Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Give Thanks In All Things

November 25, 2008

img_0531I heard this from Archimandrite Zacharius, the disciple of the Elder Sophrony:

The Elder Sophrony once said that if a man would give thanks always and for everything, he would have kept the saying which Christ gave to St. Silouan: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

I pondered this statement for a long time. For more than 30 years I had been aware of the famous dictum of St. Silouan – and though it sounded profound I never understood it. Only when thinking about this explanation reported by Archimandrite Zacharias did the saying become clear. Life brings many things to us – good and bad – joyous and calamitous. Sorrow is inescapable in this life.

But if in the midst even of sorrows (which bring their own taste of hell) we are able by grace to give thanks to God, then we will have found the way to despair not. I have in my lifetime been witness to a few great souls who gave thanks to God for all things and in all things and their witness was filled with the grace of God.

Thanksgiving is more than a day – it is the only means to the true Life.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:18).

I am appending an earlier article: “Grace and the Inverted Pyramid,” on the teachings of St. Silouan and the Elder Sophrony, particularly in their understanding of our union with Christ in His descent into Hades. I hope it is helpful for those who may not have seen this before.

Fr. Sophrony [Sakharov], in his book on St. Silouan, presents this theory of the “inverted pyramid.” He says that the empirical cosmic being is like a pyramid: at the top sit the powerful of the earth, who exercise dominion over the nations (cf. Matt. 20:25), and at the bottom stand the masses. But the spirit of man, by nature [unfallen nature as given by God], demands equality, justice and freedom of spirit, and therefore is not satisfied with this “pyramid of being.” So, what did the Lord do? He took this pyramid and inverted it, and put Himself at the bottom, becoming its Head. He took upon Himself the weight of sin, the weight of the infirmity of the whole world, and so from that moment on, who can enter into judgment with Him? His justice is above the human mind. So, He revealed His Way to us, and in so doing showed us that no one can be justified but by this way, and so all those who are His must go downwards to be united with Him, the Head of the inverted pyramid, because it is there that the “fragrance” of the Holy Spirit is found; there is the power of divine life. Christ alone holds the pyramid, but His fellows, His Apostles and His saints, come and share this weight with Him. However, even if there were no one else, He could hold the pyramid by Himself, because He is infinitely strong; but He likes to share everything with His fellows. Mindful of this, then, it is essential for man to find the way of going down, the way of humility, which is the Way of the Lord, and to become a fellow of Christ, who is the Author of this path.

Archimandrite Zacharias in The Enlargement of the Heart

 

The teaching of St. Silouan, itself a continuation of the unbroken Tradition of the Church, was continued in the life and writings of the Elder Sophrony. Today it continues in the life and teachings of the elders and community of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, of whom Archimandrite Zacharias is an example. His recent visits to the United States to conduct retreats have now become books which continue to expand and confirm the teaching of St. Silouan and the Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Christian faith.

One of the strongest elements drawn out in both the life and teachings of St. Silouan is just this word of humility as illustrated in my opening quote. To be a follower of Christ is to accept a “downward path,” to follow Christ into the depths of His humility. This is not a new word, but echoes that of the Apostle (which itself seems to have been a hymn which the Apostle was quoting):

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phillipians 2:5-11).

This clear teaching of the Apostle, which only echoes the utterly consistent teaching and example of Christ, has a history of being obscured within Christianity – with Christians forgetting this essential teaching and following after a human Lordship and model of salvation.

In a wide variety of places and situations, Christians have thought to establish some image of the Kingdom of God (or even the Kingdom itself) here on earth through means other than the path of humility set forth by Christ and the faithful Tradition of the Church. The result has been varied – but has often been merely a tyranny in the name of God, which is no better than a tyranny in the name of something else.

I am reminded of a statement by Stanley Hauerwas, Protestant theologian and professor at Duke University:

The Christian community’s openness to new life and our conviction of the sovereignty of God over that life are but two sides of the same conviction. Christians believe that we have the time in this existence to care for new life, especially as such life is dependent and vulnerable, because it is not our task to rule this world or to “make our mark on history.” We can thus take the time to live in history as God’s people who have nothing more important to do than to have and care for children. For it is the Christian claim that knowledge and love of God is fostered by service to the neighbor, especially the most helpless, as in fact that is where we find the kind of Kingdom our God would have us serve.

in A Community of Character

In countless lectures and seminars in which I participated while a student at Duke’s Graduate School of Theology, I heard Hauerwas echo this quote with the assertion that “so soon as Christians agree to take responsibility for the outcome of history, we have agreed to do violence.” This violent outcome is a complete perversion of the “downward Way” described by Archimandrite Zacharias and the Orthodox Tradition. Our goals are thus never measured by the “outcomes of history” but by the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

This same contradiction, in narrative form, can be found in Dostoevsky’s classic chapter, “The Grand Inquisitor,” in The Brothers Karamazov. The Grand Inquisitor lashes out at Christ for His failure, as measured in the outcomes of history, and justifies Christians’ use of tools such as the Inquisition as an improvement over the weakness of God. The argument of that famous chapter, as well as the previous chapter, “Rebellion,” mark the high-point of Dostoevsky’s summary of the argument against God and the Orthodox Christian faith. The answer to that diatribe is not a counter argument, but the person of the Elder Zossima, who lives in the Tradition of the Holy Elders of the Faith such as St. Silouan, St. Seraphim of Sarov, the Elder Sophrony, and a host of others. Their lives, frequently hidden from the larger view of the world, are the continuing manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst – fellows of the sufferings of Christ – who freely and voluntarily bear with Christ the weight of all humanity. It is this secret bearing that forms the very foundation of the world – a foundation without which the world would long ago have perished into nothing. It is the emptiness of Christ, also shared in its depths by His saints, that is the vessel of the fullness of God, the source of all life and being. We can search for nothing greater.

 

In the Image of God

October 22, 2008

In the life of the saints, “repetition” or “copying” is the most creative act: it is the mystery of the Tradition of the Holy Spirit. The way to the acquisition of this holy Tradition was first indicated by the great Apostle Paul, “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Archimandrite Zacharias in The Enlargement of the Heart

I grew up as the son of an auto mechanic – who himself was the son of a mechanic. My uncle was a mechanic as well. By age 16 my older brother could do almost anything mechanically on a car – he had worked beside my father from the age of 12. I assumed, as I watched my brother from 5 years his junior, that at age 12 I would take my place beside the men and learn what the men in my family knew – auto mechanics.

Life has its own way of doing other than we imagine. By the time I was 12 my brother was heading off to college, the local economy had crashed, and the normalcy of business changed. My opportunity to apprentice beside my father came and went (which I sorely regretted).

Indeed, I never received my apprenticeship until my mid-20’s when I was in seminary and working by the side of a priest I admired. It was not my place in life to be an auto mechanic (though I like to “fiddle around” with cars). It has been in my later years that I’ve been able to look back and see the importance of apprenticeship.

Stanley Hauerwas, at Duke University, says that we learn to be virtuous people the same way a brickmason learns his trade – by watching and working side-by-side with someone who knows how to lay bricks. Virtue is formed and shaped in us by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Tradition – that is, the practiced lives of saints who have embodied the virtues of Christ through the ages.

Of course, we can’t just go out and sign ourselves up for apprenticeship with a saint. Good people are often rare and saints even rarer. But the principle of discipleship – learning by action in the Holy Spirit in the life of Holy Tradition – remains.

In some corners of Christianity (and probably some corners of Orthodox Christianity as well) discipleship has been abused – generally when someone without the proper gifts imposes obedience on others. Such gifts (such as eldership, etc.) are quite rare, even within Orthodox monasticism. My Archbishop has always been quick to instruct parish priests to avoid the monastic practice of obedience in the parish on account of its spiritual dangers in the wrong hands. Those whom I have known who do have this gift exercise it with fear and trembling.  

Nevertheless, discipleship remains the primary means of our spiritual growth. So what do we do in the absence of saints? First, we are never in the absence of saints. They are always present with us as we are, together with them, one body in Christ. We have the witness of their lives and the wisdom of their writings. We have the living Tradition of the worshipping Church in which the words of the saints bathe us with spiritual teaching.

Tito Coliander, in his little classic work, Way of the Ascetics, has this exquisite observation on obedience in our modern times:

Perhaps you ask: Whom shall I obey? The saints answer: you shall obey your leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Who are my leaders, you ask? Where shall I find any, now that it is so utterly hard to discover a genuine leader? Then the holy Fathers reply: The Church has foreseen this too. Therefore since the time of the apostles it has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live. Whether we be in city or country, married or single, poor or rich, the teacher is always with us and we always have the opportunity to show him obedience. Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting.

God does not need our fasting. He does not even need our prayer. The Perfect cannot be thought of as suffering any lack or needing anything that we, the creatures of His making, could give Him. Nor does he crave anything from us, but, says John Chrysostom, He allows us to bring Him offerings for the sake of our own salvation.

The greatest offering we can present to the Lord is our self. We cannot do this without giving up our own will. We learn to do this through obedience, and obedience we learn through practice. The best form of practice is that provided by the Church in her prescribed fast days and seasons.

Besides fasting we have other teachers to whom we can show obedience. They meet us at every step in our daily life, if only we recognize their voices. Your wife wants you to take your raincoat with you: do as she wishes, to practice obedience. Your fellow-worker asks you to walk with her a little way: go with her to practice obedience. Wordlessly the infant asks for care and companionship: do as it wishes as far as you can, and thus practice obedience. A novice in a cloister could not find more opportunity for obedience than you in your own home. And likewise at your job and in your dealings with your neighbour.

Obedience breaks down many barriers. You achieve freedom and peace as your heart practices non-resistance. You show obedience, and thorny hedges give way before you. Then love has open space in which to move about. By obedience you crush your pride, your desire to contradict, your self-wisdom and stubbornness that imprison you within a hard shell. Inside that shell you cannot meet the God of love and freedom.

Thus, make it a habit to rejoice when an opportunity for obedience offers. It is quite unnecessary to seek one, for you may easily fall into a studied servility that leads you astray into self-righteous virtue. You may depend upon it that you are sent just as many opportunities for obedience as you need, and the very kind that are most suitable for you. But if you notice that you have let an opportunity slip by, reproach yourself; you have been like a sailor who has let a favourable wind go by unused.

For the wind it was a matter of indifference whether it was used or not. But for the sailor it was a means of reaching his destination sooner. Thus you should think of obedience, and all the means that are offered us by the Holy Trinity, in that way.

And so God provides us with guides and teaches us the practice of obedience, conforming us to His will. It is an apprenticeship of the Spirit – Who is everywhere present and filling all things.

 

True Theology

October 20, 2008

From the book, The Enlargement of the Heart, by Archimandrite Zacharias:

For Elder Sophrony [Sakharov], theology was the state of being in God….theology was for him the description of the event of his meeting with Christ when he was caught up and saw the divine Light. [as described earlier in the text]. (For him theology was the narration of an event.) According to his writings, authentic theology consists not in the conjectures of man’s reason or the results of critical research, but in the state of the life into which man is brought by the action of the Holy Spirit. Theology is then a grace of the Holy Spirit which rekindles the heart of man. Whoever has acquired this gift becomes as a light in the world, holding forth the word of life.

The Archimandrite’s description of the Elder Sophrony’s understanding of theology is similar to the well-known saying in Orthodoxy that “he who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays.” At its very heart there is a steadfast allegiance to the traditional stream of Hesychast theology (as taught by St. Gregory Palamas) which insists that theology must be grounded in reality – in the experience of the Divine reality – and not simply in the creations and syllogisms of human reason. The point of theology is not to speak about God, but to speak with God.

This is always the difficult (and even frustrating) aspect of Orthodoxy. Unlike the inventions of the human imagination it is, instead, the gift of God, and therefore not under our control. Thus we are counseled to pray, fast, repent, forgive, give alms – all in the context of the remembrance of God. The Liturgy is a mystery in which God is truly among us and truly gives Himself to us – and yet we struggle even there to give ourselves to Him.

St. John in the beginning of his Revelation greets his fellow believers with these words:

I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

In a very few words he sums up the common experience of the Christian life: “to share in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance.” Our individual circumstances can differ greatly – but none of us escape the “tribulation” [he is here referring to the trials we all suffer and not the dispensationalist notion of a “great tribulation”], none of us are excluded from the Kingdom except by our own choosing, and for all of us there is the daily life of patient endurance.

I thought much about this during my pilgrimage in the holy land. Some places are more interesting than others for someone nurtured in a modern environment. My visit to the monastery of Mar Saba in the Judaean desert, carved and perched on the sides of a sheer cliff, in a sun and heat that clearly belonged in a desert – with a landscape which, though beautiful, is still largely uninterrupted rock and sky – was thrilling for the hour or so we were there. But the American monk with whom I had conversation had been there for 15 years. I found myself thinking back over the past 15 years of my life – 15 years of serious change – 15 years, busy enough in “God’s service” that you can ignore prayer and forget that you are ignoring it.

In the desert and monastic rule of Mar Saba there is prayer, and the chores of the day – but mostly prayer. It is unavoidably part of the “patient endurance.”

For many of us in our contemporary settings, we find it difficult to stay put long enough to have “patient endurance.” I think the length of Orthodox services is one of the first experiences many people have of Christ saying to us, “Slow down.” Or in Biblical terms, “Be still, and know that I am the Lord.” There is a “patient endurance” that is an inherent part of Orthodox prayer. Some days we endure more patiently than others.

But the faith does not ask patient endurance of us, or tribulation itself, except for the sake of the Kingdom. God is not a taskmaster – we have been freed from the slave masters of Egypt. But just as the people of Israel traveled through the wilderness for two generations in order to become the people of Israel – so we travel in patient endurance, the Kingdom and the tribulation in order to become conformed to the image of Christ.

Standing on a ledge of Mar Saba, it is easy to feel the romance of the caves. But the reality of the caves bears more similarity to whatever it is in our lives that we must endure than it does to any romantic fantasy. Saints are real and are forged in reality by the Spirit of God. There is nothing that separates our lives from that of the saints – for we are one body. Their endurance is part of our inheritance as our endurance must become the inheritance of generations to come.

It is in that day to day remembrance of God that becomes our patient endurance that we ourselves become theologians, or at least catch a glimpse of true theology from time to time.

I was not surprised to hear from the monk who had endured 15 years in the desert, “I have no enemies,” (as I shared in an earlier post). He is a theologian and knows the truth.

Remembrance

October 13, 2008

St. Macarius said, “If we remember the evil that others have done to us, we shut down our ability to remember God.”

From the Desert Fathers

Memory is a very powerful thing. The older I get, and the more of my earthly life lies behind me instead of before me, memory becomes indeed powerful. I have lived in my present home for almost 20 years, which, for a priest, can be quite a while. In the Orthodox life that we now live – I do not expect to be anywhere else in my lifetime.

Memory, like most things, has two sides. It can be the repository of blessings, the remembrance of the goodness of God, and it can be the repository of bitterness, the remembrance of wrongs. It is obvious in the life of the Church that we are given authority and grace to heal the remembrance of wrongs. Indeed, forgiveness (both of our own sins and those of others) seems to be precisely this power over the past – the grace of God working in us to heal what has been.

The remembrance of God has something which carries it beyond the past, however. In the Divine Liturgy, when the priest speaks the “words of remembrance” (“do this in remembrance of me”) he is not engaging in an act of recalling the past, but an act in which that which was spoken is made present reality. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. His life and actions are certainly historical, but, at the same time, they transcend any particular moment of history. The historical is united to the ahistorical: time and eternity find a union within Him.

By the same token, our “remembrance” of God is itself a union of time and eternity in which we (the timely) are united to the Eternal, and the timelessness of the Messianic Banquet is set before us. This is proper Christian eschatology (concern with the “last” things).

The remembrance of wrongs is an anti-eschatology. It seeks to make present that which has no true or proper existence. Evil certainly has tragic and destructive effects on the world, but it is still nothing. Evil is not a “something,” but merely the abuse of a free-will. It cannot truly destroy what God has established. It’s existence is a “false existence,” abiding only as a parasite on the truth of our existence.

Thus the remembrance of wrong “shuts down our ability to remember God,” not because we have put something else in God’s place, but because we have put “nothing” in God’s place. Forgiveness is the great tool of justice which God has given us. For with forgiveness we fill with goodness and the wholeness of love what before was only darkness and the emptiness of hatred and anger.

The good thief, crucified beside our Lord, found salvation “in a single moment.” His request, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” is a confession of faith that recognizes that the remembrance of God, and the remembrance by God, is triumphant over every sin and every evil. It is the triumph of “that which is” over “that which is not.”

Paradise is never far away from us – it is in our hearts and on our lips as we remember God.

As the Romanian Elder Cleopa constantly greeted his disciples, “May paradise consume you!”

My it indeed consume us and with us sweep away every memory of wrong in the fullness of the remembrance of God.

Me, You and the Other Guy

October 10, 2008

It has been said that a recession is when someone else loses his job; a depression is when you lose your job. I am too young to remember the Great Depression, though all the adults I knew as a child had come through that period. In 1928, my paternal great-grandfather lost everything (farm, machinery, house, etc.) in the Cotton Market Crash that preceded the Great Depression. My father was four years old and traveled from South Georgia to the Upstate of South Carolina in a farm wagon (grim even for those days). His family took up share-cropping, the poorest of the poor in that farm economy. At age four he began to work, picking cotton, doing anything he could do. Those were hard times.

When I was 10, the local Air Force base closed. My father’s auto repair business was largely based on clientele who were stationed or worked at the base. We lost a lot – I remember a spate of about four or five years in which things were much “leaner” than they had been.

Recessions come and go. Depressions, too, come and go, though with greater impact. Historically, it is of interest that the Great Depression was not a time of increased Church attendance in America. I daresay it was a time of increased prayer. If you’re hungry enough, you pray. America has the strange phenomenon of increased Church attendance usually accompanying times of prosperity. Many other nations, particularly several I can think of in Europe (modern Ireland stands out) have seen Church attendance plummet when prosperity comes.

I suspect that this all has something to do with America’s strange marriage of prosperity and piety. In most cases it is not as blatant as those who preach a “prosperity gospel,” but the prosperity gospel would not even be preached in America if it did not already have a ready audience. On some level our culture equates wealth with “God shed His grace on Thee” (the words of one of our patriotic hymns).

Historically, Orthodoxy has always been resistant to prosperity gospels, they are doubtless kept at bay by the constant presence of the voluntary poverty of monastics. Monasticism is not viewed as a unique vocation within Orthodoxy, but simply the Christian vocation pushed towards a maximum. The typicon (the book which guides liturgical and ascetic practice) is the same book for both monk and non-monk. The non-monk simply does not keep the typicon as strictly. But the ideal remains the same.

This is less obvious in America where a monastic presence has been slow to take hold. But the ascetic ideal abides, nonetheless.

Economies will do all sorts of things – and we ought always to pray for the needs of the world. We ought also to remember that prosperity as a sign of God’s favor is a peculiar “heresy” of sorts in our modern world. By the same token, a collapsing economy may not be a sign of God’s disfavor, either. Judging others is not a work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. Prayer is.

St. Paul teaches us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We appear to be in a time when you, me, and the other guy will be doing one or the other – with perhaps more weeping than usual. Thus our prayers for the world before God should not be shy in weeping for the pain of others and should be totally devoid of rejoicing at the pain of any.

Pascha And Creation

September 26, 2008

There are several religious or theological mistakes to make about Christ’s resurrection. They are generally innocent, and refelct the faith as a number of people have been taught it. The problem lies in the fact that many do not rightly understand the resurrection nor the true scope of its significance. I am just a sinner and not worthy to offer corrections to others – but I will offer what I know.

1. The resurrection surely occurs in history. Christ was crucifed, dead and buried. On Sunday following, His followers found the tomb empty and encountered the Risen Lord for the first time. However, the event of Christ’s resurrection, though occurring in time, was also more than that. The resurrection is of such a character that it cannot be measured by space and time. Whatever occurred, happened as well on a level beyond our comprehension. The mistake comes in reducing the resurrection to a mere space-time event, whose primary task was to certify that Christ was Who he said He was, and to give us assurance of eternal life. Such a description is too small and fails to comprehend, the heighth, depth, and breadth of the resurrection.

2. Secondly, it is a mistake to view our lives or the debts and debtors of our lives in purely legal terms. We live in the midst of an existenial crisis, one that goes to the very character and nature of our being, and not a legal crisis. What we need from God is not legal relief, but relief from suffering and death – the burden of corruption which afflicts us all. Thus the resurection must be understood in ontological or existential terms and not in merely legal terms. To forgive by the resurrection is an existential statement and not merely a legal statement.

3. Though Pascha occurs at a specific moment in history – it is more than that moment in history – for the one who is crucified is also “one of the Holy Trinity.” He is the “Alpha and the Omega.” We crucified the One Whom Himself is both beginning and end. Thus the event that occurs cannot be limited to a day in Jerusalem but stand both in and out of time, even as Christ was both in and out of time. “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 13:8) is an eternal offering of God on behalf of His creation and not simply an offering in space and time.

4. The universe itself – all that exists – exists for Pascha. We were created for this.

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Everything which exists, exists for Christ, was made by Him and for Him. According to St. Maximus Christ’s Pascha is the cause of all things. God’s statement, “Let there be light,” was a Paschal moment in which the world came into existence through His infinite goodness. Thus, all that we see, every speck of dust is itself the result of Pascha.

By the same token, Pascha is also our recreation: “If anyone is in Christ, behold, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Further, we can also say that the whole of our Baptized life is the creation of Pascha:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4).

These things being the case, how should we then live? As one reader asked, “How do we live Pascha?” In a sense the answer is too large for it is the whole of the Christian life. As such the fullness of the answer can only be found in living the fullness of the life we have in Christ. But I will offer one small suggestion. It is found in the words of the Morning Prayer of the Elders of Optina, found in many Orthodox prayer books. To pray it and mean it, is to walk in the resurrection. It is, at least, a place to start. Particular attention should be paid to the petition that all things come from God – without this understanding, we cannot give thanks – and unless we give thanks to God for all things, we will never truly know Pascha, much less love our enemies. If we truly know God and see Him in the fullness of His Pascha, we will be able to forgive even our enemies, even those who have not asked forgiveness and intend to hurt us again. Because I am dead, I cannot be hurt. Because I live I cannot die. Great is the Mystery of God in Christ Jesus!

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee.

Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.

O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.

Assimilating the Gospel

September 23, 2008

A pilgrimage is reduced to tourism if it does not become a part of the pilgrim himself.

I have been home for a little over 24 hours – most of it in the stupor of “jet-lag.” I have sat down to write several times, only to find that I was too tired to say much. This week may carry some aspect of that until my body is back on Eastern Daylight Time.

But there are far more important things to be done than to get my body adjusted – it is the daily assimilation of where I have been and what I have done. This, too, is not particularly different than the daily task of any Christian. We have heard the gospel of Christ – but hearing must become doing. We have some understanding of the gospel but, in truth, we must become the gospel itself or it remains little more than a book.

I have said before that Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good but to make dead men live. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit (to use a phrase of St. Seraphim) is a daily existential act. We either live our lives based on the reality of the Truth of God in Christ, or we live it based on some other reality. The secular world will offer us many realities, even religious realities, so long as we do not give ourselves to the Truth that God is the only source and sustainment of reality and there is no life that does not come from Him.

Thus in my return home from my pilgrimage finds me back where I started. In many ways, having seen what I have seen, I will have to struggle yet more to say, “God is good,” for the sin of mankind has erupted in dangerous and obvious ways within the Holy Land. Cain and Abel still dwell there.

But I met a man (a monk), whom I mentioned earlier, who said from his heart, “I have no enemies.” God is indeed good and I realize in hindsight that I was standing on holy ground in the presence of a true spiritual struggler. I return home yet more convinced of the Truth and reality of the Gospel. Christ rose from the dead. I have stood where Peter and John stood and seen that the tomb was empty. But the Truth of the gospel in any human life will not stand for long on mere historical evidence. It must stand on the firm rock of Christ within us – Who is “the hope of glory,” according to St. Paul.

I found that while standing in very holy places my heart was as much in need of “guarding” as ever. Evil thoughts, tempting thoughts, thoughts of judging and the like were no more a stranger to me there than at home. Thus prayer was essential to make the pilgrimage and remains at least as essential as I have returned.

The Elder Sophrony taught that every word spoken by Christ was a full of the creative energy of God as the first words, “Let there be light!” Thus to take a commandment into our bosom and there let it dwell is also an act of re-creation – our own transformation. And so the pilgrimage continues. Remember God. Say your prayers. Go to Church. Forgive your brother. Keep the commandments.

Deliver Us From the Evil One

September 1, 2008

The following words of St. Silouan are fairly straightforward. God give us grace and good hearts to hear him.

If you think evil of people, it means you have an evil spirit in you whispering evil thoughts about others. And if a man dies without repenting, without having forgiven his brother, his soul will go to the place where lives the evil spirit which possessed his soul.

This is the law we have: if you forgive others, it is a sign that the Lord has forgiven you; but if you refuse to forgive, then your own sin remains with you.

The Lord wants us to love our fellow-man; and if you reflect that the Lord loves him, you have a sign of the Lord’s love for you. And if you consider how greatly the Lord loves His creature, and you yourself have compassion on all creation, and love your enemies, counting yourself the vilest of all, it is a sign of abundant grace of the Holy Spirit in you.

He who has the Holy Spirit in him, to however slight a degree, sorrows day and night for all mankind. This heart is filled with pity for all God’s creatures, more especially for those who do not know God, or who resist Him and therefore are bound for the fire of torment. For them, more than for himself, he prays day and night, that all may repent and know the Lord.

Christ prayed for them that were crucifying him: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ Stephen the Martyr prayed for those who stoned him, that the Lord ‘lay not this sin to their charge.’ And we, if we wish to preserve grace, must pray for our enemies. If you do not feel pity for the sinner destined to suffer the pains of hell-fire, it means that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not in you, but an evil spirit. While you are still alive, therefore, strive by repentance to free yourself from this spirit.

Reading this made me think: “Whose voice is that rattling in your brain?”

Many Thanks for Prayers and a Request

August 9, 2008

I awoke feeling much better today and am deeply grateful for the many prayers. In my experience, rising from a bed of sickness is among the greatest joys we know in our earthly life. I think it is a foreshadowing of the resurrection when we shall all rise from our beds of sickness (and death) and join in the chorus of heaven. I am baptizing a child this afternoon, no better way to celebrate resurrection! I share again the wonderful song of resurrection by St. Nicolai of Zicha, because I do not know of a happier sound!

On a very sorrowful note – pray for our brothers in Russia, Georgia and Ossetia where the threat of war has broken out. How deeply grevious it is for Orthodox brothers to go to war. May God bring a swift and just end to their conflict!

Translation of lyrics:

People rejoice, nations hear:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Stars dance, mounts sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Forests murmur, winds hum:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Seas bow*, animals roar:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bees swarm, and the birds sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!

Angels stand, triple the song:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Sky humble yourself, and elevate the earth:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bells chime, and tell to all:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Glory to You God, everything is possible to You,
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!

Many Thanks for your Support

July 16, 2008
As the ministry of Glory to God for All Things continues to grow, I give thanks to readers who read, comment, and share with others what they find useful. Tonight or tomorrow we will have logged 800,000 visits to the site, a very gratifying number. I recently added a “flag count” to the blog, which has noted that since about July 10 we have had visits from over 80 countries. A number of them are nations which we normally count among the nations of Islam. I have information of inreach into some countries that are normally thought of as inacessible as well. Please pray for this ministry and its related ministry, Glory to God podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. We have had about 4,000 downloads or more per month with that ministry. It is a quiet ministry that God is using for much good in the lives of inquiring people. May God bless all of our readers and may we pray for all as though for ourselves!