Being remembered

23 February OS 2018: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop-Martyr

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:11-8:3.

In few and simple words, today’s reading recounts an unimaginable catastrophe, the catastrophe of all earth history, the flood of Noah. God lifts His mighty hand and destroys all that has breath, save those in the Ark. We have grown used to the story, and we do not think about it much. If we did, we would feel our real size, our nothingness before God. He is the Almighty, and none can withstand His will.

At the same time, He is unexpectedly close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. Note the end of verse 7:16: “And the LORD God shut the ark from without upon him.” Amid this terrifying display of His total and irresistible might to make and destroy all things, the LORD walks up to the hatch and shuts His friend safe inside. Thus He makes clear, “Do not fear: It is I who take care of you.”

In verse 8:1, we read that God “remembered” Noah and all the beasts. God also remembers us, with His remembrance that never alternates with forgetfulness. He is thinking about us at every moment. If He did not, we would cease to exist, for in Him only “…do we live and move and have our being.”   His Word (Logos with a big “L”) is the blueprint of our existence, and the Breath of His mouth gives us life.   In the infinite Mind of the Father there is a logos (with a little “l”) corresponding to each of us, a little blueprint of each unique existence. From Him did we come, and to Him will we return: “…unto Thee shall all flesh come (Psalm 64:2).” This should make us feel so very small, when we think on how little justice we do to God, Whose plan for us is so very grand.

Let us, this Great Lent, remember Him Who remembers us, and realize who we are.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the Ark

22 February OS 2018: Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent; Uncovering of the Relics of the Holy Martyrs at the Gate of Eugenius

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:6-9.

Today’s reading is short. It states that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood, and it records one event: Noah takes his family and all the beasts, and they go into the Ark. What spiritual lesson can we take from such brief words?

It is often the case that the simple starkness of Holy Scripture puts us off. Like Naaman the leper, who wanted the Prophet Elisha to perform complicated rituals for his cure rather than order him simply to wash in the Jordan (see IV Kings/II Kings 5), we would like something not-quite-so-plain from the Church and from the Bible. We read such a simple thing as “Noah was 600 years old,” and “he and his family and all the animals went into the Ark,” and we say, “Is that all there is?”   But we need to go back and read it again with fresh eyes. It is actually something quite amazing, and it reveals extremely profound wisdom on God’s part, that He would save the race of man by such a simple yet extraordinary plan. And delightful – every major human culture remembers the Flood and Noah’s Ark, every child delights in the hearing of it, and the images of this amazing thing run countless through the history of art.   God made sure that we would remember how He destroyed us and how He saved us.

This simple, amazing thing really happened. It also provides an image, a typos as the Fathers say, for something even greater. The Ark is an image of the Church; the Flood is an image of this life of upheaval, sorrows, and sin, which rages like a flood and threatens always to drown us; and Noah is doing what we have to do: get into the Ark and stay there while the Flood rages around us. You are either in or out, alive or dead. There is no in-between.

We Orthodox are not a raving apocalyptic sect. We do not rant against everyone out there while we smugly sit in a bunker waiting to shoot the agents of Antichrist with AK-47s in order to “survive.”   The Church is catholic – Her care is for all of God’s creation, for entire nations that have believed in the Gospel, for millions of souls. But She is also enclosed and exclusive, like the Ark: You are either in or out, and you have to decide which it is to be.

We make this choice not once only, when we are baptized, but daily and throughout our lives. When St. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith…(II Corinthians 13:5),” he is speaking to those already in the Church. We have not only to get into the Ark, we have to stay there, and the temptation to jump overboard is always present. Some people do this formally: They renounce the Faith openly and join some heresy or pagan religion or “fraternal society” or cult or something like that. But most do not bother. They simply jump into the sea of life with both feet and do not notice that they are drowning. They even imagine that they are having a great time, and they go on saying, “I am a Christian.”

God gave us this Great Lent, A.D. 2018, to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith.   It is the time for confession in both meanings of the word: to confess our sins and to confess our Faith. If we have left the Ark – though it be “only” in our way of life and not formally – let us hasten to get back in before the door of life shuts on us. If we are firmly planted within, let us nonetheless remain vigilant: the raging flood exerts a curious, suicidal attraction upon souls, and it has destroyed the best of them in a single moment.

Holy Patriarch Noah, pray to God for us!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Sacrifice for sin

21 February OS 2018: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Timothy of Symbola, Monk;  S. Eustathios of Antioch, Archbishop

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:1-5.

God amplifies His command to Noah to bring the animals into the Ark by adding the command to bring not two but seven pairs of the clean animals, those fit for sacrifice to God.   Thus again, as with Abel, He reveals that the true worshippers of the true God have from the beginning practiced sacrifice.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to confess that He is Creator and Lord of all things. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our faith that He is the Creator: as this good thing we are giving up came from His hand, so it returns to Him.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to give thanks to Him. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our gratitude to the One who gave us all that we need, all that we have.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to demonstrate our hope in His providence. God does not need our offering, but we need to make it, in order to acquire the virtue of hope. A true sacrifice comes from our substance, not our surplus. When we sacrifice that which we think we need in order to survive, we are demonstrating in action our hope in God, our absolute trust that He is true to His promise to care for us. We are asking Him to take care of us, because we cannot take care of ourselves.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to be cleansed of our sins. God does not need our sacrifice, but we need to make it, in order to express true sorrow for our sins in action and not words only. The pain of loss, of letting go that which we believe necessary to happiness, if this pain is accepted consciously in repentance, cleanses the heart of sin.

Unlike our fathers in the Faith, the righteous of the Old Testament Church, we no longer sacrifice animals to God. But we must sacrifice, because this is inherent to being in right relationship with God.

We must sacrifice our time in prayer and good works.

We must sacrifice our pleasures in limiting ourselves by ascetic practice.

We must sacrifice our material substance in tithing for the support of the Church and almsgiving to the less fortunate.

But above all, we must join ourselves to the One Unique Sacrifice which takes away our sins, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, by participating in the Divine Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion.

The Divine Liturgy is not merely an empty memorial, as the Protestants teach. It is not only a miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ that is somehow not a sacrifice, as some modernist Orthodox teach. It is a real Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which took place once in history, in a bloody manner, when Our Lord was crucified for us, but in which we participate mystically every time the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is accomplished. At the Anaphora, the Eucharistic Prayer of Consecration, the priest is not simply offering bread and wine to God; this has already been accomplished at the Proskomedia and the Great Entrance (the two parts of the one action of Offering, what in the Western Church was called the Offertory). He is offering the ever-slain, ever-risen Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the Holy Trinity, for the forgiveness of man’s sins and the re-creation of the entire cosmos. Our Lord transforms the bread and wine into His Body and Blood precisely that we sinful men may really offer Him once more, day by day, to God, until the end of the world, for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of all who believe in Him, and that we may really partake of Him as our Food, until our last breath on earth, for the attainment of eternal life.

How great is this mystery! How great God’s goodness to us!

Who would not want to be an Orthodox Christian?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saving obedience

20 February OS 2018: Monday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Leo of Catania

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 6:9-22.

“…Noah was well pleasing to God (6:9).” Why? Because”…Noah did all things whatsoever the LORD God commanded him, so did he (6:22).”

Noah and his family survived the Great Flood and laid the foundation for the whole future of the human race, because one person did “…whatsoever the LORD God commanded him…” Noah, by obeying God, preserved an earthly future for the entire race of man. His obedience foreshadows the perfect obedience of the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who bestowed an eternal future upon our race by His obedience unto death upon the Cross.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is all about “mysticism” and supposed visions of “elders” and “hesychasm” and so forth, and that insisting on obedience to the Ten Commandments and the moral precepts of the Church is some kind of “fundamentalist” hang-up. People can believe this if they want (and people do tend to believe whatever offers the path of least resistance to their passions), but this approach will certainly lead them into both delusion and immorality. Without struggling to practice the ABC’s of a moral life based on the plainly revealed requirements of the Faith, a Christian never attains genuine spiritual experience. Whatever exalted experiences the deluded person does enjoy are impermanent, illusory, and elusive. He refuses the boring and hard-won security of building his house on the rock of Christ’s words and prefers to wander about a spiritual Disneyland hall of mirrors until a certain monster from the labyrinth comes out and devours him.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is just one (maybe the best, but still just one) among many “traditional religions,” and that “many ways lead to God.” To believe in the exclusive claims of the Church is just more “fundamentalism.” “I just cannot believe,” says the “tolerant” nominal Orthodox, “that people could go to hell for not believing in this or that dogma of the Orthodox Church.”

This is your problem, my friend: you cannot believe. You refuse the obedience of Faith. Noah, by contrast, obeyed God. This one person, exercising the obedience of Faith, saved the human race. He believed that everyone except his family was going to drown, because God told him so.

Be like him.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Noah found grace

17 February OS 2018: Friday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Theodore the Recruit, Great Martyr

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 5:32-6:8.

And the LORD God saw that the wickedness of men was multiplied upon the earth, and that every one in his heart thinketh intently upon evil all the days. And God laid it to heart that He had made man on the earth, and He thought upon it. And God said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have made from the face of the earth, even man with cattle and creeping things with fowls of the heaven, for it repenteth Me that I have made them’. But Noah found grace before the LORD God. (Genesis 6:5-8)  

“But Noah found Grace before the LORD God.”   So it is always. In every generation, despite the great wickedness of men, the Lord’s chosen dwell in the midst.   The Lord Jesus Himself, in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father in John 17, says to the Father that His disciples are not of the world and yet also that He does not ask the Father to take them out of the world. The Apostle of Love says, “Little children, love not the world (I John 2:15),” and yet we know from his Life that he spent his entire apostleship dwelling among men, even the very worst men.

How can we do this in our time, in our circumstances? For the devil tempts us either to join the world and love it or to be resentful and curse it.   How do we love fallen men yet not imitate them? How can we love men so much that we are willing to be hated by them when we live according to Truth and speak this Truth when confronted?   There are several things we can do:

  1. Remember that only the grace of God can enable us to do this. It is a life above nature. Only by living in the Spirit can we be like Noah, patiently building the Ark while everyone around us is laughing at us or even cursing us. We must pray and insistently beg God for this grace.
  1. We need to read the Lives of the Saints and be inspired by their courage joined to meekness.   We need to remember that we are not alone, that there is a vast Church in the heavens cheering our every step in the right direction. We must ask them to intercede for us.
  1. We must remain close to the Church. By living in the fragrant atmosphere of Her divine services, Her divine life, and staying close to our spiritual friends, we remain encouraged and in our right minds: encouraged, because the grace of the services and prayers fills our hearts with joy, and in our right minds, because within the sacred cosmos of the Church everything makes sense.

May the Holy Patriarch Noah, our common ancestor, intercede for us to stay happy and faithful in the midst of so much unhappiness and unfaithfulness all around us.   He stayed the course, and God preserved him in the midst of global destruction. God shall certainly do no less for us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Friends of God

16 February OS 2018: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Pamphilos, Hieromartyr; S. Flavian of Constantinople, Confessor 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 5:1-24.

“And Enoch was well-pleasing to God; and he was not found, for God took him up.”

The holy patriarch Enoch and the holy prophet Elias have not yet died. Taken up to heaven, where they live in the flesh by the mysterious decree of God, they await the days of the Antichrist, when they will return to preach repentance, Elias to the Jews and Enoch to the Gentiles. The Antichrist will slay them, their bodies will lie in the streets of Jerusalem for three days, and God will raise them from the dead, putting terror into the hearts of Antichrist and all his followers. Then the end will come.

Our concern is not to know the “day or the hour” of their coming, but to become like them: to become like Enoch, who was well-pleasing to God, and to become like Elias, who remained faithful even when he thought he was the last prophet of the true God left on earth.

Gentle Enoch walked in the pure innocence of the early followers of the true God, and he called upon the name of the LORD.   Fiery Elias denounced idolatry and immorality, calling upon Israel to renounce its adulterous worship of Baal and confess with him that the LORD alone is God.

We must do both if we hope to be saved in the midst of this adulterous generation: We must preserve our innocence, and we must confess our Faith.   To do the first, we must cut out evil influences and spend more time in prayer. To do the second, we must tell the unvarnished truth in simplicity of heart, free of all desire for the praise of men.   We can do neither without the divine grace helping us. Let us cry for this help without delay!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Those who call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.

15 February OS 2018: Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent; Holy Apostle Onesimus of the Seventy

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 4:16-25.

Contrary to the myth of evolution, man did not evolve from a grunting beast to homo sapiens. “Primitive” man did not advance from “hunter-gatherer” to civilized man. God brought man into the world fully formed and highly intelligent. There have never been more intelligent people than at the beginning of the human race, when, as today’s reading testifies, the children of Cain invented the arts of civilization.

The Flood came later to destroy all of their achievements, however, because their hearts were not right with God.   Lamech witnesses to their merciless character: seventy and seven-fold vengeance!   Thus greatly gifted people can accomplish truly great things and still be far from God.

Today, as then, the spirit of Cain and of Lamech ravages abroad. Man, proudly standing on a pinnacle of material cleverness, is really accelerating in free-fall to ever-greater depths of spiritual corruption: the breathtaking mercilessness of the genocidal infanticide and demonic sacrament of abortion, the unthinkable sexual filth not simply approved but hailed as virtue, the organized extinction of the natural family and therefore the possibility of human love, the organized destruction of reason and the very concept of stable and knowable natures of things, endless wars of the mighty preying upon the weak, and everywhere, fueling all of it, the love of money with its political outcome, which is the hollowing out of all traditional institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, whose still-recognizable facades conceal and thereby further an utterly perverted new purpose: degrading man into something sub-human that can be controlled – or even, if so desired, exterminated – by the planetary high priests of Mammon.

Today, as then, the sons of Cain, though they are the vast majority, are not all the people there are. The sons of Seth are still to be found in the dens and caves of the earth, those who hope to call upon the name of the LORD God. God stays His vengeance in answer to their prayers, their weeping, and their acts of penance on behalf of the human race.

Though we are baptized Orthodox Christians, the spirit of Cain still afflicts us, and day by day we struggle to reject the pride and filth that surround us and, yes, live within us. May we, this Great Lent, decisively choose to call upon the name of the LORD God, place all of our hope in Him, and consistently seek that final purity of heart in which alone we will find the wisdom to live in the joy of our salvation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Getting what you really want

14 February OS 2018: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Auxentios of Mt. Auxentios

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 4:8-15.

Cain murdered his brother out of envy.

The Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice, and He did not accept Cain’s sacrifice. Therefore enraged at this affront to his ego and hating his brother for being good, while he was evil, Cain slew him in secret.   Thus always with evil men: They hate the good simply for being good.   The more good the good men show them, the more enraged they become, until finally nothing will satisfy them but the death of the good. Even then their bottomless egotism will never be appeased, for the nature of unrepented rebellion against God dictates that the rebels will grow ever hungrier for appeasement to their egos for all eternity, and the more lives they destroy, the more souls they consume, the hungrier they grow. Satan is the hungriest, angriest, and least satisfied person in all reality, and his hunger, anger, and dissatisfaction will know no end forever.

Men are not Satan or demons. The Lord says in Matthew 25 that hell was made not for men but for devils, while the Father has prepared His Kingdom for man. But men choose to be like devils, by refusing to accept God as God: God’s sovereignty, God’s holy will, God’s law.   They repeat the sin of Cain, the sin of all renegades, anarchists, and murderers: they choose to be their own god. Even then, unlike the demons, they can repent before death: Adam, after refusing once to repent, later repented after he lost Paradise, and he was saved, becoming the first man the Lord Jesus took by the hand and raised from hell. Or they can stew in resentment like Cain and die in their pride.  They can boastfully engrave, “I did it my way,” on their tombstones and then go to burn in hell. Congratulations to them: they got what they really wanted. In the end, so do we all.

The Lord Jesus Christ, slain for our sake by envious men, shows us the path of humility and obedience. With His loving voice, He calls to us today, as He called to Adam and Eve in the Garden, as He called to Cain: “Where art thou? Where is thy brother?” Great Lent is an image of our whole earthly life, for each is a short span of time given to answer His call.   The time is short, and it will end. What shall we do with this time? What shall we do, today, to heed His loving voice in action and not merely wishful thinking?

O loving Lord, innocent Lamb slain for our sins, glory be to Thee!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The bright sorrow which gives hope

13 February OS 2018: Monday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Martinian of Caesarea, S. Symeon the Myrrhstreamer (Great Prince Stefan Nemanja) 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 3:21 – 4:7.

“And He cast out Adam, and caused him to dwell over against the garden of delight, and he stationed the Cherubim, and the fiery sword which turneth about to keep the way of the tree of life.”   The Lord placed Adam “over against” (i.e., nearby and directly across from) the gate to Paradise, so that the sight of Paradise, the rustling of its leaves, and its ineffable life-giving fragrance, ever near to him yet ever closed to him by the fiery Cherubimic sword, would provoke him to weep fiery tears constantly in profound grief over the perfect happiness he threw away for one moment of “freedom” from God. Adam and Eve lived the rest of their long lives in constant repentance, and we rank them with the saints of the Church.

Man, even in his most depraved representatives, still seeks Paradise. He desires an ultimate happiness that he cannot lose, and he spends his life seeking it. He seeks it on this fallen earth and cannot find it. He seeks to build Paradise on earth and creates hell for himself. He ignores God’s command and tries to circumvent the fiery sword of God’s judgment, to take Paradise by stealth. He always fails.

Blessed are they who bow to God’s judgment and weep over their sins. Blessed are they who take compassion on their fellow penitents and weep with them, feeling the sorrows of the other as their own. Blessed are they who gratefully acquiesce to the limited earthly happiness God has decreed for them in this life, whether great or small. Blessed are they who do not seek Paradise on earth but in the age to come.

May we, this Great Lent, stand before the fiery sword at the gate of Paradise, scenting its fragrance and hearing the rustle of its leaves from afar, that is, may we stand in the Church of God, judging ourselves before the Judgment and receiving within our hearts the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, the bright sorrow which gives hope, and the pledge of eternal life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seeing things as they really are

10 February OS 2018: Friday of the First Week of Lent; S. Haralampos, Hieromartyr

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 2:20-3:20.

Man’s fall began when his mind accepted a lie, the lie of the devil. Up to that point, his mind had been pure and whole, a brilliant and perfect mirror perfectly reflecting reality. When he accepted the lie of the devil, he broke his mind into countless fragments, and these fragments have broken – and keep breaking – into more and more fragments more and more rapidly, as fallen, unconverted men apart from grace, apart from the Church, grow ever more sinful as the ages pass. Truly, as the psalm says, “Truths have diminished from the sons of men.”

In the Church founded by Truth Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ, God restores the mind of man and enables him to be whole again, in spirit, soul, and body. The saints are they who by grace “…have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Colossians 3:10).” What does it mean to be “renewed in knowledge”? Simply put, it means that the saints are the only people who see things as they really are. Even the great pagan philosophers recognized that the passions distort the intellect. Who, then, has a properly functioning intellect, except the man in whom God has cured the passions?

Let us resolve that during this Great Lent, which may be our last, we will immerse our minds in Holy Scripture and some good spiritual reading from ancient or recent Holy Fathers and reliable spiritual writers. Let us cleanse the mind as we also cleanse our will and our desires through cleanly confessing our sins. Let us cleanse our bodies through fasting. Let us cleanse egotism from our souls by acts of active love. Let us partake of the Bread of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, in Holy Communion, so that Truth Himself will unite Himself organically to our very being.

Then we may begin to see things, at least a little bit, as they really are.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment