Kalomiros on the Orthodox Life

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Dr. Alexander Kalomiros, author of the River of Fire and other well known Orthodox writings, offers these simple thoughts on the Orthodox Life. They are taken from the small book, Nostalgia for Paradise.

When the ascetical life of a Christian and the privations that he imposes upon himself are beyond the measure of grace that he has been given, a void is created in his soul. Either it will lead him to sin, or it will make him perverse, proud, hard, and unmerciful to his brothers. The wise man puts greater effort into positive virtues and less into negative virtues. Examples of positive virtues are prayer, worship, meditation, study, participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, love for God. In general, their action brings us into contact with God. On the other hand, negative virtues are activities such as fasting, self-denial and self-deprivation, abstinence, asceticism in general, and the “thou-shalt-not” kinds of commandments and rules that are essentially directed to ourselves. It is not derogatory to call these negative for, together with the positive virtues, they form the balance that makes up the spiritual life. If the soul is filled with the presence of God, no place remains for sin. The light casts out darkness by its own power without our effort as long as we keep the shutters of our heart open to it.

Do not seek to understand God for it is impossible. Simply open the door of your soul so His presence may fill you and illumine your mind and heart, warm your body, and enter your reins. Theology is not a cerebral knowledge but a living knowlege that is directly relevant to man and sustains and possesses the whole man. A cold, cerebral man cannot know and discourse on divine things, even if his head contains an entire patristic library. He who is not moved by a sunset, a tree, or a bird cannot be stirred even by the Creator of these things. In order to grasp God and be able to talk about Him to others you must be a poetic soul. It means that you must have a heart that is noble, sensitive, and pure. You must be as an ear that is turned to the whisperings of the Infinite, and as an eye that sees through the bottomless depths while all other eyes see only pitch blackness. It is impossible for timorous souls and stingy hearts to discourse on divine things.

The heart that grasps the mysteries is one that is naive enough to think all souls worthy of Paradise, even souls who may have drenched their heart’s life with bitterness. It is a heart that feels and sings like a bird, without caring if there is no one there to hear it. It rejoices over everything that is beautiful, everything that is true, because truth and beauty are two aspects of the same thing and can never be separated. It has compassion for every living thing that is animate or has roots, and even for every seemingly lifeless stone.

It is a modest soul that is out of its waters in the limelight of men but blooms in solitude and quiet. It is a heart free to its very roots, impervious to every kind of pressure, far from every kind of stench, untouched by any kind of chains. It distinguishes truth from false hood with a certain mystic sense. Its every breath offers gratitude for all of God’s works that surround it and for every joy and every affliction, for every possession, and for every privation as well. Crouching humbly on the Cornerstone which is Christ, it drinks unceasingly of the eternal water of Paradise and utters the Name of Him who was and is ever merciful. Such a soul is like a shady tree by the running waters of the Church, with deep roots and a high crown where kindred souls find comfort and refuge in its dense branches.

Such is the true theologian. If anyone wishes to be so named, let him be measured by this measure. Even he who simply wishes to be a disciple of such theologians must walk in their exact footsteps if he desires their words to be echoed in himself, and his eyes to see light.

21 Responses to “Kalomiros on the Orthodox Life”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    The photo is a path in Zion National Park – steep but reasonable. It leads to an amazing vista of the Park.

  2. Sbdn. Lucas Says:

    What a work of repentance is laid out here; God send it so.

  3. Mary Gail Says:

    Stunning….. the essay, I mean. This is why I love Orthodoxy!

  4. zoe Says:

    Wow!! The contents and the insights found in it and the beauty of the writing
    is very impressive. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Father bless.

  5. Robert Says:

    “Zion National Park – steep but reasonable” — certainly now you are speaking metaphorically about the Christian life. Very clever, Father! Amen!

  6. Karen C Says:

    “When the ascetical life of a Christian and the privations that he imposes upon himself are beyond the measure of grace that he has been given, a void is created in his soul. Either it will lead him to sin, or it will make him perverse, proud, hard, and unmerciful to his brothers. The wise man puts greater effort into positive virtues and less into negative virtues.”

    Dear Father bless! Thank you–I needed to hear this. It validates my own experience–experience and intuitions that I can be afraid to fully own without such encouragement.

  7. Damaris Says:

    This is a beautiful expression of the goal of Christian life with Christ. I will copy it and recommend that it be our goal also at the Christian classical school where I teach — that we not seek to educate children in cold, cerebral things to the exclusion of delight and humility.

    Thank you.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    I agree. I thought it was wonderfully stated!

  9. David Says:

    It occurs to me that much of my emotional stress related to my faith comes from an overabundance of self-imposed “responsibilities” which I have not been asked by God, Bishop or spiritual father to take up.

    I need every strength for that which I have been asked, being distracted by my own machinations makes what is otherwise steep but reasonable turn to despair.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    There is such a gentle balance in this passage from Kalomiros. We could almost all use such advice.

  11. zoe Says:

    Father Stephen, God Bless.

    It is easy indeed to become like the pharisees whom Jesus condemned when we begin to practice and concentrate only on fasting and self denial without emphasis on humility and prayer and all the other things that Kalomiros mentioned. I still see myself slipping towards the direction of the pharisee but I pray to Jesus to hold my outstretch hand and pull me back to His side.

    I think this writing reflects Mt. 12: 43-45: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’. And when he comes, he finds it swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of the man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

    May God have mercy on us all.

  12. Fr Stephen & “Kalomiros on the Orthodox Life” « Journeying Home Says:

    […] on the Orthodox Life” Posted on January 22, 2009 by Jason Fr Stephen has posted a wonderful excerpt from Dr. Kalomiros’ book, Nostalgia for Paradise. These thoughts on the […]

  13. clary Says:

    This is just beautiful.

    “Do not seek to understand God for it is impossible. Simply open the door of your soul so His presence may fill you and illumine your mind and heart, warm your body, and enter your reins. Theology is not a cerebral knowledge but a living knowlege that is directly relevant to man and sustains and possesses the whole man.”

    This is what all the saints did and many who were not theologians grasped so much from God’s infinite wisdom. We are called to be saints as well so it is a good idea not to limit ourselves but be open instead to be filled.
    Thanks for sharing this short piece.

  14. Durk Says:

    I’ve been troubled by certain ideas lately, such as this one, expressed by the very same Kalomiros (quoted from his book “Against False Union”):

    “… How will the Westerners be taught that the Orthodox Church is the One and True Church when they see her consorting with the false “churches” as an equal among equals? Will they not think, therefore, that Orthodoxy is also like the others – relative and partial? Or is it reasonable for one to hope that those councils of fanatic biretta – wearers and befrocked pastors will ever be able to recognize the truth? They are only flattering the Orthodox in order to draw them over to their side. If they had a genuine nostalgia to know Orthodoxy, they would have no need for councils and conferences. They would have gone to drink from her sources, from her Fathers and Saints.

    The councils and conferences debate the truth. But this is a betrayal, because in such instances it is not a matter of dialogue with and admonition to heretics, but of discussion with “churches”. Christ does not ask for debaters, but for confessors. The truth which He taught us is not the kind that is debatable. In the various ecumenical conferences the discussion takes the form of commerce, where an exchange of compromises takes place in matters of faith in order to arrive at a final agreement. Under such conditions even the mere attendance of an Orthodox at an ecumenical conference is a betrayal of Christ. It is the betrayal of Christ to unbelievers for thirty pieces of silver, because by attending, the Orthodox admits his Faith to be debatable, and permits the notion that he too will make compromises if he is given a satisfactory exchange.

    If, instead of this, all those who speak of union today would confess Orthodoxy as the only and absolute truth and refuse every official and unofficial ecclesiastical contact with heretics, without fearing to name them as such, then their voice would be heard much farther; and more important, it would be respected and would provoke thought. Whereas now their voice is a voice of compromises, a voice which does not move anyone, a voice which, deep down, no one respects.

    The Church does not discuss, for she does not seek. She simply gives – because she has everything.”

    If Kalomiros is right, why do we have, for instance, the Moscow Patriarchate attending celebrations for the (new calendar) feast of Sts. Peter and Paul — along with deacons from the Ecumenical Patriarchate who actually participated in the services by reading the Gospel? Pictures of this stuff were all over the Gk. Archdiocese paper, “The Orthodox Observer.”

    I’m troubled by these things because I don’t want to be divided from other Orthodox people. But the actions of large Orthodox bodies are so blatantly… whatever…

    Somebody give me a hand, here.

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    there is no problem between new and old calendar orthodox as a matter of dogma. Those whom Kalomiros has in mind are ecumenists and other similar problems. There is a slow growing consensus among the othodox that may result in the complete withdrawal of all orthodox from the wcc and such groups. I do not worry about it because I’ve almost never met an orthodox ecumenist.

    Kalomiros, for various reasons, ended up his life as an Old Calendarist Greek. There is a hint of his thought on these matters in Nostalgia for Paradise, and, of course, Against False Union is famously opposed to Orthodox ecumenism (the only ecumenism that ultimately holds interest for me is if others are becoming Orthodox). Though I still think conversation is a very important thing and I think that such conversation can and should be peaceable.

    I like a lot of Kalomiros’ work simply because it is quite good. Equally there are Old Calendarist Greeks whose writings I would not care for, just as there are New Calendar OCA guys (like myself) whose reading holds no interest for me.

    In all of these things (and Kalomiros would largely agree) seek God above all else. Everything other than seeking God is seeking the wrong thing anyway.

  16. Durk Says:

    Thanks for your reply, Father. I do hope that Orthodox bishops, and their people, will strongly consider withdrawing from gatherings or bodies who in the long run are simply not interested in Orthodox faith and piety. I think the EP has been extremely offensive — uncanonical, in reality — in holding joint services with heterodox bodies.

    I was never one to split hairs and hold fast to “propositional” (as opposed to “relational”) truth. My very real concern, however, is that if Orthodoxy is consistently portrayed as simply one among many (by participation and dialogue such as Kalomiros criticizes); then sooner or later Orthodox people will be taught to LIVE as simply ones among many; and the teachings that lead to salvation and transformation will no longer be available to, e.g., my sons. That is my genuine concern.

    May I ask, if and when you have the time, what you think an Orthodox pastor should do, who KNOWS that his bishop(s) are participating in joint services with heterodox bodies? Write a stern letter, perhaps? Begin a petition?

    Thanks for your time,

    Durk

  17. Candace Says:

    that was incredible! I had once thought a similar thought you stole the words out of my heart and put them on this webpage. Wow!

  18. Hans Georg Lundahl Says:

    “When the ascetical life of a Christian and the privations that he imposes upon himself are beyond the measure of grace that he has been given, a void is created in his soul. Either it will lead him to sin, or it will make him perverse, proud, hard, and unmerciful to his brothers.”

    What about privations imposed by others?

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    God is good and His mercies provide what others would empty. He sustains us. This is far different than privations that are the works of our pride, etc.

  20. Katia Says:

    On Division

    “You are constantly decrying the ecumenical activities of the Orthodox Patriarchates, all the national Churches, and American Orthodoxy. This spirit will lead to division. You know so much about the Faith. Why not just instruct? (J.M., OR)

    There is only one thing which divides Christians: deviation from Holy Tradition, or that which has been believed at all times and in all places by the Faithful. Today, almost all of the Orthodox Churches have fallen to the pan-heresy of ecumenism, which denies the primacy of Orthodoxy. This deviation from the fundamental principle of our Faith, that it alone preserves the fullness of the Apostolic Church, accounts for the divisions among us. And just as it has divided us by compromising the Church’s traditions—beginning with the calendar innovation—, so a rejection of the pan-heresy of ecumenism and a return to the Church’s traditions will once again unite us.

    If we have any instruction to offer, it must always rest on an understanding that no lesson, no bit of knowledge about the Church, can be significant unless it first counsels the believer consciously to embrace the Orthodox Church as the True Church and her Holy Tradition as inspired and divinely established, whether that Holy Tradition be expressed in the basic dogma of Orthodox ecclesiastical primacy or something so seemingly insignificant as how we Cross ourselves. If by stating the truth we seem to divide, this is only because those who have deviated from or revile the truth are already separated from the spirit of Orthodoxy.”

    From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 4, p. 11. Translated from the French by Bishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

  21. Katia Says:

    Concerning the New and the Old Calendars
    A Presentation by
    Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Boguchar
    to the Congress of Moscow
    (8-18 July- 1948)

    ” … But if, on the basis of the Sacred Canons, it is impossible for us to
    accept the New Calendar in its entirety, then by the same token it is
    impossible for us Orthodox Christians to accept the New Calendar in
    the form of a compromise.²⁸
    This compromise has been discernible of late in the life of certain
    Orthodox Churches and consists in the fact that Pascha is celebrated
    according to the old Orthodox Paschalion, whereas all of the fixed
    Feasts are celebrated according to the New Calendar. But such a
    mixed calendar cannot possibly be accepted by the Orthodox, because
    it simultaneously gives rise to violations of other ecclesiastical ordi-
    nances, too, which are found in the Typikon and which we ought to
    observe religiously and steadfastly, since we should not deviate from
    obedience to our Mother, the Church.
    The New Calendarists are guilty of such disobedience. We speak in
    this manner, having in view their transgression of the instructions of
    the Typikon regarding the fixed Feasts. The Church has ordained the
    temporal limits within which the fixed Feasts that fall during Great
    Lent may be celebrated. Thus, for example, the Feast of the Venerable
    Forerunner (the First and Second Findings of his head) fluctuates
    between the Wednesday of Meatfare Week (lower limit) and the
    Tuesday of the Fourth Week of the Fast (upper limit).*²⁹ But the New
    Calendarists do away with these limits, because they celebrate all of the
    fixed Feasts thirteen days earlier….”

    Forgive me Father,

    but if interested i will send the whole presentation

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