Monday, April 24, 2006
For example, part of the search that landed me in Orthodoxy was the struggle of the Christian life. Always looking for another book or formula that could help me lead the "victorious Christian life" left me frustrated. I was attracted to the mystical element of Christianity and that lead me to some of the early Fathers. I was struck by the depth of their spirituality and their love for God. As I read some of the lives of the saints, especially the more modern Russian saints (19th century), I wanted what they had. This is part of what brought me to Orthodoxy and has kept me there.
I know that there are a handful or converts out there. Why did you come to Orthodoxy and what keeps you? For those who grew up in the church, you are converts too. There was time that you had to embrace Orthodoxy for yourself. What kept you in the church? Please let me send me your comments below or at my email (email@example.com).
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
I was asked by a friend to explain the difference in the date of Orthodox Pascha/Easter. Much of the article is a compilation of articles from Lewis Patsavos and Fr. Nabil Hanna. The date of Pascha has been controversial since the beginning of Christianity and early gave way to local customs. Some churches would celebrate on the actual Nisan 14, which was the actual date of the Resurrection, but it did not always fall on a Sunday. Other churches observed it on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover. By the 4th century, the latter practice prevailed throughout the Church; nevertheless, differences continued to exist.
In response to this ongoing problem, the First Ecumenical Council convened at
Another factor which figures prominently in determining the date of Pascha is the date of Passover. Originally, Passover was celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Christians, therefore, celebrated Pascha according to the same calculation-that is, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The correlation between the date of Pascha and the date of Passover is clear. Our Lord's death and resurrection coincided with Passover, thereby assuring a secure point of reference in time. This assurance lasted, however, only for a short time.
Events in Jewish history contributing to the dispersion of the Jews had as a consequence a departure from the way Passover was reckoned at the time of our Lord's death and resurrection. This caused the Passover to precede the vernal equinox in some years. It was, in fact, this anomaly which led to the condemnation reflected in Canon 1 of Antioch (ca. 330) and Canon 7 of the Holy Apostles (late 4th century) of those who celebrate Pascha "with the Jews." The purpose of this condemnation was to prevent Christians from taking into account the calculation of Passover in determining the date of Pascha.
Most Christians eventually ceased to regulate the observance of Pascha by the Jewish Passover. Their purpose, of course, was to preserve the original practice of celebrating Pascha following the vernal equinox, without having to rely on the local rabbi’s spotting of the new moon. Thus, the Council of Nicaea sought to link the principles for determining the date of Pascha to the norms for calculating Passover during our Lord's lifetime. They adopted, therefore, a solar calendar based upon the best scientific and astronomical data of the time. In fact they adopted the civil calendar of the
Despite the intervention of
A further cause for these differences was the adoption by the
Pope Gregory promulgated his new calendar in 1582. The motivation of the calendar was to create a more accurate reckoning of the Pascha date. Roman Catholic lands adopted it fairly quickly, but Protestant and Orthodox lands did not.
Practically speaking, this means that Orthodox Pascha may not be celebrated before April 3, which was March 21, the date of the vernal equinox, at the time of the First Ecumenical Council. In other words, a difference of 13 days exists between the accepted date for the vernal equinox then and now. Consequently, it is the combination of these variables which accounts for the different dates of Pascha observed by the Orthodox Church and other
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Step 13 On Despondency
Tedium of spirit
- Greek word is “akidia” tedium, distraction, boredom, despondency. This is a broad term which covers the continuum from boredom and distraction to depression or despondency.
- Path of tedium: loss of purpose, despair, then spiritual death
- Same word used in the Prayer of St. Ephraim…”faintheartedness” interesting use because we pray first that God deliver us from sloth then faintheartedness. With sloth we become lazy with spiritual activity then comes faintheartedness when we give it up all together because it is of no use. One writer said that sloth is that we think our spiritual activity is useless, and faintheartedness is despair because we come to believe that God can do nothing for us.
How to Battle
- Perserverance in the course taken.
-labor through it. “real men of spirit can be seen at this time when tedium strikes, for nothing gains so many crowns …as a struggle against this.”
-importance of having a rule of prayer.
- Cooperation with others who are struggling.
-reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing.
-lives of the saints become important.
-deep relationships with other Christians.
- story of Moses with Aaron holding up his hands. Ex. 17:10ff
Fr. Cleopa of
The Elder recommended meditation: reward and punishment, the Kingdom of heaven and hell; and also calling to mind the honorable memory of those who have taken part in the struggle. The means of grace against negligence are prayer, tears and faith. Again, the Elder would recount many examples from the lives of earlier spiritual warriors who happened to be led astray by negligence and lost the record of spiritual progress which they had gained through great fervour and ascetic labour. The Elder would say, "In my opinion, the other passions into which spiritual warriors are led astray are complications of indifference, because this erodes our attention and so opens the way to related and connected passions, and these take men captive."
We should not be negligent. Because negligence is the greatest danger for the soul of each man. It means you have no mercy for your own soul, and thus you’re in great spiritual danger. You didn’t do your [prayer] rule? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." You didn’t fast? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." Did you commit fornication? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." We should strive as much as we can and God will help us to be saved. The greater the temptations are, the greater the Grace of God will be and the greater the crown. But God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. If we have prayer and purity of soul and body, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and all great difficulties will easily be solved.
Step 14 On Gluttony
“Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach; for when it is glutted, it complains of scarcity; and when it is loaded and bursting, it cries out that it is hungry.
-this is a tough one, because it does truly take moderation and control on our part. Unlike many of the other passions we can control by avoiding, not this one. We have to eat to live. We have to hold in check something we are exposed to each day.
-the Fathers often connect gluttony with impure thoughts, chastity and purity. This according to the Fathers could be called a gateway sin. When we allow this passion to remain uncontrolled and it spreads and infects and strengthens the other passions.
-The Prince of Passions
1. Unclean thoughts: “The mind of someone intemperate is filled with unclean longings.”
2. Talkativeness: “Stint your stomach and you will certainly lock your mouth, because the tongue is strengthened by an abundance of food. Struggle with all your might against the stomach and restrain it with all sobriety. If you labour a little, the Lord will also soon work with you.”
3. Mourning: “A full stomach dries up one’s weeping.”
4. Chastity: “The man who looks after his belly and at the same time hopes to control the passion of fornication is like someone trying to put out a fire with oil.” “Satiety in food is the father of fornication; but affliction of the stomach is an agent of purity.”
-This teaches us though that all the passion of interconnected. Defeat one and the others become easier.
Step 10 On Slander
*What is Slander?
-speaking evil behind someones back…
Dangerous for Two Reasons:
- Hypocritical “It puts on the appearance of love and is the ambassador of an unholy and unclean heart.”
- Attitude and Motive behind it. It is judgmental.
James 4:11,12. When we judge we make ourselves equal with God.
“In addition to the harm that has already been identified, slander is the result of being judgmental. This provokes the wrath of God. There is only one Judge and by judging others we invite judgment. Not knowing what is in another's heart we also risk being terribly wrong in our view of others, as was the case in the Biblical story of the Publican and the Pharisee.”
“Do not allow human respect to get in your way when you hear someone slandering his neighbor. Instead, say this to him, “
‘Brother, stop it! I do worse things every day, so how can I criticize him?’ You accomplish two things when you say this. You accomplish two things when you say this. You heal yourself and you heal your neighbor with the one bandage.”
Step 11 On Talkativeness and Silence
We are uncomfortable with silence in our culture. One has the ability to surround himself with noise at all times. Even good noise—spiritual lectures or music—can become a distraction to the cultivation of silence in our life. It is only through silence that we develop the ability to hear the voice of God.
-talkative is to the mouth like gluttony is to the stomach.
Step 12 On Falsehood or Speaking the Truth
Lying is truly anti-God. God is truth and when we lie, we act contrary to God Himself.
--most of us probably do not outright lie but we often exaggerate or shade the truth.
--the more that we live in falsehood the more disconnected we become from the truth.
One writer comments that “the exaggerations, the excuses, the out and out lies are bad enough, but what's worse is the lack of remorse, or sense of any wrongdoing.”
Also, “The greatest spiritual danger is that every lie attacks the heart making it weaker. This makes the heart less able to fight against evil. As the heart grows weaker, it grows more confused, less able to distinguish between truth and lies.”
Truth is a major aspect of our own holiness and purity, the more truthful we become the more of God’s grace we invite in our life and become like the truth.
1 Pet. 3:10
Friday, April 14, 2006
Step 7: Mourning
What is mourning?
1. Not just repentance – but a sober view of the nature of reality.
Mourning is the ability to see the life and moral state of the world clearly; then seeing ourselves as contributors to the pain and sadness of this world. Human suffering and even death are a result of sin. When we look at the world around us we can not become judgmental over its condition because we have added death to this world. Not only do we accept responsibility for the evil in the world, but we allow ourselves to suffer with others, directly or indirectly, through prayer. This is part of our duty as a Christian as we have united ourselves into Christ.
See the following: Rom. , 2 Cor. 1:15; Phil 1:29; Phil 3:8; Col 1:24; 1 Pet
2. Sorrow for the lack of the fullness of God in our lives.
This sorrow is a result of the thirst we feel the fullness of God’s Kingdom and His presence in our lives.
- Not seeking a pleasure centered life.
3. Physical Tears
He refers to three types of physical tears that we experience in this life: 1. Contranatural---from fear or anger 2. Natural – result of human feelings. 3. Supernatural – from God; renewal of baptism;
This gift of tears is often referred to among the Fathers as a second baptism.
is no exception: “Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so. For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears. And if God in His love for mankind had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.” St John
Here it is clear how the earlier steps of renunciation, detachment, exile, obedience, penitence, and remembrance of death are necessary in order to understand mourning. All of this helps us to prepare for that day when we will stand before God and have to answer for what we did or did not do in this life.
Step 8: Meekness
In order to understand meekness, it helps to understand that meekness is the solution to anger. So to be meek we must put aside anger.
Why do we get angry? One author states: “It's usually because we put too much emphasis on the importance this world, how we appear to others and how we are treated. It is the result of being overly prideful: thinking too much of ourselves and of what we can be or do. All right, so you don't see yourself as some conceited megalomaniac but let's be honest here. What is it that spurs your temper? Is it when someone says something to offend you? Perhaps that is because you concern yourself too much with what others think of you. Is it when someone disagrees with you? Do you always have to be right? Is it when things just don't go your way? Perhaps you are pursuing too much perfection in this world”.
Meekness is the answer to anger.
Step 9: Malice (Remembrance of Wrongs)
Step 9 is a daughter of anger and
Anger for one tends to spill over to anger for all.
Evidence of healing: when you hear that catastrophe has happened to one who has hurt you and you weep and suffer for that person.
Jonah a prophet of the
Within the book of Jonah multiple themes of God’s providence, the consequences of sin, and the forshadowing of Christ are apparent. Along with several themes, a brief summary of the Fathers approach and use of Jonah will be included. Several of these sub-messages seem unrelated, but when taken in light of the ultimate theme of God’s great mercy the book’s connections are clearer.
Jonah is one of the few books of the Old Testament where the reader sees someone from the covenant nation of
God’s sovereignty is also evident within the pages of Jonah. Jonah runs from God’s purposes, yet he finally repents and God’s plan of salvation is accomplished. Even through the weaknesses of man, God is able to work and even accomplish miraculous deeds in impossible situations. This is a great lesson that should bring comfort to each Christian; God will accomplish His work even if circumstances point toward a different outcome. He is in control and truly sovereign over His creation.
Jesus uses the image of Jonah as an image of Himself. In Matthew 12:39-40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This image of Jonah becomes a type of Christ’s descent into Hades and eventually resurrection. This is the image that the Fathers of the Church continually turn to when they speak of Jonah. Jonah is a type of Christ’s death and resurrection. The matins canon at the Exaltation of the cross pictures Jonah’s arms outstretched in prayer forming a cross that gives power over death. Jonah’s prayerful image of the crucifixion was the power that burst Jonah forth from the belly of the fish.
Another Father of the church should be mentioned because of his allegorical approach to Jonah. It is related to the typological interpretations, but takes the images a step further in order to display salvation history. Methodius of Olympus (d. 311) in his treatise on the resurrection uses Jonah as an image of the first man Adam fleeing from God because he is found naked of the life of God. The ship is an image of earthly life, and Jonah’s casting from the ship represents the fall of man from life to death. The sea and the fish represent time and the carnal life swallowing man and holding him hostage from life eternal. However, Jonah’s expulsion from the fish represents God’s act of salvation and raising man from death to life through the power of the resurrection.
Each of the themes above point to the ultimate message of Jonah. Jonah message is a message of God’s mercy. God does not merely show mercy on a select group of people, but on all. Jonah knew this and in chapter 4 it becomes clear that Jonah’s motive for running is that he did not want God’s mercy poured out upon his enemy
Jonah had proclaimed this in his famous prayer from the belly of the fish when he concluded:
“Those who regard worthless idols, forsakes their own Mercy, but I will sacrifice to You with voice of thanksgiving. I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
Idolatry is a rejection of God, and therefore His mercy. The image is of God pouring out His mercy but mankind turning a blind eye toward God to follow after something that has no mercy. Man can not run from God without consequences, because in doing so man cuts himself off from the very life of God. Jonah becomes an image of this in his book. Jonah runs from God, in a sense forsaking his own mercy offered by God not only for himself but also for the people of
As stated earlier Jonah is read on Holy Saturday, and his prayer is used as Ode Six and this message of mercy comes through clear in the hymns of the Ode on Holy Friday. The Church on Holy Friday is experiencing the burial of Christ. Jesus has died as the ultimate expression of God’s mercy to mankind. The refrain of Ode Six in the canon is as if Jonah is preaching the lesson he learned so long ago. Jonah speaks to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Christ:
“Falsely, and in vain do you guard, O watchmen, for you have neglected your own mercy.”
Unbeknownst to the soldiers, the body they are guarding is the body of the Son of God who died to bring God’s mercy to all mankind. Their guarding is in vain because Jesus will rise again in victory pouring out mercy to the whole human race. Trying to keep Christ in the tomb is a rejection of the mercy He brings to the world. Once again Jonah’s life typifies this message. Jonah’s descent into the fish while being an image of Christ also illustrates how far and deep God’s will reach to save. He will even raise Jonah from certain death to save
Jonah is a short book, yet contains a powerful message. It is one that has been appropriated by Church and used in her hymns and writings to convey God’s love for man in that He would send His own to Son to die and raise again to bring mercy to the world.
Step 4: Obedience
-Obedience ultimately the burial place of the will, because you submit your will and desires to someone else.
-Obedience cuts off our self-will and pride. Obedience is the cure for pride. (Mat Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.)
-It must be remembered that
*How do we fulfill obedience as no-monastics? (Suggestions by Fr. John Mack)
-obey those in authority
-obey father confessor
-submit to family and friends
-listen to spiritual friends (especially before embarking on spiritual goals)
-canons of the church: fasting periods
Step 5: Repentance
-Repentance: metanoia – to change one’s mind. To say what I am doing is sin, and then change what I do.
What are things that we can do to help use repent?
-One motivation is to remember the seriousness of sin…it cuts us off from the life of God
Step 6: Remembrance of Death
“The man who lives daily with the thought of death is to be admired, and the man who gives himself to it by the hour is surely a saint.”
“Someone has said that you cannot pass a day devoutly unless you think of it as your last…This, then, is the sixth step. He who has climbed it will never sin. ‘Remember your last end, and you will never sin (Sirach ).’”
This is a virtue that I do not remember thinking much about before becoming Orthodox. Yet it is one which constantly appears in Orthodox literature. American society in general has become so sanitized in their view of death that it either becomes forgotten or becomes a realm of fantasy that is only seen on television. In the past, people died in the homes of their communities. Plagues might strike community. Infant mortality was higher. Animals were killed regularly by families in order to provide food for the family. I am thankful for modern life, and that we no longer have to worry about some of those things, but it has removed the daily remembrance of death from our vision.
St. John “Anyone who wishes to retain within him continually the remembrance of death and God’s judgment, and at the same time yields to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.”
-Remembrance of death is not a morbid fascination or desiring of death
-In the evening prayer of St. John Damascene, we are enjoined to look at our bed as at a coffin, not knowing whether or not we shall rise on the morrow.
St. Theophan the Recluse: sees this as a way to soften your heart to God’s grace; use deaths of others to remind you of your own fate.
Imagine what happens after death—the judgment, hell, and even heaven
Prayer of Chrysostom:
Lord, accept me in penitence. Lord, do not leave me. Lord, do not lead me into temptation. Lord, grant me good thoughts. Lord, grant me tears, remembrance of death, and humility. Lord, grant me the thought of confessing all my sins. Lord, grant me patience, courage, and meekness. Lord, implant in me the root of blessings and the fear of you in my heart. Lord, grant that I may love you with all my mind and soul and that I may do your will in all things. Lord, deliver me from contentious men, from the devil, from bodily passions and from all unholy deeds. I know, O Lord, that you act according to your will; may your will also be in me, a sinner, for you are blessed unto all ages. Amen.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Saint John Climacus was a 6th century monk and abbot of the monastery of Saint Catherine on
-inspired by the image of Jacob’s ladder.
-monastic spiritually is only different in degree not kind. We all must follow the same basic path toward God. The difference between monastics and secular Christian is the degree to which we can apply the truths or commandments of the gospel.
-divided into three parts. 1. The Break with the World 2. The Practice of the Virtues (Active) 3.
Step 1 On Renunciation of Life
“of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are His true servants, some are useless servants, some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weakness, take their stand against Him.”
Who are you?
“Withdrawal from the world is a willing hatred of all that is materially prized, a denial of nature for the sake of what is above nature.”
-a matter of focus; what are we living for? What is our motivation? Earthly or eternal.
*If we have an eternal perspective, what does that change about the way that we live?
-St. John speaks of this not only in terms of more spiritual virtures but even in physical ones, and that our bodies react violently when we try to subdue it.
-must remember our goal….union with God and enjoyment of the presence of God for all eternity. Not to be better fasters or better humanitarians, but to be united with God.
*What motivates us to turn our backs on the world?
-we are not alone on the journey, but have Christ to strengthen and motivate us throughout (2 Cor. 5).
-we have each other “do not separate yourselves from the church assemblies.”
Jhn 15:11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and [that] your joy might be full.
Jhn 10:10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly.
Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me; “We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?” I replied to them: “Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the divine services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness, and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the
Step 2 On Detachment
*Is there anything that you hold to tightly to? Anything that would pain you to give up? Anything earthly that consumes your attention?
*What are things that we can become easily attached to?
- As a personal illustration, my grandfather gave me an expensive pen as a graduation present several years back. Believe it or not, I still have it. Actually, I found it a couple of months ago. Because of the cost of the pen and the sentimental value attached I began using it again; however, I found myself constantly worried about its condition and whereabouts. One day, I realized this ridiculous situation that I was in, but it made me aware of how attached we can become to so little.
*How do we unattach ourselves?
“Let us aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all you comes upbourne by the angelic hosts”
-John also warns of attachement to the praise of men.
-to be free from the concern for things and for the opinion of others is a great gift that St. John calls to be cleansed of grief.
“This is the second step, and if you take it, then do as
Step 3 On Exile
Exile is a separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to God…an exile is a fugitive, running from all relationships with his own relatives and with strangers.
1 Pet. 2:11
Matt. 10:37, 38
*What does this say about our relationships with other?
This does not mean that we reject relationships. In fact, we are saved in the context of community with each other. We are called to love one another, and if we are married we are called to love sacrificially. Relationships must be put into proper perspective. They must not take the place of God in our lives, or allow our relationship with God to be hindered.
Run from places of sin as from the plague. For when fruit is not present, we have no frequent desire to eat it.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Here's the original outline I used for our class in discussing the Ladder. I picked this up from another teacher and I think it is a helpful way to categorize and think about what St. John Climacos was doing.
The Thirty Steps of the Ladder of Divine Ascent
I. The Break With the World
II. The Practice of the Virtues
A. Fundamental Virtues
6. Remembrance of Death
B. The Struggle Against Passions
(a) Non-physical Passions
(b) Physical & Material Passions
(c) Non-Physical Passions
23. Pride (also Blasphemy)
C. The Higher Virtues
III. Union with God
Monday, April 03, 2006
The essay is from a book edited by Fr. Seraphim Rose entitled "Russia's Catacomb Saints". It is an interesting and sobering book as it tells the stories of Orthodox Christians persecuted in Soviet Russia.
One of the persons highlighted is a Russian philosopher named I.M. Andreyev. He appears to be a brilliant man who was persecuted by the Soviets and eventually made it to America where he lived his final days. The following excerpt is from his life and describes an essay that he wrote entitled "Weep!".
"This article, entitled simply "Weep!" and dedicated to the memory of Dostoevsky...tells simply of one of the cold and senseless crimes of a large American city. A 29 year old mother in New York City, in a fit of rage, beat to death her two month old son, leaving him unimaginably deformed; and she expressed no regret over her crime. Andreyev describes the wounds suffered by the small body with sickening clinical detail--and then stops, knowing that many readers will protest against such 'uneccesary' details.
'People have become deaf to sufferings. They either do not hear or do not wish to hear about what is done, not in a nightmare, but in reality.' He calls to the Orthodox conscience of his readers. 'All for one and one for all are guilty: this is the essence of the social ethic of Christianity...We are all guilty, for we are sinful; we do evil, contribute our evil to the universal storehouse of evil.
"And this evil accumulates into an immense universal energy of evil and seeks for its incarnation the vessels of bodies without grace, and when it finds them it becomes incarnate in them and they perform great evil deeds...Let each one think of himself...What were you doing on that eveing when this unbelievable but authentic evil deed was performed?
Perhaps it was your sin, your immoral deed, your malice, which turned out to be the last little drop which caused the vessel of evil to overflow. This is the way we must reflect, if we are Christians...
"'Weep, brothers and sisters! Do not be ashamed of these tears!
Weep! And let these tears be the fount in which the Lord will baptise the child-martyr, who was probably unbaptized, being chrismated--in place of oil--with his innocent child's blood.
Weep! Let your tears also be a fount of a different energy, an energy of good that fights against the energy of evil, which by its power will save at least one child from innocent tortures and at least one criminal mother from an unforgiveable sin.
Let these tears also awaken many of the indifferent...Do not be ashamed to weep with tears of grief, compassion, and repentance.'"
As for the title of the blog, it comes from a Patristic metaphor that is used in two ways.
First, it enlightens the inner relationship of the God/Man Jesus Christ. The Church has always upheld that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. One image for explaining this is the sword in the fire. Place a sword in fire and it glows read hot and takes on the properties of fire while still remaining a sword. Hence, Christ is fully man and fully God without compromising the elements of either.
Secondly, the image is used to describes man's spritual union with God. Unlike the eastern religions, man does not lose personality when uniting with God. Man becomes god by grace while remaining man.
If I can contribute anything, hopefully it will be to help seekers Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike to place their sword in the fire.