becomes thereby all the greater. Hence our minds remain secure, locked up in the purse of modesty, aware of the knocks and the jeers of thieves and yet untroubled by them, because modesty is an unassailable safe.

We have so far risked a few words of a philosophical kind regarding the blossoming and the growth of this everblooming fruit. But those of you who are close to the Lord Himself must find out from Him what the perfect reward is of this holy virtue, since there is no way of measuring the sheer abundance of such blessed wealth, nor could words convey its quality. Nevertheless, we must try to express the thoughts that occur to us about its distinguishing characteristics.

Real repentance, mourning cleansed of all impurity, and holy humility among beginners are as different and distinct from one another as yeast and flour from bread. The soul is ground and refined by visible repentance. The waters of true mourning bring it to a certain unity. I would even go so far as to speak of a mingling with God. Then, kindled by the fire of the Lord, blessed humility is made into bread and made firm without the leaven of pride. The outcome of all this is a three-stranded cord (cf. Eccles. 4:12), a heavenly rainbow coming together as a single power and energy, with its own effects and characteristics. Speak of one and we imply the other two. And I will now briefly try to prove the truth of what I am saying.

The first and principal characteristic of this excellent and admirable triad is the delighted readiness of the soul to accept indignity, to receive it with open arms, to welcome it as something that relieves and cauterizes diseases of the soul and grevious sins. The second characteristic is the wiping out of anger and modesty over the fact that it has subsided. Third and preeminent is the honest distrust of one’s own virtues, together with an unending desire to learn more.

“The end of the law and the prophets is Christ, for the justification of every believer” (Rom. 10:4). And the end of impure passions is vainglory and pride for every man who fails to deal with the problem. But their destroyer is a spiritual stag which keeps the man who lives with it safe from every poison. The deadly bane of hypocrisy and of calumny can surely never appear where there is humility. Where will this snake nestle and hide? Will it not be pulled out from the heart’s earth to be killed and done away with? Where there is humility there will be no sign of hatred, nor any kind of quarrelsomeness, no whiff of disobedience – unless of course some question of faith arises. The man with humility for his bride will be gentle, kind, inclined to compunction, sympathetic, calm in every situation, radiant, easy to get along with, inoffensive, alert and active. In a word, free from passion. “The Lord remembered us in our humility and delivered us from our enemies” (Ps. 135:23-24), that is, from our passions and from our impurities.

A humble Christian will not preoccupy himself with mysteries. A proud Christian busies himself with the hidden judgments of God.

Demons once heaped praise on one of the most discerning of the brothers. They even appeared to him in visible form. But this very wise man spoke to them as follows, “If you cease to praise me by way of the thoughts of my heart, I shall consider myself to be great and outstanding because of the fact that you have left me. But if you continue to praise me, I must deduce from such praise that I am very impure indeed, since every proudhearted man is unclean before the Lord (cf. Prov. 16:5). So leave me, and I shall become great, or else praise me, and with your help I shall earn more humility.” Struck by this dilemma, they vanished.

Let not your soul be a hollow in the stream of life, a hollow sometimes full and sometimes dried up by the heat of vainglory and pride. Instead, may your soul be a well-spring of dispassion that wells up into a river of poverty. Friend, remember that corn and the fruit of the spirit will stand high in the valleys (cf. Ps. 64:14). The valley is a soul made humble among the mountains of labors and virtues. It always remains unproud and steadfast. In Scripture are the words, “I humbled myself, and the Lord hastened to rescue me” (Ps. 114:6); and these words are there instead of “I have fasted,” “I have kept vigil,” “I lay down on the bare earth.”

Repentance lifts a man up. Mourning knocks at heaven’s gate. Holy humility opens it. This I say, and I worship a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity.

The sun lights up everything visible. Likewise, humility is the source of everything done according to reason. Where there is no light, all is in darkness. Where there is no humility, all is rotten.

In the entire universe there is a unique place that saw the sun just once. And there is a unique thought that has given rise to humility. There was a unique day on which the whole world rejoiced. And there is a unique virtue the demons cannot imitate.

To exalt oneself is one thing, not to do so another, and to humble oneself is something else entirely. A man may always be passing judgment on others, while another man passes judgment neither on others nor on himself. A third, however, though actually guiltless, may always be passing judgment on himself.

There is a difference between being humble, striving for humility, and praising the humble. The first is a mark of the perfect, the second of the obedient, and the third of all the faithful.

A man truly humble within himself will never find his tongue betraying him. What is not in the treasury cannot be brought out through the door.

A solitary horse can often imagine itself to be at full gallop, but when it finds itself in a herd it then discovers how slow it actually is.

A first sign of emerging health is when our thoughts are no longer filled with a proud sense of our aptitudes. As long as the stench of pride lingers in the nose, the fragrance of myrrh will go unnoticed.

Holy humility had this to say, “The one who loves me will not condemn someone, or pass judgment on anyone, or lord it over someone else, or show off his wisdom until he has been united with me. A man truly joined to me is no longer in bondage to the Law” (note 1 Tim. 1:9.).

The unholy demons once began to murmur praise in the heart of an ascetic who was struggling to achieve blessed humility. However, God inspired him to use a holy trick to defeat the cleverness of these spirits. The monk got up and on the wall of his cell he wrote in sequence the names of the major virtues: perfect love, angelic humility, pure prayer, unassailable chastity, and others of a similar kind. The result was that whenever vainglorious thoughts began to puff him up, he would say, “Come! Let us go to be judged.” Going to the wall he would read the names there and would cry out to himself, “When you have every one of these virtues within you, then you will have an accurate sense of how far from God you still are.”

None of us can describe the power and nature of the sun. We can merely deduce its intrinsic nature from its characteristics and effects. So too with humility, which is a God-given protection against seeing our own achievements. It is an abyss of self-abasement to which no thief can gain entry. It is a tower of strength against the enemy. “Against him the enemy will not prevail and the son (or, rather, the thought) of iniquity will do him no harm and he will cut off his enemies before him” (Ps. 88:23-24) and will put to flight those who hate him.

The great possessor of this treasure has other properties in his soul besides those referred to above. These properties, with one exception, are manifest signs of this wealth. You will know that you have this holy gift within you and not be led astray when you experience an abundance of unspeakable light together with an indescribable love of prayer. Even before reaching this stage, you may have it, if in your heart you pass no judgment on the faults of others. And a precursor of what we have described is hatred of all vainglory.

The man who has come to know himself with the full awareness of his soul has sown in good ground. However, anyone who has not sown in this way cannot expect humility to flower within him. And anyone who has acquired knowledge of self has come to understand the fear of the Lord, and walking with the help of this fear, he has arrived at the doorway of love. For humility is the door to the kingdom, opening up to those who come near. It was of that door, I believe, that the Lord spoke when He said, “He shall go in and come out of life” and not be afraid “and he shall find pasture” (John 10:8-9) and the green grass of Paradise. And whoever has entered monastic life by some other door is a thief and a robber of his own life.

Those of us who wish to gain understanding must never stop examining ourselves and if in the perception of your soul you realize that your neighbor is superior to you in all respects, then the mercy of God is surely near at hand.

Snow cannot burst into flames. It is even less possible for humility to abide in a heretic. This achievement belongs only to the pious and the faithful, and then only when they have been purified.

Most of us would describe ourselves as sinners. And perhaps we really think so. But it is indignity that shows up the true state of the heart.

Whoever is eager for the peaceful haven of humility will never cease to do all he possibly can to get there, and with words and thoughts, with considerations and explanations, with questionings and probings, with every device, with prayer and supplication, with meditation and reflection, he will push onward, helped by God, humiliated and despised and toiling mightily, and he will sail the ship of his soul out from the ever-stormy ocean of vainglory. For the man delivered from this sin wins ready pardon for all his other sins, like the publican in Scripture.

Some drive out empty pride by thinking to the end of their lives of their past misdeeds, for which they were forgiven and which now serve as a spur to humility. Others, remembering the passion of Christ, think of themselves as eternally in debt. Others hold themselves in contempt when they think of their daily lapses. Others come to possess this mother of graces by way of their continuous temptations, weaknesses, and sins. There are some–and I cannot say if they are to be found nowadays–who humble themselves in proportion to the gifts they receive from God and live with a sense of their unworthiness to have such wealth bestowed on them, so that each day they think of themselves as sinking further into debt. That is real humility, real beatitude, a real reward! And you may be sure that it is by this particularly blessed route that anyone has traveled who in a few short years has arrived at the summit of dispassion.

Love and humility make a holy team. The one exalts. The other supports those who have been exalted and never falls.

There is a difference between contrition, self-knowledge, and humility.

Contrition is the outcome of a lapse. A man who has lapsed breaks down and prays without arrogance, though with laudable persistence, shattered and yet clinging to the staff of hope, indeed using it to drive off the dog of despair.

Self-knowledge is a clear-eyed notion of one’s own spiritual advance. It is also an unwavering remembrance of one’s slightest sins.

Humility is a spiritual teaching of Christ led spiritually like a bride into the inner chamber of the soul of those deemed worthy of it, and it somehow eludes all description.

A man says that he is experiencing the full fragrance of this myrrh within him. Someone happens to praise him, and if he feels the slightest stir of the heart or if he grasps the full import of what is being said, then he is certainly mistaken, and let him have no illusion about that fact.

“Not to us, not to us, but to Your name, O Lord, give glory” (Ps. 113:9). I once heard a man say this with total sincerity. He was a man who well understood that human nature is such that it cannot remain unharmed by praise. “My praise shall be from You in the great assembly, Lord” (Ps. 21:26), that is, in the life to come, and I cannot accept it before that without risk to myself.

If the outer limit, the rule, and the characteristic of extreme pride is for a man to make a show of having virtues he does not actually possess for the sake of glory, then surely the sign of extreme humility will be to lower ourselves by claiming weaknesses we do not really have. This was what one man did when he took the bread and cheese in his hands. This too was the way of the man who was free of all fleshly lust but who used to take his clothes off and parade naked through the whole city. Men like these do not worry about giving scandal, for through prayer they have received the power to reassure all men invisibly. Indeed, to be afraid of censure is to show lack of ability in prayer. And when God is ready to hear our prayers we can achieve anything.

It is better to offend man than God. For God is delighted when He sees us courting dishonor for the purpose of crushing, striking, and destroying our empty self-esteem. And virtue of this sort comes only from a complete abandonment of the world and only the really great can endure the derision of their own people. This should not surprise you. The fact is that no one can climb a ladder in a single stride. By this shall all men know that we are God’s disciples, not because devils are subjected to us, but because our names are written in the Heaven of humility (cf. Luke 10:20).

A lemon tree naturally lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit. The more its branches bend, the more fruit you will find there. The meaning of this will be clear to the man disposed to understand it.

Holy humility receives from God the power to yield fruit thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold. The dispassionate attain that last degree, the courageous the middle, and everyone can rise to the first.

The man who has come to know himself is never fooled into reaching for what is beyond him. He keeps his feet henceforth on the blessed path of humility.

Just as birds fear the sight of a hawk, those who practice humility fear the sound of an argument.

Many have attained salvation without the aid of prophecies, illumination, signs and wonders. But without humility no one will enter the marriage chamber, for humility is the guardian of such gifts. Without it, they will bring frivolous people to ruin.

Because of our unwillingness to humble ourselves, God has arranged that no one can see his own faults as clearly as his neighbor does. Hence our obligation to be grateful not to ourselves but to our neighbor and to God for our healing.

A humble man will always hate his own will as a cause of error. In his petitions to the Lord which he makes with unwavering faith he learns what he should do and obeys. He does not spend his time scrutinizing the lifestyle of his superiors. He lays all his burden on God, Who used an ass to teach Balaam what had to be done. All the acts, thoughts, and words of such a man are directed to the will of God, and he never trusts himself. Indeed, to a humble man, self-confidence is as much a thorn and a burden as the orders of someone else are to a proud man.

In my opinion, an angel is characterized by the fact that he is not tricked into sinning. And I hear those words of an earthly angel, “I am aware of nothing against myself and yet I am not thereby justified. It is the Lord Who is my judge” (1 Cor. 4:4). So we must always condemn and criticize ourselves in order that by means of deliberately chosen humiliations we may protect ourselves from unwitting sin. And if we do not do this, our punishment at death will be heavy indeed.

The man who asks God for less than he deserves will certainly receive more, as is shown by the publican who begged forgiveness but obtained salvation (cf. Luke 18:10-14). And the robber asked only to be remembered in the kingdom, yet he inherited all of Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43).

In the created world fire cannot naturally be both small and great at one and the same time. Humility cannot be genuine and at one and the same time have a worldly nature. Genuine humility is not in us if we fall into voluntary sin, and this is the sign that there is some material attraction still within us.

The Lord understood that the virtue of the soul is shaped by our outward behavior. He therefore took a towel and showed us how to walk the road of humility (cf. John 13:4). The soul indeed is molded by the doings of the body, conforming to and taking shape from what it does. To one of the angels it was the fact of being a ruler that led to pride, though it was not for this reason that the prerogative was originally granted to him.

A man who sits on a throne acts in one way, and the man who sits on a dunghill acts in another. That, perhaps, is the reason why that great and just man sat on the dunghill outside the city. Totally humbled, he said in all sincerity, “I despise myself, waste away” (Job 42:6), and have regarded myself as dust and ashes.”

I note that Manasseh sinned like no other man. He defiled the temple of God with idols and contaminated the sacred Liturgy (cf. 4 [2] Kings 21:4). A fast by all the world could not have made reparation for his sin, and yet humility could heal his incurable wound. “If You wanted sacrifice I would have given it,” David says to God, “but You will not be satisfied with burnt offerings,” that is, with bodies worn out by fasting. “The sacrifice for God is a contrite spirit. God will not despise a humble and contrite heart” (Ps. 50:17). Following on adultery and murder, blessed humility once cried out to God, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and the reply was heard: “The Lord has put away your sin” (2 Kings [2 Sam.] 12:13).

The wonderful Fathers proclaimed physical labor to be the way to and the foundation of humility. To this I would add obedience and honesty of heart, since these are by nature opposed to self-aggrandizement.

If pride turned some of the angels into demons, then humility can doubtless make angels out of demons. So take heart, all you sinners.

Let us strive with all our might to reach that summit of humility, or let us at least climb onto her shoulders. And if this is too much for us, let us at least not fall out of her arms, since after such a fall a man will scarcely receive any kind of everlasting gift.

Humility has its signs. It also has its sinews and its ways, and these are as follows-poverty, withdrawal from the world, the concealment of one’s wisdom, simplicity of speech, the seeking of alms, the disguising of one’s nobility, the exclusion of free and easy relationships, the banishment of idle talk.

Nothing can ever so humble the soul as destitution and the subsistence of a beggar. We will show ourselves true lovers of wisdom and of God if we stubbornly run away from all possibility of exaltation.

If you wish to fight against some passion, take humility as your ally, for she will tread on the asp and the basilisk of sin and despair, and she will trample under foot the lion and the serpent of physical devilishness and cunning (cf Ps. 90:13).

Humility is a heavenly waterspout which can lift the soul from the abyss up to Heaven’s height.

Someone discovered in his heart how beautiful humility is, and in his amazement he asked her to reveal her parent’s name. Humility smiled, joyous and serene, “Why are you in such a rush to learn the name of my begetter? He has no name, nor will I reveal him to you until you have God for your possession. To Whom be glory forever.” Amen.

The sea is the source of the fountain, and humility is the source of discernment.

 

*** *** ***

 

  


“Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!…

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!…

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed!”

(Luke 1:28-42-56)

annuncia01

Boston Byzantine Choir:

it-is-truly-meet

agni-parthene-o-virgin-pure-in-english-part-1

agni-parthene-o-virgin-pure-in-english-part-2

akathist-hymn-to-the-most-holy-theotokos-ode-1-boston-choir

Byzantion: bucura-te_marie_byzantion

 

Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)

Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace. Wherefore, we also cry out with him, “Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Kontakion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)

To you, Theotokos, invincible Defender, having been delivered from peril, I, your city, dedicate the victory festival as a thank offering. In your irresistible might, keep me safe from all trials, that I may call out to you: “Hail, unwedded bride!”


Lectures on the Feast of the Annunciation by Father Evan

of St. Spyridon Orhodox Church, CO:


1. annunciation1-fr-evans

2. annunciationii-with-frevans


The Church of Annunciation, in Nazareth:


A Trebnic Prayer

See, O Queen, how I sin without ceasing and provoke thy Son and my God to wrath.

And oft, though I repent, I am found to be false before God, and I repent with trembling, lest the Lord strike me down; but soon after, I fall back into the same misdeeds.

Knowing these things, O my Lady, Most Holy Theotokos, wherefore shalt thou not take

pity upon me, wherefore not strengthen me, and for what cause not grant me always to do those things that are good?

For thou knowest, O Lady, that I have naught but hate for mine evil deeds, and with all my mind love the law of my God.

But I wit not, Lady most pure, why I do those things that I hate, and trespass against what I love.

But permit not, O Most Holy One, for my will to be done, for it is not becoming;

but let there be done in me will of thy Son and my God, so that He may save me, and bring me to understanding, and grant me the Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that henceforth I might cease to do the works of wickedness, and live the rest of mine appointed time according to the mandates of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

to Whom belongeth all glory, honour, worship and majesty, together with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-Holy, and Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and from ages of ages.

Amen.

(Polny Sbornik Molitv, pp.27-28)

Signs of the Times

 

By Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
 

In the following talk,1 Fr. Seraphim speaks to us from almost
twenty years ago, and yet his words are quite relevant to our times
as we approach the end of the second millennium.  Although some of the individual examples he gives are now dated, there are now even more extreme examples of the same phenomena of which he speaks.  As always, he humbles his understanding before the holy Scriptures and their interpretation by the Orthodox Holy Fathers, and thus his teaching about the times remains timeless, free of the intellectual fashions and prejudices of this world.  As time goes on, the Orthodox world-view from which he received his wisdom will become ever more necessary for the spiritual survival of true Christians. 
 

bl_seraphim3

 

1. WHY STUDY THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES?

THE SUBJECT of this talk is watching for the signs of the times.  First of all, we have to know what it is meant by the phrase “signs of the times.”  This expression comes straight from the Gospel, from the words of our Saviour in Matthew 16:3.  Christ tells the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to Him, “Ye can discern the face of the sky,” that is, tell what the weather will be; “but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”  In other words, He’s telling them that this has nothing to do with science, or with knowing our place in the world, or anything of the sort.  It’s a religious question.  We study the signs of the times in order to be able to recognize Christ.
    During the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not study the signs of the times in order to see that Christ had come, that the Son of God was already on earth.  There were already signs that they should have recognized.  For example, in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, there is a prophecy concerning the seventy weeks of years, which means that the Messiah was to come about 490 years from the time of Daniel.  Those Jews who read their books very carefully knew exactly what this was all about, and at about the time that Christ came they knew that it was time for the messiah.
    But this is an outward sign.  More importantly, the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been watching for the inward signs.  If their hearts had been right with God, and if they had not been merely trying to fulfill the outward commandment of the law, their hearts would have responded and recognized God in the flesh when He came.  And many of the Jews did—the apostles, the disciples, and many others.
    This same passage in the 16th chapter of St. Matthew speaks further about signs.  Our Lord told the Jews, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah.”  The events of the Old Testament contain prefigurations of events in the New Testament.  When Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, this was a prefiguation of our Lord’s being three days in the tomb.  And this sign—the sign of Jonah-was given to the people of Christ’s time.
    Our Lord was telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that an evil and adulterous generation seeks for spectacular events, that is, fire coming down from heaven, or the Romans being chased away, angels manifesting themselves and banishing the foreign government of the Romans, and things of that sort.  Christ told them this kind of sign would not be given.  An evil and adulterous generation seeks after this, but those who are pure of heart seek rather something more spiritual.  And the one sign that is given to them is the sign of Jonah.  Of course, it is a great thing that a man should be three days in the grave and the rise up, being God.
    Thus, from our Savior’s words, we know that we are not to watch for spectacular signs, but we are rather to look inwardly for spiritual signs.  Also, we are to watch for those things which according to Scripture must come to pass.

2. THE SIGNS GIVEN To US BY CHRIST

    We Orthodox Christians have already recognized and accepted the signs of Christ’s First Coming.  The very fact that we’re Orthodox Christians means that we’ve done this.  We know what these signs mean: for example, the sign of Jonah, the 490 years of Daniel, and many other things which our Lord fulfilled.  Our Orthodox Divine services are filled with Old Testament prophecies which were fulfilled in the coming of Christ.  These we all see and recognize—it all seems clear.  But now we have to look for different kinds of signs, that is, the signs of the Second Coming of Christ.  The whole teaching about the Second Coming of Christ and the signs which will precede it is set forth in several places in the Gospels, especially in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew.  St. Mark and St. Luke also have chapters about this.
    This chapter of St. Matthew tells of how our Lord departed from the
Temple, and how his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the Temple.  Of course, in those days the Temple was the center of worship.  Every Jew had to come to the Temple
at least at Pascha, the Passover, for this alone was where God could be worshipped in the right way.
    Our Lord looked at the
Temple and told His disciples, “See ye not all these things?  Verily I say unto you:  There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  To tell a believing Jew at that time that the whole Temple is to be thrown down, that nothing is to be left of it, is like saying it’s the end of the world, because the Temple is precisely the place where God is supposed to be worshipped.  How are you going to worship God if there’s no Temple
?  So these words of our Savior made the disciples start thinking about the end of the world.  They immediately said, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?”  In other words, they already knew that He was going to come again and that this would be bound up with the end of the world.
    Then our Lord gives a whole set of signs which are to come to pass before He comes again.  First of all He says, “Take heed that no man lead you astray.  For many shall come in My name saying, ‘I am Christ’; and shall lead man astray.”  That is, many false Christs will come.  This we’ve already seen throughout the history of the Church: those who have risen up against the Church, those who have pretended to be God, pretended to be Christ.
    Secondly, in the next verse He says, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.  Se that ye be not troubled, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”  Of course, from the very beginning of the Christian era there have been wars and rumors of wars, and even more so in our time.  “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquake in diverse places.”  Again, wars, then famines, earthquakes.  And He says, “All these things are the beginning of tribulation.”
    Then comes the next sign, which is persecutions.  “Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake.”  So, first we have false Christs, then wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions—and then a very important sign for our times concerning the growing cold of love:  “Because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of many shall wax cold.”  This is the most deadly of all the signs, because the sign of Christians, as
St. John
the Theologian tells us, is that they have love for each other.  When this love grows cold, this means that even the Christians are beginning to lose Christianity.
    Then another sign, in the next verse of the 24th chapter:  “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nation, and then shall the end come.”  This sign of the Gospel being preached unto all the nations we see about us now.  The Gospel itself is produced in hundreds of languages now to almost all the tribes of the earth, and Orthodox Christianity is being preached in almost every country of the world.  In
Africa there are great missions:  in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the Congo
, and spreading out from there.
    The a more difficult place:  our Lord speaks concerning the abomination of desolation which is spoke of by Daniel the prophet.  “When you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand).”  That is, you’re supposed to understand this from something else.  This is another sign.  It is concerned, of course, with the
Temple in Jerusalem
and some kind of desecration of it.
    Then, in the 21st verse, there is the sign of great tribulation:  “Then shall be great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be.”  That is, it will be the worst and most difficult time of suffering in the whole history of the world.  You can read history books and find that there have been many times in the history of the world when there was great suffering.  If you read about what happened to the Jews when
Jerusalem
was taken after the death of Christ, you will find that such suffering as went on then was unparalleled.  In other places there has been almost as much suffering.  And yet the great tribulation at the very end will be much worse.  Of course, it will be worldwide and involve everyone, not just one people, and will be something of a very impressive character.  It will be called “such tribulation that the world has never seen.”
    Just after this time, something even worse begins to come.  Verse 29 reads:  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”  Such an event, of course, has never been before, and this obviously refers to the time just at the end of the world, when the whole of creation prepares to be annihilated in order to be refashioned.
    Finally, the next verse:  “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,”  that is, the sign of the Cross will appear in the sky.  “And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  That is, the very coming of Christ shall be in the heavens with the sign of the Cross—and that is the very end of everything.
    After telling all this about the signs of the end, our Lord gives a final command, saying,  “Watch, therefore, for you know not on what day your Lord cometh….  Therefore, be also ready, for in an hour that you think not, the Son of Man cometh.”
    All this is in the 24th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew.  But all this, for anyone not thoroughly acquainted with Scriptures and the writings of Holy Fathers, almost raises more question than it solves.  We must understand what is the meaning of all these prophecies.  How can we know when they are really being fulfilled?  And how can we avoid false interpretations?—because there are many false Christs, false prophets, false prophecies, false interpretations.  How can we know what is the true interpretation and what are the true signs of the times?  IF you look about you and go to any religious bookstore, you will see shelves containing many books of commentaries on the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse), books with interpretations about the coming end of the world.  In fact many Christians who are not Orthodox have a very definite feeling that these are the last times, but they all give interpretations based upon their own opinions.

3. THE BASIS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS

The first thing we must have if we are going to have the true interpretation of the signs of the times is something we can call basic Orthodox knowledge. That is, knowledge of the Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments (and not just according to the way it seems, but according to the way the Church has interpreted it); knowledge of the writings of Holy Fathers; knowledge of Church history; and awareness of the different kind of heresies and errors which have attacked the Church’s true understanding of dogma and especially of the last times. If we do not have a grounding in sources such as these, we will find ourselves confused and unprepared. That is precisely what our Lord tells us: to be ready, to be prepared. Unless we have this basic knowledge, we will not be prepared and we will misinterpret the signs of the times.
A few years ago a book was printed in English which has become a fantastic bestseller for a religious book. It has sold over ten million copies in
America. It’s called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, a Protestant Evangelical in Texas. In a rather superficial style he gives his interpretation of the signs of the times. He believes it’s the last times we are living in now. He believes that everywhere around us there are being fulfilled these signs which our Lord talked about. If you read this book, you find that sometimes he gets something more or less correct according to our Orthodox understanding, sometimes he is totally off, and sometimes he is partly wrong, partly right. It’s as though he’s just guessing, because he reads the Scripture according to his own understanding. He has no basic Orthodox Christian knowledge, no background in the true knowledge of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. Therefore, if you read this book seriously, you will find that you become very confused. You don’t know what to believe any more. He talks, for example, about a millennium which is supposed to come before the end of the world. He talks about the rapture, when Christians are supposedly gathered up into the heavens before the end of the world, and then watch how the people suffer down below.  He talks about the building of the Temple in Jerusalem
as though this is a good thing, as thought this is preparing for Christ’s coming.
    If you read such books as this (there are many other books like it; this one happens to be a bestseller because the author caught the imagination of people just at one particular time), and if you take them all as truth, you will find that instead of recognizing Christ—which is the whole reason for our understanding about the signs of the times—you will be accepting Antichrist.
    Take, for example, the very question of the
Temple in Jerusalem.  It is true, according to Orthodox prophecies, that the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  If you look at people like Hal Lindsey, or even the Fundamentalist Carl McIntire, they are also talking about the building of the Temple, but they’re talking about it as though we are building it in order for Christ to come back and reign over the world for a thousand years.  What they are talking about is the coming of Antichrist.  The millennium, according to the Protestant interpretation, as being a special thousand-year reign at the end of the world, is actually the reign of Antichrist.  In fact, there have already been people who have arisen and proclaimed their thousand-year kingdom which is going to last until the end of the world.  The last one was Adolf Hitler.  This is based upon the same kind of chiliastic idea: that is, interpreting the millennium in a worldly sense.  The actual thousand years of the Apocalypse is the life in the Church which is now, that is, the life of Grace; and anyone who lives it sees that, compared to the people outside, it is indeed heaven on earth.  But this is not the end.  This is our preparation for the true kingdom of God
which has no end.
    There are many books of basic Orthodox knowledge now available.  Those who are seriously concerned about studying the signs of the times should first be very well versed in some of these books, and they should be reading them, seriously studying them, and having them as daily food.  The best books to read are not someone’s interpretation of Revelation (the Book of Apocalypse), because right now there’s not really any Orthodox interpretation of this in English.2
    The best books are the basic spiritual textbooks.  First of all there are basic texts of Orthodox dogmas, the various catechisms.  One of the best is the eighth-century work of
St. John
Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, which goes through the whole of the catechism.  An even earlier one is St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, that is, lectures prepared for people about to be baptized, which goes through the whole Creed and tells what the Church believes.  There are many similar books of catechism, both in ancient times and in more modern times.  More recently we have the catechisms in Russian of Metropolitan Platon and Metropolitan Philaret, which are a little shorter and simpler.
    Then there is a different kind of book: commentaries on Holy Scriptures.  There are not too many of these in English,3 but we do have some of the commentaries of
St. John
Chrysostom.  This area is a little bit weak in English, because there are many good books in Russian which are not in English yet, including more recent books of commentaries on the Scriptures, even on the Apocalypse.  Archbishop Averky’s books are very good, but they’re just being put into English now.  God willing, before too long, they will be out.4
    Then, besides these two kinds of books—basic catechism and commentaries on Scripture—there are all the books on Orthodox spiritual life.  These include the Lausiac History (which tells about how the monks lived in Egypt, and how they fought spiritually), the Dialogues of St. Gregory of Rome, the Lives of Saints, The Ladder of St. John, the Homilies of St. Macarius the Great, the books of St. John Cassian, the Philokalia, Unseen Warfare and St. John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ.  These books deal with basic Orthodox spiritual life, spiritual struggle, how to discern the wiles of the demons, how not to fall into deception.  All of them give a basic foundation by which to understand the signs of the times.
    Then there are the works of more recent writers who are in the same patristic spirit as the ancient Holy Fathers.  The main examples are the two great writers of 19th-century
Russia
, Bishop Theophan the Recluse and Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov,5 whose works are now coming out gradually in English.  Bishop Ignatius’ book The Arena and various articles by Bishop Theophan are in English.6  These two writers are very important because they transmit the patristic teaching down to our times.  They have already explained many questions which arise concerning how to understand the Holy Fathers.  For example, the new Orthodox Word has a whole text of Bishop Ignatius on the toll-houses which the soul meets after death.  Sometimes, in reading the Holy Fathers, one has questions on such subjects and doesn’t quite know how to understand what the ancient Fathers say, and these more recent Father explain these texts.
    There are the histories of the Church, which tell of God’s revelation to men and how God acts with regard to men.  It is very instructive to read the stories of the Old Testament, because exactly the same things repeat themselves in the New Testament.  Then one should read, along with he New Testament, the histories of the
New Testament Church
.  For example, there’s a pocketbook of Eusebius’ History of the Church, which traces the history of the Church down through the first three centuries, written from an Orthodox Christian point of view.7  It’s very important to see what early Church writers saw was important in the history of the Church: the martyrs, the apostles, and so forth.
    So all these different kinds of writings help to prepare us with basic Christian knowledge, that is, catechisms, commentaries on Scripture, books on spiritual life, more recent patristic books in this same spirit, and histories of the Church.  Before we do too much reading about what specifically the signs of the times mean, we should have a basic background in all of these categories of books.  All of them prepare one to understand something about the signs of the times.  Once one has begun to prepare oneself like this, it is not merely a matter of adding knowledge up in one’s head and being able to repeat by heart certain phrases, to have exactly the right interpretation of a Bible verse, or anything of the sort.

frseraphimincoffinmystery02

(Blessed Seraphim surrounded by a violet light, seen even more distinctly in this photograph. This light remains a mystery. September, 1982)

4. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT

    The most important thing that one acquires through reading such basic Orthodox literature as this is a virtue which is called discernment.  When we come to two phenomena which seem to be exactly alike or very similar to each other, the virtue of discernment allows us to see which of them is true and which is false: that is, which has the spirit of Christ and which might have the spirit of Antichrist.
    The very nature of Antichrist, who is to be the last great world ruler and the last great opponent of Christ, is to be anti-Christ—and “anti” means not merely “against,” but also “in imitation of, in place of.”  The Antichrist, as all the Holy Fathers say in their writings about him, is to be someone who imitates Christ, that is, tires to fool people by looking as though he is Christ come back to earth.  Therefore, if one has a very vague notion of Christianity or reads the Scriptures purely from one’s own opinions (and one’s opinions come from the air, and the air is not Christian now, but anti-Christian), then one will come to very anti-Christian conclusions.  Seeing the figure of Antichrist, one will be fooled into thinking that it is Christ.
    We can give a few examples of how the virtue of discernment can help us to understand some fairly complicated phenomena.  One such phenomenon is the charismatic movement.  There is a Greek priest, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou in
Indiana, who is spreading this movement in the Orthodox Church.  He has a rather large number of followers and sympathizers.  He’s even been to Greece
and is going again soon, and there too people are sometimes quite overwhelmed by him.
    One can see that part of the reason for his success is that he comes from an Orthodox church atmosphere in which people, being born Orthodox, go to Orthodox church, receive sacraments, and take the whole thing for granted.  Since it becomes with them a matter of habit, they do not understand that the whole meaning of the Church is to have Christ in the heart, but that one can go through the whole of Orthodox Church life without having one’s heart awakened.  In that case, one is just like the pagans.  In fact, one is more responsible than the pagans.  The pagans have never heard of Christ, while the person who is Orthodox and does not know what spiritual life is simply has not yet awakened to Christ.
    This is the kind of atmosphere from which Fr. Eusebius comes.  Seeing that this is a spiritual deadness—and it’s quite true that much of what is in the Orthodox Church is spiritually dead—he wants to make it come to life.  But the trouble is that he himself belongs to the same spirit.  In fact, you very seldom see that he reads the basic Orthodox books.  He picks one or two that seem to agree with his point of view, but he does not have a thorough grounding in the Orthodox sources.  He doe snot think that they are the most important things to be reading.
    If you look deeply at what he and other people in the charismatic movement are saying—and our book The Religion of the Future goes into detail on this subject—you see that what they call a spiritual revival and a spiritual life is actually what more recent Fathers like Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov carefully described as deception, that is, a kind of fever of the blood which makes it look as though one is being spiritual when actually one is not even grasping spiritual reality at all.  In fact, it’s as different from true Christian life, which is reflected in these very basic Orthodox books, as heaven is from earth.
    Quite apart from the details of how they pray and what kind of phenomena manifest themselves at their services, you can see that the very basic idea which Fr. Eusebius and these charismatics have is a false idea.  Yesterday we received an issue of Fr. Eusebius’ magazine, Logos.  There he talks about the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last times preparing for the coming of Christ.  All Christians are supposed to be renewed, to receive the Holy Spirit, to be speaking in tongues.  This prepares for the coming of Christ, and there will be a great spiritual outpouring before Christ comes.
    If you read the Scriptures carefully, without putting your prejudices into them, even without the patristic commentaries you will see that nowhere is anything said about a great spiritual outpouring at the end of the world.  Christ Himself says the contrary.  First he gives His teaching concerning how we should pray and have faith and not be faint.  He presents the example of the woman who goes to the judge and keeps begging him to intercede in her case, and He tells us that this is how we should continue to pray and pray and pray until God hears us and gives to us.  This is a very solid example about praying.  Then He says, “Nevertheless” (that is, despite the fact that I’ve given you this teaching and this is the way to pray), “nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  In other words, despite the fact you’ve been given all this, there will be practically no one left who is a Christian at the end of the world.  “Will He find faith on the earth?” means He will find almost no one left.  There will not be flocks of people who are praying and inspired with the Holy Spirit at the end of time.  All Holy Fathers who speak about this subject speak about the great terrible times at the end, and say that those who are true Christians will be hidden away and will not even be visible to the world.  Those who are visible to the world will not be the true Christians.
    Today there are tremendous charismatic revivals at
Notre Dame University, and in Jerusalem
there is every year now a charismatic conference on the Holy Spirit.  Sixty, seventy thousand people come together and pray and raise up their hands, and they all speak in tongues.  It looks as though the time of the Apostles has come back, but if you look at what goes on there, you see it’s not the right spirit; it’s a different spirit.
    Therefore, when Fr. Eusebius speaks about St. Symeon the New Theologian, and about how you must know Who the Holy Spirit is and receive Him consciously, this is fine, this is good teaching—but if you have the wrong spirit, that teaching does not apply.  And this is not the right spirit.  There are many signs evident that it is a different spirit and not the Spirit of God.
    Here is one case where, if you have discernment from basic Christian knowledge, you can look at a phenomenon which claims to be apostolic and just like the times of the early Church preparing for Christ’s Second Coming, and if you look closely you can see it is not the same thing.  In fact, if anything, it’s just like those who want to build the
Temple
for Christ.  They’re building for Antichrist; it’s totally the opposite.
    Again, you can see how discernment enables us to evaluate other phenomena which may not be identical with Orthodox phenomenon, but are new things.  When you first look at them, you wonder what they are all about.  This is characteristic of intellectual fashions: something gets into the air, everybody grabs it because the times are ripe for it, and then everybody begins to talk about it and it becomes the fashion of the times.  Nobody quite knows how; it’s just that everybody was ready for it, and all of a sudden somebody mentioned it and it began to circulate everywhere.

5. THE DISTORTION OF CHRISTIAN EQUALITY

    We have one particular idea right now that’s taking possession of people: the so-called idea of women’s liberation.  This takes the form of women priestesses in the Anglican Church, and also in the Catholic Church, which is preparing for it now.
    Of course, if you look at this seriously, sit down and think about it, and you read what
St. Paul
says about women and so forth, you have no problems.  It’s all very clear that this is some kind of crazy new idea.  But it is also very interesting to look at this more deeply and see where it comes from—why is there such an idea, what is it, what’s behind it?—because if you understand the strategy of the devil, you’re a little better equipped to fight against it.
    This particular idea of women’s liberation can be traced back at least two hundred years.  Of course, you can go back even before that, but its present from goes back at least two hundred years, to the forerunners of Karl Marx, the early Socialists.  These Socialists were talking about a great new utopian age which is going to come when all the distinctions of class and race and religion and so forth are abolished.  There will be a great new society, they said, when everybody is equal.  This idea, of course, was based originally upon Christianity, but it distorted Christianity, and amounted to its opposite.
    There was a particular philosopher in
China in the late nineteenth century who brought this philosophy to its logical conclusion, as far as it could go.  His name is K’ang Yu-Wei (1858-1927).  He’s not particularly interesting except as he incarnates this philosophy of the age, this spirit of the times.  He was actually one of the forerunners of Mao Tse-Tung and the takeover of China
by the communists.  He based his ideas not only on distorted Christianity, which he took from the liberals and Protestants in the West, but also on Buddhist ideas.  He came up with the idea of a utopia which was to come into being, I think, in the 21st century according to his prophecies.  In this utopia, all ranks of society, all religious differences, and all other kinds of differences which affect social intercourse will be abolished.  Everyone will sleep in dormitories and eat in common halls.  And then with his Buddhist ideas he began to go beyond this.  He said that all distinctions between the sexes would be abolished.  Once mankind is united, there’s not reason to halt there—this movement must go on further.  There must be an abolition between man and animals.  Animals also will come into this kingdom, and once you have animals…  The Buddhists are also very respectful to vegetables and plants; therefore, the whole vegetable kingdom has to come into this paradise, and in the end the inanimate world, also.  So, at the very end of t he world, where will be an absolute utopia of all kinds of beings who have somehow become intermingled with each other, and everybody’s absolutely equal.
    Of course, you read about this and you say the man must be crazy.  But if you look deeply, you see that this is coming from a deep desire to have some kind of happiness on earth.  No pagan philosophy, however, gives happiness; no man-made philosophy gives happiness.  Only Christianity gives hope for a kingdom which is not of this world.  The idea to have a perfect kingdom comes from Christianity, but since the early Socialists did not believe in the other world or in God, they dreamed of making this kingdom in this world.  That is what communism is all about.
    We see what happens, of course, when this idea is put into practice.  You have the experiment of the French Revolution, which had apparently good ideas—liberty, equality, fraternity—or the Bolshevik Revolution, or in more recent times the various other communist revolutions.  Last of all you have
Cambodia
, a poor little country which for three years suffered absolute communism and found that at least one-fourth of its population was exterminated because it didn’t fit.  Everyone who had more than a high-school education had to be eliminated, everyone who thought for himself, and so forth.  Now the regime has been overthrown by people who are a little less ruthless, but there’s nothing much to cheer about.
    This shows that once you try to put these ideas into operation, you get, not paradise on earth, but more like hell on earth.  In fact, the whole experiment in
Russia for the last sixty years has been a proof of this, that there is no paradise on earth, except in the Church of Christ, with sufferings.8  Our Lord prophesied that already in this life we would receive back a hundredfold what we give, but it must be with persecutions and sufferings.  Those who wish to have this happiness on earth without suffering and persecutions, and without even believing in God, make hell on earth.

6. “CHRISTIAN” INTEREST IN UFOS

    A second example of a new phenomenon, which at first sight one doesn’t know what to make of, is the now very common phenomenon of UFOs, flying saucers.
    There is a particular Protestant evangelist, the above-mentioned Carl McIntire, who is extremely strict and righteous and very Bible-believing.  He has a radio program, the Twentieth-Century Reformation, and a newspaper.  He is absolutely upright—you have to separate from all people who are in apostasy—and his ideas are very nice.  He’s anti-communist.  He calls Billy Graham an apostate, together with everyone who deviates from the strict line of what he thinks is right.  From this point of view he’s very strict, and yet you see the strangest things i his philosophy.  For example, he’s building himself the
Temple of Jerusalem, in Florida.  He has a model of the Temple, and he wants to build it so as to make it compete with Disneyworld.  People will come and pay to see the great Temple
which is soon going to be built for Christ to come to earth.  This is supposed to provide a good opportunity to witness Christianity.
    He goes in for the flying saucers, also.  In every issue of his newspaper there’s a little column called “UFO Column,” and there they talk, to one’s great astonishment, about all the wonderful, positive things which these flying saucers are doing.  The give conferences and make movies about them.
    Just recently there have been several Protestant books about UFOs, showing quite clearly that they’re demons.  The person who writes the column in this newspaper got upset about this, and said that some people say that these beings are demons, but we can prove they aren’t.  He says that maybe a couple of them are demons, but most of them aren’t.  He cites a recent case in which some family in the
Midwest
saw a flying saucer.  The flying saucer came down, landed, and the family saw inside little men—they’re usually four and half feet tall or so—and they sang “Hallelujah.”  They stopped and looked and then they flew away; I guess they didn’t talk to them any more.  And that set the family to thinking; they began to think “Hallelujah”; they began to think about Christianity; they looked in their Bibles, and they finally ended up going to a Fundamentalist church and being converted to Christianity.  Therefore, he says, these beings must be some kind of people who are helping God’s plan to make the world Christian because they said “Hallelujah.”
    Of course, if you read Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, you will know about all the deceptions which the demons perpetrate: the demons “pray” for you, the demons make miracles, they produce the most wonderful phenomena, they bring people to church, they do anything you want, as long as they keep you in this deception.  And when the time comes, they will suddenly pull their tricks on you.  So these people, who have been converted to some kind of Christianity by these so-called outer-space beings, are waiting for the next time they will come; and the next time their message may have to do with Christ coming to earth again soon, or something of the sort.  It’s obvious that this is all the work of demons.  That is, where it’s real.  Sometimes it’s just imagination, but when it’s real this kind of thing obviously comes form demons.
    This is very elementary.  If you read any text of the early Fathers, any of the early Lives of Saints or the Lausiac History, you find many cases where beings suddenly appear.  Nowadays they appear in spaceships because that’s how the demons have adapted themselves to the people of the times; but if you understand how spiritual deception works and what kind of wiles the devil has, then you have no problems in understanding what’s going on with these flying saucers.  And yet this person who writes the UFO column is an absolutely strict Fundamentalist Christian.  He is looking, actually for new revelations to come from beings from outer space.

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7. WHY WE MUST HAVE AN ORTHODOX WORLD-VIEW

    So, to repeat the first point: we watch the signs of the times in order to recognize Christ when He comes, because there have been many false Christs, many more false Christs will come, and at the very end of the world there will finally come one who is called Antichrist.  The Antichrist will unite all those who are deceived into thinking he is Christ, and this will include all those whose interpretation of Christianity has gone off.  Often you can look at some people who confess Christianity, and it seems that many of their ideas are correct—they go according to the Bible.  Then you look here and there, and you see that here’s a mistake, there’s a mistake.
    Just recently Fr. Dimitry Dudko, in the little newspaper he puts out, said there came t him someone who claimed to be Christian.  As he began to talk to him, he began to feel that this person wasn’t Orthodox, and he said, “What confession are you?” “Oh, that’s not important.  We’re all Christians.  The only important thing is that we be Christians.”  He said, “Well, no, no, we have to be more precise than than that.  For example, if you’re a Baptist and I’m an Orthodox, I believe that we have the Lord’s Body and Blood, and you don’t.”  We must be precise because there are many differences.  It’s good to have the attitude: I have respect for you, and I won’t interfere with your faith, but nonetheless there’s a true way of believing and there are ways which go away from the truth.  I must be according to the truth.
    In the same way we can see that many people who ae not Orthodox have many good things about them, and then they go off in some respect.  In the end it’s up to God to judge, not to us.  But we can see what will happen if all these little ways people go off now are projected into the last times, if people still believe that way when the last times come.  These mistakes cause people, when they see Antichrist, to think that he is Christ.  There are very many sects now which believe that Christ is coming to rule for a thousand years form the
Temple in Jerusalem.  Therefore, when the Jews start building the Temple, these sects will only rejoice because, to them, this is the sign of Christ’s coming.  On the contrary, we know that this isn’t he sign of the Antichrist coming, because Christ will no more come ot the Temple.  The Temple has been destroyed.  Christ comes only at the end of the world to begin the eternal kingdom of heaven.  The only one who will come to the Temple
is Antichrist.
    So, this is why the correct Orthodox Christian understanding and preparation based upon this understanding are absolutely necessary.  The closer we get to the very last times, the more indispensable this understanding and preparation are.

8. A LOOK AT SPECIFIC SIGNS

    Now let us look for just a moment at some of the signs in our times that the Second Coming of Christ, preceded by the coming of Antichrist, is close.  Concerning the prophecies set forth in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew—first of all, the false christs who will come, then the wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions—it is difficult to judge, because all these things have been happening for almost two thousand years now.  It’s true that they are now an a bigger scale than ever before, but it is also true that they can be much worse yet.  These signs are the beginning of signs, and are not yet so severe that we can say we are right in the very last days.
    One sign, however , is very interesting and very indicative of our times, that that is that Christ is now depicted on the stage.  In previous times it was never allowed that Christ should be depicted on the stage, because an actor gives his own human interpretation, and Christ is God.  In Orthodoxy there is perhaps no particular canon about this, but the whole Orthodox Christian outlook is against it; and nay Protestant or Catholic until t he last few years would have been horrified at the idea of some actor playing the part of Christ.  Now this has become common, and not only in religious contexts, but in contexts which are far from religious.  Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and so forth: all these are actually blasphemous parodies which present Christ in secular form for people to see.9  This is very symptomatic of our times because it presents even to unbelieving people an image of Christ so that when Antichrist comes they will say, “Aha, I saw on the stage something like that.  Yes, that must be it.”

9. THE GROWING COLD OF LOVE

    Another very symptomatic sign of our times is the next one mentioned in this chapter of Matthew: that the love of many grows cold.  This seems to be a definite characteristic of our times, to a quite greater degree than at any time in past history.  One can see this in what can be called nihilism.  People commit crimes for no particular reason, not for gain but just for a thrill because they do not have God inside them.  In all kinds of places now, one can see the lack of normal human relationships in families, which produces cold people.  It is this kind of people who, in a totalitarian society, are used as slave drives, working in the concentration camps and so forth.
    Recently we had the tragedy in Jonestown, which was composed of American citizens.  The people there were idealists who devoted themselves utterly to a cause.  Although it’s come out now that it was actually a communist commune, still the people were supposed to be Christians.  The leader was a minister of the so-called
Church of Christ
, one of the mainline denominations.  And yet these people, supposedly having some awareness of God and Christianity, coldly killed each other.  Those who drank and administered the poison to their children did so with calm faces.  There’s no problem: that’s just your duty, that’s what you’re told to do.  This kind of coldness is what Christ is talking about.  Any kind of normal human warmth has been abolished because Christ has gone out of the heart; God is gone.  This is a frightful sign of our times.  In fact, they very thing that happened in Jonestown is a warning because it looks as though much worse things are going to come.  This is satan’s work, quite obviously.
    Just a year or two before that occurred, we heard of what happened in
Cambodia
.  A small party of men—some ten or twenty altogether—took a whole country in their hands and killed off at least two million people quite ruthlessly, based on some abstract ideas.  We’re going to get back to the country, they said; therefore, everybody is to leave the cities.  If you can’t leave the city, you die.  People in the hospitals had to go from their operating tables, and if they couldn’t go, they died—they were shot and left in a ditch.  Corpses were piled up in the cities—it was frightful.
    This was the same kind of thing as what occurred in Jonestown: coldness based upon the idea—which looks idealistic—of brining communism to earth.  It turns out that Dostoyevsky was right.  In his book The Possessed, written in the 1870s, there was a Russian character named Shigalov, a theoretician, who had an absolute theory of how communism could come to earth.  He believed that the ideal state upon earth will be true communism.  Unfortunately, he said, in order to make sixty million people happy, you have to kill a hundred million people.  But those sixty million people will be happier than anyone else has ever been happy, and the hundred million people will be like fertilizer for the future world paradise.  It so happens that in Russia there have been exactly a hundred million people missing since 1917, of which at least sixty million were killed by the Soviets themselves.
    So this sign is very, very present in our times: that love grows cold.  This occurs among Christians also, not just in the world at large.
    Then another sign, which in our times has reached greater dimensions than every before, is that the Gospel is being preached in the whole world.  This, of course, is true in that the very text of the Gospel is being spread in almost all the languages which are spoken on the earth now—at least a thousand languages, I think.  Moreover, the Orthodox Gospel is being preached all over
Africa now.  We send our magazines to Uganda and Kenya, and receive letters back—very touching letters from young African boys who are converts to Orthodoxy.  They have the utmost respect for their bishop; they go to seminary.  It’s obvious that a very Orthodox feeling is being given to these people in Africa.  They are very simple people.  Orthodoxy does not have to be complicated if there are very simple people to preach the Gospel to.  It’s only when others come in to challenge it and to say that the Scripture means something else, trying to give over-literal interpretation which mean doing away with priests and bishops, etc., that the people begin to get mixed up.  If they’re preached the Orthodox Gospel, simple people respond now in the same way that they’ve always responded in the past.  The problem is, rather, with complicated people.

10. THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM

    Then there is the sign of the abomination of desolation and all that relates to the Temple in Jerusalem.  For the first time in history, this has now become a possibility.  The rebuilding of the Temple was tried only once before, in the fourth century.  Knowing about this is a very good example of how reading Church history enlightens one.  We can find several sources about it from the fourth century: St. Cyril mentions it, as do several of the Church historians at that time.  Julian the Apostate, because he had such a passion to overthrow Christianity, decided that, since Christ had prophesied that not one stone of the Temple would be left on the other, if he rebuilt the Temple, he would prove that Christ was an impostor, and therefore paganism could be restored.  So he deliberately invited the Jews back to Jerusalem, and they began building the Temple with the blessing of Julian the Apostate.  They would build a little in the daytime, and the next morning they would come and all the stones would be on the ground.  They tried again and balls of fire began to come out of the earth.  All the historians agree on this.  In fact, modern rationalist historians, because they see that they cannot deny the texts and that something did actually happen, begin to say things like, “They must have struck oil,” or “There were underground gas flues.”  It was obviously a miracle of God to keep the Temple from being built, because it was not the time—the Temple is to be built only at the very end of the world.  Anyway, they finally failed in their attempt and gave up the operation.  Of the few stones that remained, not one was left on the other.  So the prophecy was fulfilled in the time of Julian the Apostate.
    But now, since 1967, the site where the
Temple was before is now in the hands of the Jews.  Therefore for the first time, it becomes quite possible that the Temple
could be built.  The only thing interfering is the great mosque which the Moslems have there.  If that’s destroyed, there will probably be a war.
    Only since 1948 has there been a separate state of Jews in the
Holy Land
.  It is to the unbelieving Jews that the Antichrist will come.  He will come first to the Jews and then to the whole world through the Jews; and only as this is happening will the faithful remnant of Jews finally be converted to Christianity in the very last times.
    So this sign of the
Temple is a very big one.  When we see the Temple being built, then we know that the time is at hand, because that is definitely one of the signs of the very end.  So far, of course, it’s not being built, but there are all kinds of rumors that plans have been laid, that stones are being gathered, etc.  It’s obvious that the Jews are thinking about it.

11. OTHER SIGNS

    Another sign is the fact that when Antichrist comes he is to be the ruler of the world, and only in our times has it been a practical reality that one man can rule the entire world.  all world empires up until now have been only over part of the earth, and before modern communications it was impossible for one man to rule the entire world.
    Furthermore, with increased communications, with atomic bombs and more advanced weapons, the possibility of a worldwide tribulation now becomes much greater than ever before.  It’s obvious that the next war will be the most destructive in the history of mankind, and probably will cause, in its first few days, more damage than all the wars in history.  Besides atomic weapons, there are various bacteriological weapons for spreading plagues among people, poisonous gases and all kinds of fantastic things which in an all-out war could come into play.
    Also, the fact that all the peoples of the world are bound up more with each other means that when some great catastrophe comes to one country—a depression, or something of the sort—then all the rest of the world will be affected.  This we already saw in the 1930s when there was a Great Depression in
America and it spread to the rest of Europe.  In the future it’s obvious that something much worse can occur.  If one country begins to starve, or if the crops fail one year in Canada, Australia, America and Russia—all those four great countries which supply what—just imagine how the whole world is going to suffer.

12. A WARNING TO THOSE ATTRACTED TO
G
LOOM AND DOOM

    All these signs of the times are very negative.  They are signs that they world is collapsing, that the end of the world is at hand and that the Antichrist is about to come.  It’s very easy to look at all these negative signs of the times and get into such a mood that we look only for negative things.  In fact, one can develop a whole personality—a negative kind of personality—based on this.  Whenever some new news item comes in, one says, “Aha, yes of course, that’s the way it is, and it’s going to get worse.”  The next one comes in and one says, “Yes, yes, it’s obvious that’s what’s going to happen, and now it’s going to be worse than that.”  Everything one looks at is seen merely as a negative fulfillment of the horrible times.
    It’s true that we have to be aware of these things and not be unduly optimistic about contemporary events, because the news in our times is seldom good.  At the same time, however, we have to keep in mind the whole purpose of our watching the signs of the times.  We watch the signs of the times not just so we can see about when Antichrist is going to come.  That’s rather a secondary thing.  We watch the signs of the times so we can know when Christ is going to come.  That is a very fundamental thing we have to keep in mind so we do not get overwhelmed by gloom, depression, or stay to ourselves, storing up food for the great calamity.  That’s not a very wise thing.  We have to be, rather, all the more Christian, that is, thinking about other people, trying to help others.  If we ourselves are cold and gloomy and pessimistic, we are participating in this coldness which is a sign of the end.  We have to ourselves be warm and helping each other out.  That’s the sign of Christianity.
    If you look at history (in fact, this is another good reason for reading Church history), you see that throughout the whole history of mankind, throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament and all the Christian kingdoms afterwards—and if you look at the pagan world, the same story—there’s a continual time of sufferings.  Where Christians are involved there are trials and persecutions, and through all of these Christians have attained the kingdom of heaven.
    Therefore, when the time of the persecutions come, we are supposed to rejoice.  There was a good little incident related in Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s little newspaper.  A woman in
Russia was put in a psychiatric clinic for making the sign of the Cross in the wrong place or for wearing a cross, or something like that.  Fr. Dimitry and his spiritual children traveled to Moscow, went tot he clinic, made an appointment and talked to the doctor, and they finally persuaded him that she shouldn’t be there.  Fr. Dimitry says, “They’re actually afraid of us, because when you press them about it, they say they haven’t really got any law by which they can keep her there.”  So finally they agreed to let her go, after she had been there for a week.  When she was there they gave her various drugs and “inoculations,” trying to break her down and get rid of her religion.  When she came out she was a little shaken up.  She sat down on a bench someplace outside the clinic and began to talk.  “You know,” she said, “when I was there and they were treating me so awful, I felt calm because I felt there was Someone there protecting me; but as soon as I got out here, all of a sudden I’m afraid.  Now I’m all upset and scared that they are going to come after me again, that the secret police are looking right around the corner.”  It’s obvious why this is so.  When you’re in conditions of persecution, Christ is with you because you’re suffering for Him.  And when you’re outside, then there’s the uncertainty of whether you might not get back into that condition.  You begin to go back to your own human understanding.  When you’re there you have nothing else to rely on, so you have to have Christ.  If you haven’t got Christ, you have nothing.  When you’re outside, you begin to calculate and to trust yourself, and then you lose Christ.

1A talk given at St. Herman’s Women’s’ conference in Redding, California, in the summer of 1980.  This talk, which has never before appeared in print, was transcribed from the tape archives of the St. Herman Brotherhood.  Fr. Seraphim gave another talk on the same subject in May of 1981, at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  That talk, entitled “Signs of the Coming of the End of the World,” is available on cassette tape.

2 Fr. Seraphim gave this talk before the publication of his translation of Archbishop Averky’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, first in The Orthodox Word, and later as a separate book.

3 Since Fr. Seraphim’s repose, Orthodox commentaries on the Scriptures by St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Theophylact the Bulgarian have been published.

4 In addition to translating the whole of Archbishop Averky’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, Fr. Seraphim translated some portions of his Commentary on the Gospels and epistles.

5 Later canonized by the Church in Russia.

6 St. Ignatius’ book On the Prayer of Jesus is also in English.  Since Fr. Seraphim’s repose, his Brotherhood has published three books by St. Theophan in English: The Spiritual Life, The Path to Salvation, and Kindling the Divine Spark.

7 Eusebius lived in the 4th century.

8 Cf. Mark 10:30.

9 The movie The Last Temptation of Christ, which came out several years after Fr. Seraphim’s repose, is more blasphemous than even these examples.

Reprinted from “The Orthodox Word” – St. Herman of Alaska Press
Vol. 34, Nos. 3-4 (200-201) May-August, 1998

 

 



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sermonthypreciouscross-by-fr-evan-of-st-spyridon-greek-orthodox-church-in-co

The Lord said:

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take 

up his cross, and follow Me” (St. Mark 8:34).

  

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    The Great Fast is a season of repentance; and repentance is that struggle to contend against sinful passions and lusts which is so difficult for man that the Lord, the Judge of the contest Himself, likened it to the bearing of a cross. We are vividly reminded of this at the very midpoint of the Great Fast, on the Sunday of the Adoration of the Cross. Just as the Lord bore the Cross for the sake of our salvation, so each of us must bear “his cross” in order to attain the salvation prepared for us by the Lord.
    Without the cross, without struggle, there can be no salvation! This is what true Christianity teaches. The teaching on struggle, on the bearing of the cross, runs like a scarlet thread through all the Sacred Scriptures and all of the history of the Church; and the lives of those holy ones who were pleasing unto God, the spiritual athletes of Christian piety, clearly bear witness to this. The Great Fast is merely an annually repeated exercise in the bearing of one’s cross in this life, an exercise in spiritual struggle inseparably bound up with the entire life of the true Christian.
    But now, in the twentieth century of the Christian era, “wise men” have appeared — “neo-Christians,” as some of them refer to themselves — who do not wish to hear of this. They preach a new sort of saccharine, sentimental, rosy-hued neo-Christian love and the unrestricted enjoyment of all the delights of this transitory earthly life. They totally ignore the innumerable passages in Holy Writ which forcefully and eloquently speak of spiritual struggles, of emulating Christ the Saviour in crucifying oneself, of the many sorrows which await the Christian in this life, beginning with the words which Christ the Saviour Himself addressed to His disciples at the Mystical Supper: “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (St. John 16:33). And this is because, as the Lord Himself explained, true Christians are not “of the world” (
St. John 15:19), since “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (I John 5:19). This is why Christians must not love this world and “the things that are in the world” (I John 2:15); “the friendship of the world is enmity with God,” and “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (St. James 4:4).
    These modern “wise men” somehow fail to see the Word of God nowhere definitely promises Christians full spiritual satisfaction and paradisical blessedness in this earthly life, but quite the contrary emphasizes that life on earth will move further and further away from the Law of God; that, in respect to morality, men will fall lower and lower (see II Timothy 3:1-5); that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Timothy
3:12-13); and that, finally, “the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up” (II Peter 3:10). But there will appear “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Peter 3:13
) — a wondrous “new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven” (Revelation 21:2), which was shown to John, the beholder of mysteries, during the revelation accorded him.
    All of this is not to the liking of the “neo-Christians.” They want blessedness here in this world, burdened with its multitude of sins and iniquities; and the await this blessedness with impatience. They consider one of the surest ways of attaining it to be the “ecumenical movement,” the union and unification of all peoples in one new “church” which will comprise not only Roman Catholics and Protestants, but also Jews, Moslems and pagans, each retaining his own convictions and errors. This imaginary “Christian” love, in the name of the future blessedness of men on earth, cannot but trample upon the Truth.
    The destruction of this earth with everything on it, although clearly foretold by the Word of God, is considered by them to be something indescribably horrible, as though it were not consistent with the omnipotence of God and, apparently, quite undesirable. They reluctantly admit the destruction of earth (for how can one not accept something prophesied in the Word of God?), but with the condition that it will take place in the far, far distant, mist-enshrouded future, not centuries, but millions of years from now.
    What is the reason for this? One might say, because they are weak of faith, or lacking entirely in faith in “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” For them everything is in this earthly life, and when it ends for them, everything does.
    In a few of its points — especially in the expectation of the blessed life in this world — such a frame of mind closely resembles the widespread heresy of the first centuries of Christianity called “chiliasm.” This is the expectation of a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth; therefore the modern manifestation of this heresy may be termed “neo-chiliasm.”

dumin_sf_cruci
    One should be aware and keep in mind that chiliasm was condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council in the year 381; and therefore to believe in it now in the twentieth century, even in part, is quite unforgivable. Besides which, this contemporary “neo-chiliasm” is far worse than the ancient chiliastic heresy in that at its basis indubitably lies a disbelief in the “life of the age to come” and the passionate desire to attain blessedness here on earth, using all the improvements and achievements of the material progress of our times. This false teaching wreaks terrible harm, lulling to sleep the spiritual vigilance of the faithful and suggesting to them that the end of the world is far away (if in fact there will be an end?), and therefore there is no particular need to “watch and pray,” to which Christ the Saviour constantly called His followers (cf. St. Matthew 26:41), since everything in the world is gradually getting better and better, spiritual progress keeping step with materialism. And the terrible phenomena which we observe at the present time are all temporary; all has happened before, and all will ultimately pass away, and an extraordinary flourishing of Christianity will replace it, in which, of course, the ecumenists will occupy the principal and honored places.
    Thus, everything is fine! It is not necessary to labor over oneself, and no spiritual struggle is required; the fasts may be abolished. Everything will get better all by itself, until the
Kingdom of God
is finally established on earth with universal earthly satisfaction and blessedness.
    Brethren! Is it not clear where the ultimate source of this alluring false teaching is found? Who suggests all these thoughts to contemporary Christians with the purpose of overthrowing all of Christianity? As an infectious plague, as fire, must we fear this “neo-chiliasm” which is so profoundly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and all of the centuries-old teachings of our
Holy Church
, by which many, many thousands of the righteous have been saved.
    Without spiritual struggle there is not, and cannot be true Christianity! Therefore, our path does not lie with all the modern movements, nor with ecumenists, nor with the new-chiliasts.
    Our faith is the faith of the holy ascetics, “the apostolic faith, the faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox Faith” which, “hath made the whole world steadfast” (from the service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy). This faith and only this faith will we firmly adhere to in these evil days in which we now live. Amen.

By Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

 

 

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Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness

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 (by Metropolitan JONAH, Archbishop of Washington and New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada)
 

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

Do not resent. Do not react. Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.

Do Not Resent 

When we look at all the inner clutter that is in our lives, hearts and souls, what do we find? We find resentments. We find remembrance of wrongs. We find self-justifications. We find these in ourselves because of pride. It is pride that makes us hold on to our justifications for our continued anger against other people. And it is hurt pride, or vainglory, which feeds our envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy lead to resentment.

Resentfulness leads to a host of problems. The more resentful we are of other people, the more depressed we become. And the more we are consumed with the desire to have what they have, which is avarice. Often we’ll then engage in the addictive use of the substance of the material world – whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or sex or some other thing – to medicate ourselves into forgetfulness and to distract ourselves from our resentments.

One of the most valuable and important things that we can thus do is look at all of the resentments that we have. And one of the best ways of accomplishing this is to make a life confession. And not just once, before we’re baptized or chrismated. In the course of our spiritual life we may make several, in order to really dig in to our past and look at these resentments that we bear against other people. This will enable us to do the difficult work that it takes to overcome these resentments through forgiveness.

What does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying the actions of somebody. For example, saying “Oh, he abused me but that’s O.K., that’s just his nature,” or “I deserved it.” No, if somebody abused you that was a sin against you. But when we hold resentments, when we hold anger and bitterness within ourselves against those who have abused us in some way, we take their abuse and we continue it against ourselves. We have to stop that cycle. Most likely that person has long gone and long forgotten us, forgotten that we even existed. But maybe not. Maybe it was a parent or someone else close, which makes the resentment all the more bitter. But for the sake of our own soul and for the sake of our own peace, we need to forgive. We should not justify the action, but we should overlook the action and see that there’s a person there who is struggling with sin. We should see that the person we have resented, the person we need to forgive, is no different than we are, that they sin just like we do and we sin just like they do.

Of course, it helps if the person whom we resent, the person who offended us or abused us in some way, asks forgiveness of us. But we can’t wait for this. And we can’t hold on to our resentments even after outwardly saying we’ve forgiven. Think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, we can’t even pray the Lord’s Prayer without condemning ourselves. It’s not that God condemns us. We condemn ourselves by refusing to forgive. We will never have peace if we don’t forgive, only resentment. It is one of the hardest things to do, and our culture does not understand it. It is to look at the person we need to forgive, and to love them – despite how they may have sinned against us. Their sin is their sin, and they have to deal with it themselves. But we sin is in our reaction against their sin.

Do Not React

So this first spiritual principle – do not resent – leads to the second. We must learn to not react. This is just a corrollary of “turn the other cheek.” When somebody says something hurtful, or somebody does something hurtful, what is it that’s being hurt? It’s our ego. Nobody can truly hurt us. They might cause some physical pain, or emotional pain. They might even kill our body. But nobody can hurt our true selves. We have to take responsibility for our own reactions. Then we can control our reactions.

There are a number of different levels to this principle. On the most blatant level, if someone hits you don’t hit them back. Turn the other cheek – that’s the Lord’s teaching. Now, this is hard enough. But there is a deeper level still. Because if somebody hits you, and you don’t hit them back – but you resent them, and you bear anger and hatred and bitterness against them, you’ve still lost. You have still sinned. You have still broken your relationship with God, because you bear that anger in your heart.

One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature. The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.

On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence. If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to contol our troubling thoughts.  Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts. Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react.

Keep Inner Stillness

The second principle, the second essential foundation of our spiritual life – do not react – leads to the third. This third principle is the practice of inner stillness. The use of the Jesus Prayer is an extremely valuable tool for this. But the Jesus Prayer is a means, not an end. It is a means for entering into deeper and deeper conscious communion. It’s a means for us to acquire and maintain the awareness of the presence of God. The prayer developed within the tradition of hesychasm, in the desert and on the Holy Mountain. But hesychasm is not only about the Jesus Prayer. It is about inner stillness and silence.

Inner stillness is not merely emptiness. It is a focus on the awareness of the presence of God in the depths of our heart. One of the essential things we have to constantly remember is that God is not out there someplace. He’s not just in the box on the altar. It may be the dwelling place of His glory. But God is everywhere. And God dwells in the depths of our hearts. When we can come to that awareness of God dwelling in the depths of our hearts, and keep our attention focused in that core, thoughts vanish.

How do we do this? In order to enter in to deep stillness, we have to have a lot of our issues resolved. We have to have a lot of our anger and bitterness and resentments resolved. We have to forgive. If we don’t we’re not going to get into stillness, because the moment we try our inner turmoil is going to come vomiting out. This is good – painful, but good. Because when we try to enter into stillness and we begin to see the darkness that is lurking in our souls, we can then begin to deal with it. It distracts us from trying to be quiet, from trying to say the Jesus Prayer, but that’s just part of the process. And it takes time.

The Fathers talk about three levels of prayer. The first level is oral prayer, where we’re saying the prayer with our lips. We may use a prayer rope, saying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or whatever form we use. The next level is mental prayer, where we’re saying the prayer in our mind. Prayer of the mind – with the Jesus Prayer, with prayer book prayers, with liturgical prayers –keeps our minds focused and helps to integrate us, so that our lips and our mind are in the same place and doing the same thing. We all know that we can be standing in church, or standing at prayer, and we may be mouthing the words with our lips but our mind is thinking about the grocery list. The second level of prayer overcomes this problem, but it is not the final level. The final level of prayer is prayer of the heart, or spiritual prayer. It is here where we encounter God, in the depths of our soul. Here we open the eye of our attention, with the intention of being present to God who is present within us. This is the key and the core of the whole process of spiritual growth and transformation.

Audio version Part I:  retreat2009_jonah_1

 

II. So how do we do this?

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 The Prayer of Stillness

            The foundation of the spiritual process is learning to keep inner silence, the prayer of stillness.  On the basis of this, we gain insight into how to stop resenting and to stop reacting.  Then the process goes deeper and deeper, rooting out our deeply buried resentments and passions, memories of hurt and sin, so that the silence penetrates our whole being.  Then we can begin to think clearly, and to attain towards purity of heart.

            Before beginning this process, it is important to have an established relationship with a spiritual guide, a father confessor or spiritual mother, to help you.  Confession is a central part of the spiritual life, and things that come up in prayer, as well as resolving resentments and other issues, are part of that.  It is also valuable to expose obsessive or sinful thoughts to your confessor.  Simply exposing them deprives them of their power.  We always need to be accompanied on the journey within.  Prayer is always a corporate action, leading to the transcendence of our individual isolation into a state of communion with God and the Other.

            The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” or some form of it, can be used as a vehicle to help us bring our attention into a prayerful state.  The Jesus Prayer states the intention of our prayer, and we use it first verbally and then mentally until it goes beyond word and thought and becomes pure intention in deep silence.

            A prayer rope is very helpful to get started, not so much as to count prayers, but to keep the physical level of attention.  We say one prayer on each knot, going round and round the rope, until our attention is focused in prayer.  Then we can stop moving around the rope, and be still.  The rope is not important in and of itself; one can pray just as well without it.  It is an aid.   Another aid is to follow your breath.  What is important is not to get caught up in technique, but to pray. 

            The Prayer can be said standing, kneeling or sitting.  If one is ill, lying down is acceptable; but it is hard to preserve focused attention while lying down.  Prayer is not relaxation.  It may relax you, but that is not the point.  Posture is important to help keep your attention focused.  If you’re sitting, it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders back.  One can also be prostrate on the ground, but it takes practice to let go of the physical distractions.

            In beginning to pray, remember that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.”  In prayer, you make yourself present to God.  Open your mind and heart, your awareness of God, so that the sense of God’s Presence fills your consciousness.  At first, we may not have a sense of God’s Presence.  But the more disciplined our practice of prayer, the more that conscious awareness of God will fill our mind and heart.  This is not an image, a thought “that” God is present (though this is a place to start), or a feeling or physical sensation.  It is simply an awareness.  This is the beginning of spiritual consciousness, where our awareness moves from the head to the heart, and from God as an object to a sense of being rapt in God’s Presence. 

How to Enter the Prayer of Stillness

            In short, sit down and collect yourself, and remember that God is present. Say the Trisagion Prayers if you wish. Breathe in slowly and deeply a couple of times, following your breath to the center of your chest. Begin to say the Jesus Prayer quietly, slowly, until you have a sense of God’s Presence.  Then let the Jesus Prayer trail off, and go into silence.  Thoughts will come, but simply let them go by.  Don’t let them grab your attention.  But if they do, gently dismiss them and bring your focus back to God’s Presence, perhaps using the Jesus Prayer to reestablish your intention to pray.  Go deeper within yourself, below the thoughts, into the deeper stillness and awareness of Presence, and simply abide there.

            The period of prayer should start out with a few minutes, and may entirely be occupied at first with the Jesus Prayer.  Eventually, over a period of weeks or months, as you begin to master keeping your attention focused and dismissing thoughts, let it expand up to twenty or thirty minutes.  Two periods of prayer, early in the morning and early in the evening are an excellent discipline. 

Surrender and Detachment

            The Prayer of Stillness is a process of inner surrender to the Presence and activity of God within yourself.  Surrender your thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, agendas, plans, images and submit them to the Divine Presence.  This is surrender of the ego, and the enkindling of our spiritual awareness.  We stop our ego and its thoughts from distracting our attention, and permit God’s energy to work within to heal our souls.  This is a kind of active and willful passivity, so that God becomes the active partner in prayer.

            It becomes obvious that we cannot hold any kind of rancor or resentment, lust or passion, in our minds while trying to enter into silence.  In fact, all our attachments to things, people, concepts and ideas have to be surrendered during silent prayer, and thus, they are brought into perspective.  The more we connect with God in prayer, the more detached we become.  It is a necessity if we are going to progress in prayer and in communion with God.  All things that are obstacles to our living communion fall away, if we let them.  The key, of course, is to surrender them and let them go. 

The Emptying of the Subconscious

            One critically important process that occurs is the emptying of the subconscious.  After we have gotten to a point of stillness, over a period of days or weeks, we will be flooded by memories of past hurts, sins, resentments, images and sensations, and wrongs done to us.  At first, we feel like we make progress in the prayer, and it is nice and peaceful.  Then, with the flood of memories, we feel like we are going backwards.  This is progress!  It is the beginning of the process of the purification of our soul.  It is extremely unpleasant, at times, but the key is to not allow ourselves to react.   These memories have been suppressed, and are now coming to awareness so that they can be dealt with.  This purification is already the action of grace illumining your soul.

            During prayer, make a mental note of the memory or sin, and then take it to confession.  Sometimes these memories and the feelings connected with them can be overwhelming.  This is why accompaniment on the spiritual journey is so important.  You need someone who can encourage and reassure you, as well as help you resolve the issues that come to awareness, and forgive your sins.  It is extremely distressing when suppressed memories of abuse and violent emotions come up.  It can not only be confusing, but it can dominate our consciousness.  We have to deal with these issues, as they come up, in order to be purified and open ourselves to God.  This means working through forgiveness, accepting forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves and God. 

The Imagination

            Another thing that comes up is images, which play on our mind and imagination.  There are two main levels here: first, the memory images we have seen that are connected with our passions; the second, images from our imagination.  All the images we have ever seen are stored in our brain.  They range from the face of our mother from our infancy,and other joyful images, to pornographic and violent images or those who have hurt us.  These images are especially powerful if they are attached to some kind of passionate act, of lust or anger.  They can be a strong distraction from awareness of God.  What is important is to remember that these are just thoughts, memories, and we can dismiss them.  They have no power over us that we do not give them.  The task is to get beneath them, and let them go, and eventually take them to confession.

            The second level of images is what is produced by the imagination.  We quiet down, and start to pray, and go into all sorts of imaginal realms, populated by angels, demons, and any and everything else.  Many people take this as spiritual vision.  But it is not.  It is the realm of delusion, and there is nothing spiritual about it.  This is especially dangerous if one has a past with hallucinogens and other psychotropic drugs.  The task is, first, to stay with the Jesus Prayer.  Then, after much practice, go into silence and be absolutely resolute to allow no images, even of Jesus or the saints, into one’s mind during prayer.  The imagination is still part of the mind, not the spirit (nous).  Even icons are not to be contemplated in an objective sense, bringing the image into the mind.  As St John Chrysostom wrote, somewhere, When you pray before your icons, light a candle and then close your eyes!  The icon is a sacrament of the Presence.

            Spiritual work is very serious business.  If we do not work through the issues that arise in a healthy way, they can literally drive us crazy. 

It takes a deep commitment to the spiritual process, so as not to be distracted by the emptying of our subconscious, and led into despondency or despair.  The task is to persevere, and let the process take its course. This means confessing our thoughts and resolving our resentments, and receiving absolution of our sins. Eventually, it works itself through, though it may take months or years to do so.  As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said, somewhere, when it gets too heavy, sit back and have a cup of tea!  God is going to be there; it is we who have to work through our issues so we can be present to Him.

 Dealing with Resentments

            Resentment and reaction are deeply interrelated.  Resentment is an impassioned reaction, based on a judgment of a person (or the self), where our passions are ignited. Resentment is a reaction which we hold within ourselves, and allow ourselves to nurture.  It comes from and feeds off our passions, from judgment of others.  Resentment is judgment and objectification of a person according to his actions which have offended us.

The real key to resolving resentment is to realize that it is not the other person who is causing it, but that it is our own reaction.  The actions of the other person may have precipitated the reaction, his words or deeds, his sin; but the reaction to those sins, words or deeds is purely our own. 

We can only control what belongs to us; we cannot control another person.  It is our decision to allow ourselves to be possessed by our passions and reactions, or to take control over our own lives.  It is our decision to take responsibility for our own reactions, or to allow ourselves to be caught in the vicious cycle of blaming the other person, in resentment and self-righteousness.

Blame and resentment lead nowhere, except to bitterness and unhappiness.  They make us into helpless victims, which in turn robs us of the power to take responsibility for ourselves.

Resentment comes when we refuse to forgive someone, justifying ourselves by our self-righteous indignation at being hurt.  Some of these hurts can be very deep: abuse, abandonment, betrayal, rejection.  Sometimes they can be very petty.  We keep turning the hurt over and over in our minds, and refuse let it go by justifying our anger.  Then we feel justified in hating or despising the person who hurt us.  Doing this, we continue to beat ourselves up with someone else’s sin, and compound the other person’s sin by our own resentfulness.  We blind ourselves to our own sin, and focus only on the sin of the other, and in so doing, we lose all perspective.

We have to put things into perspective, and realize that the other person’s actions are only part of the equation, and that our own reaction is entirely our own sin.  To do this, we have to move towards forgiveness.

To forgive does not mean to justify the other person’s sin.  It does not mean that we absolve the other person—not hold them responsible for their sin.  Rather, we acknowledge that they have sinned and that it hurt us.  But what do we do with that hurt? If we resent, we turn it against ourselves.  But if we forgive, we accept the person for who he is, not according to his actions; we drop our judgment of the person.  We realize that he is a sinner just like me.  If I am aware of my own sins, I can never judge anyone.  We can begin to love him as we love ourselves, and excuse his falling short as we forgive ourselves.  It helps when the person who hurt us asks for forgiveness, but it is not necessary.  We must always forgive: not only because God forgave us; but also because we hurt ourselves by refusing to forgive.

Our resentments can also be extremely petty.  Sometimes we resent because we cannot control or manipulate someone to behave according to our expectations.  We become resentful of our own frustration, where the other really had nothing to do with it.  All our expectations of other people are projections of our own self-centeredness.  If we can let other people simply be who they are, and rejoice in that, then we will have tremendous peace!

We have to be watchful over ourselves, so that we do not allow ourselves to project our expectations on others, or allow resentment to grow within us.  This kind of awareness, watchfulness, is nurtured by the practice of cutting off our thoughts and practicing inner stillness.  By this, we practice cutting off our reactions, which all start with thoughts.  We can come to see what is our own reaction, and what belongs to the other.

            Eventually, we see that our judgment of the other is really about ourselves, our own actions, words, attitudes and temptations, which we see reflected in the other person. To face this means to face our own hypocrisy, and to change.  If we judge and condemn someone for the same sins, thoughts, words and deeds that we have ourselves, then we are hypocrites.  We must repent from our hypocrisy.  This is real repentance: to recognize and acknowledge our own sin, and turn away from it towards God and towards our neighbor.

            We have to see how our sins distract us from loving our neighbor, and from loving God.  Our love of our brother is the criterion of our love of God.  St John tells us, How can we love God whom we have not seen, if we can’t love our neighbor whom we can?  If you say that you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar. If we love God, then we will forgive our neighbor, as God has also forgiven us. 

The conscious awareness of our own reactions and judgments, of our attachment to our passions of anger and our own will, is the first level of spiritual awareness and watchfulness.  We have to move beyond self-centeredness (oblivious to others), to becoming self-aware, aware of our own inner processes through watching our thoughts and reactions.   

Repentance and Confession

            Awareness of our sins and hypocrisy, our short comings and falls, leads us to repentance and the transformation of our life.  Repentance, conversion, the transformation of our mind and our life, is the core of the Christian life.  Repentance does not mean to beat ourselves up for our sins, or to dwell in a state of guilt and morose self-condemnation.  Rather, it means to confront our sins, and reject and renounce them, and confess them, trying not to do them again. 

            What this does is, that to the extent we renounce and confess our sins, they no longer generate thoughts, which accuse us or spur passionate reactions.  Sometimes we have to confess things several times, because we only repent of, or are even conscious of, aspects of the sin.  Things that make us feel guilty, provoke our conscience, or that we know are acts of disobedience all should be confessed.   We have to train our conscience, not by memorizing lists of sins, but by becoming aware of what breaks our relationship with God and other people.  We need to be conscious of God’s presence, and realize what distracts us from it.  These things are sins.  Of course, we are experts at deluding ourselves, when we really want to do something, and we know that it is not blessable.

            Confession is not only Christ’s first gift to the Church, the authority to forgive sins in His Name; but is one of the most important means of healing our souls.   Sins are not sins because they are listed in a book somewhere.  They are sins because they break our relationship with God, other people, and distort our true self.  Sins are sins because they hurt us and other people.  We need to heal that hurt, and revealing the act or thought or attitude takes away the shame that keeps it concealed, and prevents healing.  We need to confess the things that we are the most ashamed of, the secret sins which we know are betrayals of our true self.  If we don’t confess them, they fester and generate all sorts of despondency, depression and guilt, shame and despair.  The result of that is that we identify ourselves with our sins.  For example, same-sex attraction becomes gay identity.  Failure in some area becomes a general self-identification with being a failure. 

What is critically important is that we are not our sins, thoughts or actions.  These things happen, we sin, have bad thoughts and do wicked and evil things.  But we are not our thoughts or actions.  Repentance means to stop and renounce not only the actions, but to renounce the identity that goes with it.  Thoughts are going to come. But we can learn, through practicing inner stillness, to let our thoughts go.  They will still be there, but we can learn to not react to them, and eventually, simply to ignore them.

            The process of purifying our self is hard and painful, at first; but becomes the source of great joy.  The more we confess, honestly and nakedly, the more we open ourselves to God’s grace, and the lighter we feel.  Truly the angels in heaven (and the priest standing before you bearing witness to the confession) rejoice immensely when a person truly repents and confesses their sins, no matter how dark and heinous.  There is no sin so grievous that it cannot be forgiven.  NOTHING!  The only sin not forgiven is thinking that God cannot forgive our sin.  He forgives.  We have to forgive our self, and accept His forgiveness.

            Preparing for confession is an important process.  It means to take stock of our life, and to recognize where we have fallen, and that we need to repent.   The following should help to prepare for confession, but it is not a laundry list.  Rather, it should help to spur our memory, so that we can bring things to consciousness that we have forgotten.  It is more of an examination of conscience.

The Passions: Gluttony, lust, avarice; anger, envy, despondency; vainglory, pride.

The Commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Loving God

Do I love God?  Do I really believe in God, or just go through the motions?

Do I pray, and when I do, do I connect, or is it just mechanical?  Do I rush through prayers, Scripture readings, and spiritual literature?  Do I seek the will of God in all things?  Do I rebel against what I know to be God’s will, and the Christian life?  Do I try to be obedient, and constantly surrender my life to God?

Do I go to church, go to confession and communion regularly, keep the fasts?

Do I try to be conscious of God’s Presence, or not? 

Do I try to sanctify my life? Or do I give in to temptation easily?  Thoughtlessly?

 Loving our Neighbor

How do I treat the people around me?  Do I allow myself to judge, criticize, gossip about or condemn my neighbor?  Do I put people down?  Do I look for their faults?  Do I condescend and talk down to others?

Do I treat others with kindness, gentleness, patience?  Or am I mean, rough and nasty? Do I try to control others, manipulate others? 

Do I regard others with love and compassion?

Do I bear anger or resentments against others?  Hatred, bitterness, scorn? 

Do I use and objectify others for my own pleasure or advantage?  For sex, for profit, or for anything else which de-personalizes him/her?

Do I envy and bear jealousy towards my neighbor?  Do I take pleasure in his misfortunes? 

Do I act thoughtlessly, oblivious to the feelings or conscience of the other?  Do I lead my neighbor into temptation intentionally?  Do I mock him or make fun of him? 

Do I honor the commitments I have made?  Marriage vows?  Monastic vows?  Do I honor my parents?  Am I faithful in my relationships?  Do I have stability in my commitments?

Am I conscious of how my words and actions affect others?

Have I stolen anything, abused or hurt anyone?  Have I committed adultery?  Have I injured or killed someone? 

Do I covet other people’s things?  Do I lust after possessions or money?  Does my life revolve around making money and buying things?   

Loving Our Selves

How am I self-centered, egotistical, self-referenced?

Do I take care of myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I obsessed about my self, my image, my appearance, my desires and agenda? 

Do I indulge in laziness?  Do I get despondent, depressed, despairing?

Do I beat myself up, indulge in self-hatred or self-pity? Do I injure myself?  Do I have low self-esteem, or think myself worthless?

Do I blame other people for my reactions?  Do I feel myself a victim?  Do I take responsibility for my own reactions and behaviors?

Do I engage in addictive behaviors, abusing alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography, masturbation?  How do I try to console myself when I’m feeling down?

Do I have anger and resentment, rage, and other strong emotions and passions suppressed within me?  Do I act out on them?  How do they affect my behavior?  Can I control them or do I abuse other people?

Am I conscious of how my words affect people? 

How am I a hypocrite?  Can I face my own hypocrisy?  Am I lying to and deluding myself?

Do I have a realistic idea of myself?  Am I honest with myself and others?  What kind of façade do I put up?

Have I done things which I don’t want to or am too ashamed to admit?  Abuse of others or animals, incest, homosexual acts, perverse actions? Have I abused drugs, sex or other things which I don’t want to acknowledge?  Am I afraid that I am those things—an alcoholic, drug addict, gay, child abuser? Am I afraid to confess them?  Can I forgive myself for these things?  What do I feel guilty about?  Does guilt control my life?

Am I being faithful to myself, to God, to others?  Does my life have integrity?  

 Audio version, Part II: retreat2009_jonah_2silent-prayer

 

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