The Kingdom of God is within you

27 October OS 2021 – Tuesday of the 6th Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyr Nestor

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 1-10.

At that time, it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

St. Theophan the Recluse, in discussing the Lord’s teaching on prayer, addresses the need to pray from the heart:

…We must concern ourselves about only one thing: that when we stand at prayer, at home or in church, we have true prayer in our soul: a true turning and lifting up of our mind and heart to God. Let everyone do this as he is able. …do not mutter the prayers like a wound-up machine that plays songs. No matter how long you stand like that, and mumble the prayers, you have no prayer, when your mind is wandering and your heart is full of empty feelings. But if you stand at prayer and are accustomed to it, what does it cost you to draw your mind and heart there as well. Draw them there, even if they have become stubborn.   Then true prayer will form and will attract God’s mercy, and God’s promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” will be fulfilled. Often it is not given because there is no petition, only a posture of petitioning. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Yearpp. 237-238

Here St. Theophan assumes that the reader is already someone who has the habit of regular prayer.   He is most certainly not saying, “Only pray when you feel like it,” which is the perverse meaning that some people impute to this command to pray from the heart. Not only must we force ourselves to pray when we do not feel like it, but when we are forcing our bodies to stand up and our lips to move, we must also force the mind to pay attention.   When the Lord sees our repeated efforts to pray with attention, He will give feeling to the heart, in due season.

Why are we Orthodox, or why should someone become Orthodox?   There are a number of reasons, of course: It is demonstrably the One, True Church; the Orthodox Church has not changed the original teachings of Christ and the Apostles; the Orthodox Church has the most complete, most theologically rich, most beautiful, organically continuous and unadulterated system of Christian public worship; etc.   Another way, however, of looking at it is this: Only in the Orthodox Church can we find both the grace and the correct instruction to enable us to enter into an un-deluded and authentic interior life. The institutions of the Church, the dogmas of the Church, the public worship of the Church – God has given us all this to enable us to choose “the one thing needful,” an authentic life lived with God in the inner man, in the soul.

This is the subtlest but also, paradoxically, the strongest argument for Orthodoxy: Orthodoxy enables us to be friends with the Lord, as Adam and Eve were in Paradise.   In order to experience this, however, one has to do Orthodoxy, one has to engage in some kind of interior struggle, or Orthodoxy increasingly will make no sense, until one finally gives up and lapses into a purely nominal identification or leaves the Church altogether, or perhaps remains active in Church life in a purely superficial sense, consumed by ecclesiastical politics, social connections among families in the ethnic community, social and fundraising events, and intra-parish squabbles. The danger of the last option is that such a person usually imagines that he is actually practicing the Faith and may go to the grave having abandoned the path to salvation without even noticing it.

The reality is that what goes on inside of us is bigger than what goes on outside of us. One human heart in which God dwells by His uncreated energies is larger than the entire physical universe.  Our real life is inside of us. This is where the issues of life, the main battles of life, are fought. Most people, sadly, surrender without firing a shot, because they do not even know where the battlefield is, or that there is a war going on.

God knows better than we what obstacles we face to attain a focused interior state. He knows better than we what an absurdly distracted way of life the “advanced” societies of the 21st century thrust upon their inmates.   He does not demand that we attain a high spiritual state before we die; He does, however, demand that we get on the road to a high spiritual state and keep going, or at least not wander into other paths. He wants us to get on the ladder of divine ascent and stay on it, even if it means climbing with painful slowness or just hanging on to the lowest rung.

Let us, then, renew our resolve to set aside time every day to be alone with our Creator and Redeemer, and to struggle for regularity and attention in prayer. May Our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom come daily, in our hearts, so that we may inherit it also in the age to come. Amen.

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“For righteous art Thou in all which Thou hast done for us”

23 October OS 2021 – Friday of the 5th Week of St. Luke, St. James, the Brother of the Lord

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk5fri

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 10: 1-15.

After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.

St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the ultimate fate of those who reject the apostolic preaching:

In the next world, will there be such condescension toward those who do not accept the Lord as He showed toward those living on the earth?   No, there will not be. Sending the Seventy to preach, the Lord commanded them that when they were not received, they should say in the streets: “Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” That is, we do not need anything of yours. It is not with self-interest that we walk and preach, but to proclaim peace and the Kingdom of God unto you. If you do not want to receive this blessing, then let it be as you wish – we will go on. Thus it was commanded for the present time; but how will it be in the future? “It will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.”  Therefore, unbelievers have nothing to give them hope of the Lord’s lenience. While on the earth they take their liberties, but as soon as death comes, the entire storm of God’s wrath will come down upon them. It would be a great misfortune to be as the unbelievers!   They do not even have joy on the earth, because without God and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer, even here everything is dismal and dreary. As to what will happen there, it is impossible to describe it in words or to imagine it. It would be more tolerable to be destroyed, but even that will not be given to them. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 234

Thoughts like these are very difficult for us.   It is terrible, unthinkable, that people we love – relatives, friends, even spouses and children – would be condemned for their lack of faith in Christ.   On the other hand, the alternative is even more unthinkable – that the words of Christ are not true. For if these hard words of His about the necessity of Faith and the reality of His Judgment are not true, why should any of His words be true? And if He is not the Truth, nothing and no one is, and there is no truth. And if there is no truth, life is not worth living.

The only way out of the painful state of mind caused by juxtaposing these two alternatives is complete humility and surrender to the will of God.   We have to “commit ourselves, one another, and all our life to Christ our God.” The knowledge of Who He is, the conviction that we have a Creator and a Redeemer, is by itself the source of limitless joy, a never-failing fountain of happiness for every moment of the day, if only we thought about it.   Clinging to Him, walking the narrow path with Him and to Him (for He is our constant companion on the very road to Himself) should occupy all of our mental energy for spiritual matters – why waste energy and risk getting lost by wandering off the path to indulge in theological speculation about the fate of the faithless?   They have a Creator and Redeemer, Who knows them better than we do and Who loves them better, as well.   Let Him take care of it.

In regards to those among the living whom we deeply desire to convert to the Orthodox Faith, pray for them every day – make a list, read their names, and say, “O Lord have mercy on them!”   You can also say the Trisagion Prayers and Ps. 50 for them.   When you are actively engaged in helping someone find his salvation, all these speculations about the justice of God in condemning those outside the Church, etc, fall away.   We have to do our job, and that is helping others not be condemned. This should occupy our attention sufficiently until we draw our own last breath. And we should never give up: as the great American philosopher Yogi Berra reminds us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

In regards to those who have died outside the Church, we can also make a list of their names, read it every day, and say, “O Lord, have mercy on them!”   We can also say the Trisagion Prayers and Psalm 50 for them, as well.

Let us cast away all of our logismoi – our dark, troubled, and confused thoughts – and let us cast ourselves into the abyss of God’s inscrutable wisdom and absolute love for mankind.   His peace, which the world cannot give, shall envelope us, calm our troubled minds, and give us the courage to confess our Faith, share it with others if they want it, and persevere to the end.

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Building our house on Rock

7 October OS 2021 – Wednesday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke;  Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, Martyrs

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk3wed_1

In today’s Gospel, the Lord exhorts us to match our actions to our confession of Faith in Him:

The Lord said: And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. – Luke 6:46-7:1

If you are a sincere Orthodox Christian trying somehow to have a conscious spiritual life, these words are always hovering around you, and there is always (one hopes!) at least a slight twinge of conscience.   We know we do not fulfill Our Lord’s commandments, and yet we continue to say, “Lord, Lord.”   How can we place the house of our soul more firmly on the rock of His commandments?

The first thing to remember is that we must not stop saying, “Lord, Lord,” even though our the disposition of our hearts and our outward deeds do not live up to our words. We have to keep confessing our Faith in Jesus as our Lord and God. If you say, “I do not want to live with the tension of this inconsistency which borders on hypocrisy; I cannot fulfill the Lord’s commandments and therefore I shall give up calling Him my Lord,” this does not overcome your moral failure but, on the contrary, canonizes it. It is an act of cowardice, not nobility, to give up striving because one daily fails. It is an act of courage, not hypocrisy, to repent every day and keep trying.

So here we are, still crying out “Lord, Lord,” and yet imperfectly and unsteadily fulfilling His commandments. What to do? St. Theophan the Recluse, with his unerring sense of the essential, zeroes in on the problem, which is the conversion of the heart:

“Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Why do they call Him Lord, but do not do the Lord’s will – that is, why do they not acknowledge His lordship in their works? Because they only call with their tongue, and not with their heart. If their heart were to utter, “Lord, Thou art my Lord,” then complete readiness would abide therein to submit to the One Whom they confess as their Lord. But since this is not the case, their deeds do not match their tongues; whereas, deeds always match the heart. Well, what then – is there no use in calling “Lord, Lord”? No, that’s not it. But it is necessary to make the external word match the inner word, which is the feeling and disposition of the heart. Sit and reflect upon the Lord and upon yourself; what is the Lord and what are you? Think about what the Lord has done and still does for you, why you live, and how it will end. You will immediately come to the conviction that there is no other way than steadfastly to fulfill the Lord’s entire will. There is no other path for us. This conviction gives birth to a readiness to fulfill in deed what is expressed by the word “Lord.” With such readiness a need for help from above will be awakened, and from it the prayer: “Lord, Lord! Help me and give me strength to walk in Thy will.” And this call will be pleasing to the Lord.” – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 221

In these few words St. Theophan has laid out for us a simple and do-able plan that will lead to our salvation:

  1. Sit for a bit and reflect on Who God is and who you are. Think about all that He has done for you: He brought you into existence; without Him you would not exist.   He became a man and died for you.
  2. You will realize quickly that you depend on Him for everything, that you owe Him everything, and that you must do exactly what He wants at all times, or you will perish.
  3. Cry out to Him and beg Him for help to know and to do His will.

The saint concludes, “And this call will be pleasing to the Lord.” In other words, by the very act of asking Him to help us do His will, we are already doing His will. We are acknowledging His lordship over our lives, admitting our inability to do His will, showing our utter dependence on Him, and fulfilling His commandment to pray and ask Him for that which we need. We have begun to pray from the heart, which is man’s essential function, and therefore at one stroke we have begun to do God’s will in the most essential way.

If we keep at it, then little by little our actions will match our words, because now our words will be coming from the heart and therefore our own created energies will be focused on what needs to be done instead of being scattered in the pursuit of myriad inessentials, and we will simultaneously and directly be invoking the power of God, and therefore His divine and uncreated energies will accomplish what our poor strength cannot do.

Here indeed is in brief a program for the Christian life.

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Pilgrims and strangers

5 October OS 2021 – Monday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyr Charitina

You can listen to an audio recording of this commentary at http://orthodoxtruth.org/uncategorized/pilgrims-and-strangers/

 In today’s Gospel, the Lord turns worldly reasoning upside down, and He commands His followers to do that which is above nature:

The Lord said to the Jews which came to Him: woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. – Luke 6: 24-30

St. Theophan the Recluse, in his commentary on these verses, points out that Our Lord is painting a picture of the entire Christian life as a time of exile and pilgrimage, not security and rest:

Woe to those who are rich, who are full, who laugh, and who are praised. But good shall come to those who endure every wrongful accusation, beating, robbery, or imposed hardship. This is completely opposite to what people usually think and feel! The thoughts of God are as far from human thoughts as heaven is from the earth. How else could it be? We are in exile, and it is not remarkable for those in exile to be offended and insulted. We are under a penance, and the penance consists of deprivations and labors. We are sick, and bitter medicines are most useful for the sick. The Savior Himself did not have a place to lay His head for His whole life, and He finished His life on the Cross. Why should His followers have a better lot? The spirit of Christ is the spirit of preparedness to suffer and good-naturedly bear all that is sorrowful. Comfort, conceit, splendor, and ease are all foreign to its strivings and tastes. Its path lies in the fruitless, cheerless desert. Its model is the forty-year wandering of the Israelites in the desert. Who follows this path? Anyone who sees Canaan beyond the desert, overflowing with milk and honey. During his wandering he too receives manna – however, not from the earth, but from heaven; not bodily, but spiritually. All glory is within.   – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 219-220

We all agree with the truth of this of course, but if we are honest, we admit that we do not feel the truth of it.   Think about it: When is the last time we rejoiced in spirit because someone hated us, cursed us, abused us, physically assaulted us, or stole from us?

How do we do this – rejoice in hardship, love our enemies, and so forth? How do we follow the divine charter for Christian living as found in the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in St. Luke, from which we read today? Here is a short to-do list:

One: Admit that we cannot live the Gospel. Admit that to the end of our lives we will fail. As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says in The Arena, even the greatest saints fall short of the Gospel. It is beyond the power of human nature; it is “above nature,” as the Fathers say. We should not give in to the temptation from the right side, to be made despondent by the false accusation that we are hypocrites, an accusation usually made by someone who wants to use our weakness as an excuse to deny the truth of our Faith. When a sincere, repenting Christian fails to live up to the Gospel, this is not hypocrisy; a hypocrite is someone who habitually pretends before others to be the opposite of what he really is, not someone with high standards who tries hard but falls short. Even if we are striving, we shall still fall, at least in small ways. Grace comes always if we ask for God’s help to get up again. And remember: salvation, much less Christian perfection, is the free gift of grace.

Two: So we must pray daily with all our hearts that God forgive us for not living the Gospel, that He give us the grace to live it better, and that He give us the grace daily to admit our failure and to ask for more grace.

Three: Force ourselves to thank God when bad things happen.

Four: Pray for those who harm us, both the great and the small, but especially the small, that is, the person right in front of us.

Remember, as St. Theophan points out, that we are exiles and pilgrims in this life. We are on a journey going to our true home, and we should expect discomfort. The warm fire, fuzzy slippers, and comfy armchair are at the end of the journey, not on the road.   All of our problems arise from delusions, and all of our delusions start with the idea that we are little gods creating a nice little world here in this life.   But our true home is in the heavens; our life is hid with Christ in God. This life is an arena, a contest, a struggle, and a trial.   Our Judge awaits us, with the crown of life in His hand for those who do not give up.

It is always later than we think. Death is always at the door. This is indeed a sobering thought, but, if we live in repentance, it is also a thought that conveys ineffable consolation. The Lord is near.

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Orthodox Survival Course Class 67:  In Memoriam, on the 39th Anniversary of the Repose of Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) – Fr. Seraphim and the Tools of Discernment, Continued 

Listen to audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc67

Thanks and Request for Donations

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Introduction – 

As we promised last time, in this talk, we’ll continue the list of things to do in order to acquire the “radar equipment” of discernment, to acquire a deeply serious Orthodox way of looking at things, based on the example and writings of Fr. Seraphim Rose.   After going through the rest of our list, we’ll then go on to discuss two aspects of Fr. Seraphim’s writing that are still somewhat controversial, which are his response to ecumenism and his approach to eschatology. 

Before going back to our list of “to-dos”, we need to make a qualifying introductory statement:  Everything I’m about to say represents an ideal, a statement of insights and principles.   When I criticize the Internet and electronic media, for example, I know full well that I am using the Internet to get out this message.  When I criticize the superficiality of virtual friendship on the Internet, in which people never actually meet each other, I know full well that many of us have formed a needed community of faith, commitment, and shared interests that would not have been possible without this technology.    But we know how easily the technology is abused, and we have to do reality checks constantly on ourselves, constantly recurring to the basic insight that life today is abnormal, and we have to strive in whatever little way possible to return to older, more human ways of doing things.   If we forget this, we’ll be lost. 

I.   Tools of Discernment, continued:  

Love the place where you are – live life in depth not on the surface

   Many of you are probably familiar with Fr. Seraphim’s answer when asked if he would like to travel to see the historic sites of the Faith.    Someone asked him, “Well, Father, you’ve written so beautifully about Holy Russia, Orthodox Gaul, and so forth – wouldn’t you like to travel to some of those places?”   He responded with, “Everything I need is right here.”  Of course, this is the attitude of a true monk, who should practice both stability and enclosure in the monastery of his profession until death.  But it also reflects the fundamental wisdom of loving one’s own place – the earth beneath one’s own feet, the sky over one’s head, the familiar landmarks of one’s farm, village, or neighborhood.  Recall that prior to becoming a Christian, Fr. Seraphim was deeply influenced by the philosopher Rene Guenon, one of whose insights was that contemporary, post-industrial civilization had abandoned the quest for quality in favor of quantity; his most famous book is entitled The Reign of Quantity. Another way of putting it is that people are increasingly obsessed with the surface of things and do not care about – or even know the existence of – the depth of things.  Because the surface quickly becomes unsatisfying, one runs to a new sensation, a new interest, a new friend, a new sound bite on the news, another Youtube video, etc. in order to find satisfaction.  But it is not there, and so he runs to something or someone or somewhere else, piling up endless experiences lacking in depth, understanding, or spiritual nourishment.  

     By staying put in one place, by learning to live a quiet and ordered life deeply in touch with the small world around us, by living life on the human scale instead of the scale of giantism and quantitative mass, a man acquires not only greater wisdom about the world outside of him, but simultaneously, and more importantly, greater wisdom concerning his interior life, the life of the mind and the soul.     

This does not mean that an Orthodox Christian, in the course of his earthly pilgrimage, may not have to search for the right place to put down roots. Very few today are blessed to be born, grow up, live, and die in the place of one’s birth, and also live an Orthodox life.  Given today’s circumstances, this search for the right place can take years, as many of us know from experience.  But one should search for that place earnestly and ask God for it, just as one asks God to send one the right spouse or send one to the right monastery.  There are a few special people called to the life of homeless wandering, a form of radical non-possessiveness for Christ’s sake, but that is a rare vocation, not the normal Christian way of life.  

Of course, today, people can run around to countless new places, so-called friends, and titillating experiences without leaving their room, because of the Internet.  So what we are trying to convey here can no longer refer only to physically staying in one place – which most people in fact do now, hypnotized by the screen in front of them – but also withdrawing from the stream of shallow experiences on the Internet, television, and so forth, and dealing directly with the actual God-created world and God-created people around us.  We have to do a few real things, and do them in depth, with patience, attention, and persistence, instead of doing lots of things inattentively and giving them up in favor of a new activity.   We have to have a few real friends, not thousands of virtual “friends” who are actually barely even acquaintances as understood historically in traditional social life.  

From everything we know about Fr. Seraphim’s personality that can be known to be reasonably trustworthy, and in complete harmony with his own statements in his writings, surely it is safe to say that, as his biographer asserts, he really did intensely love the natural world that was all around him in his monastery:  the stars in the sky, the trees of the vast northern California forest, the forest animals, the majesty of the surrounding mountains, and so forth.  This was not at odds with, but rather helpful to his striving for the eternal life of the next world, for a healthy love of God’s creation incites us to love the Creator and seek union with Him.   We all know this, and yet we take so little time to withdraw from the fake world of electronic media and engage the real world.   The very nature of the electronic media addicts us to living life on the surface rather than in depth, hurriedly instead of calmly, and inattentively instead of attentively.  By contrast, the very nature of doing real things –  of sitting down and reading a real book, of practicing a traditional craft, of growing food and tending animals, of learning about the types of trees in our locale, the habits of the animals, and the ancient wisdom of traditional astronomy regarding the sky over our head, of taking hours to prepare, store, and cook food properly – the very nature of doing these real things can enable us to transform our experience of the outer world from a labyrinth of perpetual and fragmented meaninglessness into a doorway to the contemplation of eternal realities.  

Choose to do things a harder, older way on purpose.  

Those of us who are blessed to own old copies of Orthodox Word from the sixties and seventies, and first editions of Fr. Seraphim’s books, know the special feel of those pages – we can feel the imprint of the hand press that they used to print the books that he wrote and the journal numbers that his articles first appeared in.    When Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Herman moved out to the middle of nowhere, they did it on purpose, and on purpose they chose to live as simply as possible, and to do things an older, harder way, not a more convenient way using more advanced technology.  The hand press is only one example of this approach they took, though it is the most remarked-upon.  Of course there was a touch of romanticism in this – aren’t most people at least a little romantic about such things? –   but there were also genuine spiritual principles involved:  that we acquire virtue through struggle, that bodily ease leads to sin, and that the physical artifact of a man’s direct doing with his own hands carries within it the imprint of his soul as well as the sweat of his body.   

Well, getting back to that hand press:  the price they paid for using the hand press was that they could only print a limited number of copies, but again, it was a matter of quality – I don’t mean superficial quality, but the quality of an integral interiority, of producing something with depth not just surface – over quantity, and a rejection of the materialistic ethic of utilitarianism,  the idea that the morality of an action is in direct proportion to the number of people supposedly being benefited.  Of course, we may in a given situation rightly choose to do things a faster and easier way in order to (it is to be hoped!) benefit more people, but when we do, we must recall that usually there is in fact a trade-off, that something of true beauty, interiority, and integrity is lost by mass production and ease of production using more and more impersonal technology.  

(I’ve often thought that I would like to stop writing these notes on a computer and also no longer put the notes or these recordings on the Internet.  I’d much rather write them on a typewriter [it would be even better by hand, but my handwriting is dreadful!], make photocopies, and mail the text to a relatively small postal mailing list of serious people who would go out of their way to subscribe to the list, and who would want to sit down and read something on paper instead of on a screen.  I’d still be using modern technology, of course – perhaps an electric typewriter, certainly a copying machine, and obviously that great [and most excellent!] modern institution of the Post Office –  but at least it would be an older technology, and the whole process would be blessedly more cumbersome and time-consuming, and have more integrity.    I welcome your comments on this idea!    Maybe I’d still make the audio recording, learn how to make compact discs, and then mail the CDs to the mailing list along with those typewritten notes.   The CD would still be digital technology, but at least one would get a physical object in the mail.  A real live human being, the postman [Yes, I still say “postman”!]  would stick a physical object into your mailbox, and you would open it up and put it in your little machine and listen to it, while reading my typescript. [Perhaps I should get an old manual typewriter with one irritatingly defective letter, like an “a” that jumps halfway up above the line.]  Well, it’s an idea.)  

Here’s another idea:  Get an old clock that you have to wind periodically. If it doesn’t keep time with perfect exactness, that’s all the better!  (And make sure you teach your children and grandchildren how to read a clock face). That’s just one example; there are a lot of other ways of doing things that are slower and older and less convenient, but they still work, and what they do is to force us to slow down and think about what we’re doing, and they force us to have more direct, more human, more personal contact with the action we are performing.  (Our granddaughters were fascinated to learn that there are hand cranks to raise and lower automobile windows, such as I have in my old pickup truck).   The more advanced the technology is, the more impersonal it is – we go faster and faster, we get more and more detached from the action some machine is performing for us with ever lessening participation on our part, and we live on the surface of life, skimming from one superficial experience to another.   Of course, depending on our work,  unavoidable responsibilities may force us to keep up – to some extent – with so called progress in technology.   But we still have to fight back somehow, or we will become less and less human.  

Be content with a lack of perfection; remember that the “better is the enemy of the good.”  Keep trying. 

When Eugene Rose and Gleb Podmoshensky, the future Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Herman, moved out to the wilderness, they really did not know what they were getting into, and they never figured out how to do everything properly that a skilled and experienced outdoorsman or homesteader would know how to do or that someone with lots of money could hire someone to do.     Their building constructions were miserably rough, and they were always failing at their vegetable gardening.  But they persisted; they were humble enough to do things badly, as long as things got done,  and that is the key.  We have to do the same with whatever efforts we make at doing something for God, efforts to live more fully the Orthodox life God is calling us to live.   We can’t wait till we have all the money we think we need, or all the skills we think we need, or all the knowledge we think we need, or all the people we think we need – at some point we have to trust God and take the plunge and start our efforts, whether it’s building a church or starting a parish school or moving out to a homestead in the country or writing a book, or whatever it may be.  Perfectionism is a temptation from the right side, and the demons in the form of angels of light are actually appealing to your vanity, not your conscience, when they make you depressed about not doing things just right or just as well as someone else over there somewhere who you think is more successful.    Homeschooling is a very common example of this – homeschooling parents almost always think they are not doing the job well enough, and they’re always tempted to throw in the towel, and yet despite their mistakes their children usually turn out a thousand times better than if they had gone to some mainstream school.   

And just forget about having all the money you need before you start your pious project!     We read  something very instructive in the Life of St. Moses, the superior of Optina monastery whose self-sacrificial labors set the monastery on a firm basis both physically and spiritually in the first half of the 19th century, which enabled the ministry of the more famous elders, like Leonid, Macarius, and Ambrose, to flourish.   He never waited till he had all the money – or even half the money! – he needed to start his building and farming projects, whose success eventually led to making the monastery self-sufficient, depending only on the labors of its brotherhood, as a monastery should be.  He would just start things, he would pray, the money would come, and he would spend it.  When he reposed, the entire contents of the monastery treasury were a ten kopeck coin found stuck in a a crack in his desk drawer!    And it was said that if he had found it, he would have spent that too.      

In short, let us make our Sign of the Cross and charge ahead.   The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s.   Let us pray for more courage and trust in Him, and be willing to fail in the eyes of the world, as long as we are serving Him.    If we do go down to defeat, it will be the glorious defeat of the hero who gave his all, not the ignominious defeat of a coward who never went into the arena to do battle.   And if this or that fails, we just have to get up, dust off our britches, and keep trying.    

Never compromise your integrity.   There’s no use being Orthodox if you’re not even human

One of the things we find in Fr. Seraphim’s published biography that we can be fairly certain of is that as a young intellectual in his pre-Orthodox years, he was continually tortured by the lies of the modern world, which he experienced bitterly first hand as he continuously encountered the lack of integrity in official academia.    He had a burning desire to know the truth and to live by that truth.   Eventually He found the Truth Himself – Christ, the true God of Orthodoxy – and he tried to conform his life to that Truth.   This profound integrity, this willingness to suffer for truth, shines from his writings, and this is a big reason why so many people thirsting for the answers to life have been attracted to what he wrote.   There was no posturing, no fakery; he neither pandered to corrupt worldly sensibilities nor did he haughtily assume the superior air of someone who knew better than everyone else.  It was straight talk, and it was not casual or effortless – he worked very hard at it, because he did not trust himself not to make a mistake. He kept suffering.    

In speaking of reliable criteria for discerning who is telling the truth, Fr. Seraphim often referred to St. Gregory the Theologian’s expression, “Our suffering Orthodoxy.”   In the series of talks that was later published in a slim little volume called God’s Revelation to the Human Heart, he identifies a suffering heart as one of the signs that someone is on the right path, that he is seeking the truth, and that his heart will be open to God’s revelation.    If you love truth and have a sensitive conscience, you are bound to suffer, at least within yourself if not outwardly, because you have to live in this world, and the world is full of lies, being under the dominion of the father of lies.  Moreover, you see the lies inside yourself, you see more and more that you are part of the problem.   This causes the salutary pain of heart that cries out, in the favorite prayer of St. Gregory Palamas, “O Lord, enlighten my darkness!”  

Another favorite saying of Fr. Seraphim’s was in the form of a question, “We know they are Orthodox, but are they Christians?”   It was a rhetorical device, of course, an artificial paradox, not a real question, for he well knew that only Christians can in fact be Orthodox, and only those in the Church can be said to be Christians, strictly speaking. What he meant was, “One can be Orthodox formally, and even profess great knowledge and zeal, but ultimately you have to practice the Gospel, or you will give the lie to your noble name of Orthodox Christian and fall short of your vocation.”     In the Gospel, the only people Our Lord condemns, the only people He shows anger at, are the officially religious people who are nonetheless hypocrites, the ones of whom He said, “You say that ‘we see,’ and so your sin remains.”  They were not crying out, “Enlighten my darkness,” though they had the True Light standing right in front of them in the flesh, the Incarnate Word of God.  They were saying, “We already have the light, and we don’t need You.”  There was no way they could even begin to understand St. Ignaty Brianchaninov’s powerful insight, that even the greatest saints fall short of the standard of the Gospel.  

This hardness of heart, this smugness, this delusion that one knows it all, is a sure sign by which we can discern that someone – including oneself – is on the wrong path.  This does not mean that we should live our whole lives with the attitude of skepticism towards our Orthodox theological and philosophical convictions.  Of course not!   “We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith,” as we chant at the conclusion of every Divine Liturgy after the reception of Holy Communion, which is the ultimate moment of enlightenment, the fullness of the entry of the Eternal Light into the soul and body of a man.  But we must never be content with our own reception of Orthodoxy, with making it our own, with the depth of our own understanding, with the fullness of our Orthodox life in action.  This must go on until one’s last breath.  If we stop doing this, we become hard of heart, we stop the salutary suffering of soul that leads to purification and illumination; we enter the world of delusion, of plani, prelest, we join the ranks of those whom St. Paul calls the deceiving and the deceived, the blind leading the blind. 

So we understand that we cannot be Orthodox without striving to be Christian, without striving to live the Gospel.   But what about the fact that we cannot be Christians if we are not even human?   I don’t mean human in our ousia, our human nature, which is always there no matter how much we deform it, but in our energeia, our energies/operations, the expression of our humanity, our functioning as human beings.   Let’s circle back to something we talked about last time, Fr. Seraphim’s practice of getting new converts to read the great literature and listen to the great music of the post-Orthodox Western European culture and ancient pagan culture.  He was saying, in essence, “Listen, in your reading of the Church Fathers and Orthodox spiritual literature, you are learning for the first time about genuinely spiritual things, and that’s very good, but remember that much of what you are reading is in fact inaccessible to you at this point – to a great extent you don’t know what you are looking at.   One of the reasons that you are not ready for this is that you don’t even have normal human – much less Christian – reactions to ordinary human experience because of this brutalized, nihilistic anti-culture you were brought up in.    You can’t even imagine what a noble pagan is, much less a Christian, and much more less a saint!  Read this literature – Shakespeare, the Greek tragedies, great novels of the 19th century, etc. – about the heights and depths of fallen human nature, and develop a sensitive mind and heart for man as he is in his fallen state, his simultaneous nobility and fragility, the tragedy of his existence without Christ!    And notice:   There are heroic characters here in this literature who are striving with every ounce of their being, and who are suffering, for integrity, for not being phonies, for following conscience, for doing the right thing, and they fall short, and they know that they fall short!   Do you do that?  Do you strive and suffer like that?   Can you see that in your behavior you do not even rise to the level of this noble heretic or pagan character in Shakespeare or Sophocles?   Does your heart suffer over their plight, and over your own sins and the sins of the whole world?  Do you really, really, realize to what extent – what immeasurable extent! –  all men need, and you need a Savior?”    

The great crisis of civilization that we face today is bringing to the surface the hidden thoughts of men, including Orthodox men.  We see so many non-Orthodox people out there now – heterodox Christians, non-Christians, completely secular people, all kinds of people – who are willing to suffer in order not to lose their fundamental integrity and moral freedom as human beings.  They speak out, they do not bow down to self-evidently immoral rules and decrees with the excuse that they have to “obey the government,” they are willing to lose their jobs, get kicked out of school, lose their professional licenses, have SWAT teams kick down their doors and put them in handcuffs, to spend time in jail, even to be murdered – all for speaking the truth about what is going on around us.   We have to be honest and recognize that if we choose to live in denial, if we are smug and complacent about the plight of our fellow human beings, if we are not suffering at least inwardly, in our minds and hearts, over the outrageous lies of the Satanocracy that is now openly forming the anti-Christian One World Government before our eyes, then we are, in our behavior, less moral than these brave people who are, sadly, outside the Church.   Thank God, we are also seeing that there are Orthodox Christians who are willing so to suffer, for, indeed, it is the Church that has the real answers for everyone, and Her children should take the lead in the fight against evil. 

In this great crisis, then, the Church has the ultimate answers – only She can fully explain to suffering man the origin of these problems,  which is the perpetual war of Satan against the human race, which now has reached a great crisis point, but has been going on since the beginning of the world and will last till the end of the world.  Only the Church can offer the true deliverance from sin, death, and corruption, the results of the Fall from which all human ills, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual, derive.  Only She knows and teaches correctly how Our Lord will return to judge the living and the dead, and cast Satan and his minions into the lake of fire. And we, the Orthodox Christians, are inexpressibly and undeservedly blessed to be in the Church.   But membership in the Church is not a “Get Out of Jail Free Card,” not a painless escape into some kind of anesthetized Never-Never Land.  We are not like the sectarians who believe they will be “raptured” out of all persecution and sorrow.   We are not Gnostics who seek to enjoy spiritual experiences apart from social responsibility, moral striving, and real suffering.   We are Christians, and that means we must take up the Cross.    But without this fundamental love of truth, without the burning desire to conform one’s life to truth and not be a pseudo-spiritual hypocrite, we cannot fulfill the vocation to prophetic and martyric witness that is required of all Christians.  And we will be judged more harshly than those outside, precisely because we have received the fullness of Truth and grace that is in the Church, and we would have every help from God to live the Truth that we have received, if only we would ask for it.  

  So to summarize our little list of the Tools of Discernment:  

Love to be quiet.

Deeply study history. 

See the continuity of organic Orthodox right up to the 20th century; get in touch with it. 

Appreciate the good things about Western European culture without losing sight of the Orthodox critique of that culture. 

Love the place where you are; live life in depth, not on the surface.  

Choose to do things a harder, older way on purpose.  

Be content with a lack of perfection; remember that the “better is the enemy of the good.”  Keep trying. 

Never compromise your integrity.   There’s no use being Orthodox if you’re not even human. 

   These Tools of Discernment were the main thing I wanted to talk about.  But briefly I’ll address two areas that still cause a lot of arguments, which are Fr. Seraphim’s teaching on ecumenism and his understanding of eschatology 

II.  Two Controversies:  Ecumenism and Eschatology 

  1. Ecumenism:  If you read old Orthodox Word articles from the 1960s and 1970s, there is no doubt that Fr. Seraphim was a staunch opponent of ecumenism.    Furthermore, early on he even stated, at least once, that the Russian Church Abroad, the Catacomb Church in Russia, the Greek Old Calendarists and those in communion with them, et al, i.e., the non-“official” Orthodox,  were what remained of the true Orthodox Church.   This is easily demonstrable from his writings, and the fact that after his death his publishers actually changed his words in some places to make it look like he never said that only proves that they know they don’t have an argument for some kind of revisionist, non-zealot Fr. Seraphim that was eager to join “World” Orthodoxy:  you don’t falsify documents if you already have real evidence and a strong case for your position.    But it is also true that in the last few years of his life, Fr. Seraphim made it clear that he had not adopted the “no grace in World Orthodoxy” position of some of the True Orthodox jurisdictions.   He simply followed the basic attitude of the Russian Church Abroad of his time, which was expressed most clearly in a 1948 essay of Professor Andreyev, “Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?”   Andreyev’s position was that it was certainly possible to make the case that the Moscow Patriarchate was graceless, but that the time had not yet come to make such a determination.   As the 1950s and 60s wore on, and the apostasy of all the official patriarchates – not just the MP – metastasized into a cancer of epidemic proportions, the leadership of the Russian Church Abroad took this approach to World Orthodoxy in general – they remained apart, but without making a final judgment, unless one regards the 1983 Anathema against ecumenism as a final judgment, but, then, Fr. Seraphim reposed in 1982, and therefore this Anathema is outside the scope of our topic tonight.  

In regards to the Moscow Patriarchate in particular, Fr. Seraphim took the hopeful attitude of many in the Russian Church Abroad – “Perhaps when the communist yoke is lifted, we’ll find a big, healthy body of lower-ranking bishops, lower clergy, and faithful who will overthrow their Sergianist leadership and unite with us in a pure confession of true Orthodoxy!”  Of course, he reposed years before that hypothesis could be tested.   When it was tested, we know the sad result – instead of the truly believing people in the MP rejecting their apostate leadership, a vast majority of the ROCOR submitted to that same unrepentantly apostate leadership, and they remain in this compromised position until this day.    But Fr. Seraphim was taken by God before all this happened, and it’s really pointless to argue about how he would have reacted to ROCOR’s auto-demolition in 2007.  There is no such thing as “what if,” and, furthermore, dead people can’t defend themselves from mischaracterization.   So the best approach is to say, “He reposed in 1982, this was his position at that time, and let’s leave it at that.” 

B.   Eschatology:  Probably Fr. Seraphim’s most quoted remark is, “It’s later than you think.”   That makes it pretty obvious that he saw the great apostasy as far along, and that the times of Antichrist could not be far off.   It is also clear that his teaching was completely in line with the remarkably united teaching of recent luminaries of the Russian Church Abroad, several of them who were still alive and still teaching during Fr. Seraphim’s lifetime, such as St. John Maximovich, St. Philaret of New York, Archbishop Averky of Syracuse, and Archimandrite Constantin of Jordanville:  following their teaching, he believed, as they did, that the future of the world depended on the repentance of the Russian people and the rebirth of Holy Russia, and that if this rebirth did not occur, the end was not far off. 

Note that he did not base his fundamental conviction on visions and so forth, like we see circulated on the Internet these days: “Elder So and So had a vision and prophesied this engineered pandemic and the evil vaccine to bring about the New World Order,” and so forth.   I am not saying that these visions were true or not true; I’m just saying that Fr. Seraphim’s approach was not based on visions.  It is true that in at least one of his talks – one of the few recorded talks we have –  he did quote the prophecies of recent Russian elders about subjects such as the return of the Tsar and the last times, but the substance of his teaching on  how we should interpret the signs of the times was based not on prophecies but instead on his laboriously acquired Orthodox philosophy of history applied to common sense observations about the direction of the entire Western Christian world for the past millennium and the state of the formerly Christian world today.     It was precisely this labor of Fr. Seraphim – to understand the trajectory of world history in light of Holy Scripture and Orthodox tradition, and to apply this understanding to reading the signs of the times today – that inspired our own Survival Course.   His approach to understanding the literal fulfillment of specific prophecies in the apocalyptic books of the Bible, however, was cautious, as he makes clear in the introduction to his translation of Archbishop Averky’s commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian.  

We could, then,  sum up his approach to eschatology thus:  

  1. The entire direction of the Western Christian world since the schism has been away from God. 

2.    Today man has forgotten God, there is no repentance, and therefore the spirit of Antichrist dominates society in all of its institutions and culture.   

3.  The one hope is that Russia will repent and be reborn.  If this does not happen, the end could not be far off.  

One Final Observation

The much-controverted biography of Fr. Seraphim records that after his burial, the late Bishop Nektary chanted the magnification to a monastic saint in honor of Fr. Seraphim, as though he had now joined the ranks of the saints.   From then, until now, certainly, there have been movements here and there to proclaim him a saint.  About this, there is no need for us to have an opinion.   Let us benefit from his teaching and example, and pray for his soul.  If he has found favor with God, he is praying for us. 

To our beloved teacher in Christ, Hieromonk Seraphim:   Eternal Memory! 

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Let’s get real, Man

23 September OS 2021 – Wednesday of the First Week of St. Luke; The Conception of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John

You can listen to this commentary as an audio podcast at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk1wed

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In Gospel reading appointed for the daily cycle today, we read of the Lord’s temptation by Satan:

At that time, Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. – Luke 4: 1-15

The Logos of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assumed our human nature completely and truly, but without sin. In His true human nature He did that which we had to do to be saved but could not do because of the Ancestral Sin. He fulfilled all righteousness. One of the ways in which He fulfilled the telos – goal, end, purpose – of our humanity was His completely defeating Satan.   He underwent temptation as a man, and He completely defeated the tempter.   In all generations, those who defeat Satan do so only in union with Him, and He gives them the divine power to do so, if only they will believe in Him and follow Him on His path to the Cross.

Look at the three temptations of Satan in this passage, and you will see three great delusions of mankind today: to turn stones into bread, to desire only this world, and to presume on God’s mercy.

By his revolt against God, nature, and common sense, man strives frantically to turn stones into bread. He lies to himself, that he can with impunity violate every law of God, and every moral and social tradition from the beginning of the world. He believes that he can dominate, distort, and re-make nature itself, to gratify his passions. He believes that he can call black white and white black, and declare that 2+2=5, and that nothing bad will happen to him.   He is in for a bad surprise.

Man desires only this world and its pleasures, and he will worship Satan in order to get them. He calls eternal life “pie in the sky,” and he calls eternal torment a trick invented by priests to control the masses.   He has gladly made the bargain of Faust with the devil: “All this will be yours if only you fall down and worship me.”   He is in for a bad surprise.

Man presumes on God’s mercy: “God is love, and therefore I can do whatever I want. I will throw myself off the moral cliff, and God will catch me. If you do not think this way, that is only because you are full of hatred and intolerance.”   He is in for a bad surprise.

Let us firmly resolve to confront reality, to accept it from the right hand of God, and to do penance in this life for our sins and the sins of the world. There is no other way; there is No Exit except the doorway of death, through which we will pass either into eternal joy or eternal torment. Let us take up our cross and follow the only One Who has defeated sin, the devil, death, and hell.   Let us kiss and embrace His holy commandments, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, by obeying which we take His Cross upon our shoulders and follow Him to Golgotha and beyond, to the Resurrection and the Eternal Kingdom which will know no evening.

The time for lies is over.

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The love of the many has grown cold

Listen to an audio recording of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt15sat

19 September OS 2021 – Saturday of the 15th week of Matthew; Afterfeast of the Cross; Holy Martyrs Trophimus, Sabbatius, and Dorymedon

Today’s Gospel reading is the beginning of the Lord’s great eschatological discourse towards the end of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Here it is:

          And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, 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. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. – Matthew 24: 1-13  

Today, in the fall of 2021, eschatological concerns have come to the forefront: Though we may not be in the days preceding the Last Times, we are certainly in a time when a great apostasy has taken place, and a great chastisement has resulted, in the form of a monstrous and merciless anti-Christian and anti-human tyranny that is now openly being erected over the formerly Christian nations. It is essential for us to remember that the apostasy paved the way for the tyranny, and that this has been going on for a long time now. It is essential to remember that we must oppose the tyranny with the open confession of our Faith, and that the Lord will give us the grace to make our good confession only if we repent for our part in the apostasy that has led to the tyranny. The words that follow are a post from this blog written about today’s Gospel six years ago, well before the present “Covid” era. It is important to recall what sins and delusions have prepared mankind to believe in the current great deception, and deeply to repent, so that the Lord will have mercy on us and deliver us, for the glory of His Name.

         The Lord states very clearly why the love of the many will grow cold in those days: “…because iniquity shall abound.” Here the Lord directly contradicts the preachers of the new “love” we hear about everywhere today, “love” that “blesses” every manner of evil and perversion: infanticide, sodomy, adultery, fornication, atheism, devil worship, false religions, usury, the endless pursuit of mindless vanity in the entertainment industry, the ever-spreading cancer of gambling, and on and on. The only “sin” today is to denounce evil, which proves that “you have no love.”

Today materialists call themselves “humanists” and state that they condone sin because they “love people,” and that the Church is “anti-human.” The Lord states otherwise. The true humanist, that is, the person who truly loves other human beings, is not the person who condones their self-destructive sin, but he who points it out and tries to fight it. St. Theophan the Recluse, in his commentary on this verse, says the following:

Love is destroyed by transgressions; the more sins there are, the less love there is. Where all is sin, do not look for love. Therefore, he who seeks the spread of love and the diminishing of he lack of love ought to be concerned with decreasing sin and curtailing the love of sin. This is the true foundation of humanism! Having taken up this work, one must use all means to oppose sin. Outward sins are the fruit of inner sinfulness. Inner sinfulness is rooted in egoism and its offspring. Consequently humanists need to make it a rule for themselves to suppress egoism by all means. Egoism is suppressed most forcefully by not allowing one’s own will. Do not allow yourself to have your own will, and soon you will overcome egoism. On the other hand, no matter what means you want to use against egoism, you will not be able to do anything if you give freedom to your will. Hence it follows that wherever people seek their own little will in all things, they are seeking an expansion of egoism and the drying up of love, and they are seeking greater evil. Yet such is the spirit of the current time – and evil is growing. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 194

By re-defining what love is and what sin is, today’s “wisdom” is destroying man.   “Love” = condoning the other person’s selfishness. “Sin” = calling it like it is. The only sin is “intolerance.”   The only permitted intolerance is intolerance of the truth.

The most obvious sins condoned today by the new “love” advocates are the sins involving sexual immorality.   Not only the Church, however, but even honest secular psychologists and physicians can tell you that the more – and the more varied -“partners” someone has, the more fragmented and ruined a person he becomes.   This is common sense. Illicit sexual behavior hardens the heart, darkens the mind, and ruins the person.   Such a person cannot love. After awhile, such a person cannot even think. All the “love” they believe they feel with this or that “partner” (another ruined word!) is simply the delusive warmth arising from the mutual approval of sensuality and self-worship.   It is a diabolic shadow play, a hellish dance of destruction.

True love is seen above all in the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.   This love is made manifest in the world in the lives of the Saints, who crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts, and arrived at purity of heart, at holiness, apart from which no man will see God. The only path to true love is the path to Golgotha. There is no other way.

Now how do we, in 2015, fight the evil that St. Theophan said was growing in his time (1881!)? First of all, we must reject the least concession to any new definitions of what love is, what good is, what evil is, and what sin is.  We must give wholehearted and absolute adherence to the teachings of the Church, which have not changed in thousands of years. “We do not serve the times, but God,” as St. Athanasius once said. Simultaneously we must apply ourselves wholeheartedly to rooting out the egoism in our own hearts, by heartfelt prayer to God, by repentance, by crying to Him with tears for our sins and the sins of the world.   God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men. Let us try, by the grace of God, to be one of the ten righteous men. And if there are not even ten, let us imitate the Righteous Lot and flee up to Zoar in time.

There is no use pretending that the love of the many has not grown cold. It has.   We must recognize our situation and deal with it.   But we cannot dwell on the evil in the world. The world will go its way, and we will go our way, and the two ways have always diverged; today it is simply more obvious. We must dwell in our minds there, where our true life is. Face it – if we are really Christians, we are already dead men: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).” Whatever short span of life is given to man after Baptism is simply a working out of the implications of that reality. Let us, then, rejoice, for the Lord is nigh, even at the door.

     He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Revelation 22: 11-20

Amen.

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Thirst for God

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18 September OS 2021– Thursday of the 15th week of Matthew; Afterfeast of the Cross; St. Eumenios of Gortyna, Bishop

Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is Mark 6:30-45, which is St. Mark’s account of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. In his commentary on this passage in Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, St. Theophan the Recluse does not comment on the text recounting the miracle itself, but on verse 33: “And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.”   St. Theophan reflects thus:

What drew the people to the Lord? A feeling for the Divine. The Divinity of he Lord, hidden under the cover of human nature, revealed itself in word, deed, gaze, and in all that was visible in the Lord. The manifestations of the Godhead awakened a feeling for the Divine hidden in the heart of the people, and through it drew them to the Lord… A small sign of the Divine draws people to itself. What can one conclude from this universal experience of our spirit’s aspiration for the Divine, which takes place at all times? One can conclude that the source of this experience is the Divine, the supernatural, the Godhead. This aspiration lies at the foundation of our spirit, and constitutes its nature, as anyone can see from our intellectual, aesthetic, and practical concerns. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 192-193

This “feeling for the Divine” is a mark of the presence of spirit in man. The spirit is not a separate thing from the soul, but the highest faculty of the soul, by means of which the baptized soul has direct communion with the energies of the Godhead. Every human being is born with spirit, which is characterized by this “feeling for the Divine,” this thirst for God, and God’s grace uses this natural function of the spirit in order to draw man to Faith and Holy Baptism, which enable the spirit to house the indwelling grace of God.   Archbishop Averky, in an article quoted in The Law of God (English edition, p. 100-103), notes three aspects of human psychology that point to the existence of spirit: Fear of God, Conscience, and the Thirst for God.   It is this Thirst for God that Bishop Theophan is referring to above.   Archbishop Averky writes:

It is inherent in the nature of our soul to seek God. Our spirit cannot be satisfied with anything created and earthly. No matter how many and how varied the earthly goods we might have, still we long for something more. This eternal human dissatisfaction, this constant insatiableness, this truly unquenchable thirst demonstrates that our spirit possesses a striving for something higher than all that surrounds it in earthly life, for something ideal, as it is often said. Since nothing earthly can quench this thirst in man, the spirit of man is restless, not finding any rest for itself until it finds complete satisfaction in God, with Whom the human spirit is always striving consciously or unconsciously, to have living communion.  

          How, then, do we draw people to the Church? Only by manifesting the holiness of God, the divine beauty for which the human soul thirsts.   Preaching, teaching, articles, argumentation, etc. – all have their proper place, but the “clincher” is always that the spirit of the man thirsts for the actual divine grace present in the real Church, and he is not satisfied until he drinks from that fountain.   Our job is to do our little part in making this present to him.   We do this in several ways, including the following:

  1. We must all make sacrifices in order to make possible the regular celebration of the Orthodox Divine Services in fitting churches, oratories, and chapels. This includes the building of the church, outfitting it, and supporting the clergy, so that they are free to serve God daily and not only on Sundays and a few feast days.
  2. We must so order and adorn our homes and our family life, so that the distinct fragrance, the “feel” of Orthodoxy permeates them.
  3. We must manifest in our speech and personal bearing that we are indeed different, citizens not of this world but of the heavenly kingdom. This comes about only when we are faithful to the life of prayer and to prayerful and moral attentiveness throughout the day.

When an honest, thirsting soul encounters these things – the Orthodox divine worship, Orthodox home life, and Orthodox personal behavior – it senses the presence of grace.   A person may be seeking the true Faith and discovering Orthodoxy through books (or, as is likely nowadays, websites), but he needs to encounter the reality in the flesh. This is where real conversion to the Faith begins.

Let us resolve today to take steps in doing our part to help these thirsting souls.   We need to pick one of the three activities above and make a short to-do list in order to pursue it. We should tell the Lord that we are weak and unable to do it, and that we beg Him to help us, for His glory and for the salvation of souls.

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And His own received Him not

15/28 September OS 2021 – Tuesday of the 15th week of Matthew; Afterfeast of the Cross; St. Nicetas the Goth, Great-Martyr

In today’s Gospel, the Lord’s fellow townsmen are offended because of His teaching them in the synagogue:

At that time, Jesus came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits. 
– Mark 6: 1-7

         We may often become discouraged, because it seems that even those nearest and dearest to us are not interested in our Faith, or, if they are Orthodox nominally, are not interested in deepening their understanding and practice of the Faith.   If even the Lord Himself was ignored, even derided, by His own (He came unto his own, and his own received him not – John 1:11), who are we to think that we will convert or inspire those close to us? The servant is not greater than his lord…(John 15:20).   We must always be concerned for the salvation of our neighbor, but we must also be humble enough to realize that not everything we say or do to show our concern will be effective.   There are several reasons for this:

  1. Ultimately, the salvation of the other person is in the hands of God. He alone knows what the other person really needs at this or that point. We do our best and put the rest in God’s hands.
  2. The other person has his own mind and his own will. “One man can lead a horse to water, but a thousand men cannot make him drink.” What is in the other person’s heart is, in the final analysis, a mystery known to God alone.
  3. We are but the least of God’s servants. Perhaps we lack something in our own wisdom, or in the example that we give. Let us repent and pray for that wisdom and to become the good example the other person needs.

May the Lord always give us loving hearts which desire the salvation of our neighbor, and may He at the same time give us the desire to seek only His holy will, and to leave all things in His hands.   He loves our neighbor and desires his salvation infinitely more than we do. May He save and have mercy upon us all.

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God and Caesar

(Please forgiveI”m posting this a week late. Just re-read it – it was written in 2016 – and it seemed timely; so I decided to re-post it with some minor wording changes, albeit tardily).

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5 September OS 2021 – Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Matthew; St. Zacharias, Prophet, Father of the Forerunner

In the Gospel today, we read the Lord’s well-known command to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” How can we fulfill His holy command today?

At that time, went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. 
Matthew 22: 15-22

The Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trick the Lord into saying that a Jew should not pay tax to the Romans, so that they could accuse him to the Roman governor and have Him arrested as a rebel.   Various phony messiahs appeared among the Jews in the period immediately before and after Jesus Christ, and they usually combined their supposed messiahship with political and military revolt against the Romans. They taught a worldly and carnal view of the Kingdom of God, an idea that somehow the Messiah would inaugurate an endless reign of the Jewish people over all races and nations, beginning with the defeat of the Roman conqueror.   Our Lord, by contrast, the true Messiah and Savior of the world, says quietly to Pilate, the representative of earthly authority, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

Our Lord’s command in today’s Gospel is, then, both simple and comprehensible: We are to render to God what is God’s – that is, our faith in Him and the commitment to fulfill our Baptismal vows, to live according to His holy commandments. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s: We must submit to the laws of man that do not directly violate the law of God. Our Lord Himself says to Pilate: “You would have no authority unless it were given you from above.” This word of the Lord is a sword cutting two ways: It means both that lawful governments do have authority from God – and thus Orthodox Christians are not anarchists – but also that the legitimacy of a government’s authority is measured by its conformity to the will of Him Who granted its authority, that is, by its laws’ – and the administration of its laws – conforming to the Law of God.   In the history of governments, both Christian and non-Christian, we see over and over again that as their behavior becomes more ungodly, God’s favor is withdrawn, and ultimately they lose their authority in the eyes of God and the Church. Ultimately, they fall.  It is not a matter of “if” but “when.”

How are we Orthodox Christians in the United States and other formerly Christian countries supposed to deal with our current “Caesar,” seemingly all-powerful and brazenly anti-Christian – indeed, anti-human – a tiny, foreign cosmopolitan oligarchy of finance and corporate power-mongers who believe that they will answer to no one but their father the devil, demonized men who shamelessly manipulate the ever-expanding coercive apparatus of formerly constitutional but now mostly illegitimate governments to impose their will on an increasingly enslaved population? Our Holy Mother the Church, who is “ever ancient, ever new,” still has the answers for our lives, no less than She did when our fathers lived under Christian kings who protected Her and fostered Her children with just laws and the spread of true religion.

Striving as best I can to convey Her holy teachings, I would like to offer a few thoughts:

First of all, we must be convinced that the All-Good God, Who desires our salvation more than we do, has placed each of us in this situation precisely for our salvation. He is both All-Wise and All-Powerful, as well as All-Good, and in His wisdom, He will use even the evil deeds of evil men to save those who love Him and desire to do His holy will.   What does Jesus Christ say? “In your patience possess ye your souls.” “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” If we believe resolutely that the Lord is working for our salvation precisely in the midst of our actual circumstances, and if we focus on our salvation and that of those we love, this gives us firm hope in the midst of the darkness of our age, and helpless rage against the agents of Satan is transformed into the quiet determination this day, this hour, to love God above all and do His holy will. As St. Paul writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).”

Second, we must recall that we are primarily in a spiritual warfare, that the outer struggles we witness are but the “tip of the iceberg,” the visible signs of a vast, invisible conflict. We Orthodox Christians, a tiny and obscure minority, are in fact – if only we could see it – at the front line of the real conflict, for we are those tasked with the warfare against Satan, and we are the ones who have the weapons to engage in it. St. Paul says,

Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6: 11-13).

The “whole armor of God” includes all the gifts of Faith and grace, and the entire moral and ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church. We possess an enormous trove of defensive armor and offensive weapons to choose from.

St. Theophylact of Ochrid, in his commentary on today’s passage, says that, besides referring to the visible earthly ruler, the image of “Caesar” can also represent an invisible, evil “Caesar” – the devil: “…each one of us must render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, namely we must throw to the demon who rules below the things which belong to him. As for example, when you have anger that comes from Caesar [i.e., the devil], throw it back at him, get angry at him. Then you will also be able to render to God the things that are God’s (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chrysostom Press 2008, p. 190).”   We must struggle courageously and daily against the passions and demons, in a conscious spiritual life undertaken by the grace of God and under the direction of the Orthodox Church and Her divine wisdom. This is our first line of defense against the evils which beset us, and it is the most important. If the devil has no power over us, what can man do to us?

Third, let us resolve to love our neighbor.   Our Divine Savior says that in the last times, the love of the many will grow cold.   Let us postpone the last times by warming our hearts with the divine love, the true charity that is of God – not a sentimental warmth masking tolerance of evil, but a militant desire for our neighbor’s salvation. Our neighbor is just that – the person next to us, family, friends, fellow parishioners. The global elite uses its brainwashing apparatus to distract and paralyze us by stirring up loves and hatreds of things and people not related to us, far away and beyond our power to affect. Let us turn off the brainwashing, quietly reckon up a list of those whose lives we can realistically affect, and do each day what is truly for their true good, “…committing ourselves, one another, and all our life to Christ our God.”

May God the King of the Ages, the only true Ruler of Heaven and Earth, work His holy will in our lives today and forever!

“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!”

“Thy Kingdom come!”

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