Come to Me and drink

Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost

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Today we celebrate Christ as the Wisdom of God. In the Gospel, the Jews ask, “How can this uneducated man have such wisdom?” And the Lord responds that it is because His wisdom is from the Father, not from men. When He says that His doctrine is “not mine,” He means that it is not from His humanity but is divine, flowing from the divinity He shares with the Father.

About the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me. Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come. – John 7: 14-30

Inspired by and expressing the Divine Wisdom, today’s hymns and readings are a theological feast, bringing together and glorifying the three great acts of Christ – the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Giving of the Holy Spirit – by which He saved us from the devil, sin, death, and hell, glorified our human nature, and established His Holy Church. Being the mid-point of the sacred Fifty Days (the Pentecost) between Pascha and Pentecost, it gives us a moment to pause, so to speak, and marveling, to behold as with a single glance all that the Lord has done for us. St. Theophan the Recluse, in his commentary for today, refers to the Dismissal Hymn for the feast, which looks forward to Pentecost:

At Mid-feast give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety, for Thou, O Savior, didst cry out to all: Whosoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. O Well-spring of Life, Christ our God, glory be to Thee.

St. Theophan writes:

On Mid-Pentecost a cry is heard from the Lord: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink (John 7:37) [from the Gospel reading at Pentecost].” If that is the case, then let us all go to Him. Whoever thirsts for anything, as long as it is not contrary to the Spirit of the Lord, will find satisfaction without fail. You who thirst for knowledge, go to the Lord, for he is the only Light that truly enlightens every man. You who thirst for cleansing from sins and the soothing of your conscience, go to the Lord, for he has lifted up the sins of the whole world upon the tree (cf. I Peter 2:24) and torn up their handwriting (cf. Col. 2:14).   You who thirst for peace of heart, go to the Lord, for He is the Treasure, the possession of which will make you forget all deprivations and despise all goods in order to possess Him alone. You who need strength – He has every strength. If it is glory – He has glory on high. If it is freedom – He is the giver of true freedom. He will resolve all of our uncertainties, break the bonds of the passions, disperse all sorrows and grieving, enable us to overcome all the impediments, temptations, and snares of the enemy, and will smooth out the path of our spiritual life. Let us all go to the Lord! – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 101

The Lord, then, is everything to us, and He wants to give us what we truly need. Notice to whom St. Theophan directs his encouragement: Those who thirst for knowledge, those who thirst for a pure conscience, those who thirst for peace of heart, those who need strength, those who desire certainty, those who wish to break the bonds of the passions, those who wish to overcome all grief, those who want to overcome the devil, and those who want a smooth path for spiritual life. In other words, the saint is saying, Our Lord will give everything needed to those who want what He wants for them – true spiritual life. Everything needed for life and salvation, He will give in abundance, if only we heed His words, “…let him come to me and drink.”

Reflect on the stunning, paradoxical reality that the Lord is waiting to give us the very highest, most desirable things in life, and we do not ask for them. When is the last time we asked Him to give us the four cardinal virtues – Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude?   When is the last time we asked Him to give us the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord? When is the last time we asked Him to give us the three theological virtues – Faith, Hope, and Charity (Αγάπη, spiritual love)? Think about it.

The Holy Apostle James writes, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (James 4:3).” We have to learn from Our Lord, the Wisdom of God, what to ask for and how to ask for it. 1. What to ask for: We must ask for spiritual things, those virtues that please the Lord above all, as well as those earthly things which we truly need, which contribute to doing His holy will. 2. How to ask: We must ask with thirst for spiritual knowledge, with thirst for a pure conscience, with thirst for certainty of theological faith, with thirst for freedom from the passions, in short, with thirst for doing the will of God, as the Lord thirsted and hungered to do the will of His Heavenly Father.

Suggestion: The next time you are in a practical bind of some kind, and you are really asking God to help you, and nothing seems to happen, put aside the immediate, earthly problem you are worried about, and beg God for all the good things listed above, for the virtues.   Tell Him that you want, above all, to do His most holy will. This will be very pleasing to Him, and surely He will give you (as much as you can receive according to your state of soul at this point in your life) these holy gifts. And – you know what? – you may very well see, suddenly and unexpectedly, the Gordian knot of your earthly predicament cut as well.

O Wisdom of God and Well-Spring of Life, Christ our God, glory be to Thee!

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The man of divine desires

30 April OS 2022 – Friday of the Third Week of Pascha; St. James the Apostle, Son of Zebedee

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Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the famous account of a surprising turn of events that changed the world: the conversion of Saul, who became St. Paul:

In those days: Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.Acts 8:40-9:19

St. Theophan the Recluse goes to the heart of St. Paul’s motivation, which was zeal for doing the will of God:

St. Paul at first defended the Old Testament observances as zealously as he did because he was sincerely certain that it was the unalterable will of God that these observances remain unchanged. He was not zealous because it was the Faith of his fathers, but because in being zealous he was offering service to God. In this lay the spirit of his life – to devote himself to God and direct all his energy toward things pleasing to Him. Thus, in order to bring about his conversion, or to make him stand for the New Testament order of things rather than that of the Old Testament, it was sufficient to show him tangibly that God no longer wanted the Old Testament but rather the New, and that He transferred all of His goodwill from the former to the latter.   The Lord’s appearance to him on the road accomplished this. There it became clear to him that he was not directing his zeal where he ought, that he was not pleasing God by acting as he did, but was acting contrary to His will. This vision of the state of things, with the help of God’s grace, immediately changed his strivings, and he cried out, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do (Acts 9:6)?”   And from that moment he directed all of his zeal toward what was shown to him, and he did not forget this event for his entire life, but thankfully remembering it, stirred up his zeal with it – not sparing anything to work for his Lord and Savior. This is how all people act who have sincerely turned to the Lord. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 97-98.

If we were born into an Orthodox family, we should love Orthodoxy, among other reasons, because it is the Faith of our fathers. Filial piety demands no less. This reason, however, is not enough to enable us to find our salvation through Orthodoxy. To love Orthodoxy only as the tradition of our ancestors, and for no higher reason, puts us on the same spiritual level with the Shintoists of Japan, with the same eternal consequences, or perhaps worse, since more is expected of us than of Shintoists. To be Christians truly, we must love Orthodoxy because every man, regardless of his birth, must be obedient to this Faith and no other if he desires to conform his will to the will of God.

This was the great driving force, one might say the only driving force, in the life of St. Paul: to do the will of God.  With the great Elias, he could honestly say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts (III Kings 19:10).”   To desire to please God, to do His will, to defend His honor, to give Him glory – this was all in all to both of them and those like them.   When the Incarnate God, Jesus, revealed Himself to the zealous persecutor Saul, that was all it took for him to make a 180 degree turn and go 100 miles per hour in the other direction.   “Done,” as they say.

This kind of person, “the man of divine desires,” may make mistakes, even big ones, but he does not risk hearing those terrible words of the Son of Man to the Laodiceans: “…because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16).” As we increasingly appear to be facing apocalyptic circumstances, it is probably time to get off the Laodicean fence and be the good zealots that all Orthodox should be.

The late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville wrote an essay on the virtue of zeal which should be required annual reading for everyone in our generation.   You can find it at Let us all read it (or re-read it), and pray for the determination to put it into practice and the prudence to know how.

Holy Apostle Paul, pray to God for us.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 70: Wars and Rumors of Wars, Part B – A Paschal Reflection on the War Everybody is Talking About

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Class 70:  Wars and Rumors of Wars, Part B – A Paschal Reflection on the War Everyone is Talking About

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Introduction – A Paschal Reflection on the State of the World 

In our last talk, we offered a way of understanding the meaning of the present war in the Ukraine (Spring, 2022) by reflecting on the Particular Judgment that every Orthodox Christian will undergo at the hour of death, both to encourage ourselves to pray for the eternal salvation of those who have died and will die in this war, and to motivate each of us to repent and prepare for his own Particular Judgment at the hour of death. 

In this talk, we shall attempt to offer a way of understanding the meaning of this war in the light of the future Second Coming of Christ and the General Judgment of all men and all nations.  This light of understanding, from our point of view, comes from history, from the past and from the future.  From God’s point of view, of course, there is no past or future: this light is the same intellectual light He is always giving to His rational creatures to the extent that their minds participate in the Uncreated Light of His grace, a light-bearing capacity for receiving the light of Divine Revelation in the Scriptures.   But seen from our point of view, since we live inside of Time,  God’s revelation about the ultimate future – the Second Coming, the Dread Judgment, the New Creation, and eternal reward or punishment – and the grace of the intellectual light He gives our minds to understand our lives in regard to His revelation about these realities, are, respectively, the key to understanding the present in light of the past and a capacity for using this key, and thereby, by means of this understanding, to prepare for the future.  

The previous talk, Part A, is probably more important than this Part B, not because of the relative importance of their contents – for both the Particular Judgment and the General Judgment are equally part of God’s Revelation to man – but simply because Part A is more practical for all of us:  Each of us needs to prepare for his own Particular Judgment, regardless of his ability or opportunity to form an accurate Orthodox understanding of history and eschatology.  It is also true, however, that we become bored with and tired of our own spiritual struggles, we get discouraged, and we need motivation; each of us needs to see his own little story in the light of the Big Story of God’s plan for mankind, which gives ultimate and cosmic meaning to our own little struggles.  I need to see that my own life is a microcosm of God’s macrocosmic war with the devil that’s been going on since before the creation of the visible world and will go on unto the end of this world.  In a sense, that’s what the Bible is all about.  Thus we also need Part B:  How do I understand this current event in the light of God’s truth, and how do I apply this understanding to my real life behavior and choices?  

Both Parts A and B, however, have the same purpose, which is to encourage us to subordinate our discussion of the war to the needs dictated by the realities of spiritual life, which are more real, more stable, more permanent, and actually more amenable to being known, than the realities of passing and fragmented temporal phenomena such as this war or any war, no matter how exciting, attractive, or dreadful the latter may appear to our limited minds.  For this effort to bear fruit, we must suppress the passions of useless curiosity, animal fear for our physical safety, and sinful anger against our fellow man, or, rather, ask for the grace to transform these perverted faculties of the soul into their original and natural forms:  the godly desire for true understanding, the fear of God, and righteous anger against the demons and against sin.  

I have subtitled today’s talk “A Paschal Reflection” in order to establish the pre-condition for understanding today’s talk:  We must understand that the Resurrection of Christ, which we are both remembering as a past event and participating in as a present reality through our present Paschal observance,  has already determined the ultimate outcome of the present war and all wars, which is the triumph of God in history and leading beyond history, into the Kingdom of Heaven.    Let us forgive all things by the Resurrection, and in the light of the Resurrection behold the light of the future Coming of Christ and His eternal triumph over sin, death, the devil, and hell.  This is the authentic starting point from which to compose an accurate philosophy of history on which to base an accurate understanding of current events. 

“In Thy Light shall we see light.  O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee!”  

Once Again, the Great Stereopticon 

The war in the Ukraine is real, real people are suffering and dying, and it is a terrible thing.   There is no doubt of that.  But this does not mean that we are supposed to think and feel about it in the way that the government and the media tell us to think and feel about it.  The people who own the government and the media are using this war, which they have planned and instigated, just as they have used and using the so-called pandemic, which they also created,  in order to further their goal of a one world government under the control of demons.  What they are constructing is certainly at least a type of the Kingdom of Antichrist, even if it is not the final version portrayed in the Book of Revelation.  

Remember that we no longer have sovereign national governments in the historical sense, and therefore we cannot interpret warfare in historical geopolitical terms.  All of the national governments, so called, are actually a technocratic managerial interface between the people who are really in charge, who decide who is even going to be in the government – because they are in essence simply their employees – and the common people.   This is true East and West, in Eurasia as well as the so-called West.   This is not a wacky fantasy story made up by marginal paranoiacs.   It is an empirically demonstrable financial, political, and economic reality written about and described exhaustively in countless academic journals, conferences, and books by acknowledged establishment experts, over the last 100 years.   A network of a few million private individuals, the so-called 1% – who are actually not even 1% but much less –  control the world’s resources, humanly speaking, by means of a rapidly consolidating global financial system whose dictates ultimately decide matters of economics and geopolitics for everyone.  This is just the way it is.  Even if you do not believe that this elite is controlled by demonic powers,  and even if you don’t think there is a spiritual element in this at all – that it has nothing to do with Biblical prophecy or God’s Providence or the Antichrist or anything like that, even if you have a totally secular worldview – the situation is obvious.   The only people who don’t believe that this is what is going on, are those who don’t want to believe it, because the implications are frightening, or because it does not fit into an ideology that comforts them, or because the people whose respect they crave won’t like them if they say things like this, or who don’t want to bother to do the homework, or who just have not thought about it.  The reality is so big and so in your face, it is understandable that when confronted with it, most people’s minds will just shut down. So for those who refuse to see it or just can’t deal with it, it remains hidden in the plain sight of everyone.   

By means of the Great Stereopticon, the world of illusion created by the communications media, the elite can now control the interests, beliefs, and daily conversations of a critical mass of the world’s population. Most people will believe in and act on what is told them by some electronic media outlet controlled by the global elite.   Very few try to study history seriously and examine current events critically,  in order to form an educated opinion.  A critical mass of the population will march off to have toxins of unknown and practically unexamined powers injected into their bodies and even those of their children, because a strange little man on television told them that it was good for their health, and others who might not do that will, upon command, hang up Ukrainian flags on their front porches when they cannot even find Ukraine on the map.  This mass mindlessness is, perhaps, just as apocalyptic a sign as any war or supposed pandemic, if one is looking for apocalyptic signs. 

The first lesson in all this for those who want to have a serious spiritual life is, “Do not get excited about what They are telling you to get excited about.”  Your mind and heart were created by God first of all for prayer and second for serious study and serious work.  Keep focused on your real life – ora et labora – pray and work!   Yes, there really is something happening over there in Eastern Europe, but you have little responsibility for it, and there is little you can do about it.   Moreover, what you are being told is truth mixed with lies to create delusions, and in order to have an intellectual life, much less a spiritual life, we must avoid lies and delusions, and deal in reality.   Let’s not be the deer in the headlights, paralyzed by a perceived approaching doom because of our cowardice, laziness, or lack of will to action.  There is so much real good we can still do, so much we still have control over, especially our own minds and our hearts – let’s do that good as much as we can and not focus on the evil around us!  

Another lesson for our spiritual life is that we must not commit the sin of using other people’s sufferings to entertain and distract us.  Do I really care about what is happening in the Ukraine, or am I using other people’s sufferings for entertainment, or to feel good about expressing self-righteous opinions approved by some media commentator and parroted by my friends?  Do I really pray for the people there – something concrete, like saying an akathist every day for them – or do I just parrot the popular sentiment that we must “pray for peace.”  If tomorrow the media stopped talking about the war altogether and suddenly started talking about some new supposed emergency – another “pandemic,” food shortages, the next stolen election, a “climate change” disaster, whatever – would this suddenly become the sole object of my passionate concern, with the war totally forgotten, its victims suddenly unreal to me because they are no longer depicted on a video screen every day?   

A third lesson for our spiritual life is that we must remember not to be frightened by “wars and “rumors of wars.”   We must fear God and no one else.  Everything that is happening is under God’s Providence and holy will.  He is using everything for our salvation.    “Lift up your eyes and see, for your salvation is near at hand.”  It is only a short while, after all, until each of us faces God’s judgment, one way or the other, either in the Particular or the General Judgment.  Let us pray to be faithful and place all of our trust in our Creator and Savior.   

In conclusion:   We must concern ourselves every day with doing God’s holy will, and this includes our interests and our conversations.  Do our interests, our studies, and our conversations fulfill His holy will for us, do they contribute to our salvation and the true good of our neighbor?   That should be our question, not, “What do the media say I must talk about today?”   

Models for Understanding 

Of course, there are serious people, including serious Orthodox people, who study the current war and make a conscientious effort to understand it in the light of history and the evidence of current events.  Necessarily, everyone has a framework, a model for understanding, which they believe has explanatory power, into which they fit the evidence presented.  But very few even of these serious people have reached quite the conclusion I summarize above, that the global elite is really a single network of people orchestrating events on both sides of the perceived East/West divide.  Most are still using the model of the opposition of hostile powers, of East vs. West, nationalist-traditionalist-socialism vs. globalist-liberal-capitalism, Eurasian tellurocracy vs. Atlanticist thalassocracy, etc.  Some of these thinkers are Orthodox, and, like us, they believe in God vs. the devil, angels vs demons, and so forth – they believe in the framework of history as a spiritual warfare leading to the ultimate triumph of Christ over Antichrist.   But in the present situation, they also prefer to believe that God is actually on the side either of socialism or capitalism, of East or West, of Eurasia or Oceania, and that their preferred side is the side God is on, and the other side are the Bad Guys.   And they are now interpreting the events in the Ukraine in light of this belief.  They can be divided roughly, therefore, into two camps:  The Anti-Communist Cold Warriors vs. The True Believers in the New “Holy” Russia.   

A.  The Cold Warriors – The “Cold War” is the term applied to the supposed conflict between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies during the period between the end of World War II and the so-called fall of Communism in the early 1990s.   There were, of course, many “hot” wars during this time, but never a time when American and Soviet forces were openly fighting each other in a declared conventional war; either one or the other was fighting a proxy, or two proxies were fighting each other.  Thus the term “Cold War.” 

Many Orthodox people had fled Russia at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, and many more had fled both Russia and the other European countries enslaved by the Soviets at the end of World War II.  Predictably and understandably, they deeply appreciated the freedom, safety, and dignity they were offered by their Western host countries, and many were employed by the military and intelligence establishments of the United States and its allies during the Cold War period.   What many of them did not see or understand was that the same international money power that had financed both the Communists and the Nazis in Europe were also tightening their control of the Western nations during the entire Cold War period, and for the same reason:  as another step towards the destruction of all nations and all traditional societies, and the creation of a world government.    The goals of Communism – the destruction of religion, family, and private property – had to be accomplished in the East by slaughtering millions of people.   The same international elite that had slaughtered the millions in the East accomplished the same goals in the West by the Gramscian march through the institutions, which by the end of the Cold War, was nearly complete.   The godless Utopia was in place without firing a shot.  The means were different, but the results were the same, not in regard to material prosperity, which the West then still enjoyed, but in regard to spiritual devastation, which is the real purpose of the global revolution.   

There is an old saying that the generals are always preparing for the last war, not the one they are about to fight.  It is easy for our thoughts to run along accustomed paths and use outdated models for understanding new realities.   Today there are self-proclaimed conservatives, including some Orthodox people, who would prefer to believe that the U.S. and the “West” are still the Good Guys, and post- or neo- Soviet Russia, led by the “evil Putin” – who is portrayed as Hitler, Stalin, and Charles Manson all rolled into one – are still the Bad Guys.  Here is another proxy war, in which the “good” American proxy, Ukraine, is fighting the “evil” Soviets, and this is the situation in which the old Cold Warriors feel comfortable; they like it.  

The reality is that the common people on all sides – Russian, Ukrainian, American, etc. –  do not hate each other and, sadly, are not really not much different from each other – they are mostly secular materialists with a veneer of religion, obsessed with financial and health problems, listening to bad music, watching bad videos, and staring at their smartphones.  They are not Big Bad Guys; they are just ordinary sinners like you and me.  The leadership on both sides, however, are indeed Big Bad Guys, and though they may oppose one another on one level – even the demons in hell fight each other – on another level, they are all working under the same longterm strategy, and and they are all working for the same people.   If the U.S. leadership were really Good Guys, they would not be aggressively pursuing police-state tyranny and imposing godless immorality here at home, while going abroad to commit mass murder by bombing and invading smaller and weaker countries in order share the blessings of feminism, abortion on demand, fast food outlets, drug addiction, and transgenderism with the foreign masses who are supposedly begging to be “liberated” from their traditional way of life. 

So when you are being egged on to engage in a Two Minutes Hate against the evil Putin by the media, just remember that you are being used by people who are just as evil as, or more evil than, Putin, and perhaps they are even having cocktail parties with Putin via video chat after work at night, while all of them are laughing at you. 

B. The True Believers in the New “Holy” Russia – Just as it is understandable that those who suffered under Communism used to look to the West for deliverance and hope for a happy future on earth, it is also understandable that the present generation of conservative Christians in the West, suffering from the maniacal onslaught of the leftist “woke” tyranny here, would now look to a spiritually reborn East, led by a reborn Orthodox Russia, for hope in a rebirth of Christian civilization.   They see thousands of new churches being built, laws being passed against pro-sodomite propaganda, Vladimir Putin doing photo ops with and giving state awards to large Orthodox families, and so forth, and naturally they rejoice. “It’s getting really bad Over Here,” they think, “but at least there is hope Over There,” poignantly echoing the sentiments of Christians trapped behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s, who were looking out at us for their deliverance.   

In the current conflict, therefore, it is easy for those who hold this point of view to be sympathetic to Russia and against the “Western” establishment.  So these pro-Russian apologists will argue against the Cold Warriors and cheer for their preferred Good Guys vs. the Cold Warriors’ preferred Good Guys.   Again, as with the delusion of the Cold Warriors, this is delusion is an understandable temptation – we all want a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy scenario, because we all want some kind of happy ending to our problems in this life, so that we can live here, on earth, happily ever after.  But this is not reality.  

I cannot express how much I dearly – painfully – wish that this dream of a reborn Orthodox Russia were true.   I cannot express how dearly I hope it will one day come true.   But the reality today is that the Russian population, like the American population, are mostly secular people with mostly material concerns, and that the Russian leadership, like the American leadership, are technocrats in the employ of the same international money power that employs the American technocrats.  The style is different, the flavor is different, and there are real conflicts among them – again, even the demons in hell fight each other, and there is no honor among thieves – but the endgame for both is the same.    

(An American who lives in Moscow, a young man named Riley Waggaman, who used to write for the website “Russia Insider,” has a blog called Edward Slavsquat.  Riley is married to a Russian woman, and he likes Russians.  He is by no means a Russophobe on the one hand or someone who hates America on the other hand, just an honest person who is looking at what is going on in Russia up close and honestly, without the lens of pro-“Western” or pro-“Russian” propaganda.    If you will read his articles that explain the connection of the top Russian leadership to the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organization, and the global financial system, you should become more critical of the claim by our hopeful pro-Russian conservatives that the present Russian government is really against the New World Order.  Of course, Riley is just one person – you don’t have to take his word for it.  But if you read his articles and follow up on verifying the data he gives, you will see that he is telling the truth.  Interpret the data as you will, but there it is).  

And, even if the top Russian leadership were not working for the New World Order, even if they were really sincere patriots, their patriotism is sick, because it is not Orthodox patriotism, for it prostitutes the institutions and rituals of Orthodoxy to their new religion of the “Great Patriotic War,” whose High and Holy Feast of Victory Day they celebrate every May 9th with far more fervor than they celebrate the Birth or Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For a true Holy Russia to be reborn, there must first occur a complete repudiation of and repentance for the satanic behavior of the Red Army as it completed the destruction of Christian Europe, begun in World War I and the Bolshevik revolution,  by its unimaginably vast rape and slaughter at the end of World War II, which directly enabled the subsequent enslavement, imprisonment, torture, and death of millions of Russian, Romanian, and South Slav Orthodox Christians, as well as non-Orthodox European Christian peoples such as the Poles and the Germans, who until then had managed to escape the hell of the Marxist-Leninist “workers’ paradise.”     Every May 9th, the unrepentant Russian leadership and a critical mass of the unrepentant Russian people renew their pact with the devil by this pagan ceremony of Victory Day, which is the chief celebration of a pagan pseudo-Orthodoxy, the religion of the Cross combined with the Hammer and Sickle, the Imperial Eagle of Holy Russia reconciled to the Red Star of satanic Bolshevism. It is all blasphemy, of course. Sadly, this is an essential part of their self-understanding; it’s who they say they really are.  They have accepted a bizarre pseudo-Orthodoxy that mixes paganism with the Faith of Christ.  This is not only not bringing about the rebirth of Orthodox Russia; it is holding it back. 

So when your favorite pro-Russian commentator is egging you on to do a Two Minutes Hate against the “Western” Establishment (though, admittedly, this Establishment is eminently hate-able), remember:  don’t get angry, don’t get carried away, don’t delude yourself.   Sadly, no matter how much we may detest the Bad Guys, there are no Good Guys in the present situation.  

Come, Lord Jesus 

Whose victory, then, should we hope for in the present war?   Let us pray for a speedy end to the war, whatever that takes, so that this terrible blood sacrifice to the demons, engineered by the servants of the demons who govern both East and West, will cease.   Let us pray for the victory of Christ, of Orthodoxy, in the hearts of all Russians and Ukrainians, and for the restoration of a truly Orthodox Patriarchate and truly Orthodox Tsar in Russia, on the basis of real repentance by the triune Russian peoples of the Great Russians, Little Russians, and Byelorussians, who of rights should be one, not one necessarily in the same political structure, but One in Christ. 

When there is a truly Orthodox Patriarchate in Russia, and a true Tsar, then, of course, everything will change.  There are many prophecies that this will come to pass, and that there will be a last flowering of the Church before the reign of Antichrist.   Let us remember that “wars and rumors of wars” are indeed signs that the Lord Himself gave as presaging the end.  We need to be sober and attentive, not carried away with the passions of the times, and do our job as Orthodox Christians, which the world cannot do for us but which the world desperately needs for us to do:  To believe in the true Faith, to conduct the true worship, to lead the true Christian life, and to witness to the true God in this world which is so rapidly falling into corruption and death.  We must flee delusion, refuse all secular pseudo-salvations, and put our hope in God alone. 

Let us then pray, repent of our own sins, weep for those who suffer, and live in hope, joyful to carry our own cross, for our own salvation, and – God knows! – perhaps for the salvation of many souls unknown to us, whom God may save even for our sakes, unworthy as we are.   We are His children, and He loves us.  That is the bottom line. 

Christ is Risen!   Truly He is Risen! 

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The Alpha and Omega

This essay originally appeared as the May Rector’s message at You can listen to an audio podcast of this text at

 O great and most sacred Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom and Word and Power of God! Grant that we partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy Kingdom.      –from the Paschal Canon by St. John of Damascus 

  When we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, we proclaim it as the center of all history.  By His Death and Resurrection, the Lord re-creates His work of Creation that was done at the beginning of the world, and He inaugurates the eternal Kingdom that will be fully manifested at the end of the world.    

  The curricula that dominate history education brainwash students with the idea that man’s history is a beginning-less and endless story of progress from ignorance and superstition into a liberated state of freedom and prosperity brought about by materialistic science.  Those who hold this view classify Christ’s resurrection along with countless other fabricated myths that people can believe, if they want, but which must not be allowed to interfere in the march of history towards a bright and unlimited future of global unity and materialistic happiness under a benevolent and all-powerful government.     

   A Christian stands in absolute opposition to this view of the world.  God created this world to have a beginning and an end, and this world is not an end in itself.  It is, rather, an arena in which man works out his salvation.  Each man’s life is a short and intense race which he conducts according to Christ and in Christ – or not.  The purpose of each man’s life individually, and the purpose  of every event in human history, is to prepare for God’s Judgment.    

  Our Savior’s Resurrection is not simply a miracle that demonstrates His Divinity, though it certainly does that.  It is the destruction of death, the final and totally efficacious rescue of His creation from the corruption that the devil and sin brought into the world.  He has already definitively triumphed over sin, death, the devil, and hell.  All that remains now is for men to unite themselves to the Risen Christ or not, to join His Body the Church or not, to fight for Him or against Him.  When He returns in glory at the end of the world, to judge all the living and the dead from the beginning of the world, the only thing that will matter is that we find favor in His sight.  On that day, all the empty promises of a secular salvation and man’s progress will be revealed as the lies that they are.      

   Today, right now, it is critical for our spiritual lives not to fall back into a worldly and anxious way of living and thinking, but rather to nourish and sustain the spiritual vision we acquired during Great Lent and Holy Week.  By staying faithful to prayer and spiritual reading, we can maintain the Paschal vision of our life, by which we interpret our daily activities not as part of some meaningless struggle for existence, nor as a restless, neurotic escape from being trampled by the march of progress, but as our advancing in hope “from glory to glory,” as we strive to arrive at the final vision of the face of our Beloved Bridegroom, Who shall reward every one of us who will have remained faithful to Him.    

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!


                                               Concerning the Resurrection   

  For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we  differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due. 

  We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ: and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist, and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen. 

  – from The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by St. John of Damascus, Book IV, c. 27.    

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Orthodox Survival Course – Class 69: Wars and Rumors of Wars, Part A – A Holy Week Reflection on the State of Our Souls

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Where Angels Fear to Tread 

Since the purpose of our Survival Course is to provide an Orthodox lens through which to see the course of history in order better to understand our situation today, it is only natural that, as did the “Corona” spectacle of the years 2020 and 2021, so also the 2022 drama du jour,  the war in Little Russia – known also as the Ukraine, or, more recently, simply as “Ukraine” – should prompt some of our readers and listeners to ask for a helpful way of looking at what is going on, from an Orthodox point of view.  Our audience are people who are serious about applying their faith to their lives, which means applying to their lives what our Faith teaches about how to understand the world around them.   They perceive that they presently have or probably will have moral choices to make, moments of personal crisis caused by crises in the greater world around them.   When faced with Something Big that everyone else is worried about, they naturally ask, “How should I react?”

   Indeed, should not the Church have something to say about it?  She is mater et magistra – mother and teacher – of the nations.  Her shepherds hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven, bestowed by Christ Himself upon St. Peter and through him to all the apostles and their successors the bishops. Has the Church nothing unique, more real, and more to the point, to tell us about this war going on right now, besides rehearsing the same boring humanitarian platitudes about solidarity with the suffering and the need to “pray for peace,” sterile and morally inexpensive sentiments that are also mouthed by every heretic, humanist, secularist, atheist, and downright heathen on the face of the earth? 

I ask forgiveness from those who expected me to say something about “Ukraine” earlier on, but, you know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and I did not want to be a fool, or, at least, any more of a fool than I already am. Besides, one hesitates to talk about the same boring thing everyone else is talking about – one feels a little superfluous, if not ridiculous, adding to the noise.  In addition, the requests for saying something about the war came shortly before Great Lent, when the war had just started, and one does not like to comment on something that has just begun before observing it at least a little while.  For example, about two weeks into the Corona “event” in 2020, it was pretty obvious what was going on, yet prudent to wait a few months before saying anything.  It usually helps to wait awhile while mulling over something not entirely transparent to a distant observer.    

And in this case, with this spring of 2022 war “event,” we were going into Great Lent, and I thought that probably it was good idea to write about the Proverbs of Solomon that we read at Vespers during Lent, and not a good idea to attempt program notes for Big Brother’s absurd shadow play of Oceania vs. Eurasia for my fellow prisoners staring at the back wall of  the Platonic cave of the Great Stereopticon, as needed as that effort might be.    For those who have not been following these talks on Proverbs, they can be found on our other Spreaker “show,” called “The Beginning of Wisdom”:     A priest should eschew any kind of self-promotion, but for the sake of the souls of our listeners, I shall make so bold as to opine that if you listen to these readings from Proverbs followed by the little talks I give, your mind will be clearer and better prepared to study the current events in Eastern Europe than if you listen to 100 hours of your favorite media commentator holding forth on these events.   We did not manage a talk for every one of the thirty weekdays of Great Lent, but we did manage to do twenty.  

Now the sacred Forty Days have ended, however, and now the Great and Holy Week has begun.  Holy Week is the pre-eminent time to remember what the Lord has done for us and therefore also to reflect on our eternal destiny.   It is a time of crisis, a Greek word that means “judgment”: at every Great and Holy Week we remember the great crisis, the great judgment,  of the Lord’s standing before the Sanhedrin, when the leaders of the Old Testament Church made their fateful choice to reject the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who was standing in the flesh before them, and instead to worship themselves, the idolatry which is the essence of what became the anti-Biblical religion of the Talmud.  It was really they, not Christ, who were being judged.  They were not judging Him but themselves by their own words; He was judging them by His silence.  

We are not the Sanhedrin, but we also have a choice to make, to worship the true God or something else that is not God.  Every Holy Week, when we hear the multitude shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday and the same crowd shouting “Crucify Him” on Great Friday,  we realize that we are no better than they, for we betray our God every day, at least in our thoughts if not our words and deeds.   We come face to face with a crisis: we have the choice to renew our baptismal vows – not with our mouths but with our lives – or to reject the One whom they rejected. It is we, not Christ, who are being judged.  Holy Week is the climactic call to repentance that crowns all the many calls to repentance we heard during the Forty Days.   This could be our last Pascha on earth.  This is the Day of Salvation.  We know not the hour of our death.  Have we truly repented of all our sins of thought, word, and deed?  Maybe this is our last chance. 

Holy and Great Week, then, gives us the best lens through which to benefit spiritually from understanding the war in the Ukraine.  It is the lens of eternity.   Are we going to go heaven or to hell?   After all, is that not what counts?  Is that not why Christ died for us?    

Let us, then, use the present events in Eastern Europe as a prompt for reflection on the state of our souls as we commemorate that greatest Event of all,  that overshadows, judges, and gives meaning to all other events before and after, to the end of the world.    

The Salvation of Souls 

It is sobering – and disappointing – to note that most Orthodox people reacting to the present war are possessed entirely with the same questions as everyone else:  Whose fault is the war?  Who are the bad guys and who are the good guys?   What will be the effect upon the economy?  Is there going to be a World War?  A nuclear war?  It all boils down to, “Am I in danger?  Am I going to suffer too?”   But what is even more striking is that even the nobler sentiments of concern for the sufferings of those in danger  and expressions of sorrow over those who have died are entirely worldly – there is human compassion over their present sufferings or untimely deaths, which is praiseworthy in itself, but what is notably missing is concern over the One Thing that Counts:  What happens to these people after they die?  

We do not know exactly how many people have died in the war, and certainly we cannot know how many are going to die.   Such data are always manipulated by the combatant governments on both sides, and there is really no point in trying to get to the bottom of it.  That many who are nominally Orthodox Christians, both soldiers and civilians, have died and are going to die in this war is undoubted, however, and as Orthodox Christians our first concern should not be over their physical death, for, after all, we are all going to die.   Our great and overriding concern should be, “Were they prepared for death?   Did they die in a state of grace?  Were they really Orthodox Christians, in the true Church, or were they in a fake church under heretical, schismatic, or apostate bishops?  Did they make a good confession before they died? Did they receive the true Holy Communion?”  In short:  “Are they going to be saved?”    

The notable moral fall responsible for this spiritual disaster is not the wickedness of the secular Western establishment or the post-communist Russian government. Wickedness, after all,  is what we expect from such people, and their activities neither prevent nor promote our salvation; they only provide the background for our spiritual choices.  A much greater wickedness was going on for 100 years before the war, which is the worldwide apostasy of the historically Orthodox institutions, an apostasy manifest locally in the gross disarray of Church life in the Ukraine for long decades prior to the war.  How many of these Russian and Ukrainian soldiers marching off to die or civilians fearing death from the effects of war, thinking themselves to be Orthodox Christians, were really in the Church?   How many were really baptized?  How many had access to true Holy Mysteries before they died?   What were their last thoughts as they faced death?  Did they acquire heartfelt compunction and weep over their sins?  Did they forgive their enemies?  Did they commend themselves and all their life to Christ our God?   Did the most Pure Mother of God cover with her precious omophorion all the defects of their souls, whether caused by the faults of bishops and priests or their own negligence, and did God send bright angels to conduct their souls to Paradise despite it all?  In the end, this is all that matters.  Each soul is so precious in the sight of God.   It is over these things that we must weep and mourn;  it is  the inestimable tragedy of the eternal loss of one soul for which Christ died, that should form the main theme of our sorrow over the sufferings caused by this war, as we prepare to glorify His incomparable sufferings for our salvation.   

My Peace I Give You

On the night before He died, Our Lord said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”    On Thursday night of this week, at the Twelve Gospels service, we shall once again hear these words.   What kind of peace did the apostles have after the Lord’s triumph over death?   It was not peace as the world gives.  They left behind family, friends, and property.  They went forth to preach to the world, to face constant hatred and opposition, incredible sufferings, and finally a terrible and painful death.     This is not the world’s definition of peace, a word that to worldly people means simply an absence of conflict and disorder, enabling one to lead a comfortable life in this world for the gratification of one’s fallen desires.   True Christians, though grateful for whatever respite from troubles that are given by God in this life – for He knows the frailty of our nature and takes compassion upon it, not asking from us more than we can really do – nevertheless do not count on having a peace bestowed by this world, knowing that it will never be.  The only peace they hope for is the only peace that really exists, that which the world cannot give and cannot take away.   It is the peace deep within the heart, founded on a clean conscience that begets a firm hope in their eternal salvation, a gift of grace given to those who are in the Church and who are living in a state of grace, that is, a state of soul free from grave sins that are unconfessed and un-repented.   99% of our attention should be given to obtaining this peace, and one percent to the world’s vain cries for a peace in this life that will never come, or, rather, when it does, will be the work of Antichrist.  

Let us, then, take this crisis, this judgment that Holy Week works on us in this spring of A.D. 2022, as a gracious opportunity to be saved, and let us pray for the eternal salvation of those who are suffering from the effects of this war whose vain external epiphenomena threaten to distract our attention from the One Thing Needed. 

  As for a more complete Orthodox understanding of the war in the Ukraine based on theology, history, geopolitics, and so forth – well, as we say often about other pressing matters, “Let’s talk about it after Pascha.”  That will be Part B.  

    A blessed Resurrection to all! 

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Lent VI Thursday

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Lent VI Thursday – Proverbs 23:15 – 24:5 

15 Son, if thy heart be wise, thou shalt also gladden my heart; 16 and thy lips shall converse with my lips, if they be right. 17 Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day. 18 For if thou shouldest keep these things, thou shalt have posterity; and thine hope shall not be removed. 19 Hear, my son, and be wise, and rightly direct the thoughts of thine heart. 20 Be not a wine-bibber, neither continue long at feasts, and purchases of flesh: 21 for every drunkard and whoremonger shall be poor; and every sluggard shall clothe himself with tatters and ragged garments. 22 Hearken, my son, to thy father which begot thee, and despise not thy mother because she is grown old. 23 24 A righteous father brings up his children well; and his soul rejoices over a wise son. 25 Let thy father and thy mother rejoice over thee, and let her that bore thee be glad. 26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. 27 For a strange house is a vessel full of holes; and a strange well is narrow. 28 For such a one shall perish suddenly; and every transgressor shall be cut off. 29 Who has woe? who trouble? who has quarrels? and who vexations and disputes? who has bruises without a cause? whose eyes are livid? 30 Are not those of them that stay long at wine? are not those of them that haunt the places where banquets are? Be not drunk with wine; but converse with just men, and converse with them openly. 31 For if thou shouldest set thine eyes on bowls and cups, thou shalt afterwards go more naked than a pestle. 32 But at last such a one stretches himself out as one smitten by a serpent, and venom is diffused through him as by a horned serpent. 33 Whenever thine eyes shall behold a strange woman, then thy mouth shall speak perverse things. 34 And thou shalt lie down as in the midst of the sea, and as a pilot in a great storm. 35 And thou shalt say, They smote me, and I was not pained; and they mocked me, and I knew it not: when will it be morning, that I may go and seek those with whom I may go in company? 24:1 My son, envy not bad men, nor desire to be with them. 2 For their heart meditates falsehoods, and their lips speak mischiefs. 3 A house is built by wisdom, and is set up by understanding. 4 By discretion the chambers are filled with all precious and excellent wealth. 5 A wise man is better than a strong man; and a man who has prudence than a large estate. 

Verse 34 paints a scary picture, of the pilot of a ship who lies down and goes to sleep in the midst of a great storm, an image that illustrates the mind of drunkards and whoremongers, who make themselves blind to their impending spiritual destruction, as the sleeping pilot closes his eyes to his impending death in the midst of the tempest.  In commenting on this verse, St. Gregory the Dialogist exhorts us to keep mindful watch over the state of our souls:   

A person sleeps in the midst of the sea who in the temptations of this world neglects to provide against the attacks of vices that beset him, like waves threatening mountain-high. And the pilot loses his rudder, as it were, when the mind loses all anxious solicitude for guiding the ship of the body.  To lose the rudder at sea is to fail to keep attentive forethought amidst the storms of this world.  But if a pilot carefully holds fast the rudder, he steers the ship, now against advancing billows, now by cleaving the impetuous winds aslant.  So, when the mind vigilantly rules the soul, it now surmounts and treads down some things with forethought, turns aside from others.  It thus overcomes the present danger with great toil, and by looking forward, gathers strength to face future conflicts.  – from the Pastoral Rule of St. Gregory the Great 

As we complete the sacred Forty Days of Great Lent, it would benefit us to ask ourselves if we have grown better at paying more attention to what goes on in our minds as we go through the day.  In the course of today and tomorrow, as we prepare for a beneficial observance of Great and Holy Week, let us try this:  Pick just one hour of the day, and during that hour pay careful attention at every moment to every thought that enters the mind.   We shall encounter a never-ceasing flow of ideas, many of which are useless or even dark and destructive.  As soon as such a thought begins, we shall then drive it out with the Prayer of Jesus.    The good and necessary thoughts, that guide us aright to fulfill our real duties, will come into focus.  The distracting and tempting thoughts will depart.  Thus we simultaneously grow in contemplative prayer and in practical wisdom.   As St. Theophan the Recluse says, when prayer is right, everything goes right, because prayer will let nothing go wrong.  

The divine services of the Triodion have frequently reminded us that Lent is our return to the Paradise that we lost through sin.   If we attain even a small measure of spiritual attention, we taste here and now the Paradise that is to come, in the peace of our minds and the joy of our hearts.  Let us pray for the firm resolve to resist the absurd distractions and useless worries that consume us, and enter the sacred week of the Passion of the Lord with quiet minds, paying attention to all that God has done for us.  By this we invite the grace of the Resurrection of Christ to accomplish within us, once again, the First Resurrection, the resurrection of the soul, which must precede the final Second Resurrection, of the body united to the soul, on the Last Day, unto immortal and everlasting life. 

O Christ the Wisdom of God and true Pilot of our souls, guide us by Thy wisdom through the storms of this life, and grant us the grace of true prayer and mental attention.   Amen.   

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Lent VI Tuesday

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Lent VI Tuesday – Proverbs 21: 3 – 21

3 To do justly and to speak truth, are more pleasing to God than the blood of sacrifices. 4 A high-minded man is stout-hearted in his pride; and the lamp of the wicked is sin. 5 6 He that gathers treasures with a lying tongue pursues vanity on to the snares of death. 7 Destruction shall lodge with the ungodly; for they refuse to do justly. 8 To the perverse God sends crooked paths; for his works are pure and right. 9 It is better to dwell in a corner on the house-top, than in plastered rooms with unrighteousness, and in an open house. 10 The soul of the ungodly shall not be pitied by any man. 11 When an intemperate man is punished the simple becomes wiser: and a wise man understanding will receive knowledge. 12 A righteous man understands the hearts of the ungodly: and despises the ungodly for their wickedness. 13 He that stops his ears from hearing the poor, himself also shall cry, and there shall be none to hear him. 14 A secret gift calms anger: but he that forbears to give stirs up strong wrath. 15 It is the joy of the righteous to do judgement: but a holy man is abominable with evil-doers. 16 A man that wanders out of the way of righteousness, shall rest in the congregation of giants. 17 A poor man loves mirth, loving wine and oil in abundance; 18 and a transgressor is the abomination of a righteous man. 19 It is better to dwell in a wilderness than with a quarrelsome and talkative and passionate woman. 20 A desirable treasure will rest on the mouth of the wise; but foolish men will swallow it up. 21 The way of righteousness and mercy will find life and glory. 

In verse eight, we read, “To the perverse God sends crooked paths.”    St. John Chrysostom quotes this verse of Proverbs in his commentary on chapter five of the Gospel according to St. John, to warn his listeners that, if they persist in misusing their will to do evil, they will also destroy their mind’s ability to know the truth.  The context is Our Lord’s dispute with the unbelieving Jews who refused to accept Him; they could not understand Who he was, because their deeds were evil and therefore their minds and hearts were darkened.   Here is what St. Chrysostom says:  

Wherefore we must cast out all wickedness from our souls, and never more contrive any deceit; for, says one, “To the perverse God sends crooked paths” (Proverbs 21:8); and, “The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding.” Wisdom 1: 5For nothing makes men so foolish as wickedness since when a man is treacherous, unfair, ungrateful, (these are different forms of wickedness) when without having been wronged he grieves another, when he weaves deceits, how shall he not exhibit an example of excessive folly? Again, nothing makes men so wise as virtue; it renders them thankful and fair-minded, merciful, mild, gentle, and candid; it is wont to be the mother of all other blessings. And what is more understanding than one so disposed? For virtue is the very spring and root of prudence,  just as all wickedness has its beginning in folly. For, the insolent man and the angry become the prey of their respective passions from lack of wisdom; on which account the prophet said, “There is no soundness in my flesh: my wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness” (Psalm 38: 3-4): showing that all sin has its beginning in folly: and so the virtuous man who has the fear of God is more understanding than any; wherefore a wise man has said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1: 7) If then to fear God is to have wisdom, and the wicked man has not that fear,  he is deprived of that which is wisdom indeed — and deprived of that which is wisdom indeed, he is more foolish than any. And yet many admire the wicked as being able to do injustice and harm, not knowing that they ought to deem them wretched above all men, who thinking to injure others thrust the sword against themselves — an act of extremest folly, that a man should strike himself and not even know that he does so, but should think that he is injuring another while he is killing himself. – St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Homily 41 

Even the pagan philosophers understood that the passions cloud a man’s understanding and finally destroy his reason, and that, conversely, a man who is pure in his life will be pure in his thoughts – since his passions do not make his mind and heart dirty, then being clean they are like a clean mirror that accurately reflects reality.  How much more should we Orthodox Christians, who have been given the most complete understanding of man’s composition by the Scriptures and the Fathers, understand this truth and act on it.   

In the Lives of the Saints, we encounter two types of saints whose paths to salvation are distinct from each other.   One type is the repentant sinner, like St. Mary of Egypt, whom we commemorated this past Sunday.  Though they have committed many and terrible sins, like St. Mary who in her youth was a fornicator, or St. Moses the Ethiopian, who before his conversion had been a robber chief, they come to their senses, deeply repent, and thereafter lead lives of extreme asceticism and outstanding virtue.   The other type is the pure soul chosen by God from the mother’s womb, like St. Nicholas or St. Sergius of Radonezh, who exhibit great virtue and complete purity from early childhood onwards, who always seem to have been angels in the flesh.  Of course, they are not absolutely perfect, not amomos – immaculate – as we say of the Mother of God.  But they do not commit any serious sins; they never become subject to gross passions, and therefore they exhibit not only goodness but also keen understanding from childhood, and they are able to become guides and teachers for others at an early age.   

Study, prayer, and reflection must, of course, accompany moral purity and striving in virtue.  The latter cleanses the mind; the former fills it with good things.   The pure mind is keen and full of wonder and thirst for learning – it readily drinks in truth like a river; it is never sated and always desires to learn more true, good, and beautiful things about God, man, and creation.   The impure mind is dull, bored, and boring, interested only in the superficial, the passing, and the trivial – all the meaningless and disconnected epiphenomena of a corrupt society created by demons and their slaves. 

St. Basil the Great famously says that everything that is true belongs to the Church.   I recently read something true said by Confucius, and, encouraged by St. Basil, I shall quote it, since it really belongs to the Church:   

By three methods, we may learn wisdom:   first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest. 

The pure in heart can go directly to wisdom without being street smart, without undergoing the bitterness of the school of hard knocks.  If we keep our children pure from earliest age, and engage their minds with prayer and sacred study, accompanied by serious and wholesome secular studies and hard, wholesome work, they can mature early in wisdom and lead sunny and productive lives untroubled by discouraging struggles with gross passions and the dark memory of gross sins.   They need not stray from the path of salvation, and why should they?   There is no point to it.  By noble reflection – that is, by prayer and study – and by imitating the lives of the noblest examples of mankind – the saints – they can ascend on the wings of divine love.   This is what we should want for them. 

Let us all, however, both the innocent and the guilty,  force our minds to noble reflection on divine truths through prayer and sacred study, to reading the Lives of the Saints so that we may imitate them, and, if we have had to gain wisdom through bitter experience, to humble ourselves and accept our troubles from the good right hand of the good God, who desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.   

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Lent V Wednesday

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V Lent Wednesday – Proverbs 15:20 – 16:9 

20 A wise son gladdens his father; but a foolish son sneers at his mother. 21 The ways of a foolish man are void of sense; but a wise man proceeds on his way aright. 22 They that honour not councils put off deliberation; but counsel abides in the hearts of counsellors. 23 A bad man will by no means attend to counsel; neither will he say anything seasonable, or good for the common weal. 24 The thoughts of the wise are ways of life, that he may turn aside and e scape from hell. 25 The Lord pulls down the houses of scorners; but he establishes the border of the widow. 26 An unrighteous thought is abomination to the Lord; but the sayings of the pure are held in honour. 27 A receiver of bribes destroys himself; but he that hates the receiving of bribes is safe. [By alms and by faithful dealings sins are purged away;] but by the fear of the Lord every one departs from evil. 28 The hearts of the righteous meditate faithfulness; but the mouth of the ungodly answers evil things. The ways of righteous men are acceptable with the Lord; and through them even enemies become friends. 29 God is far from the ungodly; but he hearkens to the prayers of the righteous. Better are small receipts with righteousness, than abundant fruits with unrighteousness. 16:1 Let the heart of a man think justly, that his steps may be rightly ordered of God. The eye that sees rightly rejoices the heart; and a good report fattens the bones. 31 32 He that rejects instruction hates himself; but he that minds reproofs loves his soul. 33 The fear of the Lord is instruction and wisdom; and the highest honour will correspond therewith. All the works of the humble man are manifest with God; but the ungodly shall perish in an evil day. 5 Every one that is proud in heart is unclean before God, and he that unjustly strikes hands with hand shall not be held guiltless. The beginning of a good way is to do justly; and it is more acceptable with God than to offer sacrifices. He that seeks the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness: and they that rightly seek him shall find peace. All of the works of the Lord are done with righteousness; and the ungodly man is kept for the evil day. 

In chapter sixteen, verse five, we read, “Everyone that is proud in heart is unclean before God.”   Usually we think of uncleanness – impurity – as being an attribute of carnal sins such as fornication and adultery.   But in fact the most unclean sins are not these bodily sins; the most unclean sin is the most refined sin of the soul, the sin we have in common with the demons, who are bodiless yet most unclean.  The most unclean sin is pride.   St. John Chrysostom says this about it:  

Nothing so estranges us from the mercy of God and gives over to the fire of hell as the tyranny of pride. If we possess this within us, all our life becomes impure, even if we practice chastity, virginity, fasting, prayer, almsgiving, or any virtue whatsoever. “Every proud man,” Scripture says, “ is an abomination to the Lord.”  Therefore, let us check this puffing up of the soul, and let us cut out this tumor, if we wish to be pure and be rid of the punishment prepared for the devil.   – Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John 

 God does not need our prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.  He gives us these exercises in virtue to help us fulfill the commandment to love God and our neighbor, and to show true charity towards ourselves.    By prayer we fulfill the commandment to love God.  By almsgiving we fulfill the commandment to love our neighbor.  By fasting, we show true charity towards ourselves by submitting that which is lower, the needs of the body, to that which is higher, the needs of the soul, thereby bringing our psychosomatic organism into right order, that order directed towards our true good, which is our eternal salvation. 

All of these beautiful exercises, however, St. John says, will not do us any good, if we are proud, because by pride all of life becomes impure, no matter how virtuous our outward behavior may be.  In saying this, of course, the saint is simply repeating the teaching of the Lord Himself in the Gospel, that He gave to us several Sundays ago when we began the Triodion by listening to His parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. This does not mean that we should stop doing these good works, but rather that we should ask the Lord to show us their true purpose, which is not to fortify our false opinion of ourselves but rather to reveal our weakness and utter dependence on the grace of God.  If we really took our Lord’s words seriously, that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, then we would realize that the greatest deeds of the greatest saints fall short of that perfection to which He commands us to aspire.  St. Ignaty Brianchaninov puts it this way, in The Arena:

Never cease studying the Gospel till the end of your life. Do not think you know it enough, even if you know it by heart. The Lord’s commandments are “exceedingly broad” (Ps. 118:96), even though they are expressed in a few words. The Lord’s commandment is infinite, just as the Lord Who uttered it is infinite. The practice of the commandments and progress in them is unlimited. The most perfect Christians, brought to a state of perfection by divine grace, remain imperfect in regard to the commandments of the Gospel.  – The Arena, chapter six

When we read such words, we have a choice to make:  We can either cling to our pride and fall into despair over our salvation, or we can choose the path of humility, abide in the constant awareness of our imperfection, and trust completely in the Lord to save us, while persisting in the works of virtue, though we fall short many times a day,  in order to please God and do His holy will, and out of concern for our neighbor, and not because we imagine that our poor virtues make us something special.  There is no plateau at which we aim to arrive, at which point we can imagine ourselves better than we used to be.  There is only the life of repentance, which means unceasing pilgrimage until death. This does not make us despondent, because our joy is from the Lord and not from ourselves.  

O long-suffering Lord, Who in Thy sacred Passions didst descend to the utmost humility for our salvation, relieve us, by Thy grace, of this terrible burden of our prideful illusions, that we may take up the light yoke of Thy commandments in humility, in order to please Thee and do Thy holy will. Amen. 

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Lent V Tuesday

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Lent V Tuesday – Proverbs 15: 7-19 

7 The lips of the wise are bound by discretion: but the hearts of the foolish are not safe. 8 The sacrifices of the ungodly are an abomination to the Lord; but the prayers of them that walk honestly are acceptable with him. 9 The ways of an ungodly man are an abomination to the Lord; but he loves those that follow after righteousness. 10 The instruction of the simple is known by them that pass by; but they that hate reproofs die disgracefully.  11 Hell and destruction are manifest to the Lord; how shall not also be the hearts of men? 12 An uninstructed person will not love those that reprove him; neither will he associate with the wise. 13 When the heart rejoices the countenance is cheerful; but when it is in sorrow, the countenance is sad. 14 An upright heart seeks discretion; but the mouth of the uninstructed will experience evils. 15 The eyes of the wicked are always looking for evil things; but the good are always quiet. 16 Better is a small portion with the fear of the Lord, than great treasures without the fear of the Lord. 17 Better is an entertainment of herbs with friendliness and kindness, than a feast of calves, with enmity. 18 A passionate man stirs up strife; but he that is slow to anger appeases even a rising one. A man slow to anger will extinguish quarrels; but an ungodly man rather stirs them up. 19 The ways of sluggards are strewn with thorns; but those of the diligent are made smooth. 

 “Hell and destruction are manifest to the Lord; how shall not also be the hearts of men?”  God is everywhere, and He knows everything at every moment, from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell, and to the depths of the mind and thoughts of every rational creature:  angels, demons, and men.  He knows my thoughts immeasurably better than I know them myself. 

St. John Chrysostom says the following: 

“Hell and destruction are manifest to the Lord,” to whom everything is apparent.  “How shall not also be the hearts of men?” People in olden times, you see, were right in this respect in particular, placing the eye of providence over their thoughts and deeds done in secret, placing a judge and examiner. 

It should console us that God has placed His providence over our innermost thoughts and hidden deeds.   Ultimately He is in control and not we ourselves.   As we become more attentive to the inner life, the unexpected wildness and depravity of our thoughts will frequently shock us and perhaps even tempt us to despair over our amendment.  Our vanity, the incomprehensible blindness of our fallen nature, has up to a certain point hidden from our awareness the mind’s capacity for evil.  But now we are striving to pray more, to lead a more attentive life, to pay attention to ourselves, and at a time when God in His providence knows best, His grace brings before the mind’s eye how bad we really are, right down to our innermost being, to the core of who we are, to the heart.  We begin to understand by experience the verse in Genesis that explains why God is going to drown all but eight of  the human race in the Flood, because they have become hopeless of amendment:  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).” 

We, however, do not live before the Flood.  We live after the coming of Christ, Who descended into the nethermost depths of hell on that first Great and Holy Saturday, destroying the power of the devil, death, and hell over man’s nature.   As He then destroyed hell’s power over man’s nature in general, He now destroys that power over each of us in particular when, by the grace of Holy Baptism, He descends into the hell of our hearts and destroys the power that evil thoughts exercise over the soul, transforming the heart from a little hell into a little Paradise, where by the continual remembrance and repetition of His holy name, the name of Jesus, we can enjoy a foretaste of the sweetness of the age to come.  What a marvelous exchange:  Purity instead of filth, light instead of darkness, peace instead of turmoil, life instead of death.   And all by His grace and free gift, if only we would pay attention to ourselves, acknowledge in humility how bad we really are, and allow Him to activate the grace of Baptism that already lives in our hearts, that grace which, if we have remained in the Church, has never been lost. 

To face ourselves in this way, really to see ourselves, requires the cardinal virtue of Courage, completed and perfected by the theological virtue of Hope.  Dante had Vergil show him all of hell, right to the bottom.   We do not need Vergil; Christ Himself takes us by the hand and shows us every sin, every passion, every perversion lying in the hell of our hearts, right to the bottom.  If only we shall have been courageous to cast aside our vanity, defensiveness, and fear, and have allowed Him to be our guide, protector, judge, teacher, and physician in this journey through the hell of our hearts in this life, we will, in the next life,  have invincible hope of His mercy at the judgment.   

O Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of the heart, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen. 

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Lent V Monday

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Lent V Monday – Proverbs 14:27 – 15:4

27 The commandment of the Lord is a fountain of life; and it causes men to turn aside from the snare of death. 28 In a populous nation is the glory of a king: but in the failure of people is the ruin of a prince. 29 A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom: but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish. 30 A meek-spirited man is a healer of the heart: but a sensual heart is a corruption of the bones. 31 He that oppresses the needy provokes his Maker: but he that honours him has pity upon the poor. 32 The ungodly shall be driven away in his wickedness: but he who is secure in his own holiness is just. 33 There is wisdom in the good heart of a man: but in the heart of fools it is not discerned. 34 Righteousness exalts a nation: but sins diminish tribes. 35 An understanding servant is acceptable to a king; and by his good behaviour he removes disgrace. 15:1 Anger slays even wise men; yet a humble answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise knows what is good: but the mouth of the foolish tells out evil things. 3 The eyes of the Lord behold both the evil and the good in every place. 4 The wholesome tongue is a tree of life, and he that keeps it shall be filled with understanding. 

Throughout our reading of Proverbs, we notice that the sacred author often admonishes his reader to acquire wisdom.  Therefore, it is only natural that we should ask, “How?  How does one acquire wisdom?”  Of course, we should always ask the Lord for this gift.  He wants to give us those truly good things that make for salvation, and we need to ask for them.   In addition to our prayerful request, however, we also acquire wisdom by various of our own actions, such as study of the sacred Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, by which we can observe the behavior of the truly wise men of history.  And, if we are so fortunate as to know such people, we can learn from wise men of our own acquaintance, such as wise parents, teachers, and friends.

Today, however, in chapter fourteen, verse 29, the sacred author offers another method to get wisdom, a method readily available to everyone every day:  “A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom, but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish.” St. John Chrysostom remarks as follows:  

Do you not see the athletes, how they exercise when they have filled bags with sand?  But there is not need for you to practice this.  Life is full of things that exercise you and make you strong…For it is said, “A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom, but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish.”   

In other words, the saint is saying, daily life presents us with countless opportunities to practice patience, and each little triumph over impatience adds wisdom.  By checking our impatience, we may forego some temporal thing or advantage we want at that moment, but in return we acquire something more important and more permanent:  a deeper understanding of others and of ourselves.  We get wisdom. 

The Greek word translated here as “impatient spirit” – oligopsychos – means literally “small of soul,” the opposite of being magnanimous, great of soul.   The great-souled man sees the big picture, and he sees the other man’s point of view.   The small-souled man has tunnel vision, seeing only the present anxious moment, and he is trapped inside his own mind with its obsessions and delusions. 

When tempted by one of the countless daily annoyances offered by his neighbor, the great-souled man says to himself, “It is not worth it to lose my peace of heart over such a small thing, and, besides, I am beset by my own limitations and passions, as likewise this poor fellow before me. Today he is behaving badly, but tomorrow perhaps I shall do the same.”  By exercising himself in the small daily temptations, he prepares his heart to endure those greater trials that lie in store for every Christian who will find salvation. 

In commenting on verse 30, “A meek man is a healer of the heart,” St. Ambrose identifies gentleness of spirit as an essential characteristic for a pastor of souls:  

While all our actions should be free from hidden malevolence, this is particularly the case in the selection of a bishop, whose life is a pattern for all his flock.  Calm and pacific judgment is called for if you are to prefer to all his fellows a man who will be elected by all and who will heal all dissensions…In the gospel the Lord declared Himself the physician of the heart when he said, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. – Letter 63 

St. Ambrose, of course, does not mean that there are never times when a bishop or priest must roar like a lion rather than to be meek as a lamb.  He himself, on several occasions, courageously opposed powerful men who transgressed the law of God, at the risk of losing his office or even his life.  True meekness and true courage go hand in hand:  The good shepherd is calm at all times, whether he has to reconcile or to fight.  He is gentle to those who are suffering and desire the healing of their hearts, and he is strong to oppose those who persist in evil without repentance, especially if they are harming others. 

We all know that today the Church suffers from a dearth of good bishops and priests, and we often complain about it.  But how often do we pray the Lord to send workers to His harvest, and how often do we encourage our boys and young men to take up the cross of the clerical or monastic state?   Let us pray daily for the Lord to raise up good shepherds for His flock, who will manifest the humility of wisdom that characterizes the peacemakers whom the Lord names as sons of God, and let us encourage our young men to aspire not to only to obtain these sacred offices, but to grow in the wisdom needed to fulfill their demands.   If we desire to have loving pastors who will be patient with us, let us practice patience with one another. After all, people get the leaders they deserve. 

O Christ our Lord, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep, Who gave us the supreme example of patience and meekness in Thy suffering for our salvation, grant us the greatness of soul needed to surmount our impatience, that we may more justly merit the grace of being granted long-suffering pastors who are men after Thine own heart.  Amen. 

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