Important Announcement!

The Holy Metropolis of Toronto (GOC) has announced the beginning of a critically needed education initiative for our young people (and eventually for adults as well!).  Below please read the two announcements and appeals from His Eminence Moses, Metropolitan of Toronto. The program he is announcing also has the blessing of Metropolitan Demetrius of America for the benefit of our faithful in the United States.

   Though this is a program of the Metropolis of Toronto, because it will be online all of our English speaking faithful throughout the world will be able to take these courses.   As you will see from His Eminence’s second message, two of the first three courses to be offered this fall are specifically directed at a critical age group,  middle and high school students, who will be able to take logic and Orthodox apologetics, in order to get the mental tools they need to analyze and refute the anti-Christian propaganda all around them, as well as to articulate the Faith to themselves.   The other course this fall will be Introduction to Ecclesiastical Greek.   

I urge everyone to read Metropolitan Moses’ appeals and support the Orthodox Education Initiative, our new online curriculum for Orthodox families. Note that this is not only a religious instruction program, but aims eventually to be a complete curriculum. This is potentially VERY BIG. We need to seize this moment and run with this!

January 19/February 1, 2019

Saint Mark of Ephesus

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As I reflect on our recent celebration of the Feast of Lights, I would like to share a few thoughts with you all concerning our work together for salvation. In the Feast of Lights, that is, Theophany, our Lord immersed Himself in the waters, as a type of His Cross and death and came out of the water as a type and image of His Resurrection. Immediately after this act the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovered over Him and the voice of the Father said, “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:13)

Thus, from the types shown in this feast and the teachings of the Holy Church, we learn that it is through participating in the Cross of our Savor that we also participate in the light and joy of His Resurrection. The life of a Christian has always included a carrying of the cross through withdrawal from the things of the world in order to constrain ourselves to pray and, at times, to constrain ourselves to fast.

Yet, there is also another way that we must constrain ourselves for the sake of salvation and that is we must take time to read and educate ourselves and our children in the things of God.

We are surrounded by and live and move in a Post-Christian culture that brings with it spiritual darkness and confusion. Speaking of free rational adults, if one is not well versed in the things of our Faith and not vigilant, one can easily be influenced by this spiritual darkness and confusion. When it comes to children, the danger is greater. I have been and continue to be very concerned with our common struggle to protect our children and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We must do everything in our power to inoculate our children from the many spiritual diseases that result from the confusion of this age. With that in mind I wish to share a quote from the book, Father Kosmas, The Apostle of the Poor:

Father [St.] Kosmas asked:

Do you have a school here, here in your village to teach your children?”

We don’t, O saint of God.”

You must all get together and establish a good school. Appoint a committee to govern it, to appoint a teacher to teach all the children, rich and poor. Because it is in school that we learn who God is; who is the Holy Trinity; who are the angels, demons; and what is paradise, hell, virtue, evil; what is the soul, body, etc. Without a school we walk in darkness.The school leads to the monastery. If there were no school, how would I have learned to teach you?

I studied about priests and about unbelievers, heretics, and atheists. I searched the depths of wisdom, but all the faiths are false. I learned this to be true, that only the faith of the Orthodox Christians in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In conclusion, I tell you this. Rejoice that you are Orthodox Christians and weep for the impious and heretics who walk in darkness.“ (Father Kosmas, The Apostle of the Poor, Nomikos M. Vaporis, p. 33 )

Here Saint Kosmas exhorted his listeners to build a school for their children and explained that it was through being properly educated he came to practical knowledge and, what is higher, a depth of wisdom that discerned the distinction between truth and falsehood. Saint Kosmas’ words apply to our own day. We “must all get together and establish a good school.”

With this letter, I look to establish the Metropolis of Toronto Orthodox Educational Initiative.

To begin with, I wish to acknowledge the wonderful work that Fr. Panagiotes and Fr. George did in the past. For some eight years they organized and ran the Saint John of Kronstadt School at the Saint Nektarios Parish. This is the ideal. The absolute best would be to have a school that students would attend daily and be guided by the clergy and teachers.1

To start such a school is not possible at this time because of the change in demographics and the fact that families live too far from the parish to make it feasible, etc.

I want to offer a practical alternative, that is, a hybrid program. I would like to establish an online school for the Metropolis combined with quarterly workshops hosted in the Metropolis, for those who can attend.

This program would be for everyone. Whether your child attends public or private school or is homeschooled, the program will offer online classes taught by Orthodox teachers.

There are many examples today of successful online schools. This can be done.

There is no school that is ideologically neutral. When anti-Christian schools teach our children their version of morals, culture, history, and literature, they are working to destroy souls. We must fight back. We seek to create a curriculum that teaches the Orthodox catechism effectively and thoroughly, as cannot be accomplished with a mere 20 to 30 minutes at Sunday School. But beyond that, we aim to offer academic classes using the traditional, classical method created in ancient Greece and Rome, and brought to perfection by our own East Roman (Byzantine) forbears. Classical schooling is “all the rage” now in the Christian schooling movement, which is dominated by Protestants. But, ironically, this method of instruction, using the classical grammar of Latin and Greek as its primary vehicle, is pre-eminently our inheritance, the creation of our ancestors. Our children need it and deserve it.

In addition to Classical Greek and Latin, we plan to teach logic, rhetoric (including English composition), history, and literature in the 2019-2020 school year, and later to expand to include mathematics and sciences. The ultimate goal is no less than to offer a comprehensive curriculum approaching every branch of knowledge from the Orthodox viewpoint. Nothing less will be able to counteract the deadly influence of what our children are being taught in secular schools.

We aim to make this program so flexible that any family with school-age children can benefit. If your children are enrolled full-time in a public or private school, you will be able to select and buy only the courses you want to supplement your children’s education. If you are a homeschooling family, or a parents’ co-op beginning a small parish school, you will be able to purchase the entire curriculum. We are determined to help as many of our families as possible with professional and affordable instruction by dedicated Orthodox teachers.

First, we ask your prayers for this effort. We also need your financial support. This is not a business; it is a cause, and it should be the cause of every member of our Church. We intend to establish an online school that can be accessed by all the families in our Church before it is too late – before we lose our children.

This kind of professional program cannot be staffed by volunteers. Volunteers do a great job at individual parish events, but they cannot be expected to provide daily professional services. In order to create and sustain a serious, permanent program, our teachers must be paid. We plan to pay them as contract workers who will be paid according to the number of students in each class.

If we can raise $14,000.00 USD now, we can pay the initial expenses of hiring an educational consultant specializing in instructional technology, equipment, and other developmental costs.

If we meet our financial goals, we can have our first year’s classes planned by June 15, 2019, open enrollment at that point, and begin offering classes this September.

In closing, I appeal to the conscience of every pious member of our Church: On Judgment Day, the Lord will require from us an account of our stewardship of the good things He has given us. Among the greatest of these goods – and possibly the greatest trust, after our own souls – are our precious children. How will we face Him if we have not made every sacrifice for them – not for mere worldly advantage, but for the salvation of their souls? Let us act now, with trust in the All-Merciful Lord, Who loves our children more than we do and will multiply our efforts and our sacrifices ten-thousandfold by His infinite grace.

To Christ our God, Who bade the little children come unto Him, be the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages.

Your suppliant before the Lord,

+Moses, Metropolitan of Toronto

1 They also instructed a much larger number of students in the Greek language and Catechism on Saturday at a local middle school for many years.

Beloved Christians,

Greetings in the Lord.

On February 1, 2019 I sent out a letter describing an Orthodox Educational Initiative that I have begun in the Metropolis of Toronto. I plan on informing you all bi-weekly as this initiative progresses.

This project has been slowly developing in the background for some time. It is only after my return from visiting Greece for the Feast of Theophany that certain things came together and provided an opportunity to begin this initiative in earnest. Last week it became obvious that we needed to move quickly in our efforts in order to reach certain goals by June that will enable us to offer classes in September.

I have chosen Fr. John Somers as the administrator of the Orthodox Christian Education Initiative with the help of Fr. Steven Allen. Fr. Steven is a gifted teacher known to many. Fr. John has a unique combination of academic, technological, and practical skills to oversee this project, having acquired his academic qualifications in the context of supporting a family and as a priest of our church. Fr. John is a popular teacher at the online teaching resource called “Outschool.” I have included his curriculum vitae in this email for your review so that you can be confident that we are building a good foundation for this initiative.

Over a period of years Fr. John, Fr. Steven and I have discussed the advantages of using the Trivium method of teaching children with the added context of a well grounded Orthodox Christian world view in order to better equip our youth to confront our secular world with confidence.

Our plan for what we will offer in September depends on what kind of interest and support we receive from you, our faithful. At bare minimum we will offer three classes:

     1.     Orthodox Apologetics for High School Students

     2.     Logic

     3.     Ecclesiastical Greek

Once again, I remind you all that we should all look upon this as a cause, that is, something to support because it will help the children in our local Church, including your children and grandchildren. A mighty oak from an acorn grows. We are growing a sapling right now, but our hope and dream is to establish a learning institution that will be accessible long after we pass from this earth.

We ask your continued prayers. If you wish to donate to this project we ask that those within Canada make out your checks to GOC Metropolis of Toronto and earmark the check:  Orthodox Christian Education Initiative.

If you mail the check, send it to: 

Metropolitan Moses Mahany

P.O. Box 64592 Unionville

Markham ON L3R 1M0

Only your donations made out to the GOC Metropolis of Toronto account will be useful for Canadians and their CRA reporting.

Since our activity will mostly be online and our Administrator is in the USA, we will have expenses that originate from there. For that reason we set up a PayPal account in the US.

PayPal donations can be made to : OrthodoxEducationalInitiative@gmail.com

If those of you who read this reside in the USA and you wish make out a check, please address it to “Joy of All Who Sorrow Mission” and earmark it “Orthodox Educational Initiative” and mail it to:

Joy of All Who Sorrow Mission

C/o Fr. John Somers

357 N Rolling Road 

Springfield, PA 19064

For Your Information: The “Joy of All Who Sorrow Mission” is actually a private chapel and not open to the public. The Mission is a non-profit organization recognized by the IRS (it has an EIN number), that exists for teaching purposes. 

If you wish to contact Fr. John, our Administrator email him at:

orthodoxeducationalinitiative@gmail.com

Thank you and God bless you.

In Christ,

+Moses, of Toronto

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 32

Welcome back to Orthodox Survival Course!

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan

Spring-Fall, 2019

Class 32, Introduction to Part II: Understanding the 20th Century, Dealing With the 21st

Listen to our podcast at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-32

Preface: After a break of a few months, we shall now, with God’s help, begin Part II of our course, which I have been putting off for some time, because I knew it would be more difficult than Part I. It is always easy to look back and say, “Aha, that’s the way it was, and this is what happened and that’s what happened,” and so forth. It is much harder to deal with more recent events and with current events, both intellectually, because you are too close to see the whole picture, and emotionally, because you have a real stake in what you and those around you believe is going on right now. So I have to give a caveat, a warning, ahead of time, that some things I may say will be uncomfortable, and there may be more possibility of disagreement among those who hear these talks from here on out. But that is unavoidable if we are going to grow in understanding.

As of our most recent class – Class 31 – we had brought our study of the development of Western European thought and its effects on civilization, including Orthodox civilization, up to the end of the 19th century, with the open proclamation of the philosophy of nihilism. And really, once you realize that What It’s All About going into the 20th century is nihilism, that is, nothingism, right there you have your prism through which to view all the “great events” that people make so much of in the 20th century: They were not really great but simply stupid, evil, and destructive. It was not only the most evil century (so far!) since the coming of Christ into the world, but also the most inane and meaningless. All of the “great” movements and so forth were not great at all, but rather they partook of demonic emptiness, which is what “inane” means – empty. But, then, remember, the rationale behind it all is nihilism, nothing-ism. The thought and spirit behind every “progressive” step of the 20th century is purely parasitical and destructive, a consuming of the spiritual and cultural capital of the past, a tearing down of the old with nothing coherent in its place. It is a completely negative program.

There are bright spots in the 20th century, of course – the heroic rearguard action of saints and heroes struggling for the Faith, for the Church, and for the preservation of the historic Christian nations with their received cultures – but these isolated heroes were all much-hated and much-slandered people who were going against the mainstream, going against the grain. And though their efforts preserved what we have left today, what was passed on to us, and for this we owe them a debt of gratitude that is incalculable, they were not outwardly successful on the grand scale, on the “big stage.” On the grand scale, evil was in the 20th century – and remains in the 21st century – outwardly triumphant, on center stage, so to speak, and the good is marginalized to the corners and the byways, in “the dens and caves of the earth,” to use the poignant image from Hebrews 11.

As I say this, however, it is not in a spirit of gloom, and certainly not hopelessness. We are the children of the Church, and therefore we belong to God, Who is already the Victor in the Great Contest of History. We must not only accept but, what is more, be grateful for the part God has assigned us in history. We must be determined to believe that from all eternity the All-Good God by His sovereign will and in His infinite wisdom has assigned us to live precisely at this time for our salvation. This certainty gives us great joy and courage, and it inspires us to heroism.

It is in the spirit of Christian hope, therefore, the invincible hope in the Risen Lord, and by way of a call to Orthodox heroism, to courageous and prophetic confession and, if need be, martyrdom, that I offer Part II of our course, which proposes to construct an Orthodox filter through which to view the 20th century and, as much as possible, our current situation in the young 21st century. I think that since we began our course last year, most everyone has realized that this study we are doing is serious business. If some have not realized it yet, they will now.

A. The Christian World Prior to August 1914

Despite all of the bad developments we described for so many classes in Part I, beginning with the High Middle Ages and culminating in the onset of the Age of Revolution with the French Revolution and its aftermath, “Christian civilization” – whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant – still seemed outwardly like the dominant force on the globe right up to World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. Recall that with Tsar Alexander I’s defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), the “forces of reaction,” the conservative and monarchical element of European leadership, “put the brakes” on the progress of revolution, and though the 19th century seethed with revolutionary movements – behind the scenes but also breaking out into public sporadically – and a lot of bad art, philosophy, and so forth, in general there was “peace and prosperity” under a nominally Christian banner. A mainstream historian, Barbara Tuchman, paints a vivid picture of the outward peace and confidence of “Christian” Europe at the end of the 19th century in the introduction to her famous work on the beginning of WWI, The Guns of August, and later in an entire book, The Proud Tower.

But from our Orthodox viewpoint, we understand that all this was precisely a “proud tower,” i.e., an repeat of the Tower of Babel scheme. “Christian” civilization of that time was dominated by heretical Christianity, and, above all, by a spirit of worldliness. Most critically, the Orthodox nations, who should have been the preservers of the True Faith, were by this time infected by the worldly spirit whose growth we have traced in Part I of our course, and though, of course, outside forces conspired against them, it was because their “immune system” of pure Orthodoxy had been compromised that they could not fight the infection. The genuine, otherworldly spirit of True Orthodoxy was preserved in isolated places and movements, where the faithful gathered around holy monasteries or outstanding pastoral figures, but the overall “trajectory” of the ruling classes was not good – they were all infiltrated by Freemasonry and, in general, had become complicit in the revolutionary plan of destruction to a greater or lesser degree, either as actual Freemasons and conspirators or – the majority – as “useful idiots”: either liberals who were openly scornful of the Church or political conservatives who were “for the Church,” but viewed Orthodoxy from a secular viewpoint as an “element of national identity,” not the One Truth for all mankind.

So in the summer of 1914, we have an openly prosperous and triumphant “Christian” Europe which is actually standing on a cliff, ready to jump to its destruction.

B. Civilizational Suicide and Living After the End of the World

The two World Wars and the accompanying revolutions that destroyed the historic Christian states, were actually one long action of suicide conducted in several stages by the entire civilization of historically Christian Europe. I often tell people that to understand our situation, we have to realize that we are living after the end of the world,at least after the end of our world: The entire civilization that arose after St. Constantine and the Peace of the Church, and that had endured for 1600 years, “suddenly” collapsed between 1914 and 1945, or so it seemed. In Part I of our course, we learned that this was not sudden at all – the magnificent edifice had become hollow on the inside and was just waiting to be knocked over. In Part II, we propose to examine how the knocking-over happened and what this means for us today.

So, we want to keep on with our project of constructing our Orthodox set of “lenses” to view history, and now we need a lens through which to view these recent events that have created the world we currently live in. This is the goal of Part II of our course.

C. An Image of Our Situation: The Besieged Castle

One way of thinking about our situation is this: Think of our living in a castle besieged by enemies, a castle consisting of concentric ring-walls with the innermost keep in the center. The outermost ring-wall consists of the Christian nations, which were destroyed by the forces of Revolution. The next ring-wall consists of the historic Church institutions, which are by now almost completely destroyed by Ecumenism. Next is the ring of the Family, now being destroyed by what could, for lack of a better term, be called “cultural Marxism.” After the family what we have left to us is the innermost keep of the human organism, with the body being destroyed by drugs, toxic food and water, ambient radiation, etc, etc, and, finally, the mind and the soul, being destroyed by the mental fragmentation of electronic addiction. After this last destruction is accomplished, what will be left?

Our plan for Part II will be to go through the destruction of each of these concentric rings and try to understand it from an Orthodox perspective. At each stage of our study, we need not only to provide understanding, which is the most basic “survival tool,” but also to offer suggestions to action: “This being so, how therefore should one live? ”

May Our All-Provident Lord, the Invincible Victor, Be Our Hope!

The Angel of the Apocalypse
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Laying a foundation

28 January OS 2018 – 17th Sunday of St. Matthew (the Canaanite Woman), Ss. Ephraim and Isaac the Syrians

The reading from the Gospel for our saints of today is the usual passage read for a monastic saint.

The Lord said to His disciples: All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. –Matthew 11: 27-30

In commenting on this passage, St. Theophylact says the following about verses 29 and 30, regarding the easy yoke and light burden laid upon Christ’s disciples:

The yoke of Christ is humility and meekness. For he who humbles himself before all men has rest and remains untroubled; but he who is vainglorious and arrogant is ever encompassed by troubles as he does not wish to be less than anyone but is always thinking how to be esteemed more highly and how to defeat his enemies. Therefore the yoke of Christ, which is humility, is light, for it is easier for our lowly nature to be humbled than to be exalted. But all the commandments of Christ are also called a yoke, and they are light because of the reward to come, even though for a time they appear heavy. – The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 99 (Chrysostom Press, House Springs, MO 1992)

We normally do not think of ourselves as vainglorious and arrogant people strutting through life, constantly seeking praise and scheming against our enemies.   The passion of vanity, however, is in fact a deep-seated problem for nearly everyone; it simply comes with the human condition.   Most if not all our irrational fears and anxiety are related to this passion.

Pride is the most deep-seated of the passions. It is the dumb conviction of the heart that the heart is the source of its own life. Vanity is a secondary or derivative aspect of pride, operating in the faculties of the mind, especially memory and imagination: it is the false image, the collection of erroneous ideas we have about ourselves, whether positive or negative. It is the mental idol of the ego on the basis of the deep-seated pride in the heart, formed by misuse of the mind. You might think of the ego as a grotesque pagan statue on a grim iron pedestal: the pedestal is pride of heart, and the statue is the false self, the ego, the portrait of oneself formed by the mind according to vanity. When others throw stones at the statue, we are enraged, because it is our god.   We cannot help throwing stones at it ourselves, because it is indeed hateful, and this is what leads to depression and despair.   If one’s god is hateful, what is the point of life?

If one wants to conduct an active and conscious spiritual life rather than treating the duties of faith only outwardly, it is essential to recognize that everyone, including oneself, suffers from pride and vanity.   We Orthodox Christians, however, if we have not de-activated the grace of baptism through sin (we never lose it, except by apostasy, but we can render it non-functioning – not dynamic though retaining its potency – through serious and un-repented sins which separate us from Holy Communion), have the energy of God within us to become aware of these passions, to take steps by God’s grace to heal them, and, by God’s grace, to transform them – to transform pride into complete, final, spontaneous confession from the depths of the heart that God is God and we are not, and to transform vanity into accurate self-knowledge in our daily lives. Taken together, this is called humility, and with humility come joy, gratitude, meekness, courage, patience, and all the radiant ensemble of the virtues.

What is step one?   To get rid of pride and vainglory, we have to undertake a difficult spiritual struggle, and the minute we make the resolve to do so, our pride and vainglory are jumping up and saying, “I’ll do it! I’ll struggle and get rid of pride and vainglory!”   A real puzzle, is it not? How do we get rid of the problem that we are unconsciously and instinctively convinced is the power that solves our problems? So the first step in spiritual life is to renounce reliance on oneself and to place all-daring trust and complete reliance on God. This is the subject of chapters two, three, and four of a book we should all have on our shelves, Unseen Warfare, as edited by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and St. Theophan the Recluse.   Always better to obtain and read the book, of course (I found used copies of the St. Vladimir Seminary Press paperback available online just now for as little as fourteen dollars), but one could also read it on the screen here:  http://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Orthodoxy/Unseen-Warfare.pdf

Here is the beginning of chapter two. Please do read, and join me in trying to do what the author says:

“Not to rely on oneself is so necessary in our struggle, my beloved brother, that without this, be assured, not only will you fail to gain the desired victory, but you will be unable to resist the smallest attack of the enemy. Engrave this deeply in your mind and heart. Since the time of the transgression of our forefather, despite the weakening of our spiritual and moral powers, we are wont to think very highly of ourselves. Although our daily experience very effectively proves to us the falseness of this opinion of ourselves, in our incomprehensible self-deception we do not cease to believe that we are something, and something not unimportant. Yet this spiritual disease of ours, so hard to perceive and acknowledge, is more abhorrent to God than alt else in us, as being the first offspring of our self-hood and self-love, and the source, root and cause of all passions and of all our downfalls and wrong-doing. It closes the very door of our mind or spirit, through which alone Divine grace can enter, and gives this grace no way to come and dwell in a man. And so it withdraws from him. For how can grace, which comes to help and enlighten us, enter that man, who thinks of himself that he is something great, that he himself knows everything and needs no outside help?—May God preserve us from this disease and passion of Lucifer!—God severely reprimands those who are stricken with this passion of vainglory and self-esteem, saving through the prophet: Woe unto them that arc wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah v. 21). And the Apostle tells us: ‘Be not wise in your own conceits’ (Rom. xii. 16).

“While God abhors this evil conceit in us, there is nothing He loves and desires to see in us more than a sincere consciousness of our nothingness and a firm and deep-felt conviction that any good we may have in. our nature and our life comes from Him alone, since He is the source of all good, and that nothing truly good can ever come from ourselves, whether a good thought or a good action. Therefore He takes care to plant this heavenly seed in the hearts of His beloved friends, urging them not to value themselves and not to rely on themselves. Sometimes He does this through the action of grace and inner illumination, or sometimes through external blows and tribulations’ sometimes through unexpected and almost unconquerable temptations, and sometimes by other means, not always comprehensible to us. Yet, although expecting no good from ourselves and not relying on ourselves is the work of God in us, we on our side must make every effort to acquire this disposition, doing all we can, all within our power. And so, my brother, I offer you here four activities, by means of which, with God’s help, you may end by acquiring disbelief in yourself, and learn never to rely on yourself in anything.

“(a) realise your nothingness and constantly keep in your mind the fact that by yourself you can do nothing good which is worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Listen to the words of the wise fathers: Peter of Damascus assures us that ‘nothing is better than to realise one’s weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than not to be aware of them’ (Philokalia). St. Maximus the Confessor teaches: ‘The foundation of every virtue is the realisation of human weakness’ (Philokalia). St. John Chrysostom says: ‘He alone knows himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being nothing.’

“(b) Ask for God’s help in this with warm and humble prayers; for this is His gift. And if you wish to receive it, you must first implant in yourself the conviction that not only have you no such consciousness of yourself, but that you cannot acquire it by your own efforts; then standing daringly before the Almighty God, in firm belief that in His great loving kindness He will grant you this knowledge of yourself when and how He Himself knows, do not let the slightest doubt creep in that you will actually receive it.

“(c) Accustom yourself to be wary and to fear your innumerable enemies whom you cannot resist even for a short time. Fear their long experience in fighting us, their cunning and ambushes, their power to assume the guise of angels of light, their countless wiles and nets, which they secretly spread on the path of your life of virtues.

“(d) If you fall into some transgression, quickly turn to the realisation of your weakness and be aware of it. For God allows you to fall for the very purpose of making you more aware of your weakness, so that you may thus not only yourself learn to despise yourself, but because of your great weakness may wish to be despised also by others. Know that without such desire it is impossible for this beneficent self-disbelief to be born and take root in you. This is the foundation and beginning of true humility, since it is based on realisation, by experience, of your impotence and unreliability.”

By the prayers of Ss. Ephraim and Isaac, of Ss. Nicodemus and Theophan, and all the saints,  may we begin the blessed path towards saving humility.  Amen.

ephremsyrus
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Attaining our purpose

The Forefeast of Theophany, 2019

On the Saturday before Theophany, and again at the Great (Royal) Hours on the eve of the Feast, we read these words from St. Matthew:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:1-6

Repentance is at the heart of the Gospel. Everything begins with it, and ultimately, at the end of a man’s life in this world, everything here ends with it: our hope is precisely to die in repentance.   Our life, then, is, or should be, one of constant repentance. What then is it, and how can we attain it? How can we live a life of repentance?

The Greek word we translate by “repentance” is metanoia, which we need to translate as both “change of mind” and “change of heart” to capture the full meaning, since what the words means is “change of the nous,” the nous being the spiritual intellect, whose entire reality we cannot grasp unless we think of it as the mind joined to the heart. It is the center of one’s personality and existence, the “real me.” St. Macarius the Great says that when someone is truly living in grace, the soul becomes “all nous” – in other words, everything about the person becomes spiritual, even in this life.   This state is also what we call theosis.

Even – especially – the greatest saints never stop repenting, even when they are in theosis. How can this be? What do they have to repent of? They keep repenting because they keep on turning their minds to God, and they keep weeping over their sins and the sins of the whole world, right up to their last breath.

It is in the light of this reality, of what a saint is and how a saint lives, that we can understand what repentance is: the constant turning of the mind and heart back to God, away from the ego (the false self), away from love of this world, and away from demonic thoughts.    The mind, captivated by the divine beauty, desires to think of God always and His holy commandments, by which one lives, using one’s will and energy to inject one’s love of God into one’s daily activities. The heart, desiring God and longing to be united to Him, unites with the mind in prayer and in action, and puts warmth and life into the actions of the mind and will.

When we hear, “Say your prayers! Fast! Do spiritual reading! Go to Confession! Prepare for Holy Communion!” and the rest of the whole list of do’s (and don’ts) that the Church’s preachers and teachers are always “throwing at us,” it will help us to recall that these activities are not external badges of being “good little boys and girls,” so that others will approve us.   They are indispensable means to attaining the purpose of our entire existence. We have to decide between heaven and hell; we have to decide if we wish to attain our purpose and live forever with God in endless growth in love for Him and for all people and all creation, or if we wish for our minds and hearts to revolve now and for eternity around the idol of the ego, an existence which can be named best and simply by that old-fashioned word – hell.

So when we get up in the morning and say our prayers rather than indulging our fallen nature, we are not merely checking off an item on a list (though checklists are an excellent thing); we are taking a step towards a blessed eternity.   We have turned the mind to God. We have repented.

What then, is repentance? It is the constant turning of the mind and heart to God, and living our lives according to His commandments. How do we do it? Do what the Church says. As they say, “It’s not rocket science.”

May the prayers of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John be with us, as we prepare to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord! May this great Mystery renew in us the desire to live according to our baptism and be truly pleasing to God Who is Manifest for our sake.   May we live in repentance.

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Faithful witness

The noble Joseph, taking Thine immaculate Body down from the Tree, and having wrapped It in linen and pure spices, laid It for burial in a new tomb.

– The Dismissal Hymn of Great and Holy Saturday

St. Joseph of Arimathea and the Glastonbury Thorn

Amid the hills and marshes of southwest England lies the picturesque town of Glastonbury. Though today, sadly, Glastonbury is best known for rock festivals and attracting practitioners of the occult, its true significance is that here the Christian Faith was first planted in the British Isles. The Righteous Joseph of Arimathea came here to preach the Gospel, and one year, on the day of the Nativity of Christ, he planted his staff (which, according to some traditions, was that of the Lord Himself), which took root and budded into flower. St. Joseph pointed to this miracle as a sign that Christ was born as the flower of the fruit of Jesse, as the prophets had foretold. 

This tree, which came to be known as the Glastonbury Thorn, continued to grow and to flourish throughout the centuries, and it became a marvel to all by blossoming twice a year, both in the spring around the time of Pascha, and also, remarkably, in the dead of winter, around the time of Christ’s Nativity. In so doing it became a type not only of the Resurrection, of life overcoming death, symbolized by the blossoms of spring returning after winter, but also of the Birth into the world of Life Itself, the Birth of the God-Man in the midst of death, the spiritual winter of sinful man, symbolized by the winter of the physical world. Over the centuries, the tree’s fortunes – its flourishing and its periodic destruction – would symbolize the rise and fall of the Church in Britain.

With the tree, St. Joseph also planted the first church, which became a monastery. The holy tree attracted pilgrims throughout the centuries, and the monastery grew to be one of the greatest in Britain, second only to Winchester, which was the original episcopal seat of the British Church, prior to the founding of the English Church by St. Augustine, after which the primatial see moved to Canterbury. Glastonbury remained a key spiritual center during the period of the English Church, as it had in the British Church: We have historical evidence that the monastery was thriving in the seventh century.

Sadly, the 1066 invasion of William the Conqueror, with its imposition of papism by the Normans, ended the Orthodox period of the Old English Church, but nevertheless Glastonbury Abbey, with its precious treasure, the holy Thorn Tree, remained a place of pilgrimage and veneration. By the 14th century, it had grown to be one of the largest and most powerful monasteries in England, but its glorious history had by this time reached near its end: the despoliation and destruction of the monasteries by Thomas Cromwell’s henchmen in the 16th century, under the unhappy Henry VIII, reached to Glastonbury also. Her last abbot was hanged, drawn, and quartered, the brotherhood was disbanded, and all the abbey’s wealth was “Swept into the laps of parasites and whores,” i.e., the founders of the ruling class of modern England, as T.S. Eliot aptly describes it in Murder in the Cathedral. The lackeys of the apostate king destroyed the abbey, and without its spiritual center and higher purpose, Glastonbury became a backwater. The holy Thorn Tree, however, though orphaned of its monastic guardians, continued year after year to perform its sweet miracle of blossoming in “bleak mid-winter,” as though in reproach to the pride and rationalism of the dawning secular age.

A portion of the abbey ruins.

Though no more than a man-made sect cut out from an already-heretical church, yet Henry VIII’s church organization at least remained faithful to the patristic calendar long after the popes had changed it. When Gregory XIII imposed the unlawful alteration of the ancient calendar in 1582, it seems that the practical “Queen Bess,” Elizabeth I, was willing to go along, but her bishops, in a rare show of independent spirit, would not accept the change, resenting anything arbitrarily invented by the pope. At the same time, the instinctively old fashioned simple people, still clinging to Orthodox habits of mind inherited from their long-fathers, pointed to the miracle of the Thorn blossoming on “Old Calendar Christmas” as proof that this was the true day of Christ’s Birth, and that the Julian calendar was the legitimate calendar of the Church. From the reign of Elizabeth’s successor James I onward, a flower-laden branch of the blossoming Thorn was sent to the English king at Christmas every year. James’s son Charles I, made these telling remarks one year when the courier from Glastonbury brought the flowers:

“Well, this is a miracle, isn’t it?” said the king.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” someone replied, “a miracle peculiar to England and regarded with much veneration by the Roman Catholics.”

“How?” said the king, “when this miracle opposes itself to the Roman pope? You bring me this miraculous blossom on Christmas Day, Old Style. Does it always observe the Old Style, by which we English celebrate the Nativity, at the time of its flowering?”

“Always.”

“Then the pope and your miracle differ not a little, for he always celebrates Christmas Day ten days earlier by the calendar of the New Style…”

Tragically and significantly, King Charles I and the Glastonbury Thorn shared the same fate during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when a more sectarian, iconoclastic, and fanatic spirit possessed a large portion of the already Protestant nation. The Puritan rebel leadership staged a show trial and beheaded their king, and partisans of the possessed regicides cut down and burned the holy Thorn. The local faithful, however, preserved the roots of the Thorn, which they separated and planted in several different locations, where they grew into trees that continued to bloom on “Old Christmas.”

In 1752, the British government decided to accept the papist calendar in order to be in sync with Western Europe. The new regime that had engineered the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which destroyed the power of the monarchy and effectively made a greedy oligarchy of merchants and usurers the true rulers of the English nation and her global empire, had no use for pious customs, if they impeded lucrative trade and geopolitical ambition, and the calendar was one of these. The people did not easily accept the change, however, and there were riots in various places. Even in faraway British America, isolated communities such as the “hillbillies” of Appalachia continued to keep “Old Christmas” (see www.ludwell.org/old-christmas-virginia-2017).   And every year, on the true Christmas, crowds continued to gather around the Glastonbury Thorn to see what it would do, and the miraculous blooms continued to appear.

Time passed, the Thorn continued to be propagated in Glastonbury, and its descendants continued to bloom twice in the year, on or close to the days of Our Lord’s Birth and Resurrection. In 1951, townsmen planted one of these trees at the original site on Wearyall Hill. It made for a beautiful site seen from all over the town, and again became a center of pilgrimage. But this brief return of normality after World War II marked the last generation of a recognizably Christian England, and a new period, darker than any preceding, was about to begin.

The cultural revolution of the 1960’s with its concomitant final, utter apostasy of the Church of England into the madness of postmodern unbelief and immorality, set loose an aggressive anti-Christian spirit in the land, and demonized partisans of this anti-Christianity – public secularists and private, or not-so-private, occultists as well – began a career of destroying what was left of the old culture, in a campaign worthy of their Puritan antecedents. These were soon to be joined by fellow demoniacs, the Mohammedan invaders now welcomed and coddled by an apostate government in service of the Satanic global elite, which is using the possessed Saracens to destroy the native English people.

It is only natural that this evil spirit would reach even unto Glastonbury, for the holiest places always attract the worst demonic activity, and Glastonbury has become a favorite haunt of witch covens, neo-Druids, and all kinds of practitioners of the demonic arts. In 2010, someone viciously cut off the crown of the tree on Wearyall Hill, and he or his fellows later came back to destroy even the shoots that continued to appear. It was clear to one and all that this was a public attack on the Christian faith. Finally the town removed the tree entirely.

Another tree was planted on Wearyall Hill in 2012, but this one died also at the hands of evil vandals. There was a descendant tree of the Holy Thorn at the ruins of the abbey as well, but this was pronounced dead in 1991. To this day, however, at yet a third location, the Church of St. John, a few trees of the holy Thorn lineage can be found, and they still faithfully repeat their two annual acts of homage to the King of Life. The present Queen still receives a blossoming branch at “Old Christmas,” which is cut with special ceremony.

The present tree at St. John’s. 

Thus for two millennia, the Glastonbury Thorn, planted by the same hands that took the Lord from the Cross and laid Him in the Tomb, has witnessed the planting, blossoming, decline, and near-death of the Christian faith in Britain. Despite every attempt to destroy them, both this tree and this faith continue to live, albeit in quietness and obscurity. By the inscrutable wisdom of God, the true Faith, Orthodoxy itself, has returned to Britain, whose truth has been witnessed to silently, through all of these centuries, by the holy Tree that blossoms according to the true calendar. Though few in number, the True Orthodox on this isle, a blessed and beautiful land converted by St. Joseph and sanctified by innumerable saints, must continue to bear witness as well. Like the silent, hidden roots of the Holy Thorn, so too the silent, hidden relics of the saints, the blood of martyrs and tears of the ascetics that soak the soil of this blessed isle, the innumerable holy wells, the mossy wayside crosses – all of these too bear witness. Like the silent, hidden roots of the Holy Thorn, the True Orthodox remnant on this isle may one day bear beautiful fruit, if only they too will bear witness, if only they too will remain faithful, faithful as the merry little tree planted by St. Joseph on that Christmas Day long ago.

We thank Thee for Thy mercies of blood, for Thy redemption

by blood. For the blood of Thy martyrs and saints

Shall enrich the earth, shall create the holy places.

For wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his

blood for the blood of Christ,

There is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it

Though armies trample over it, though sightseers come with

guide-books looking over it;

From where the western seas gnaw at the coast of Iona,

To the death in the desert, the prayer in forgotten places by

the broken imperial column,

From such ground springs that which forever renews the earth

Though it is forever denied.

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, Act III

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A ten point program

21 December 2018 AD – Nativity Fast; Thursday of the 32nd Week after Pentecost; Holy Martyr Juliana of Nicomedia

In the reading from the Apostolos today, St. James the Just calls us to live a Gospel life, before it is too late:

Brethren: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.  – James 4:7-5:9

Here is a comprehensive set of instructions for the evangelical life, the true Orthodox life. We can summarize it in a list of bullet points:

  1. Submit to God.   Tell Him every day that you want His will to be done, but that you know that you often do not see it, or, seeing it, resist it, and you need His grace to discern it and do it, and to accept whatever involuntary crosses come your way.
  2. Resist the devil. The only people who lose the invisible warfare are those who turn coward and quit.   Keep fighting. If you sin every hour, repent every hour, and you will be numbered among the martyrs and saints.
  3. Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts. Go to confession and cleanly confess all of your outward sins and inner sinful thoughts. Examine your conscience daily, hate your sins, and resolve to fight them.
  4. Mourn and weep. Ask for a real Orthodox heart, for real sorrow over the sins of the world and one’s own sins. Grieve for sinful mankind, who has rejected God.
  5. Speak not evil of one another. Cut out gossip.   Take the high road of peace of heart which comes from looking up, to God, to resolve your problems with others, and cut out all the analysis, which leads inevitably to condemnation, since everyone does indeed deserve condemnation, including you.
  6. Humble yourselves. Ask the Lord to make you see how helpless you are and cut out all of your self-satisfaction and arrogance.   Train yourself to say always, “If God wills…God willing…if I live until tomorrow…”
  7. Your gold and silver is cankered. Face it, you’ll never have enough money, but you will always have what you need.   Trust in God.
  8. Be just. You cannot be “spiritual” if you don’t even obey the Ten Commandments.
  9. Be patient, therefore, brethren until the coming of the Lord. The Lord is coming in your lifetime, no matter what, either in the Second Coming or the hour of your death.   Endure, keep the faith; it’s later than you think.
  10. “…the judge standeth at the door.” Why waste time pondering other people’s relative guilt or innocence? You are about to stand before the Judge. This should concentrate your mind.

What a joy and relief it would be to live like this!

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Thoughts on Spiritual Life, Class 7

You can now listen to a podcast of Class 7 of our “mini-course,” Thoughts on Spiritual Life, at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/thoughts-on-spiritual-life-class-7_1

Here are the notes from the website describing this class:

“As we continue our Thoughts on Spiritual Life, we begin Part II, Chapter 1 of *Unseen Warfare*, on the Holy Eucharist. Tonight we read only the very beginning of the chapter and then were sidetracked onto several topics concerning Holy Communion that were of concern to those attending the class. I made at least one factual mistake: the last elder of Optina was not Nazary but Nectary. Because tonight’s discussion was unplanned and completely spontaneous, it is rather disjointed and fragmentary, and, at times, emotional. There is some controversial matter and some opinions expressed by me – with serious misgivings – about the currently controverted question of frequency of and preparation for Holy Communion. . But there is probably something to be gained by listening to the talk – useful things here and there. For the specifics on preparing for Holy Communion, speak to your own spiritual father.”

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant.
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A cloud of witnesses

17 December OS 2018 – Sunday of the Forefathers; Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and Aegina, Holy New Martyr Deacon Avvakum of Serbia

The reading from the Apostolos for December 17th, the feast of the Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths, is the conclusion of the great paean to the saints of the Old Testament from Hebrews 11. Because the feast of St. Daniel falls this year on the Sunday of the Forefathers, its readings are replaced by those of the Sunday, but the Apostolos reading of the Menaion is also most appropriate to this day on which we recall all the saints of the Old Testament:

Brethren: All the saints through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. –Hebrews 11: 33-40

During this period of the holy Nativity Fast, the Holy Church holds up to us the example of the Old Testament saints on the two Sundays preceding the Nativity as well as on the Menaion feasts of several Old Testament prophets, most notably today’s saints: Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths.   As we await the feast of the birth of the Christ, it is well to remember those who awaited His birth in history, and their great faith and hope.

When we feel alone in our Faith, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept their Faith despite being always a tiny remnant of perpetually apostate Israel. When we are tempted to give up our Hope in eternal life, we should recall that the Old Testament saints kept their Hope while knowing that at death, no matter how righteous and faithful they had been in life, they would go down into Hades.   When we feel powerless, we should recall that within us lies the infinite power of baptismal grace, while the Old Testament saints had no such help.   When we lose historical perspective and feel trapped in our present circumstances, we should recall century by century, event by event, and saint by saint, all the glorious history of the New Testament Church of the past 2,000 years – and then remember that the Old Testament righteous had far less in their past to encourage them. Yet they persevered, strong in their hope, for they believed that God was faithful to His promise.

God has indeed “…provided some better thing for us…”: salvation by Jesus Christ our Lord, Who raised the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament from Hades on that first Great Saturday and perfected them with us by the grace for which they had longed and in which they had hoped.

A good exercise for today would be to re-read (or read!) the Book of Daniel.   Make sure to read the Septuagint version, which contains important sections left out by the rabbinical-minded Protestant editions. If you do not own a translation of the Septuagint (or a King James with “Apocrypha” or a Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate), you can read a translation of the Septuagint version of Daniel online at http://ecmarsh.com/lxx/Daniel/index.htm

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2

Amen! Holy Prophet Daniel, Holy Three Youths, and all ye righteous of the Old Testament, pray to God for us!

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Hide thyself for a little season

15 December OS 2018 – Nativity Fast; Friday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; S. Eleutherios, Hieromartyr

Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Mark 9:33-41 –

At that time, Jesus came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

The commentary of St. Theophan the Recluse on this teaching of the Lord, that we should be humble and childlike, provides such good advice for our current situation, that I thought I would reproduce it in full:

The Savior sets forth a child as a model of faith and life. Simplicity of faith gives birth to simplicity of life. From both of these comes an exemplary moral system. If you let philosophizing in, it will produce disorder within, and under the appearance of a better arrangement of things, it will throw one’s entire life into disorder. Philosophizing alway cries, ‘This is not right; that’s not right. Let me arrange everything in a new way; the old is worthless, boring.’ But it has never yet, in any place, arranged anything good; it only throws things into confusion. The mind should obey what is commanded by the Lord. True, the mind is called ‘the king in the head’; however, this king is not given legislative power, only executive power. As soon as it starts making laws, it piles up who-knows-what. Moral, religious, worldly, and political orders are thrown into confusion, and everything turns upside down. It is a great misfortune for society when its mind is given freedom to soar, with no restraint by divine Truth! This is God’s wrath [i.e., it brings upon us God’s wrath]. About this it is said, ‘Hide thyself for a little season, until the anger of the Lord hath passed away (Esaias 26:20).’ During this apex of intellectual willfulness it is best to seek shelter in simplicity of faith. Just as during a storm it is better to sit at home and not step out in arrogance to fight with it, so during a time of stormy trust in one’s own thoughts it is better not to enter into battle with it, or to seize the weapons of philosophizing in order to resist it. Simplicity of faith is stronger than philosophizing; clothe yourself in it, as in armor, and you will keep your balance. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 281-282

Here the saint addresses two arenas of conflict, society and the believer’s inner life. They mirror each other. Just as, when society leaves off trusting in God’s Law and makes new theories, it throws itself into chaos, so also, when the Orthodox believer leaves the narrow path of the Scriptures and the Fathers, and tries to “figure everything out” with his “brain,” he becomes confused and throws his mind, and therefore his life, into chaos. Most of us learned a long time ago that Holy Tradition does not violate our reason, that Orthodoxy provides the most satisfying answers to the questions about the things we really need to know, and that there are things we simply do not need to know. That should be enough to satisfy us, and the temptation to keep analyzing the Faith is just that, a temptation. Nowadays we just need to live and not keep re-inventing the wheel.

“Mainstream life” is an insane asylum, and today most Orthodox people mostly act like most everyone else, and because this entails bad habits of mind, will, and desires, they are exhausted like everyone else, leading fragmented and distracted lives that do not make sense. It is no wonder that a brutal, crude, and irrational ideology like Islam, along with myriad strange cults – belief in “aliens,” Scientology, Wicca, “enlightenment” through drugs, whatever – now spread like cancer in formerly Christian societies, for, having rejected the Truth, people are desperate for someone to tell them what to do, desperate for answers – no matter how erroneous – to hold onto. In the name of “freedom,” they have renounced obedience to the lovely simplicity of the Gospel that elevates the mind and frees the will for the good, that governs everything in our inner and outer lives with harmonious order and happiness. So now, terrified by the chaos they have created, they run to enslave themselves to disgusting and demonic revelations that crush the mind and paralyze the will. Orthodox young people are not immune.

The simple answer that St. Theophan offers is to “hide a little while,” as the Prophet Esaias cries to us daily in the Fifth Ode of Matins. Let us enclose our minds, with a firm act of will, in the words of Holy Scripture, daily prayer, and the Offices of the Church. First, the emotions are calmed. Then the mind becomes clear. Finally, the mind and heart unite in a whole vision of reality that makes complete sense, though during this temporal life there are some things we simply cannot know, and with this we are content. This forms a firm basis for daily life.

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Let us live in hope

14 December OS 2018 – Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Ss. Thyrsos, Levkios, and Kallinikos, Martyrs; Ss. Philemon, Apollonios, and Arrianos, Martyrs

As the New Year approaches, naturally everyone is thinking about 2019 and what it will bring. Today we read the Gospel passage assigned to the Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke in the daily cycle, and providentially St. Theophan the Recluse, while commenting on today’s reading, offers an insight into our situation as we face a new year.

The Gospel reading is Mark 9: 10-15

At that time, the disciples kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed [wanted], as it is written of him. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.

When the Lord says that Elias has already come, and “…they have done to him whatsoever they listed…” He is referring to St. John the Baptist. The Baptist came, and the evildoers – Herod and his crowd – did whatever they wanted to him: they imprisoned and murdered him. St. Theophan the Recluse takes this event, along with the sufferings of Christ Himself, as a starting point for a meditation on the place of man’s choices in the flow of history:

History flows on and, it seems, inexorably determines individual events. How many preparations there were to receive the Savior! At last, His closest witness, John, came – but what came of it? “They have done…whatsoever they listed” to John, and the Son of man suffered and was humiliated. The flow of events could not be broken; it took its own course. So the flow of history always draws everything after it. People now ask, “Where is freedom? What would it be, given such an order of events? Nothing but a phantom?” Thus do fatalists usually reason. But this all-determining necessity of the flow of events is only an appearance. In reality all human events, both common and individual, are the fruit of man’s free undertakings. The common [history] flows exactly the way it does because everyone, or a majority, want this. And individual events enter into agreement with common events because someone or other in particular wants this. The proof of this is obvious: in the midst of general good there occur bad elements, and in the midst of general bad there occur good elements. Also, in the midst of a firmly established commonality are born elements which, spreading and becoming stronger and stronger, overpower the former commonality and take its place. But these elements are always a matter of freedom. What did Christianity have in common with the character of the time in which it was conceived? It was sown by several individuals who were not a result of the necessary flow of history; it attracted those who desired it, spread vigorously, and became the common cause of the humanity of the time, yet all the same it was a matter of freedom. The same is true in a bad direction: how did the West become corrupted? It corrupted itself. Instead of learning from the Gospel, they began to learn from pagans and adopt their customs – and they became corrupted. The same will happen with us: we have begun to learn from the West which has fallen from Christ the Lord, and have transferred its spirit to ourselves. It will end with us, like the West forsaking true Christianity. But in all of this there is nothing that necessarily determines the matter of freedom. If we want to, we will drive away the Western darkness. If we do not want to, of course, we will immerse ourselves in it. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 280-281

The author was writing in the 1880’s, a time when the intelligentsia in Russia were running after the latest false teachers from Western Europe, including Darwin and Marx, who taught that history is an impersonal and unstoppable process of evolution, a juggernaut that will crush you if you do not jump on the bandwagon and go along for the ride. Of course, this error was really nothing new, for man without Christ, without the revelation found in Holy Scripture, had always believed in Fate.   But in St. Theophan’s time, because Christian Europe had been falling away from the Gospel for several centuries, this old delusion took on a new form as a powerful idea gripping everyone’s mind.   It certainly grips everyone’s mind today: How often do we hear that we must go along with the times and there is nothing we can do about it? We all know Christians – sadly, including nominally Orthodox Christians – who neither combat the spirit of the age nor even admit that it viciously opposes the Faith.

As we face the new year of 2019, we must decide if we shall exercise our freedom to make spiritual and moral choices opposed to the spirit of this age…or not. The good news is that this freedom still exists and that the Lord will give us the grace we need to exercise it. But we have to make the choice to exercise it: He does not force us. We are not fated to go one way or the other. What steps should we take? How shall we avoid getting crushed by that juggernaut of the times we live in?

The first step is to tear our minds away from the things that the world tells us are the real things.   Perhaps we are content to be mesmerized by the so-called news from the mainstream media, as if it represented reality and were not what it really is, a gigantic mechanism of mass hypnosis. Or perhaps, being more discerning, we busy ourselves daily hunting through myriad Internet sites in the alternative media to find out the “secrets” behind what is “really going on out there.” Though here we may find more accurate knowledge (along with plenty of false leads), we easily become deer in the headlights, paralyzed by the specter of an omnipotent, unstoppable, and incomprehensible evil which demands that we surrender or be destroyed.   We have to tear ourselves away from this suicidal fascination and feed our minds on God’s Truth.

For there really is no secret to what is going on out there. God is working out His plan in history, and we can freely choose to cooperate with Him or not. Yes, there are extremely evil people who have gotten the levers of worldly power into their hands, and they are freely choosing to cooperate with their god, Satan. Their time is short, and they are in a frenzy to accomplish their master’s will before he and they are cast into the lake of fire where they will burn for all eternity.   It will certainly be rough for us while this short-lived frenzy endures, but we look forward to a better time, to eternity, where we hope to live with God forever.

This word – hope – is the key. We often hear sermons about Faith and Love, but rarely about Hope. Yet in our time how essential it is to practice Hope!   Along with Faith and Love, it is one of the three supernatural virtues, and we must pray for it. But what is it? The supernatural virtue of Hope is linked intimately with the cardinal virtue of Courage (also called Fortitude). It is the grace-filled habit of believing courageously that God will in fact take care of us, that God’s promises are true, that God is to be trusted, that everything will turn out all right, just as He said. Faith is the virtue of believing in God. Hope is the virtue of believing God, trusting in His promises.

Let us choose to be the Church of Philadelphia from the Apocalypse. We are little people after all; we are not even remotely serious players in the great game of worldly power. Let us rejoice in living as the little ones who in humility, despite our obvious human weakness, choose the path of faithfulness, of loyalty to God and love for the brethren (philadelphia). Let us live in Hope.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Revelation 3: 7 -13  

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