Orthodox Survival Course, Class 59 (Revised): Return to the Catacombs

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan

Class 59: Return to the Catacombs

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.

My kingdom is not of this world.

Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.

the words of Christ

Thanks and Request for Donations

Again, thanks to our donors. May the Lord reward your love with His grace! To our other listeners: please consider a gift to help me out. If you have PayPal, you can send a gift to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com. If you want to receive a receipt for a tax deduction, contact me at that email, and I can tell you how to donate to our parish, who in turn will pass the donation on to me and send you a receipt.

A Prefatory Note

Lately there has been a lot of controversy in our Church, due to current circumstances, regarding issues like the Church’s relationship to the civil authority and our reading of the signs of the times in relation to eschatological prophecy. It’s good to recall at this juncture that my lectures are the result of my own studies and give my opinion, within a spectrum of allowable opinion that does not violate the dogmas, canons, or moral teaching of the the Church, and whose publication does not hinder Her salvific mission. There are many listeners who have found my talks helpful, and for this, glory to God. Those who do not find them helpful are, of course, under no obligation to listen to them or to agree with them.

Introduction – The Situation

As we speak, during the Nativity Fast of A.D. 2020, it is clear that we must be ready to make extremely difficult choices caused by an impending persecution of the Church and prepare ourselves for a way of life that very few of us – or perhaps none of us who are listening to this – have lived first hand: a hidden Church life, a “catacomb” life. Since, then, we should be ready for a catacomb Christian life, it is now a good time to recall similar periods in the Church’s history, both at Her beginning and most recently during the 20th century, in order to re-acquaint ourselves with the Church’s true character, to acquire discernment in order to read the signs of the times, and to prepare our souls through repentance and attentiveness for the day when we will be asked to suffer for the Faith.

A. Going Back to Basics – The Character of the Early Church

An old priest friend of mine often used to say, “The Church was born in the catacombs, and She knows how to go back to the catacombs.” There is a lot of wisdom here. Though Her outward life, organization, and institutional relationship to society have changed over the centuries to better serve the needs of Her children in different places and times, the Church’s essential virginal character as the Woman who flees into the wilderness to escape the wiles of the devil, as depicted in St. John’s Apocalypse, has always remained. We spoke of this way back at the beginning of our course, three years ago, in Class One. Let’s refresh our memories by re-reading some of our notes from that class, which began with a sticheron from Vespers of the Sunday vigil.

Evening worship do we offer Thee, the Unwaning Light, Who in the end of the ages, through the flesh as in a mirror, hast shined upon the world; and hast descended even unto Hades, and dispelled the darkness there, and hast shown the light of the Resurrection unto the nations. O Giver of light, Lord, glory be to Thee.

The Octoechos, Plagal of the First Tone,

Great Vespers of Saturday (the vigil of the Resurrection)

Why does St. John of Damascus, writing in the 8th century, say that Christ, Who ascended to heaven in 33 A.D., came “at the end of the ages”? Here’s what we said about that in Class 1 –

“Why, in the hymn we read at the beginning of the class, does St. John of Damascus write that the Lord shone upon the world ‘…at the end of the ages’? This world is obviously still here; in what sense did Christ come ‘at the end of the ages?’ What this means is that mere time, time that marks the degeneration and corruption of creation, time ‘winding down’ to the end, the old time of corruption and death, is over. The time we live in now, the time inaugurated by the Lord’s Resurrection, is not ‘mere time’ but time redeemed by the Lord. In a sense, the New Testament Church has always lived after the end of the world – the old dying world of sin and corruption, the world without Christ. We are simply waiting for the Lord to return. In a sense, then, our Orthodox understanding of the entire history of the Christian era is an understanding that the Lord has already taken care of history, and we are living betwixt and between time and eternity. We live in time, but already, in virtue of our Baptism, we are living outside of time; we are not determined by time. This gives us great spiritual security and freedom.

“The early Church had an intense awareness of this, and therefore we can characterize her life as intensely eschatological, bound up with the acute sense of being at the very edge of eternity. Being eschatological, the Early Church set the tone for the entire life of the Orthodox Church until now, which is characterized by four related traits: The life of the Church is eschatological, other-worldly, martyric, and ascetical.

The early Christians expected the Lord to return any minute. The fact that He did not return in their lifetimes, or the lives between them and us, does not dim the reality that He could return at any minute.

Thus the entire life of the Church is characterized by an other-worldly attitude. Our life is not ‘here’ but ‘there.’ St. Paul says that our life is ‘hid with Christ in God.’ Since it’s not here but there, the Christian is therefore not afraid to be a martyr, to die for his faith. And while he is waiting to die, either by martyrdom or otherwise, or to ‘meet the Lord in the air’ at the Second Coming, he lives an ascetic life, denying the flesh in order to keep vigil for the Second Coming, to live according to the laws of the Heavenly Kingdom which is not of this world, and to be prepared for martyrdom.

“Though we lament the destruction of Christian, especially, Orthodox, nations and cultures, we must realize that this is allowed by God, and He places us in this position for our salvation and that the Church was born in the catacombs and that She knows how to survive in the catacombs. Ultimately, Orthodoxy is not about anything in this world, which is passing away, but about the Kingdom which has come, comes now among us, and will come.

All of our study of history must have this as its background and foundation. What we see as historical processes, no matter how vast or grand, are really just the tiny tips of the unseen mountains of spiritual processes, of the spiritual warfare that will end only with the Second Coming.”

End of the notes from Class 1.

So we have to avoid a secular reading of history, in which there are just these random processes that have purely material or humanistic explanations. We know that that is simply not reality. Real history is the history of the spiritual warfare of Christ and the Church against Satan and against the various antichrists who have appeared and keep appearing, until the end of time. This history works itself out both in the invisible and visible realms, because a human being is both an invisible and visible creature, that unique macrocosm that lives in both the spiritual and the material universes. When we go off the rails and try to explain everything from a secular point of view, we lose our perspective and fall into complacency on the one hand or despair on the other hand. When we stand firm in the Church’s reading of history, we do not go into denial and try to justify the latest delusions of worldly society on the one hand or become gloomy and obsessed with evil on the other hand. We look evil straight in the face while remaining cheerful, meek, and courageous, because God is with us. Like the early Catacomb Church, we embrace a way of looking at everything that is eschatological, martyric, other-worldly, and ascetical. All of these aspects of true Christian life work together to support each other; they are inseparable.

Eschatological – We must remain always vigilant, constantly recalling the hour of our death and the hour of Christ’s Second Coming and Dread Judgment. As the Fathers teach us, we should live each day as though it were our last; we should daily say to ourselves, “Tonight I could be standing before the judgment seat of Christ.” In recent generations, two great delusions militate against this vigilance. In regards to the hour of one’s own death, advances in medicine and an idolatrous trust in “science” have tricked people into thinking that death is not real, that somehow it can be fixed by human efforts and avoided. In regards to the end of the world, the inconceivably huge time frame for earth history invented by the Darwinists has taken on a kind of mystical power, giving everyone the idea that the physical universe has been around kind of forever and is going to go on kind of forever, or at least forever for practical purposes. We need to see these myths for what they are and reject them.

Martyric – “Martyr” means a witness. When confronted with the demand that we reject our confession of Faith, either by rejecting the Church’s dogmatic theology or by disobeying Her moral commands, we have to be ready to suffer for what is True and what is Good. If we are not faithful to the True and to the Good, we will never have the un-deluded vision of the truly Beautiful, either in this world or in the life to come. One of the complex of errors in the the 20th century that go under the umbrella of “Ecumenism” and “Sergianism” teaches that only the explicit spoken denial of a specific dogmatic truth found in the Creed or the Ecumenical Councils constitutes a betrayal of Orthodoxy. But this is not true. We have to be ready, like the prophets of old and the anti-Sergianist True Orthodox of the 20th century, who are our Fathers in the Faith, to suffer also for Biblical morality, for the freedom of the Church, and for the Orthodox way of life, because faith without works is dead. “The demons believe, and they tremble (James 2:19).”

Other-worldly – Our true life is the life of the soul and the life of the age to come. But if we surround ourselves with physical comfort and constant distraction, our bodies and souls drown in the great delusion that this-worldly life is all there is. We have to re-order our priorities now to simplify our lives and focus on the One Thing Necessary. Soon our enemies may take everything we value in this world away from us. Are we ready? By detaching ourselves voluntarily now, we prepare ourselves to be detached involuntarily then.

Ascetical – Therefore we must engage in ascesis, which is, simply put, spiritual training. We have to apply ourselves to the ABC’s of Orthodox life. There is abundant literature on this, we know what the building blocks are, and we just have to do it. And we all know we have to do it! Daily prayer, fasting, confession and correcting our thoughts, preparation for Holy Communion, etc. We often lose perspective, lose our focus, and just don’t do it. But if we remember that we are preparing for the hour of death, for the Dread Judgment, and possibly for martyrdom, we will have a lot more motivation!

B. Some Advice

All of this is kind of overwhelming – a tall order, so to speak. But remember, it is all the Lord working in us. Orthodoxy is not a self-improvement program! He will give us strength in our weakness, light in our darkness, wisdom amid our confusions, and joy amidst our sorrows. We simply have to humble ourselves and dispose ourselves to do His holy will. In this regard, I have always found chapters two through six of Unseen Warfare tremendously helpful, because they lay out very beautifully what it means not to trust in oneself but rather to rely totally on God. In addition to advising reading or re-reading these chapters, I’d like to offer a few more points of advice to give you perspective and focus from an Orthodox point of view:

1. View everything sub specie aeternitatis, from the point of view of eternity. Think for a minute. How old are you? 15? 25? 75? 105? No matter your age, just a few brief years separate you from the moment when God, in His absolute sovereignty over your existence, brought you into being from the abyss of non-being. And only a few brief years separate you from the moment when you will leave this world and enter the next. When we realize that all the history of the entire physical universe is a tiny speck compared to the aeons of angelic time, much less compared to eternity, we stop ascribing almighty importance to current events and overcome our idolatry of “What’s happening now.” The world, the flesh, and the devil are not in control. God is. Our real life lies in our eternal destiny. Let’s focus on that.

In my own life, the second psalm read at the First Hour, Psalm 89, helps me on a daily basis to see this life from an eternal perspective. When you are overwhelmed by current events, read Psalm 89 with attention and let it soak in! It will give you peace.

2. Realize that the spiritual universe is far larger than the physical universe, and that it exists inside of us. The human heart is potentially greater than the entire physical universe, because it can hold the infinite, uncreated energies of the Holy Trinity. We think that the antichrist world-system is so scary because it’s so big. But He that is inside of you, a baptized Orthodox Christian with grace in your heart, is infinitely bigger than all of that.

3. Never violate your conscience – you may never get it back. As you know from my earlier talks on the movies, there are very few movies I recommend or am willing even to watch. Among the few I like is a movie version of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, which dramatizes the choice of Sir Thomas More to accept prison and death rather than violate his beliefs in the inviolability of marriage and the freedom of the Church. There is a scene toward the end in which More’s daughter Margaret attempts to persuade him to give up and go along, to violate his conscience by taking a false oath, stating one thing with his mouth and his pen while holding to his true beliefs silently in his heart. He says, “What is an oath but words which a man speaks to God?” and he goes on to say that at the moment of crisis, when one is faced with choosing to speak truth vs. falsehood, you are holding your soul in your hands, like a man holding water in his hands. If you spread your fingers for the briefest moment, the water is gone for good. You can lose your soul, just like that. Be vigilant over your conscience in little things every day, so that when the big crisis, the life and death moment, arrives, you are ready. It can come any moment.

4. Do what you have control over. We are very little people after all: little, finite people with little, finite duties given to us by God. The world has a Savior; it doesn’t need us to save it. Let us discern our own finite duties and do them. The duty is ours, the consequences are God’s. Let us obey conscience, do what we have control over, and leave the rest to Him.

5. Make short lists and act on them. Part of doing what we have control over is simply sitting down and making a short list every day of what we should do, and doing it. But we must make our list and do it with prayer to God to show us what we must do and how to do it, and to give us the ability to do it. There is a beautiful Prayer Before Work in the Jordanville prayer book that I try to say every morning before I plan my day, and I find it very helpful:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son of Thy Eternal Father, Thou hast said with Thy most holy lips: “Without Me you can do nothing.” My Lord and my God, in faith I embrace Thy words with my heart and soul, and bow before Thy goodness; help me, a sinner, to do in union with Thee this work which I am about to begin, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

6. Be tough – Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Self-pity is a huge part of why we become anxious, confused, and upset. It paralyzes us and sends us into a downward spiral, into the pits of hell. We don’t want to lose our comfort; we want everything arranged around our desires, and so we pity ourselves when these things are taken away. But if you feel sorry for yourself, no one can help you, not even God, not because He doesn’t want to, but because you won’t let Him. In his Second Epistle to St. Timothy, St. Paul exhorts his spiritual son to embrace the virtue of hardihood:

Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. – II Timothy 2: 1-4

You can be a good soldier only if you think of yourself as already dead, if you count your life as nothing. That gives you inexhaustible courage. If we would just forget about ourselves and sacrifice ourselves for God and our neighbor, we would become both strong and cheerful – nothing could defeat us, because then God would be our strength.

7. Speaking of courage: We all need courage with meekness, combined with the forgiveness of our enemies. But only grace can enable us to do this, for to the fallen human mind, courage and meekness seem to be opposites. It’s the paradox of the Gospel at work here, and we have to pray for this paradoxical gift, which can be given only by God. When you are not enslaved to resentment, you gain even greater power over your enemy, because your mind becomes clear and you make wise choices, and the energy you used to devote to hating is given now to acting, to actually doing something. Again – if I’m already dead to this world, what does it matter what they do to me? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

The result of all this is clarity of mind, firmness of purpose, and peace of heart. “Yes, I might be going to the scaffold, but I know why, and I have a firm hope of my salvation. I rejoice to follow the Lord in His sufferings. I am at peace.”

C. What do we have control over?

First, we have to start with our own souls and minds, and we have to have metanoia, we have to repent.

Remember that metanoia means a radical change of mind. We have to do metanoia not only for the things we did consciously but also for the ignorance and false beliefs and assumptions we have. It does not matter if it is not our fault that we have these false ideas – we still need to scrub out the falsehoods in our minds and replace them with the truth. It is not only obviously evil people who believe wrong things – they have power over others because the other people also believe wrong things, or do not believe the right things with enough conviction and are embarrassed to oppose the wrong things, and therefore they have no spiritual power to oppose falsehood and evil.

Second – We have to care for the people we are actually responsible for. “Small is beautiful.” Sit down and list the people who are actually your responsibility. Forget yourself, while you serve God and the people on that list.

Let’s start with One – our own repentance. Besides our usual sins, there is something we don’t pay much attention to (which is our big problem after all – lack of attention): We don’t realize or pay attention to the false and delusory beliefs which have been hardwired into our minds by the Great Stereopticon.

D. Back to the Great Stereopticon

1. Remember the Great Stereopticon! (Go back and review Classes 34-40). It is essential to realize that you are living inside of a mental cage of illusion crafted by the media, “education,” the opinions of other people, perhaps substance addictions, and so forth. You are inside of Plato’s cave, tied up and looking at a shadow play on the wall, and thinking it’s reality. If you just uncritically adopt the mainstream interpretation of reality popular at any given moment, you cannot think like an Orthodox Christian, because people who hate God and hate you are always shaping and re-shaping this mainstream view to lead you further and further away from the truth.

2. The Great Stereopticon is both the instrument and the goal. As an instrument its purpose was and is to brainwash the masses of people to believe the wrong things and thereby be rendered easy to control, because of their false assumptions. As the goal, it is a completely delusional reality, a fake world manifesting in the visible realm the demonic world of the invisible realm. It is an entire, all-encompassing virtual world of plani/prelest – demonic delusion – that traps people by making them think that it’s reality, and that this reality is all there is, and you can’t escape. Our situation is that nearly all of us Orthodox Christians, to a greater or lesser extent, believe some or many of the lies of the Great Stereopticon, or at least are not clear about them, and therefore we cannot oppose them. We have to repent, and as we become free of falsehoods, we will receive spiritual power from the Lord to persevere in the True Faith and in right conduct.

E. The Pain of Repentance

Several of the fundamental errors we will discussing in the next few talks are ideas that are deeply implanted in the minds of many if not most Orthodox Christians, and therefore it will be painful to hear that they are errors. Some of those to whom one would try to reveal the error of these ideas will react in self-righteous anger, because they have been taught to believe that these errors are actually good and that to oppose them is evil. Others know that they are errors but will say, “Nothing can be done, and so don’t talk about it.” In other words, even if one is right, rather than speak the truth, it is more virtuous to avoid being a troublemaker, to commit the cardinal sin in this age of the worship of comfort and the pseudo-virtue of tolerance, which, as Aristotle points out, is the last virtue of a dying culture. Nevertheless “the duty is ours, the consequences are God’s,” and so we have to plow ahead and do our duty.

Repentance is always painful: If what you think you are doing is repenting, and it’s not painful, it’s not repentance. But before we go on to a partial catalogue of errors, let’s keep a few things in mind:

1. We are all subject to these errors and delusions, to a greater or lesser extent. Neither I nor nearly anyone else living today can claim the moral high ground from which to condemn others. But that we are all guilty does not mean that we should be silent. Qui tacet videtur consentire (He who is silent is seen to consent). The fact that we don’t think straight is all the more reason to try to think straight for a change, come clean, and see where we really stand. That’s the starting point for repentance.

2. These subjects are emotional, and therefore there is even greater reason to deal with them on the basis of logos, rationality, enlightened by God’s revealed truth and by grace. That hearing something arouses negative emotions proves nothing about it, except that one finds it unpleasant. Emotions do not prove or disprove truth. The problem is that certain verbal triggers have been implanted in people’s minds that cause them to have negative Pavlovian responses to words and ideas that are actually true and good, but that the Stereopticon says are not only bad, but so evil and so horrible that no discussion is possible. His pre-programmed negative emotion, over which the brainwashed person has no control, disables rational discourse.

3. Some of these errors are so deeply ingrained, and we have all been forming our way of life based on them, or at least some of them, for so long, that it is probable that in this life we will not be able to reform our way of life to the extent that we theoretically should. But we must at least acknowledge the truth of the situation, live in humility, and make some attempt to correct ourselves. “Yes, my ideas have been wrong, and my way of life was not pleasing to God, but I repent and beg forgiveness. Let me today take at least a small step on the way to correct myself and those for whom I am responsible.” We should not give in to the temptation from the right, of perfectionism. “The better is the enemy of the good.” Let’s humble ourselves down, admit where we are at, and take baby steps in the right direction. The Lord sees our good intentions, and He will multiply our efforts 100 fold. After all, this is ultimately His work, and for His glory.

F. An Upcoming Catalogue of Errors – Stay Tuned

We can organize the errors that the Stereopticon has wired into our conscious and unconscious minds under three categories: Church, Society, and the Family. We dealt with the great errors of our age which affect the Church – Ecumenism and Sergianism – in previous classes, in the section of our course we called “Faith Comes First.” Now let’s talk about Society and the Family. We must refer to the Church, constantly, of course, as we go through these topics, but shall do so insofar as She relates to the Society and Family.

All of the errors we will discuss have something in common, which is that they all entail disobedience – the rejection of the express will of God, the rejection of the plan of God for man known for centuries to our fathers either by Divine Revelation or simply the common sense of the human race. And they are all radical errors, in the sense that they go to the root (radix) of Christian and even simply human life. They are radically anti-God and anti-human.

What are these errors? As the announcers of the Great Stereopticon used to say on television when I was a child, “Tune in to our next episode” and you will find out!

Conclusion: Be not afraid!

When the disciples found themselves adrift in a tiny boat, in a great storm on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord of all, master of winds and waves, came walking on the water, and He repeated the words He had once spoken to Moses at the Burning Bush: Ego Eimi. “I AM.” “It is I; be not afraid!” If we but trust in Him, the demonic winds that now blow against us, and the waves of life that threaten now to overwhelm us, will have no power over us, for He is with us. “Be of good cheer,” saith the Lord, “I have overcome the world.”

Amen.

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Paying attention

19 November OS 2020 – Wednesday of the Ninth Week of Luke; Holy Prophet Abdias (Obadiah), Holy Martyr Barlaam

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

At that time, there drew near unto Jesus all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

St. Theophan the Recluse takes our Lord’s words in the Gospel today both to comfort and to warn us. He comforts us by reminding us how God Himself, the Almighty and All-Wise, is doing everything He can at every moment for our salvation, and he warns us by reminding us that, if we keep putting off repentance…then, one day, at a time we know not, it shall be too late, and we shall not even notice that we have lost our souls:

…The Lord seeks a sinner by guiding him to repentance. He arranges everything around him so that the sinner comes to his senses and, seeing the abyss into which he has been rushing, returns. All the circumstances of life are directed in this way – all encounters with moments of sorrow and joy, even words and glances. And the inner actions of Go through the conscience and the other righteous feelings that lie in the heart never cease. How much is done to convert sinners to the path of virtue, yet sinners still remain sinners! The enemy covers them in darkness, and they think that everything is all right, and all will pass. If anxieties arise, they say, “Tomorrow I’ll stop,” but they remain in their current state. Thus day after day passes; indifference to their salvation grows and grows. A bit more and it will pass over into being hardened in sin. Who knows whether conversion will come? – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 257

There is a constant paradox running throughout the entire New Testament: Salvation is easy – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Salvation is hard – “The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence.” “Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth to salvation, and few find it.” “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”

Salvation is easy. Salvation is hard. Both are true.

Salvation is easy, because it is the work of God Himself, Who is All-Wise, All-Good, and All-Loving, and, moreover, is All-Powerful. His infinite and perfect wisdom is not only truth but also enables our weak minds to know His truth. His infinite and perfect goodness is not only the true good but also strengthens our weak wills to fulfill His commandments. His perfect, boundless, and eternal love is not only worthy of all love in return, but it also inspires our hearts with an unquenchable desire to behold the beauty of His countenance. He desires our salvation infinitely more than we do, and He has done, is doing, and will do everything for us. He is everything to us.

Salvation is hard, because God, desiring our free friendship, allows us to make it so if we so choose. Our first parents made it hard for all of us by the ancestral sin. And, despite the fact that Christ has overcome their sin in Himself and has given us every grace to overcome it in ourselves, we go on making it hard for ourselves, because we choose not to pay attention to what God has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He shall most certainly do for us in the future and in eternity, if only we let Him. We choose to imprison ourselves in a dark cave, the incomprehensible blindness of fallen human nature.

“Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” says David in the Psalms. Today, this moment, let us violently extract our minds from their infantile fascination with the vain and absurd epiphenomena of man’s vain strivings and lift them up above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Do something, anything: Read a psalm, say a prayer rope, take a walk and bless the Lord for His glorious creation. Kneel in repentance and cry to God to awaken you from the deadly state of insensibility, which the Fathers teach us is more dangerous even than great and obvious sins. He awaits you with love. Run to Him with all daring trust in His mercy.

How delightful! To be with God. What are we waiting for?

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Invincible might

15 November OS 2020 – Saturday of the 8th Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyrs Gourias, Amonas, and Abibus; St. Paissy Velichkovsky; Holy New Martyr Katherine of Mandra: Beginning of the Nativity Fast  

Listen to a recording of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk8sat

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 9: 37-43.

At that time, it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met Jesus. And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him. And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither. And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. 

The “hill” in this passage is Mount Tabor, and “they” are the Lord with Peter, James and John. They have just come down from the mountain after the Lord’s Transfiguration.   The apostles’ joy at beholding the Lord in glory before their very eyes had caused Peter to ask if they could not perhaps pitch little tents for Christ to dwell there with Moses and Elias, and all of them could just stay there for a bit…”Lord, it is good for us to be here.”  This, however, was not to be, for Christ had yet to go forth and complete His awesome exploit for our salvation.   They had had to descend the mountain.

When they come down, immediately they find distressing evidence that fallen man does indeed need a Savior: a boy possessed by an evil spirit.   The Lord does quite easily, with but a word, what the disciples could not, delivering the child from the devil and giving him back again, healed and whole, to his father.   He verifies by divine power the words of the Father heard on the mountain: “This is my beloved Son.”

We do not understand our real situation unless we fully comprehend and accept the reality that this world we live in is fallen, occupied not only by billions of sinful men – who, apart from divine intervention, would keep doing evil willy-nilly till the end of time off their own bat, with no encouragement to do so whatsoever – whom we can see, but also by malignant spirits – far outnumbering the men and far more powerful than they, who are constantly aggravating each man’s tendency to sin in a thousand artful ways, occupying men’s minds and even their bodies – whom we cannot see.   Out of His mercy and love for man, the Lord closed the spiritual eyes of our first parents after the Fall, and subsequently those of all their descendants, so that we cannot see these creatures. But there they are.

This realization should, to put it mildly, give us a sober outlook on life. It puts all of our Orthodox customs and practices into the only context in which they make sense: this short earthly life as an arena for spiritual combat. When understood fully, it confronts us with The Choice: God or the devil, heaven or hell.   There is no Third Way, no separate peace. No one is allowed to sit this one out.

The Good News is that the billions of devils are outnumbered by One – the Almighty God Who created them and holds them in unbreakable chains, subject to His sovereign will. This One loves us, and He has done, is doing, and will do everything for our salvation.   We have only to believe in Him as He desires to be believed in, worship Him as He desires to be worshipped, and serve Him as He desires to be served.   This belief, this worship, and this way of life constitute what we call Orthodoxy.   They are the invincible armor and irresistible weapons that enable us to overcome the World, the Flesh and the Devil. We can deflect anything the bad guys throw at us.

Today we begin the holy fast for the Lord’s Nativity.   What a wonderful and simple weapon the Lord through Holy Church has given us: to deny ourselves in this very basic, very simple way, and so in simple and humble obedience acquire His grace to overcome our invisible foes. In both St. Matthew’s and St. Mark’s account of the exorcism related above by St. Luke, the Lord afterwards explains to the disciples that “this kind” (i.e., this type of creature, a demon) cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting. When we fast, we are joining ourselves to the Lord Himself, Who as a man really and truly fasted while on earth. When we pray, we are uniting ourselves to Christ, Who as a man really and truly prayed to His heavenly Father.   What an immeasurable honor – to do as the God-Man did!   What invincible weapons – those wielded by the God-Man Himself!   With Him, we cannot fail.

Let us “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice in Him with trembling (Ps. 2).” We live in godly fear until the end of our earthly pilgrimage, and we simultaneously rejoice, living in hope of our eventual victory.   May the Lord, Who revealed our true destiny in His Transfiguration, give us the grace to serve Him in prayer and fasting this Nativity Fast and all the days of this temporal life, so that we may tabernacle with Him on the summit of the heavenly Sion, where our vision of His beauty will have no end.

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Going up to Jerusalem

14 November OS 2020 – Friday of the 8th Week of St. Luke, Holy Apostle Philip, St. Gregory Palamas

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 13: 31-35

At that time, the same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

The Pharisees imagined they could frighten the God-Man with the threat of Herod’s evil intentions, but they were mistaken.   He announces calmly that He knows that He will be killed, and that it will happen in Jerusalem, the city that always murdered the prophets.   He also announces that, until this happens, He will continue to “walk,” that is, to carry out His mission of teaching, preaching, healing, casting out devils, and raising the dead – His mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God.   He is in complete control of the situation, and He is going to His voluntary Passion to fulfill the will of the Father, to fulfill God’s providential plan for our salvation from before the ages.

Today we may feel that matters are out of our control, involving both the Church’s situation and society in general, in many ways that affect our lives directly.  This chaos, however, is limited and temporary – a trial we must pass through, our Golgotha.   We must “set our face towards Jerusalem” as the Lord did (And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem – Luke 9:51) – we must voluntarily join ourselves to Him in His Passion.   And, as we resolve to endure whatever the Lord allows for our salvation, we must resolve with equal determination to go about our mission as well, to do the Lord’s work, the Church’s mission.

How does one acquire courage to carry on when the outlook is grim?   Here are three considerations:

Perspective – From God’s point of view – sub specie aeternitatis (from the perspective of eternity) – the entire history of this whole world, much less one’s lifetime, is the blink of an eye.   He is the King of the Ages, the Sovereign of History. All is unfolding according to His plan for our salvation, which He desires infinitely more than we do.   We have only to do our part in history; we have no responsibility for controlling history.   He will arrange everything for our true good.

Consolation in Prayer – When external circumstances are at their worst is precisely the time when consolation in prayer is greatest, if we are faithful to prayer and wholeheartedly resolve to grow closer to God in our trials.   Many Orthodox Christians who suffered in the communist hell of the 20th century testified that ultimately their time in prison, living in the utmost humiliation and deprivation, became the happiest time of their lives, precisely because it was at this time that they experienced what prayer really is and what a human being is really made for – most intimate union with the Lord, Who becomes everything to us when we have lost everything else.   We cannot conceive of the unspeakable consolation such people experienced…but we may have the opportunity to do so in future.   Let us begin now to deepen our life of prayer!  The next time we are anxious over the future course of events, let us turn to a favorite book on prayer and spiritual life that has motivated us in the past, rather than to this or that website to read the latest spin on the absurd epiphenomena of man’s vain strivings.

Love for Others – Typically fear for the future is mixed with self-pity.   Let us forget ourselves and act determinedly each day for the true good of those for whom we are in varying degrees responsible.   A man becomes a good soldier only when he counts his own life as nothing, when he thinks himself already a dead man.   Let us be good soldiers in the Church Militant, counting our lives as nothing, determined to lay down our lives for our friends, in order to practice that love than which there is no greater.   With this option clearly open to us, how can we say that our lives are out of control?

The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s.    Let us set our faces serenely to go to Jerusalem, and on the way, each day, seek simply to know and to do His will.

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To be rather than to seem

12 November OS 2020 – Wednesday of the 8th Week of St. Luke; St. John the Merciful, Archbishop of Alexandria; St. Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 12: 48-59

The Lord said, For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.

Most of us have experienced precisely what the Lord describes above: we endure uneasy, strained, or even broken relationships with family and friends because we have chosen to follow our conscience in regards to the Orthodox Faith regardless of the earthly consequences. When this happens not once but several times, perhaps many times, we can certainly start to feel worn out, alone, and discouraged, and may be tempted to think, “What’s the use? It’s time to throw in the towel.”

It helps greatly, however, as Christ Himself says, to “…discern this time.”   It does not require that one be a clairvoyant elder or a theologian to see that the times we live in are times of extreme spiritual deception coupled with social disintegration of unprecedented scale and rapidity.   When everyone around us is bending to the demonic winds that are blowing, and we do not, they are bound to think us uncongenial.   Their discomfort in our presence, however, does not amount to an argument for the validity of their choices.

In order to deal with the constant, kaleidoscopically shifting changes going on around us, you should start with the question: “Do I still believe as I have always believed?”   If the answer is “Yes,” proceed to the next question, “Am I acting according to my conscience, to the best of my ability, God helping me?”   If the answer is “Yes,” then be at peace. As the saying goes, “Either they’re crazy or I’m crazy, and I know that I am not crazy.”

When we are tempted to sentimental or humanistic solutions to theological and philosophical disagreements over what is real and what is not, we need to crucify emotions, imagination, and curiosity, fall down before the holy icons in our prayer corner, and abandon ourselves entirely to God’s Providence, placing everyone we love in His hands.   There really are no halfway solutions, and we cannot make a separate peace in order to escape the inescapable: the conflict between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, between the real and that which is pretending to be real.

There is an old Latin expression: Esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem.” In regard to where the path to salvation lies, let us desire steadfastly the reality over the appearance, as the gap between the two widens daily.

Here is a suggestion: When asking God for discernment in regards to your situation in life, read the Seventeenth Kathisma (Ps. 118 in the Church’s numbering, beginning “Blessed are the blameless in the way…”), and struggle for attention while reading. May the Lord, through this holy practice, grant all of us clarity of mind and peace of heart!

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Let us act for the Lord

11 November OS 2020 – Tuesday of the 8th Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyrs Menas, Victor, Vincent, and Stephanida; Righteous Theodore the Studite

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 12:42-48.

And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…”   The Lord makes the same point in another place, in the Parable of the Talents. He entrusts much to His faithful servants, and He expects much in return.   Recall all that the Lord has given us:

He created us, bringing us from nothing into being, and he upholds us in existence at every moment.   Nothing separates us from the abyss of non-being except His sovereign will, His decision that we continue to be.

When we had fallen away from Him, He became a man like us in all things but sin, and He suffered a terrible death on the Cross for our salvation.

By rising from the dead, He has destroyed the power of sin, death, the devil, and hell.   In Holy Baptism He has granted us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

By ascending into Heaven, He has placed our human nature in the bosom of the Uncreated Godhead, the Holy Trinity.

By sending the Holy Spirit, He has granted us the grace-filled life of the Church. We have infinite divine help for all of our needs and activities, given us in prayer, in the Holy Mysteries, in the intercession of the Mother of God, the Holy Angels, and the choir of the saints. We have access to the countless blessings bestowed on the Church, all of the treasures of Her unsurpassed worship, art, music, and theological and spiritual literature.   We have detailed and supremely wise instructions for conducting the struggle of this earthly life.

All of this is ours, our inheritance.   We are the richest people on earth.   Let us give thanks for this inheritance and at the same time ponder how we may take advantage of all these inestimable blessings, in order to do real work for the Lord, to be his active and vigilant servants.   How can we do this?

First, every day dedicate your day to the Lord. Ask Him to show you His holy will, and express your desire to please Him in all you do in your duties at home and at work.

Second, ask how you can more actively serve your parish, help your priest, and serve the brethren. Do you see the parish as a “vendor” to supply your needs, or as a precious inheritance for which you are responsible and an arena for service and struggle?   In other words, are you a taker or a giver?

Third, recall that without the Lord we can do nothing. Beg Our Lord, as you dedicate yourself to more active work for His glory, to remind you constantly that all is from Him and for Him, so that you do not become puffed up with pride in achievement or fall into despondency over failure.   Be at peace regardless of outcomes: the duty to act is ours, but the consequences are God’s.

As we approach our patriotic holiday of Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to the Lord for all things, and let us dedicate ourselves more completely to His service.

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Freedom from care

10 November OS 2020 – Monday of the 8th Week of St. Luke; Holy Apostles Erastus, Olympas, Herodion, Sosipater, Quartus, and Tertius of the Seventy 

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 12: 13-15, 22-31

And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

We all believe the Lord’s words, of course, but at the same time words like these put us to shame – we know that we do not live them.   How do we acquire all-daring trust in the Lord to provide for us, and with this trust acquire also detachment from our money, property, and other material resources? How do we obey God’s command to work hard and take care of our families while simultaneously not worrying about what we are to eat or drink or wear?   Here are a number of suggestions:

First: Every day, dedicate your work and your financial decisions to God. Say, “O Lord, today I work for Thy glory. Guide my thoughts, decisions, and actions, so that in all that I do, and in all of my management of my family’s resources, I am acting for your glory and for the salvation of those for whom I am responsible, and not merely from worldly concerns.”

Second: Every day, pray for more faith: “O Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Third: Tithe. When any income comes in, turn right around and give one-tenth of that amount to the support of the Church. You will soon be relieved of anxiety and receive the grace of freedom from cares, and often  you will even start doing better financially (though of course this is not guaranteed, despite what the “prosperity Gospel” preachers say). The Lord frequently consoles us, even in this life, when we show more faith in Him.

Fourth: Give thanks to God for all things, especially when your affairs are not prospering.   Pray earnestly for the insight to understand how even the most difficult problems are for your salvation.

Fifth: If you have helped someone, especially if they have borrowed money from you, and they have not shown appropriate thanks, or have not paid you back, let go. Forgive and forget.   Set your heart firmly on receiving your reward from the Lord.   Pray for the grace of complete forgiveness.   If in future a relative or a brother in the Faith comes to you to borrow money – do not lend money. Give freely what you can afford to give, and absolutely do not expect repayment.   In this way your heart will be free to love your brother.

May our All-Provident and All-Wise Lord grant us the grace of freedom from cares! May our hearts be set on His Kingdom above all the things of this world, and may He lead us all alike to life everlasting.

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The war for souls

30 October OS 2020 – Thursday of the 6th Week of St. Luke, Holy Hieromartyr Zenobius and Martyr Zenobia

You can listen to an audio recording of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk6th

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 14-23.

At that time, Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

St. Theophan the Recluse explains thus:

“When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.” This allegory explains how demonic power over souls is destroyed by the Lord. While a soul is in sin, its evil spirit possesses it, although it may not always be clearly demonstrated. The evil spirit is stronger than the soul, and this is why it does not fear an uprising on the soul’s part. It rules and tyrannizes over it without resistance. But when the Lord comes to a soul, attracted by faith and repentance, He tears apart all of Satan’s bonds, casts out the demon, and deprives it of all power over this person’s soul. While this soul serves the Lord, the demons cannot prevail over it, for the soul is strong through the Lord, Who is stronger than they are. When the soul takes a false step and roams away from the Lord, the demon again attacks and overcomes it, and for the soul, the poor thing, the last state is worse than before. This is the general, unseen order of what occurs in the spiritual world. If only the eyes of our mind were opened, we would see the worldwide battle of spirits against souls: first one side, then the other overcomes, depending upon whether the soul communes with the Lord through faith, repentance, and zeal for good works, or falls back from Him through carelessness, lack of concern, and coolness towards doing good. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 239-240

Here we have in a nutshell the Orthodox way of looking at reality: What is really going on around us is an invisible warfare for souls.   The reason we True Orthodox are so keen on preserving the confession of the Faith is that without it we do not have power from the Lord to break communion with Satan.   The primary reason society today is falling apart – or, rather, is being grotesquely chopped up and sewed back together again by possessed power-freaks, Frankenstein-style, into something horrible and unrecognizable – is not to be found in visible causes but in the invisible cause: the withdrawal of God’s grace because of apostasy. When this grace is withdrawn, the demons have full access to men’s souls, and all of the insane social developments now foisted on us with mind-numbing rapidity are simply the logical outcome of this.

People ask, “With so many bad things happening in the world, why are you True Orthodox so pre-occupied with the purity of Orthodoxy and the problem of Ecumenism?”

We answer, “You have answered your own question. It is the apostasy of the recently but now formerly Orthodox bishops which has opened the floodgates of demonic possession of the entire human race. The Church is not something ‘just for us,’ a little club where we and our family and friends can feel happy. The Church is the charity of the world, the gate of grace for the whole cosmos, the true home of every human soul, the Mother and Teacher of the Nations.   When Her presence in the world is obscured, when Her influence is denied, when Her witness is hard to find, then all men suffer, not only those called ‘Eastern Orthodox.’   She creates strong families and mighty nations, but when She is denied, first the nation and then the family dies, for dead souls cannot build up or sustain either the nation or the family. The Orthodox nations were the clean house purified from demons by the Lord, and they were a bulwark holding back Satan, but now they have invited seven worse – or rather a legion worse – to enter, and there will be hell to pay, not only in those nations but in the whole world, including America.”

That being said, we need not fear or be gloomy, indeed we are not allowed to be: God is with us.   He holds the demons in chains even yet, by His sovereign might, for the sake of those who are faithful to Him. He gives them leave to control man only when man turns away from God.   Let us then be faithful!   Come what may, the Lord will never abandon us, if only we be loyal to Him!

We then need to recognize that life is indeed this invisible warfare, that the primary weapons are spiritual, and that we have to fight unto death.   No other approach to life has ever really made more sense than this, but today it should be starkly obvious. So what is the plan?

  1. We have to start with a pure confession of Faith, unmixed with any heresy, and this is why we have to flee the lapdog bishops of the One-World establishment and place ourselves under the few truly orthodox bishops that are left.   You cannot be a real Orthodox under a heretical or apostate bishop and hierarchy. There is no precedent for this, there is no sense in this, and there is no possibility for this, apart from a miracle we have no right to demand from God. Your faith IS the same as that of the hierarchy your clergy receive their ordination from, regardless of your or your spiritual father’s private opinion. No individual “good priest” or “good parish” or “holy elder” is going to save you if your chief hierarch and synod are apostates. We are not Protestants in an invisible church. We are not congregationalists or presbyterians or monastery-groupies or elder-followers or individualists. We are members of the organic, visible, continuously existing and continuously united One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
  2. On the basis of a pure confession of Faith and membership in the real Church, we must build a life of Orthodox piety, with unremitting spiritual work on ourselves: fasting, prayer, spiritual reading, cutting out sinful behavior and sinful distractions, serious family life based on the Church calendar, the whole nine yards.   We have to devote ourselves, sacrifice ourselves, to work with the bishops and priests we have, to build parish life and monastic life as best we can in the circumstances given us. The time for the nominal Orthodox is gone. Make no mistake, the demographic trend is undeniable: There will be fewer and fewer “customers” who treat the Church like a sacrament-dispensing service and social club, a pleasant enrichment of a comfortable worldly life, provided by someone else to “meet my needs.” Why bother? It’s looking like we are going to have a world full of out-and-out pagans, and a few real Christians here and there. Choose which you want to be.
  3. While all this is going on, always remember: We cannot rely on ourselves!   This is God’s work!   The duty is ours – the consequences are God’s.   Stay the course no matter what, and place all-daring trust in Him alone!   Be of good cheer, for the Lord has already overcome the world, and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And to the angel of the church of 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 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 to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelation 3:7-13).

N.B. These words were were written and posted in November of 2015 (see the archive). They are not newly composed or even edited in reaction to the “covid” regime of 2020. The entire essay appears, word for word, as originally written.

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For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

29 October OS 2020 – Wednesday of the 6th Week of St. Luke, Holy Virgin-Martyr Anastasia, Holy Righteous Father Abramius

Listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk6wed

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 9-13.

The Lord said to His disciples: I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

St. Theophan the Recluse uses a powerful and severe example to illustrate the meaning of the Lord’s teaching that, as good parents give children what they really need, so the Lord gives us what we really need and not what we think we need:

…A father and mother pour out heartfelt prayers for their son before God, that He arrange what is best for him, but in addition they express what they consider to be better for their son, that is, that he be alive, healthy, and happy. The Lord hears their prayer and arranges for their son what is best, no according to the understanding of those asking, but as it is in reality for their son: He sends a disease from which their son dies. Those who think that everything ends with the present life will feel that the Lord has not heard them, but rather did the opposite of what they asked, or left the person alone about whom they prayed to his own fate. But those who believe that the present life is only a preparation for the next life have no doubt that the son for whom they prayed fell sick and died precisely because their prayer was heard and because it was better for him to leave here than to remain here.   You will say, “Why pray, then?” No, you must not refrain from prayer, but when praying for specific things you must always keep in mind the condition: “If Thou Thyself, O Lord, deemest this to be salvific…”    — Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 238-239

For a parent to lose a child is about the worst thing he can imagine. St. Theophan chooses this example on purpose, to make his point as strongly as possible: God alone knows what is good for us, and everything He does is for our eternal good above all, not our temporary good.

There are several points to keep in mind here:

  1. The Lord commands us to ask for what we need, both temporal and eternal things.   By asking for the temporal things we need – health, a home, a job, good success for our children, etc. – we are laying everything at God’s feet, placing all our trust in Him, and growing in faith and hope in His mercy.   We are demonstrating our faith that all comes from Him.   We are acquiring a child-like mind that sees things very simply by asking our Heavenly Father as a child would ask his earthly father for what he needs. Often we do not have even natural, this-world happiness because we do not ask God for it…we think we can do it all ourselves.
  2. The Lord knows what is truly good for us, and, as a good parent does not give a child what he imagines he needs but what he really needs, so the Lord gives us what we really need, for our salvation. He wants to give us both material and spiritual blessings, but only in precisely that way which is conducive to our salvation, which He alone knows.   This is the meaning of the images that the Lord uses in His teaching, of the fish vs. the snake and the bread vs. the stone.
  3. The last statement of Christ in today’s reading is the punch line: If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? The Lord wants to give us good things. He says so. But what are the truly good things?   The truly good things are spiritual gifts. God is standing there, waiting to give us, desiring that we ask Him to give us, the truly good things: the desire for prayer, a love of heavenly things, hunger for Holy Communion, the mindfulness of death and God’s judgment, true humility…all kinds of the best things!   But we do not ask.   It is like a man standing at a street corner with a treasure chest full of gold and jewels, begging the passersby simply to ask him for some of it and he will give it…but they do not ask. They pass by.   This is what Christians do who read Christ’s words in today’s Gospel and do not ask for spiritual gifts but only for earthly things.

May the merciful Lord grant us the desire for the things of heaven!   May He grant us to feel undoubtingly and hungrily, at the center of our being, in the innermost tabernacle of our spirit, in the heart, that we are properly inhabitants not of this world but of the next. Then we will know what to ask for, and we will receive it.

tabgah mosaic

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The Kingdom of God is within you

28 October OS 2020 – Tuesday of the 6th Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyrs Terence and Neonilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

monk weeping sketch
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