The light yoke

10 October OS 2020– Friday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyrs Evlampios and Evlampia, Venerable Fathers of Optina

Today, the tenth of October on the Orthodox calendar, is the feast of the Venerable Fathers of Optina, a golden chain of God-bearing elders who flourished in Optina Monastery in Russia from the early 19th century until the monastery was closed by the atheist revolutionaries in 1928.   They are saints newly revealed for the consolation and edification of the universal Church of the latter times, and by their prayers and holy teaching we can learn to travel the path of humility and the hidden life in Christ, in order to tread the extremely narrow way, difficult to discern, leading us to salvation in this period of the Church’s history, when spiritual delusion is everywhere, those who are publicized as God-bearing elders are not, and those who are genuine spiritual guides hide themselves and offer counsel with reluctance, knowing their own capacity for delusion. We are thrown back upon the expedient of reading books and leading a life of mutual counsel and support, the way of life that St. Ignaty Brianchaninov, a spiritual offspring of Optina Elder Leonid, recommends as the safe path in these latter days. In such a situation, the lives and counsels of very recent true elders is a precious treasure.

The reading from the Holy Gospel for Matins of a monastic saint, read today in those churches celebrating services for the Optina fathers, is Matthew 11: 27-30.

The Lord said to His disciples: All things are given unto Me by 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 willeth to 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 from Me that 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.

Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid, in his commentary on St. Matthew, answers the question, “What is the yoke of Christ?” thus:

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 of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, by Blessed Theophylact (Chrysostom Press 1992)

The yoke of Christ, then, can be understood as being humility and can also be understood as being the commandments of the Gospel.   The two, of course, are intimately related: We attempt to carry out the Gospel commands, and we find that by our own power we cannot. This realization brings on a deeper understanding of ourselves – that we are dust and ashes, that all is given by God and we have nothing of ourselves – and thereby to humility. Once we give up the heavy burden of the illusion of self-sufficiency and take on ourselves the light yoke of humility, all goes well.   There will be many external trials and temptations – indeed these normally increase for those who attempt to follow the Gospel – but within we are at peace.

When reading the counsels of the Optina elders, one is struck by the constantly recurring themes of humbling oneself, giving up one’s self-will, and total reliance on God. These men had the prophetic spirit, and they knew that terrible times lay ahead for the Church.   They knew that only the most profound humility would carry the faithful through the trials that were shortly to befall. Their entire century-long ministry can be seen as a catechesis preparing an entire people for martyrdom.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Optina fathers, a word of counsel from the Elder Nikon, a confessor for the Faith persecuted by the Bolsheviks as well as a monastic saint (he died prematurely from the sufferings of imprisonment and exile, in 1931, at the age of 43):

One must always pray that the Lord will show him the way…Let us pray to the Lord that He will save us and will come to our aid in times of sorrow and need. I see no other refuge or hope. Human solutions are vain and mistaken. When you have to endure something which is very difficult, but you know that it is not of your own will, you receive moral relief and peace of soul. May God’s will be done! May the Lord not discredit our faith and devotion to His will. Our only hope is in God. He is our firm foundation, for everything else is unsure. You absolutely do not know where it might be better, where it might be worse, or what to expect. May God’s will be done! Our work is to preserve ourselves in the faith, and to keep ourselves from every sin, and entrust everything else to God.   Living Without Hypocrisy, Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Holy Trinity Monastery 2005)

“Our work is to preserve ourselves in the faith, and to keep ourselves from every sin, and entrust everything else to God.”


The Lives of the Elders Moses and Joseph of Optina in English are published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.  The Lives of all of the other Elders are available in English from St. Herman Press.  

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Building our house on a Rock

8 October OS 2020 – Wednesday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke;  Ss. Pelagia and Taisia

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

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

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

The first thing to remember is that we must not stop saying, “Lord, Lord,” even if we look silly doing it. We have to keep confessing our Faith in Jesus as our Lord and God. If you say, “Well, I do not want to be a hypocrite; I cannot fulfill the Lord’s commandments and therefore I give up calling Him my Lord,” you will still be a hypocrite (who is not a hypocrite?) and will have also become a coward and traitor as well.

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

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

St. Theophan here lays out a simple plan:

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

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

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

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

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Acting like God

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7 October OS 2020 – Tuesday of the Third Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus

The reading today for the Holy Gospel, according to the daily cycle, is Luke 6:37-45

The Lord said to His disciples: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

Forgiveness and non-condemnation have been called the “easy way to salvation.” On the one hand, it seems easy, does it not? Do this one thing, and regardless of all your sins, you will find salvation.   On the other hand, we know that it is not easy, that it is perhaps the hardest thing of all.

Before we go on, let’s be clear that we are not talking about forgiving or not judging people afar off: Politicians, journalists, celebrities, and the like. Too often we rivet our attention on people unrelated to us and events beyond our control, as if ghost-like figures on a screen were more real than the person next to us.  Let us for awhile tear ourselves away from the demonically orchestrated circus of unreality, the virtual version of what used to be the public square, and look at how we respond to the people with whom we actually live.

When dealing with our relatives, fellow Church members, fellow workers, and neighbors who offend us in any way, great or small, it is essential to remember that the Lord does not command us to excuse them but to forgive them.   If we can excuse them plausibly (which is more often the case than we think), this is all to the better – it makes forgiveness much easier, when we realize that they really did not mean it, or cannot help it, and so forth. But, admittedly, there are cases when the other person, as far as any finite intelligence can discern, is just dead wrong, and only God Himself can see deeply enough into his heart to discover if in fact there is some mitigating factor. This makes it harder to forgive, but remember, we are not being asked to excuse but to forgive, and since forgiveness is the gift of grace, it is not beyond our power if God so wills, for where God so wills, the order of nature is overruled.

St. Gregory the Theologian, in his commentary on the Our Father, when speaking of the words, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” points out that we are never more like God than when we forgive. Judgment and forgiveness are both divine prerogatives; judgment God has reserved for Himself, but the power to forgive He has bestowed also upon us. Let us then act like God and forgive!

This grace of forgiveness, so conclusive a proof of the Church’s divine origin, is seen pre-eminently in the tribunal of confession, where, having accused ourselves, we receive from God neither an excuse nor a condemnation, but forgiveness. We are the servants who have been forgiven the ten thousand talents; now let us forgive our brethren the one hundred denarii.

We will never have peace in this life as long as we predicate our happiness on others’ behaving justly and rationally towards us. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that if we acquire the spirit of peace, a thousand souls around us will be saved.   Let us take him seriously and acquire the spirit of peace, through forgiveness.


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The path to Paradise

6 October OS 2020 – Monday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke, Holy Apostle Thomas

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

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

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

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

We all agree with the truth of all this of course, but if we are honest, we admit that we do not feel the truth of it.   Think about it: When is the last time you were filled with unspeakable joy because someone robbed you or insulted you? See what I mean? Today I propose to address how not to be hypocrites (or at least not complete hypocrites) when we claim to believe this Gospel.

Before going on to the “how” of doing this, however, I would like to clear up one important thing: In today’s brainwashed mindset, “forgiving your enemies” has been twisted to mean being cowards who identify love with tolerating unspeakable evils, hollow men who refuse to fight for God and for what is right. This is totally false. If the people preaching (and legislating and imposing) evil and falsehood are not really enemies, then the word “enemy” has no meaning – there are no enemies. And if there are no enemies, the Lord’s command to forgive them has no meaning, which is obviously not possible. The Church in this world is the Church Militant, and that includes all of her members with all their faults, not just calm, loving elders sitting in a cave somewhere. We cannot wait until we are passionless holy saints with only pure, righteous anger, to call out the liars, perverts, and creeps who now dominate our government, media, financial system, corporate structures, and educational establishment. We have to fight them with all our strength, even at the cost of losing our temper, showing our weaknesses, and being called “haters” because we show justifiable anger at their demonic lies and their soul-destroying system of sexual perversion, worship of money, and mindless distraction masquerading as human existence.

So we have to fight these monsters, these undead zombie post-humans who are coming after us to suck the souls out of our bodies, with all our strength, and yet not hate them.   It is easy to curse the people you fight, or do the opposite and throw in the towel in order to have that warm fuzzy feeling of getting along with everybody, even while they destroy your faith, your morals, and your children’s souls. It is easy to be an angry jihadist on the one hand or to love Big Brother on the other hand – all the tension goes away and we feel good again. What is hard is to be a Christian. It is not only hard, but also embarrassing, because we never live up to our Faith. It is the only Faith designed on purpose so that one cannot live up to it, which only goes to prove that this Faith alone is of divine origin.

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

Admit that we cannot live the Gospel. Admit that to the end of our lives we will fail. As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says in The Arena, even the greatest saints fall short of the Gospel. It is beyond the power of human nature; it is “above nature,” as the Fathers say. When people call us hypocrites, say, “Yes, you are right, I am a worthless hypocrite. But my Faith is still true, whether I live up to it or not.”

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

Force ourselves to thank God when bad things happen.

Pray for those who harm us, both the great – like the mainstream media – and the small – like the coworker at the office who stabs us in the back.

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

It is always later than we think. Death is always at the door.

Whether that last thought is consoling or depressing is up to us.

pilgrims walking up a hill to a church in Serbia
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Discretion, the governing virtue

1 October OS 2020 – Wednesday of the Second Week of St. Luke; The Protection of the Theotokos; St. Ananias, Apostle; St. Romanus the Melodist

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The reading today for the Holy Gospel, according to the daily cycle, is Luke 5:33-39.

At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus and said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.

Fasting is good, of course – the Lord does not deny that. But there is a time for fasting, and a time for not fasting. During His time on earth, the disciples did not fast, for He was with them. After His Ascension, they began to fast, to keep watch for His Second Coming. And so we still do today.

St. Theophan the Recluse derives a general lesson for us: that all good works must be practiced with discretion, and in harmony with each other:

It is unbecoming for the children of the bridechamber to fast while the bridegroom is with them, said the Lord, and thus He pronounced the law that even with virtues and spiritual endeavors everything has its place and time. And this is so crucial that an untimely and inappropriate deed loses its value, either entirely, or in part. The Lord arranged everything in visible nature with measure, weight, and number. He also wants everything in the moral realm to be decent and in order (cf. I Cor. 14:40). Inner decency consists in a joining of each virtue with all the virtues in conjunction, or a harmony of virtues, so that none stand out needlessly, but all are in accord, like voices in a choir. Outward decency gives each deed its place, time, and other connections. When all of this is properly arranged, it is like a beautiful lady dressed in beautiful clothes. Virtue which is decent both inwardly and outwardly is desirable. It is Christian good sense that makes it this way. With elders it is discernment acquired through experience and the sensible examination of the Lives of the saints in the light of the word of God. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 215-216

How does one acquire discretion, the ability wisely to order the priorities and activities of one’s life?   Both in the specifically spiritual arena of our life – our prayers, fasting, preparing for confession and Holy Communion, Church attendance, etc. – and in our practical daily lives, we often experience that things are out of joint.   We do not know what to put first, second, and third. We start new projects or activities with enthusiasm and do not finish them.   We emphasize one aspect of life to the exclusion of others, and life becomes unbalanced. And so forth.

There are countless self-help books from secular writers about prioritizing, planning, and organizing. But what we need is deeper: the profound wisdom by which we know intuitively what to do and when to do it; to keep in mind always that which is most important; to be attentive and conscious in our daily activities and not to “go on auto-pilot.” If we are in order inwardly, whatever outward order needed will naturally arise.

The first step in acquiring discretion is the same as the first step in acquiring all spiritual gifts: We must ask for it!   Let us not fail each day to begin our day with prayer, and as part of our prayers, to ask the Lord to give us prudence, discernment, and practical wisdom to order our lives aright inwardly and outwardly. We must ask the Lord to show us the way, to give us the light of understanding His holy will, and the resolve to do His will come what may.

Another simple step is to write down our core duties, first spiritual duties and then practical ones, and ask if we are doing them.   Resolving to say 1000 Jesus Prayers on the prayer rope every day does not make sense if, so far, we have failed to say five minutes of morning prayers in the morning.   Resolving to help the poor in a faraway country does not make sense if we are not helping our relatives and our fellow parishioners. We need to make a short list of the ABC duties of our Orthodox life, resolve to fulfill them, and ask God’s help to do so.

Another simple step is to seek counsel.   There may be ways in which our life is out of balance, in which we are being imprudent, that we cannot see ourselves, but that others who love us and understand us can see. Let us not forget to seek counsel from our priest and from the one or two very trusted and close spiritual friends upon whom we can truly rely.

May Christ, the Wisdom of God, bestow upon us His divine understanding, so that our hearts will sense naturally what to do and when to do it, both inwardly and outwardly.

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Transfigured while at prayer

30 September OS 2020 – Tuesday of the 2nd Week of St. Luke; St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia; St. Michael, Metropolitan of Kiev

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In today’s Gospel, the Lord works an astonishing miracle – the healing of a leper – and then immediately withdraws into the wilderness for prayer:

At that time, when Jesus was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed. 
– Luke 5: 12-16

A wonderful thing about the four Gospels is their diversity in unity.   They are all testifying to the same reality – the coming of the God-Man into the world, His real historical presence, His miracles, His teaching, His death, resurrection, and ascension – but each Gospel has its own emphases and peculiarities. Divinely inspired, each one is yet intensely human, reflecting the peculiar gifts of soul of the real man who wrote it.   St. John’s Gospel, of course, is really different – it soars above the other three in its sublime theology and mystical content. The other three are called the Synoptic Gospels, because they see the events described with “one eye” or a “shared vision,” a “seeing together with” (synopsis); they are quite similar.   Yet each one of them has its own beauties and identifying characteristics.

St. Luke delights to record the memory of the Lord Jesus Christ at prayer, as at the end of today’s reading.   There are several places in his Gospel where he mentions the Lord’s praying, while St. Matthew and St. Mark omit this detail. The most striking instance occurs in his account of the Transfiguration: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering (Luke 9: 28-29).” As God, Jesus opens the eyes of Peter, James, and John to see the uncreated light of His Divinity shining through His holy Humanity. As a man, as the Man, so to speak, as the New Adam, this occurs while He is really and truly praying, praying as no man ever did before or since.

Christ really did pray while He was on earth. He prayed because He was really a man, and human beings pray. As a matter of fact, it is the pre-eminent and most important thing we do; it is what God made us for. As the New Adam, Our Lord is praying as a man, for He came not only to show us Who God really is, but He also came to show us what a human being really is. He made our First Parents to talk with Him in Paradise.   He came as a man to restore us to Paradise, so we could talk with Him forever.   What could be better than that?

The upshot of all this is that we need to take our prayer life seriously, more seriously than any other activity of our lives. How can we start or re-start our habit of daily prayer, if we have fallen off?   There are numerous good books out there: I heartily recommend the chapters on prayer in The Arena by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and the chapters on prayer in Unseen Warfare, which St. Theophan the Recluse wrote and put in the book in place of those written by the original Roman Catholic author.   In the shadow of these spiritual giants, I make bold to offer a little story from my own experience, given below. It is especially intended for people like me, who do not pray very well, who have a hard time praying at all:


 Prayer is the Essence of Christian Life

Prayer is the single most important activity of the Christian’s daily life, and it is also the one we neglect or resist the most. This is why:

Prayer is what God created us for; that is, He created us to be always in loving communion and communication with Him. The fundamental capacity for this prayerful communion was disabled by the sin of our first parents and it is passed on to every human being. Now, by means of Holy Baptism and the other Holy Mysteries, we receive the grace of God to acquire this saving, ongoing relationship with God. But the fallen nature is still fighting us, and the demons fight us; prayer is the last thing they want us to do. So we struggle, even to pray for a short time.

We must, however, establish a daily habit of prayer, in order to have any kind of real relationship with God. But how? I wish to present a story from my own experience, in order to explain the simple yet powerful means to acquire the daily habit of prayer:

An Instructive Story: Learning How to Pray

I will never forget the night I learned how to establish a daily habit of prayer. It seems odd that it should come only after six years of being a priest, but there you are.

My spiritual father then was an elderly and very austere Russian bishop who had the reputation for eating priests for dinner. I had decided that I needed whipping into shape and therefore asked him to take me on. Since he lived several states away, we agreed that I would write him my confessions in letters, and, after reading them, he would call me. What follows is the story of his response to my first confession.

Several troubling sins had never ceased bothering me, despite being confessed here and there to various priests. I had never actually laid them all out to a single confessor at one time and therefore thought it worth the try to tell them all to Vladika. I wrote the letter with great trepidation – I knew his scary reputation and expected a great reaming out, either for the sins themselves or for not trusting in God’s forgiveness and thus confessing anew previously confessed sins. When the phone rang that night and my wife called down, “Dear, it’s Vladika ________!” I trudged to the receiver like a condemned man to the scaffold.

His voice came on, very soft. I will not attempt to reproduce his actual speech here, only the content of what he said. Imagine a calm, grandfatherly voice with a soft Russian accent, speaking with the precision of an Oxford don.

“ Ah, is this Fr. Steven?”

“ Yes, Vladika. Bless.”

“ Fr. Steven, I have read your letter very carefully,” (He would! I thought), “and I want to teach you something.”

Teach me something? What? I thought he was calling to strip me naked, crush me, and throw the remains to the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.

“ I want to teach you how to find consolation in prayer.”

At the time, my only feeling was one of overwhelming relief. Later, I realized that it was one of the chief moments in my life. This was a man who meant business. He did not moralize, did not criticize, did not justify this and condemn that. He taught me what I needed to do in order not only not to sin, but also not even want to sin. If the Lord Jesus dwells in the heart through prayer, we are in Paradise, and we do not want to leave.

What did he teach me?

“ The Holy Fathers, and most recently the Optina Elders, teach us that the secret to consolation in prayer is regularity and the struggle for attention. How long is your evening prayer rule?”

“ A half-hour, Vladika.”

“ Too long.”

Too long! I thought, astounded. What kind of a bishop is this?

“ You wander in your thoughts and finish your rule only with difficulty. You actually omit it many evenings and go to bed without prayer. You make no progress. Is this not so?”

“ Yes, Vladika.”

“ I want you to do exactly what I say and do not deviate.”

“ Yes, Vladika.”

“ The important thing is not how many prayers you read or which prayers you read, but the amount of time that you pray every day, that you always devote this amount of time every day without fail, and that you struggle for attention. I want you to start with ten minutes – no more, no less. Set an alarm clock or timer for ten minutes, so that you do not have to look at the clock. Read the appointed evening prayers or the Psalter or an akathist. When the timer goes off, stop. While you are reading, your mind will wander, perhaps five to ten times per minute. Each time, you must force your mind back to the words of the prayers. You must do this without fail.”

“ Yes, Vladika.”

“ As time goes on, if you are regular in performing this rule, and if you struggle for attention, you will naturally gain stability in performing it, and you will gradually desire to add time to your prayer. When you desire to keep praying, keep praying as long as you wish that day, but do not yet add the time to your rule. When you feel this desire daily for several weeks, then you may add another five minutes to your rule. Once you add time, however, you must never subtract it. This is why the desire must be tested, not obeyed immediately. After awhile, your prayer time will grow, you will perceive that this prayer is a great consolation, and you will never want to give it up. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Vladika.”

That was it.

My experience before and after this great event in my life is that people who are wavering and confused in their faith are not praying regularly or properly. Their souls are confused because the light of the soul, the noetic mirror of the spiritual intellect, is darkened, and this darkness is darkness indeed. A person in this state will wander forever in the labyrinth of opinion, attraction, and emotion, never finding rest. He will eventually compromise, distort, or lose his faith, because he has no inner experience corresponding to that faith’s dogmatic and moral teachings. On the other hand, one who is praying regularly and in the right manner receives great firmness in his faith, stability of life, and inner calmness. He has a firm foundation for the activities of daily life and for the struggle for salvation.

If prayer is going right, everything is right, for prayer will let nothing go wrong.

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Becoming acceptable to God

25 September OS 2020 – Thursday of the First Week of Luke; St. Euphrosyne; St. Sergius of Radonezh

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at

In the cycle of the daily readings, today we read once again the Gospel passage that we read on the Church New Year: St. Luke’s account of the Lord’s entering the synagogue at Nazareth and announcing His Messiahship by proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord.

At that time, Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?Luke 4: 16-22

St. Theophan the Recluse points out that, unlike all the prophets before Him, the Lord Jesus Christ not only could preach about the acceptable year of the Lord, He could – and did – make it happen; He brought it with Him.

The Lord not only came “to preach the acceptable year,” but He brought it as well. Where is it? In the souls of believers. The earth will never become a Paradise under the current state of affairs; but it is and will be an arena of preparation for the heavenly life. The rudiments of heavenly life are placed in the soul, and the possibility for this lies in God’s grace – Who brought, consequently, the acceptable year for souls. He who listens to the Lord and fulfills all that is commanded by Him receives grace, and with its power enjoys the acceptable year within himself. This truly occurs in all who sincerely believe and act according to faith. You will not fill your souls with “acceptableness” by thinking; you must act, and it will enter in on its own.   There might not be any outer peace whatever, just inner peace, yet it cannot be separated from Christ. But it always happens that as soon as inner peace is established, outer disturbances are neither bitter nor heavy. Consequently, the acceptable year is there even in this respect – it only seems like a cold winter on the outside. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 210-211

These brief words of St. Theophan address a spiritual malaise most of us share: sluggish inactivity based on a dreamy desire for a phony paradise both without and within.   The phony external paradise we dream of is an earthly life with no problems, in which everyone is just and kind to us.   The phony internal paradise we dream of is a state of inner purity, calm, and happiness based simply on thinking and not on doing.   The heresies associated with these delusions are, respectively, chiliasm and gnosticism, and the two work together and feed each other.

As St. Theophan rightly points out, this earth will never become a paradise in the present, fallen state of affairs prior to the destruction and re-fashioning of the cosmos into a New Heaven and a New Earth.   This earthly life, rightly understood, is an arena in which we struggle for our salvation, a very short trial in which we choose to do or not do that which is acceptable to the Lord. Chiliasm – derived from the Greek word for “a thousand” – is, strictly speaking, the heresy that teaches that the thousand-year reign of Christ spoken of in the Apocalypse is a future event that will take place here on earth, in the form of an outward, global political order.  But there is also a broader application of the concept: anyone who wants “the Kingdom of God on earth” in the literal sense partakes of the chiliast spirit and the chiliast delusion.   Surely we desire for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – the Lord Himself told us to pray for this. This takes place, prior to the end of the world, in the lives of those who do God’s will, and certainly there have been families, monasteries, parishes, whole national Churches and kingdoms in which God’s light, the light of Orthodoxy, showed forth more brilliantly than in other places: these people and communities were (and, we pray, will be) little icons of the heavenly kingdom, little foretastes of what is to come in eternity.   But there will never be a time in which Christ will reign on earth as an earthly, temporal king, either directly or through a vicar like a pope or emperor, or through a “chosen race.”

The ever-present spirit of chiliasm distracts the pious from what they have control over – struggling for their salvation – by entertaining them endlessly with the demonically orchestrated struggles of financiers, politicians, parties, races, and nations for dominance.   Today this is far truer – quantum leaps truer – than ever.   I say “quantum leaps,” because global communications technology has given worldly powers the ability to distract and delude everyone 24 hours per day in such an addictive fashion, it is a wonder there is anyone left who can think straight. Facing this state of affairs realistically, we must beg God for the grace to re-double our efforts to pray and work in a disciplined fashion, simply to pay attention to that over which we have control, and deal with it. We must remember, always: this life is short, death is certain, and judgment is eternal.   Seen in this light, promises of an earthly paradise will not entrap us in the cycle of excitement, failure, disappointment, and despair.

When one despairs over the phony, chiliast earthly paradise, then one is tempted to retreat within selfishly, give up on the moral struggle, and desire a phony, gnostic internal paradise.

Gnosticism is the idea that if you have a certain secret knowledge about “what’s really going on behind the scenes,” you are among the elect.   A gnostic does not have to be moral or receive God’s forgiveness or even try to do anything good. He just has to sit around smugly and say to himself, “I know what’s really going on, unlike all those suckers out there.” And with this he is content. We are not going to join sects and secret societies that offer such a bogus salvation, but, as with the chiliast temptation, we all have the gnostic temptation: to try to think our way to salvation instead of seeking and doing God’s holy will. We can spend endless hours on websites to “find out what is really going on” and thereby feel secure through our “knowledge.” We can turn Orthodoxy into a kind of gnosticism in which, despite the manifest reality that we are enslaved to various passions, we read books on spiritual life and, instead of being brought to repentance, we imagine that we are thinking or feeling the thoughts and feelings of the saints, or in which we read the canons and derive satisfaction from knowing that so-and-so over there is breaking them, and since we are not (or think we are not), we are the good guys. All the while, we are wasting time, skipping prayers, fasting poorly, gossiping, not supporting our parish, neglecting our family, spending money on foolish things, and looking at some kind of a screen, large or small, x hours per day far in excess of what is necessary.

Being “in the know” does not save. The Lord said that the truth will set us free, but this comes true only if, having learned the truth, we obey it.   “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).” St. James says that the demons believe – and tremble (James 2:19). Knowledge without repentance, without humility, without morality, without the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, is demonic.

Therefore, with the ever-present help of the divine grace so abundant in the Church, let us make a short list of our real, daily spiritual and earthly duties, and do them, praying always.   Let us heed the admonition of our Venerable Father Herman of Alaska, and if God be with us, we cannot fail:

“For our good, for our happiness, let us at least make ourselves a vow: that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive to love God above all and do His commandments!” – from “Little Russian Philokalia,” Vol. III, St. Herman, St. Herman Press, 1989, p. 108

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 58: The Preparation for the Corona Delusion – The Technocracy and Its False Religion, A Needed Review

You can listen to an audio recording of this talk at

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Our talk on the Corona delusion attracted some attention – we had more listeners than is usual, and we also attracted some negative attention as well.

When I say the “Corona delusion,” I’m not referring to the existence of this disease, whatever it is, but to the response to the disease, a centrally planned and controlled, inconceivably gigantic, top-down social re-engineering project throughout the whole world, overturning every normal activity of earthly life, with no precedent in history, and which, we are being told by those in authority, will have no end. It is the “new normal.” Yet many persons previously thought rational, including Orthodox Christians, now fanatically insist that this radical, coercively imposed, and permanent change in man’s condition be subject to no serious criticism. This is eerie, very strange, surreal; it is some kind of unnatural mental and moral blindness. And yet this is what we see. “Covid denial” is joining the list of heinous thought crimes for which there is no punishment bad enough, like “Holocaust denial” and “climate change denial.” People like me may indeed, in the near future, simply be locked up or liquidated. We are intolerable heretics, enemies of the Brave New World that “science” is bringing into being, the man-made millennium in which there will be no death or disease, only the unending gratification of material desires free from all risk of interruption by unpleasantness. But how have supposedly rational men, much less Orthodox Christians, come to believe in this? They had to be prepared; they must have been pre-disposed to believe the current delusion by having already accepted and interiorized previous delusions.

In today’s talk, I’d like to discuss some of these previous delusions, which in fact we talked about two years ago, well before “Covid” came on to the scene. By so doing, I am returning to the purpose of our Survival Course, which is intended not to be just one more Internet current events show, where we get all worked up by reacting to every new bit of bad news, but rather is intended to be an ongoing, serious study to help us understand how the entire scope of history, and the important events and ideas of history, fit into an Orthodox framework. Recent history, that is from the Renaissance period through the twentieth century, can enlighten us about why so many people are now going so crazy and believing so fanatically in the Brave New World being created by our rulers with the excuse that they are fighting this Corona virus. And the timeless teaching of the Church on man’s condition and man’s ultimate purpose can enlighten us as to why this fanatical belief is so wrong and so bad.

The title of today’s talk, then, is “The Preparation for the Corona Delusion – the Technocracy and Its False Religion.”

I. Francis Bacon and the New Atlantis

“Technocracy” means government by technocrats, a managerial class that serves a hidden, elite group who control the development and use of technology, and who therefore also necessarily control the direction of the science that underlies the technology. It is like Plato’s vision in The Republic of a society ruled by an elite of philosophers, except that here we don’t have men who are concerned with acquiring wisdom and controlling their passions, as in the Socratic dialogues; rather, they are concerned with acquiring and using ever more powerful technology in order to gratify their passions, to dominate creation, and to control human populations. You may recall our earlier discussion of the 16th-17th century English writer Francis Bacon, and his vision for a future society, which he calls the “New Atlantis.” You can find the discussion in Orthodox Survival Course, Class 17. Here is the section on Bacon:

Notes from Class 17 on Science and Technology in the Renaissance –

Science and Technology – Just as Pico de Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man can be said to be the manifesto of the Renaissance in general, and Machiavelli’s The Prince is the classic statement of Renaissance politics, one could say that Francis Bacon’s utopian novel, New Atlantis, and his works on the role of science and technology in society, such as the New Organon, form the charter of modern scientism, the idea that man can perfect life on earth by scientific and philosophic advancement. The article on Bacon in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums up his influence thus: “He died in 1626, leaving behind a cultural legacy that, for better or worse, includes most of the foundation for the triumph of technology and for the modern world as we currently know it.”

Bacon, a classic “Renaissance Man” – statesman, philosopher, jurist, scientist, author – lived during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. There are various theories about his involvement with occult sects such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, but one need not prove his formal connection to these groups to understand his fundamental idea, stated in his Meditationes Sacrae, that “knowledge itself is power.” The real power in a “Baconian” society is held by those who know the secrets of science. In New Atlantis, the real power in Bensalem, the utopian island realm, is not in the hands of the government, but in the hands of a secret society of scholars who form the college of “Salomon’s House,” and who deliberately withhold knowledge from the purported rulers of the society. The “Father” of “Salomon House” states, “And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret; though some of those we do reveal sometime to the State, and some not.”

This idea is completely consonant with an idea we saw earlier in our study of the Renaissance, that science is linked to occult knowledge, and that it is employed in order to have power over the society. What is being proposed in New Atlantis – or, rather, depicted – is that a secret oligarchy with the keys to scientific knowledge and technology should hold also the keys to political power, which they dole out, as they will, to the State, which is no longer the true governing power, but rather an “interface,” as we might say today, for the real governing power, which is occult and irresponsible, that is, hidden and without accountability. It is rather obvious how this applies to our situation today, in which only the extremely fatuous still believe that our political institutions are not puppets manipulated by an irresponsible oligarchy through technocratic methods of control.

The Orthodox Christian concept of the roles of science and technology is this, in sum: The primary role of science is to adorn man’s mind with knowledge, in order to inspire the contemplation of God and His creation. The role of technology is to help man find the moderate amount of earthly happiness he needs in order to practice virtue – to avoid excessive earthly sorrows on the one hand while avoiding excessive earthly joys on the other hand, both of which conduce to vice. There is no room in this concept for “unlimited technological progress,” a quintessentially Luciferian idea linked to heretical, utopian ideas of human perfectibility. The “Baconian” or “New Atlantis” ideal is quite different: A “high priesthood” of scientists and scholars, operating in secret, will discover “truths” that will perfect human society on earth.

End of notes from Class 17.

It’s easy to see how all of this applies to our situation today – and, remember, I wrote these notes two years ago, when we had no idea that the Technocracy was going to pull this particular stunt, this “COVID” thing. The problem is that, to some extent, everyone, including us Orthodox Christians, have imbibed these incredibly false and evil ideas: We unconsciously assume that “science” is this monolithic thing out there, with an identity and a life of its own, some kind of secular pope of Rome, that is infallible and benign, and its powers are always being wielded with ever-increasing effectiveness by equally infallible and benign authorities in business, media, and the government, for the constant progress of the human race towards a utopia where there will be no death or disease, only the unlimited and untrammeled enjoyment of material goods. And anyone who opposes this “science” and these authorities is a Bad Guy who must be silenced. (He must be a “conspiracy theorist” !) The people who believe this believe it with religious intensity, because it is a religion, the pseudo-religion of “scientism.”

II. Putting New Atlantis into Practice: How We Got to Where We Are Today

But how did we get from Francis Bacon to the U.N., the W.H.O., and the 21st century, totalitarian reality of the COVID-19 “New Normal”? As they say, “follow the money.” Here is the section of Class 17 that follows immediately upon the section we just read:

Notes from Class 17 on Economics in the Renaissance

Economics – One of the bedrock, foundational ideas of Christian economics is that usury – lending money while charging interest – is a grave sin. Christian ecclesiastical and civil codes, East and West, always forbade Christians to practice usury, which is why most usurers in Christian societies prior to the period we are studying were Jews. But because Jews were always excluded from positions of influence in pre-modern Christian societies – from the government, the military, education, medicine, and so forth – because the laws against usury practiced by Christians were strictly enforced, and because the need for having large amounts of money ready to hand is limited in primarily agrarian societies, moneylending and debt never dominated economics prior to the modern period. It existed but was kept under tight control by Christian rulers and by the Church.

Even prior to civil liberties being granted to the Jews living in Christian polities, however, which did not take place until much later, usury entered Western Christian society directly through the rise of Christian-owned banks, first in Italy and later in Austria and the other European nations. The popes, using various casuistic arguments, such as Leo X (reigned 1513-1521) began allowing for usury in various circumstances. It is quite significant that the trigger for the Lutheran revolt, the sale of indulgences, was authorized by Leo X in order to pay the interest on loans taken out from Catholic bankers who were financing the building of the new St. Peter’s. (A Roman Catholic writer, Michael Hoffman, documents this quite convincingly in his book Usury in Christendom, the Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not).

The new Machiavellian, technocratic rulers of Europe began financing their ever-larger military and technological enterprises through borrowing money, and thus the Money Power – bankers and financiers, whether Jewish or Gentile – over the centuries gained more and more power over the modern European nation-states and their vast overseas empires. Usury fits in perfectly with the alchemical view of science and technology – it is a “magic” way to increase one’s wealth, not by work, but by a trick. Ultimately, like Machiavellian politics and “knowledge as power” scientism, it is all about gaining power over others. At the beginning of the period we are studying, Dante puts usurers and sodomites in the same circle of Hell, because sodomites take what is naturally fertile and make it sterile, while usurers take what is naturally sterile and make it breed. By the end of this period, this was mere theory – “Christian” European economies were increasingly dependent on usury sanctioned by the popes and the Catholic and Protestant princes.

In Orthodox economics, means of production exist to serve man, whose eternal salvation is the highest concern of the rulers. Means of finance, in turn, exist to serve production. In Luciferian economics, man serves production, production serves finance, and the bankers rule over all. The alchemical, perverted economics of usury finances the Promethean quest for unlimited technological progress in the service of the occult oligarchy of the Money Power, who use their army of technocrats – the “managerial class” – and their monopolistic control of education, medicine, the communications media, and violent means of coercion to enslave the human race.

Thus is born the New Atlantis.

End of notes from Class 17.

All right, folks, again: I wrote these words two years ago. This was not a knee-jerk, “conspiracy theory” reaction to a crisis. In the relative calm of that time two years ago, we were simply discussing the birth and development of the modern world that we live in.

The point is this: The process I describe above – of private moneyed interests gaining control over formerly legitimate governments and ruling masses of people through the exploitation of technology – obviously did not stop at the end of the Renaissance, but rather grew exponentially in speed and power throughout the modern era. Through the takeover of government by private interest groups, a small group of people over time have corralled all of the wealth. This is not some secret knowledge gleaned from “conspiracy websites.” It is well known that now, in the 21st century, a tiny group of people control 90% of the wealth in the world. As their wealth increased, so did their power over every aspect of society, which in a post-Christian world is totally dedicated to material ends, and therefore is easily dominated by the Money Power, those who have the money. The theoretical sciences that undergird technology are not a magical, monolithic Truth Machine that is always right. The academics involved in the sciences rely on money, and if they want money, they come up with the results that the Money Power says they must. If, being honest and dedicated scientists, they come up with different results, they become Non-Persons – professors lose their jobs, doctors lose their licenses, their talks on the Internet get de-platformed, and so forth. They might even be assassinated.

If you have read the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose, you may remember that he was writing, back in the 1950’s, about how academics were totally corrupt. Does anyone really think it is better now? Everyone knows now that the universities and research institutions are completely controlled and completely corrupt. Even where their faculties include honest men here and there, their administrations are dominated by technocrats controlled by the global financial oligarchy, and it is they – not the scholars – who decide which ideas are acceptable and are promoted to society at large. These ideas are then relentlessly shoved down our throats by the Great Stereopticon, the ubiquitous and relentless propaganda machine.

Why, then, should Orthodox Christians bow down to “science” as some kind of a god? Why should we accept the delusion of scientism?

It’s later than we think.

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Renouncing satan

28 August OS 2020 – Thursday of the 14th Week of Matthew, St. Moses the Ethiopian

You can listen to a recording of this commentary at

In today’s Gospel, the Lord casts a legion of demons out of the Gadarene demoniac.

And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.  And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel. – Mark 5: 1-20

A legion in the Roman army at full strength numbered 6,000 men.   This man’s being possessed by a “legion” of demons means, therefore, that there were thousands of demons inside of him.  How could this be?   St. Theophan the Recluse explains:

“My name is Legion: for we are many (Mark 5:9).”  Spirits are bodiless, and therefore they do not fill or take up space like bodies.  This explains why it is physically possible for many spirits to reside in one person.  That it is possible morally for spirits to do this is understandable from their amorality or their absence of all moral principles.  That it is possible for people is understandable from their many-sided contact with the dark realm of the unclean powers, due to the way people’s souls are ordered.  But this only explains what is possible; the reality of demonic possession is subject to conditions which we do not have the ability to determine.  We can only say that spirits do not always enter in a visible way, and possession is not always demonstrated through the possessed person’s actions.  There is an unseen, hidden demonic possession.  There is also a power of spirits over minds, apart from the body, when the demons lead them wherever they wish, through the passions working in them.  People think that they are acting themselves, but they are actually the laughingstocks of unclean powers.  What can we do?  Be a true Christian, and no enemy power shall overcome you.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 186-187

Apart from the power of true Faith and Baptism, man has always been the prisoner and slave of his passions and of demons acting through his passions and sometimes even possessing him bodily.    During the long period of the Church’s direct or indirect influence on society, she kept the demonic powers in check.   Now, one hundred years after the restraining power of Christian authority was taken away, and with the resulting final apostasy of the formerly Christian nations into secularism, all the world is engulfed in a tide of demons and passions, and, humanly speaking, there is no end in sight.   We need not fear it, for we belong to Christ.  But we need to be vigilant and to take action.   We do not throw ourselves off a cliff and ask angels to catch us.

It is critical, indeed a matter of spiritual – and probably physical – life and death, to cut out demonic influences in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are responsible, chiefly our children.   It is not an exaggeration to say that demonic mental programming, either overt or hidden, pervades contemporary movies, television (including “the news,” which in fact is simply the propaganda of the anti-Christian elite), video games, and the Internet, in the form of hypnotically powerful imagery, and an endless barrage of lies and deception, and occult ritual actions and symbols.  That there may be innocent productions coming out of the media establishment is a theoretical possibility, but sifting through a pile of toxic waste to find something to consume that will not kill you is a time-consuming and risky process.  

And what about the Internet?  Here I am, using it, to get this message across.  The answer is simple – use it as a tool, for a limited time each day, but do not live in it as an alternate universe.  If it gives you access to good things – good books, good articles, good videos – great!   Today we obviously need the Internet to find accurate information from sources outside the corporate media, who are obviously just the propaganda ministry of the Luciferian world-state. And it is also true that many Orthodox Christians who are lonely and spiritually isolated find fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ they previously did not know were out there, much as the Lord revealed to the Prophet Elias the 7,000 men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Thank God we now, at least for the time being, have access to these good things that were previously unavailable, and that we have the ability to enjoy this unexpected consolation in good communications with those of like soul. But, as we all know, one has to practice discipline and discernment.  Even if you are talking to good friends and acquiring necessary information, do not live glued to your computer. Keep track of your time on the Internet for a few days:  How much time did you spend on truly necessary activity, and how much time did you waste when you could have been doing something else?   How many temptations arose?   If there were x number of obvious temptations, how many subliminal or unnoticed temptations also entered your mind?   Who knows?  Be careful.  I suggest that you keep an icon right there in front of you while you are on your media device (of whatever kind), and always say a prayer before you turn it on.   I have not yet seen a synodically approved prayer for exorcising computers and smart phones, but I hope that we will soon have one.

Children do not need and most often will be harmed by video games, television, the computer, and the smart phone.   Be strict.  You will save their lives.  They will probably have to use computers when they grow older, of course (unless a cataclysmic world war returns us to pre-modern living conditions).   They can learn what they need to know to get started with computers when they are teenagers, in about fifteen minutes.  In the meantime, reading good books with mom and dad at the kitchen table is the way to go.

There are precious and few hours in the day.   The time at home we do not really have to spend on the computer should be spent on activities that pre-date the age of virtual reality:  prayer with the family, reading good books both spiritual and secular, singing good songs and telling good stories, taking walks, growing vegetables and taking care of animals, working around the house, and on and on.   There is a good list of good things our very recent ancestors spent their time on, that had nothing whatsoever to do with computers, handheld Internet devices, television, radio, video games, professional sports, or the popular music industry.  Nearly all of these “old” activities, which are not really old but timeless, are still available to us.   As they say, “Just do it.”

“Alright, Father Steven, I agree with you,” you might be thinking.  “But what can I do?  I am already enmeshed in a virtual life on the Internet almost all my waking hours.”

I shall respond with what St. Theophan says above: “What can we do?  Be a true Christian, and no enemy power can overcome you.”  Let’s get serious and start struggling to spend more time in prayer, in good works for others, and useful occupations.    Let’s use our leisure time in wholesome reading and wholesome hobbies, or driving old ladies to the grocery store, or teaching a child to read, or visiting the sick, or helping a priest start a new mission, or teaching catechism at our parish, or starting a spiritual book discussion group for our friends…or…or – you know the list is endless.  If you do not have the strength to give up this or that, or to re-order your priorities, confess it with tears and do not justify it, and keep praying for the strength to change.  The Lord desires our conversion and salvation more than we do.

The Good News is that we are not the hopeless, helpless slaves of the dystopian anti-Paradise, the prison of the mind, the mindless hive of contented monkey-descended sensualists, being put into place before our very eyes at this very moment in history by the visible and invisible rulers of the satanic world-state.   We are children of God, citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and members of the Body of Christ.   By Faith and Baptism, we have been freed forever from service to Satan, whom we renounced at Holy Baptism, along with “…all his works, all his service, and all his pride.”

As they say, “Just do it.”  Let us make the Sign of the Cross and charge ahead.

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Becoming the good earth

22 August OS 2016 – Friday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Matthew; Afterfeast of the Dormition; Icon of the Theotokos Prousiotissa; Holy Martyr Agathonikos

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at

In the Gospel today (Mark 4:1-9), the Lord illustrates the several types of soul who fall away and the one type that endures, by means of the Parable of the Sower:

At that time, Jesus began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

St. Theophan the Recluse tells us very simply how to be the good ground that yields spiritual fruit:

…How do you make yourself into the good ground? With attention and study of the word of God, sympathy and love toward it, and readiness to immediately carry out what you learn. With such a mind-set, not a single word will lie on the surface of your soul, but all will enter within. Uniting with the elements of the spirit which are dear to it, it will take root and sprout. Then, being nourished – from above through spiritual inspirations, and from below through good desires and labors – it will grow into a tree and will flower and give fruit… – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 182.

Notice that St. Theophan says that the word of God will unite with the elements of the spirit which are dear to it. In other words, God made the soul for Himself, to hear Him, to delight in Him, to want to do what He wants.   And furthermore, souls enlightened by Holy Baptism have the power to overcome the fallenness of human nature and to do all this. This is not impossible, by any means, but rather quite natural. We simply do not take advantage of the gifts we already have.

So let us begin on the basis of the assumption that our souls are designed to be the good soil, not the other way around.   What steps do we take? St. Theophan says 1. Attention and study of the word of God, 2. Sympathy and love toward it, and 3. Doing what it says.   These three activities correspond to the three powers of the soul: The reasoning power (ὁ λόγος – logos, mind, understanding, reason), the desiring power (ἡ επιθυμία – epithymia, desire, attraction, love), and the incensive power (ὁ θυμός – thymos, drive, anger, ambition, will to action). We simply have to turn the soul in the right direction as it performs its natural functions – to understand, to love, and to act. The soul is going to do this with or without guidance: there is no question that it will understand, love, and act. The question is whether it will understand, love, and act based upon the true or the false, the beautiful or the ugly, the good or the bad.

Let us, then, resolve each day, with God helping us, to spend time in prayer and sacred study, with the struggle for attention. Our hearts will naturally be attracted to the beauties of holiness depicted therein, if only we give it enough time and attention. Then we must listen to the promptings of conscience and do what the mind and heart are inclining towards. Thus we become the good earth that yields spiritual fruit.

Simple, is it not?

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