Thursday, June 30, 2011

God within you

Venerable Isaac of Syria

It is not necessary to roam heaven and earth after God or to send our mind to seek Him in different places. Purify your soul, O son of man, remove from yourself the thought of memories outside of nature; hang the veil of chastity and humility before your impulses. By means of these you will be able to find Him who is within you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The desire for impossible virtues

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 4 ~ On Obedience

¶118. The devil suggests to those living in obedience the desire for impossible virtues. Similarly, to those living in stillness he proposes unsuitable ideas. Scan the mind of inexperienced novices and there you will find deluded notions: a desire for stillness, for the strictest fast, for uninterrupted prayer, for absolute freedom from vanity, for unbroken remembrance of death, for continual compunction, for perfect freedom from anger, for deep silence, for surpassing purity. And if, by Divine providence, they are without these to start with, they leap in vain from one thing to another, having been deceived. For the enemy urges them to seek these perfections prematurely, so that they may not persevere and attain them in due course. But to those living in stillness the deceiver extols hospitality, service, brotherly love, community life, visiting the sick. The devil’s aim is to make the latter as impatient as the former.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Like honey in a comb

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 7 ~ On Joy-making Mourning

¶49. When I consider the actual nature of compunction, I am amazed at how that which is called mourning and grief should contain joy and gladness interwoven with it, like honey in a comb. What then are we to learn from this? That such compunction is, in a special sense, a gift of the Lord. There is, then, in the soul no pleasureless pleasure, for God consoles those who are contrite in heart in a secret way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Persistent discipline

Venerable Isaac of Syria

A small but always persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop falling persistently, hollows out hard rock.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some plausible pretext to drag us from prayer

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 13 ~ On Despondency

¶7. [Despondency] reminds those standing at prayer of necessary duties. And, brutish as she is, she leaves no stone unturned to find some plausible pretext to drag us from prayer as with a kind of halter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 27 ~ On Stillness

¶6. A hesychast is he who strives to confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house, paradoxical as this is.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Three causes for all attacks

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶76. All attacks which we suffer from the demons come from these three causes: from sensuality, or from pride, or from the envy of demons. The last are blessed, the middle are very pitiful, but the first are failures till the end.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Venerable Isaac of Syria

The one who is conscious of his sins is greater than the one who profits the world by the sight of his countenance. The one who sighs over his soul for but one hour is greater than the one who raises the dead by his prayers while dwelling among human beings. The one who is deemed worthy to see himself is greater than the one who is deemed worthy to see angels, for the latter has communion through his bodily eyes, but the former through the eyes of his soul.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Death to the world

Venerable Isaac of Syria

The world is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it.

First Russian church built in Arabian Peninsula


First Russian church built in Arabian Peninsula
Moscow, June 6, 2011

On June 2, 2011, the Ascension Day, the cupolas of the Orthodox church dedicated to St. Philip in Sharjah, OAE, were crowned with golden crosses. It is the first Russian Orthodox church to be built not only in the OAE but in the whole of Arabia. It is also the only church in the peninsula to be crowned with crosses.

Before installation, the crosses were blessed by the rector of the Russian parish, Hegumen Alexander Zarkeshev. The five crosses and nine decorative stars covered with golden nitrite-titanic spattering were designed by architect Yuri Krista in Russia and brought to Sharjah by air.

This important event in the life of the Orthodox community in the OAE has become possible thanks to a special personal order of the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan III bin Mohammed al-Qasimi. Thus the final stage in the decoration of the Orthodox compound under construction has been completed. Along with the five-domed church of St. Philip, it includes a three-storey building of the Russian cultural and educational center.

The foundation stone for the future Russian religious and cultural compound in Sharjah was blessed, with the consent of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Great Antioch and All the East, on September 9, 2007, by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (now Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia).

The Parish of St. Philip was established by mutual agreement between the Primates of the Russian Church and the Church of Antioch. It is under the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch which embraces Arabia. As is agreed, the church and the Russian community in Sharjah are served by a cleric of the Moscow Patriarchate.


Sunday, June 19, 2011


Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 5 ~ On Repentance

¶1. Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to sins. Repentance is the purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Prayer - Soiled, Lost, Stolen and Blemished

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 28 ~ On Prayer

¶22. Soiled prayer is one thing, its disappearance is another, robbery another, and blemish another. Prayer is soiled when we stand before God and picture to ourselves irrelevant and inopportune thoughts. Prayer is lost when we are captured by useless cares. Prayer is stolen from us when our thoughts wander before we realize it. Prayer is blemished by any kind of attack or interruption that comes to us at the time of prayer.

Russian Paratroopers Receive Chapel On Wheels


Russian Paratroopers Receive Chapel On Wheels
May 28, 2011

The Russian Orthodox Church has given the country's Airborne Troops a mobile chapel to accompany them on combat missions, a paratrooper spokesman said. The chapel is built on the frame of a truck trailer and is equipped with a life-support module, an electric generator and multimedia equipment. It is serviced on the field by a priest and a five-man support team.

The chapel will be tested during forthcoming airborne exercises. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said last year that Orthodox Church military chaplains will soon appear in the Russian army. According to the Russian defence ministry, two thirds of the country's servicemen consider themselves religious. Some 83 percent of them are Orthodox Christians, about eight percent are Muslims, and nine percent represent other faiths.


Friday, June 17, 2011


Venerable Isaac of Syria

Why do you increase your bonds? Take hold of your life before your light grows dark and you seek help and do not find it. This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.

Battling Evil Thoughts
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Battling Evil Thoughts
Fr. Stephen Powley - Jun 15th, 2011

Have you had a particular bad thought that caused you problems? Sometimes it is just in our minds, and other times it manifests itself in our lives. Have you ever confessed that particular sin, only to have it rear its ugly head soon afterward? I am betting you have … unless somehow you are unlike everyone else in this world. If it has happened to you, then you probably said something like me: “Hey, wait just a minute here … I confessed that sin and I know God has forgiven me that sin! How could it be back in my head? Shouldn’t I have total victory over it when I confessed it? Maybe God didn’t forgive me after all!”

The details of your particular struggle are not the subject of this article. Suffice it to say that within us all there is a battle that takes place within our minds. The enemy of our souls always attacks us at our weakest point. For some it is lust … for others greed … or pride … or slander … or … the list just goes on and on. Often these evil thoughts have already been confessed, but they continue to plague us. It is so very important to realize that just because someone has confessed these thoughts as sin, doesn’t mean that they will suddenly have great victory over it. Often spiritual warfare will increase after confession, because the enemy is losing ground.

What is being experienced in this is the same type of warfare that many of the great saints of our faith went through: attacks in the mind. They won victory – sometimes after years of struggle – but they won. The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) went through many, many years of such a battle and eventually was given victory. I recommend the book named after him for some excellent reading. Ultimately, what made him such a great man of God was not the actual victory, but the years of struggle. He didn’t give up the fight, even though it was so very discouraging to him at times, to the point of shedding many tears. He didn’t realize it at the time, but God was using his struggle to mold and shape him into the man of God he would become.

Much of the shaping of our spiritual lives takes place in the struggle, not in the victory. God will use our struggle to shape us into the vessel He has in mind for us to be, and only He knows what that will be. In Jeremiah 18, the Holy Prophet is told by God to go down to the potter’s house and watch him. This is what he saw and what he was told by God: “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the LORD. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.’”

Struggling with evil thoughts is not an easy task. There are some who will eventually shake an angry fist at God and demand to know where He is, why He hasn’t given them victory over this matter: “God, I have confessed it to you and I have begged for help. Why have you abandoned me to this sin?” Yet, perhaps it is simply the Potter’s way with me, the lump of clay, to make me into something more. These words of St. Paul in Romans 9 say it well: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay?”

The important thing is that we fight; we do not quit struggling, no matter what. It is in the struggle that we grow, even though it is so very uncomfortable. Also, we should return to the Lord in confession regularly, confessing our struggle with this matter. It is in confession that we will find medicine for our souls. We need to realize that some medicines take time, but it is vital to keep taking it. So it is that we continue to receive the spiritual medicine we need through confession.

To the question, as to how to be rid of persistent evil thoughts, Abba Poimen answered in the fourth century: “If a man has on one side of him fire, and on the other side a vessel with water, then if he starts burning from the fire, he takes water from the vessel and extinguishes the fire. Like to this are the evil thoughts, suggested by the enemy of our salvation, which like a spark can enkindle sinful desires within man. It is necessary to put out these sparks with the water, which is prayer and the yearning of the soul for God.”

Back in my smokejumping days with the Forest Service, most of the forest fires we parachuted in to fight were caused by lightning strikes. No sooner would we have one fire under control than we would have another one to fight, and another, and another. Lightning does not simply strike once in a storm, and certainly evil thoughts in the same way do not simply come our way once. If an evil thought has caused us to stumble at some point, then we will be tested by that thought many times. So it is that we will need to be putting that “water on those sparks” that Abba Poimen mentioned, over and over again. No matter how long the struggle continues, it will always be worth it!

Let the final thought on this matter be from that man who finally found victory after so many, many years of struggle, the Elder Joseph the Hesychast:

God always helps. He always comes in time, but patience is necessary. He hears us immediately when we cry out to Him, but not in accordance with our own way of thinking .… Since you do not see beyond what is apparent and do not know how God governs the world, you want your request to be fulfilled like lightning. But this is not how things are. The Lord wants patience. He wants you to show your faith. You cannot just pray like a parrot. It is necessary also to work towards whatever one prays for, and then to learn to wait. You see that what you longed for in the past has finally happened. However, you were harmed because you didn’t have the patience to wait, in which case you would have gained both the one and the other: both the temporal and the eternal ….

So then, there is no point in losing heart, getting upset, complaining. You must close your mouth. Let no one perceive that you are disturbed. Don’t fume with anger, as if to work it out of your system, but rather be calm. Burn the devil through patience and forbearance. The Lord, Who destroys all who speak lies, is my witness that I have greatly benefited by the advice I am giving you. The temptations I had were strong enough to make you think that your soul would depart due to the pain, as if from a flaming furnace. Nevertheless, once the trial is over, so much consolation comes that you feel as if you were in paradise without a body”.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶103. There is a demon who comes to us when we are lying in bed and shoots at us evil and unclean thoughts, so that when we do not stand for prayer and thus are not armed against them, we may fall asleep with these foul thoughts and then have foul dreams too.
¶104. There is an evil spirit, called the forerunner, who assails us as soon as we awake from sleep and defiles our first thought. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start. It is worth hearing what an expert told me: 'From my morning,' he said, 'I know the course of the whole day.'

Children and Church
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Children and Church
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann - Apr 4th, 2011

As a general rule, children like attending Church, and this instinctive attraction to and interest in Church services is the foundation on which we must build our religious education. When parents worry that children will get tired because services are long and are sorry for them, they usually subconsciously express their concern not for their children but for themselves. Children penetrate more easily than do adults into the world of ritual, of liturgical symbolism. They feel and appreciate the atmosphere of our Church services. The experience of Holiness, the sense of encounter with Someone Who is beyond daily life, that mysterium tremendum that is at the root of all religion and is the core of our services is more accessible to our children than it is to us. “Except ye become as little children,” these words apply to the receptivity, the open-mindedness, the naturalness, which we lose when we grow out of childhood. How many men have devoted their lives to the service of God and consecrated themselves to the Church because from childhood they have kept their love for the house of worship and the joy of liturgical experience! Therefore, the first duty of parents and educators is to “suffer little children and forbid them not” (Matt. 19:14) to attend Church. It is in Church before every place else that children must hear the word of God. In a classroom the word is difficult to understand, it remains abstract, but in church it is in its own element. In childhood we have the capacity to understand, not intellectually, but with our whole being, that there is no greater joy on earth than to be in Church, to participate in Church services, to breathe the fragrance of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is “the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit.”

Church attendance should be complemented from the earliest days of childhood by the home atmosphere, which precedes and prolongs the mood of the Church. Let us take Sunday morning. How can a child sense the holiness of that morning and of that which he will see in Church if the home is full of the blare of radio and TV, the parents are smoking and reading the papers, and there reigns a generally profane atmosphere? Church attendance should be preceded by a sense of being gathered in, a quiet, a certain solemnity. The lighting of vigil lights before the icons, the reading of the Scripture lessons, clean and fresh clothes, the festively tidied-up rooms – so frequently parents do not realize how all these things shape the religious consciousness of the child, make an imprint which no later tribulations will ever efface. On the eve and on the day of Sundays and Church feasts, during Lent, on the days when we prepare ourselves for Confession and Communion, the home must reflect the Church, must be illuminated by the light that we bring back from worship.

And now let us speak of the school. It seems self-evident to me that to organize so-called “Sunday School” lessons during Divine Liturgy is in deep contradiction with the spirit of Orthodoxy. The Sunday Liturgy is a joyful gathering of the Church community, and the child must know and experience this long before he is able to understand the deep meaning of this gathering. It seems to me that the choice of Sunday for church school is not a very good one. Sunday is primarily a liturgical day; therefore, it should be Church-centered and Liturgy-centered. It would be far better to have church school on Saturdays before the Vigil or Vespers service. The argument that parents cannot and will not bring children to church twice a week is merely admitting indolence and sinful negligence of what is important to our children. Saturdayevening is the beginning of Sunday and should be liturgically sanctified just as much as Sunday morning. Why, in all Orthodox churches the world over Vespers or the Vigil is served on the eve of Feasts and Sundays. There is no reason why we too cannot arrange our church life according to principle: School—Vespers—Liturgy, where School would be for children the essential preparation and introduction to the Day of the Lord, His resurrection.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When we are lying in bed, let us be especially sober and vigilant

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 15 ~ On Chastity

¶53. When we are lying in bed, let us be especially sober and vigilant, because then our mind struggles with the demons without our body, and if it is sensual, it readily becomes a traitor.
¶54. Always let the remembrance of death and the Prayer of Jesus, being of single phrase, go to sleep with you and get up with you; for you will find nothing to equal these aids during sleep.

Do All Non-Orthodox People Go to Hell?
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Do All Non-Orthodox People Go to Hell?
Fr. Bill Olnhausen - May 30th, 2011

Question: When Church Fathers such as Cyprian of Carthage make such bold statements as, “He cannot have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother,” does that mean that all non-Orthodox people are going to hell? What is the Orthodox perspective on the condition of Christians and non-Christians outside of the Holy Orthodox Church?

Fr. Bill Olnhausen responds: Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky was even bolder when he wrote, “Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church.” Let’s define terms. “Salvation” (soteria in Greek) means spiritual wholeness, health. Salvation is not an instant experience, nor is it a reward for getting a passing grade in holiness, nor is it the result of God’s arbitrarily waiving heaven’s entrance requirements.
Salvation is the successful completion of a long process of spiritual growth, until finally we become “perfect, just as [our] Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Salvation consists of becoming holy. In order to be saved, we must cooperate with God’s saving process. This requires a correct understanding of God, a right relationship with God-”true doctrine” and “true worship.”

The Church is essential to salvation for many reasons:

1) We cannot save ourselves. God alone can save us. The only way to perfection and eternal life is through union with the eternal and all-perfect God who is life, and who pours His saving power into us. God is salvation.

2) Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, through whom we are united with God. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus Christ is salvation.

3) The Church is the Body of Christ, an essential part of Christ’s Incarnation, through which we are united with Christ. We are saved in the midst of a community. Salvation is not individual, but corporate. The Church is where Christ our God saves us. Therefore, the Church is salvation and salvation is found in the Church.

4) Orthodox believe that by His grace God has revealed and preserved “true doctrine” and “true worship” in the Holy Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is the true Church.

Does this mean that all now outside the Church will go to hell? No. Bishop Kallistos Ware suggests that “While there is no division between a `visible’ and an ‘invisible’ Church yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense we cannot always say” (The Orthodox Church, p. 248, 1993 edition). Christ our God may be working in others in ways unknown to us and even to them, to bring them to salvation. And in due time, perhaps not till after death, they may recognize God and accept Christ and be united to His Body the Church-so that they can be saved.

This is in accord with the teaching of Christ. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), notice that it is the “nations” (v. 32), the nonbelievers, who are being judged (this is obvious, because they are surprised to learn that Christ dwells in the needy), and some of them are welcomed into the “kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world” (v. 34).

Regarding God’s mysterious work outside the Orthodox Church, we have nothing to say. We make no judgments about what God is doing there, or about what happens to the souls of those who are not Orthodox or not Christian on earth. It is all we can do to try to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Destoying the eight passions

Venerable John of Damascus ~ On the Virtues and the Vices

You should also learn to distinguish the impassioned thoughts that promote every sin. The thoughts that encompass all evil are eight in number: those of gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem and pride. It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not these eight thoughts are going to arise and disturb us. But to dwell on them or not to dwell on them, to excite the passions or not to excite them, does lie within our power.

In this connection, we should distinguish between seven different terms: provocation, coupling, passion, wrestling, captivity, assent (which comes very close to performance), and actualization. Provocation is simply a suggestion coming from the enemy, like "do this" or "do that," such as our Lord himself experienced when he heard the words, "Command that these stones become bread." Coupling is the acceptance of the thought suggested by the enemy. It means dwelling on the thought and choosing deliberately to dally with it in a pleasurable manner. Passion is the state resulting from coupling ... it means letting the imagination brood on the thought continually. Wrestling is the resistance offered to the impassioned thought.... Captivity is the forcible and compulsive abduction of the heart already dominated by prepossession and long habit. Assent is giving approval to the passion inherent in the thought. Actualization is the putting the impassioned thought into effect once it has received our assent. If we can confront the first of these things, the provocation, in a dispassionate way, or firmly rebut it at the outset, we thereby cut off at once everything that comes after.

These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; unchastity by the desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance, and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying with a contrite heart; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee, and by considering oneself the least of all men. When the intellect has been freed in this way from the passions we have described and been raised to God, it will henceforth lead the life of blessedness, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit. And when it departs this life, dispassionate and full of true knowledge, it will stand before the light of the Holy Trinity and with the divine angels will shine in glory through all eternity.

Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
May 11th, 2011

Modern life is a too-busy life. We are all driven to work faster and faster and more and more efficiently. Our kids are involved in multiple activities with demanding schedules. With all the demands of work and family, there is little time left for reflection and prayer. As a result we can become insensitive to the needs of others and feel the burden of stress. Such a fast-paced life makes us feel tense, inefficient, insecure and even superficial.

There are many ways you can slow down and simplify your life. To start the process, you can begin by getting up earlier. (which means you also need to go to bed earlier.) When you get up in the morning, your first activity should be prayer. At least thirty minutes is desirable (start with 15 minutes and work up to 30 minutes). This includes prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and intercession. You also should include the practice of the Jesus Prayer at this time. After you have prayed and you have taken care of all your personal hygiene needs, you should plan time for your other responsibilities such as getting the kids ready for school. You should allow time for a leisurely breakfast. Help others in your household get off to a peaceful start of the day. You do not want to start the day being pressured by time. Remember, harried people create harried people and calm people create calm people. If you don’t start the day with calmness there is not much chance that the rest of the day will be calm.

The easiest way to find this time is to examine the way you spend time with the different forms of media such as television, the Internet or the cell phone. Most likely, television is the biggest culprit. Give up just one of your programs and you will automatically have an extra hour to start the day off on the right foot. Media usage places a huge burden on all our lives. A recent survey by Nielsen Media Research shows that the average person spends more time than ever in front of the TV, over 133 hours a month. In addition, we spend on average another 26 hours using the Internet. Both of these have shown significant increases over the prior year. Now the phone is connected to the Internet and we can even spend another 3 hours watching video and TV on the phone. The mobile phone is becoming a significant use of our time as well as being an instrument that diverts and scatters our attention. So, this is the prime area to look to reallocate your use of time so you can make time to be with family and friends, to help others in need, or to make time for your daily prayer, attend worship services and most importantly to get a calm start each day. If you watch TV or surf the Internet to get relief from the tensions of the day or because of boredom, prayer will bring you even greater benefits.

To change the pace of your life, eliminate some activities from your “To Do” list. Identify those things that do not promote your spiritual growth and conflict with the Orthodox way of life. At work you carefully set priorities and make sure you are doing those things that are the most important. Do the same for your personal life. At the end of the work day you need to separate yourself from the work activities. If you leave work at work, then you can better enjoy your friends and family when you are off work. You will be able to take time to listen to your children and your spouse. The end of the day should be one of slowing down until it is time for your regular period for prayer, to read some Scripture, or to read from the works of the Church Fathers. Have your conversation with God, and then go to bed focused on His love and great mercy. Organize your life so this period after work is a leisure time detached from all work activities.

Do not confuse slowing down with being lazy or slothful. These are quite different things. Laziness leads to procrastination and inefficiency. A lazy person will not make the effort to organize time for prayer. As you slow down you will find you pay more attention to the details. Concentrate on even the smallest things you are doing. The quality of your actions will improve in everything you do.

Jesus constantly warns against having anxiety about material things, even food and clothing. God knows and provides everything you need, but most likely you have taken your needs and exaggerated them beyond what are your basic necessities. To follow Jesus, He asks you to abandon your attachment to possessions and the priority you are placing on things of this created world, and to take on a simpler lifestyle focused on God where you are not encumbered with excessive demands to accumulate material things for your happiness. The key is a balance. Plato and Aristotle taught mankind, hundreds of years before Christ, that the ideal is a golden mean, which implies a path through life that is neither burdened with excess nor with deprivation. By slowing down or simplifying our lives we are not talking about being less productive or rejecting the whole of this material world. We are simply being more effective, balanced, and doing what we do with much greater care, which includes the exercise of the moral imperatives that God has laid down for us.

There is no magic formula to slowing down and simplifying your life. The possibilities are endless. Start by clarifying your priority values. Then make a list of all your activities. Record them over a week’s time. Take time to reflect on what you have recorded and determine which ones fit with your priorities. Think about what you can eliminate to put a different priority in place in your life. Begin to consciously reengineer your pattern of life. Experiment with ways to slow down and simplify and you will find yourself coming closer to God in your daily activities. Through your prayers, seek God’s help in this task.



Bob Simon steps back in time when he gets rare access to monks in ancient monasteries on a remote Greek peninsula who have lived a Spartan life of prayer in a tradition virtually unchanged for a thousand years.

Related Videos
60 Minutes Extra: Mt. Athos' autonomy
60 Minutes Extra: Bastions of the Orthodox faith
60 Minutes Extra: Life on Mt. Athos
60 Minutes Overtime: Behind-the-scenes travelogue to holy Mt. Athos

Monday, June 13, 2011

The beasts were there in hiding all the time

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶185. We should not be dismayed if we find that we are more passionate at the outset of the monastic life than we were in our life in the world. For we have to remove the causes of sickness, and then health will come to us. The beasts were there in hiding all the time, only they did not show themselves.

The Liturgical Effectiveness of Pews
Orthodox Christianity and the World

A Call for Liturgical Renewal:
The Liturgical Effectiveness of Pews
St. Michael's Skete (OCA) - Mar 26, 2009

Implied in the Orthodox liturgical tradition, and axiomatic as well in the modern Liturgical Movement, is the basic principle that what we do and what we say in corporate worship directly influences our beliefs, our attitudes and our daily behavior. That influence is indeed one of liturgical worship's intended effects. Liturgy teaches. Liturgy is designed to affect life. Bad liturgy therefore has bad effects. Heretical worship sows the seeds of error. Boring services of worship bore. But the Divine Liturgy served in the beauty of holiness manifests the light of truth and inspires holy living.

Few Orthodox believers in North America today would deny the validity of the above fundamental principle, especially when it comes to using, the language of the people in our services of worship. For how can the Word take full effect, if that sacred Word is spoken exclusively in a foreign tongue? We are quite conscious as well that the quality of the preaching, the excellence of the teaching, the beauty of the iconography, the loveliness of the singing, and everything else that contributes to the liturgical celebration, also directly influence the thinking and the living of those who participate in that Liturgy. But have we thought about the direct effects of having pews (or rows of chairs) installed in our churches for use during the Divine Liturgy and the other rites of the Church?

Few Orthodox believers in North America today would deny the validity of the above fundamental principle, especially when it comes to using, the language of the people in our services of worship. For how can the Word take full effect, if that sacred Word is spoken exclusively in a foreign tongue? We are quite conscious as well that the quality of the preaching, the excellence of the teaching, the beauty of the iconography, the loveliness of the singing, and everything else that contributes to the liturgical celebration, also directly influence the thinking and the living of those who participate in that Liturgy. But have we thought about the direct effects of having pews (or rows of chairs) installed in our churches for use during the Divine Liturgy and the other rites of the Church?

Are pews, which we borrowed not so very long ago from the Protestants and the Roman Catholics (who borrowed them from the Protestants) a liturgical accretion without consequences? Or, do pews (and pew-like rows of chairs) make a significant difference in the life of the Church? Or is the idea they do make a difference perhaps only the bothersome complaint of reactionaries who want to obstruct the progress of Orthodoxy in the name of a false traditionalism? Asking ourselves these questions, we came up with the following painful observations. They lead us to the inescapable conclusion that pews and rows of chairs make a significant difference, a big difference, in our Orthodox Christian lives. That has absolutely nothing to do with jurisdictional differences or with shades of opinion in the Church, or with labels like "traditionalist" and "modernist." It has everything to do with the Orthodox understanding of the Body of Christ, and the nature of liturgical worship.

Whether we want to believe it or whether we don't, pews (or rows of chairs) influence the way we think about the Church. Pews mold the way we think about the Liturgy itself. Pews affect the way we think about ourselves as Orthodox Christian lay people. Pews directly influence our spirituality and our behavior. The use of pews is shaping the future of Orthodoxy in North America.

Here are just some of the remarkable things a "mere addition" to Orthodox worship like pews accomplishes. A few of the following comments may come across as sarcastic. They are not. They are simply an open expression of what possibly a majority of lay people, and maybe even a few clergy, think in their "heart of hearts." These ideas have taken root among us in large part because pews have taught us to think them.

1) Pews teach the lay people to stay in their place, which is to passively watch what's going on up front, where the clergy perform the Liturgy on their behalf. Pews preach and teach that religion and spirituality is the job of the priest, to whom we pay a salary to be religious for us, since it is just too much trouble and just too difficult for the rest of us to be spiritual in the real world of modern North America. Pews serve the same purpose as seats in theaters and bleachers in the ball park; we perch on them (even during the Litanies which are the specific prayer of the People) to watch the professionals perform: the clergy and the professionally-trained altar servers, while the professionally-trained choir sings for our entertainment.

2) In teaching us to sit back and relax, pews give us the impression that any inconvenience, much less suffering no matter how slight, is foreign to the Christian life. Aren't you supposed to enjoy church and have fun as a Christian? Church is one of the few times we can take it easy and avoid real life. We don't come to church to work. (But doesn't the word liturgy mean precisely, "the work of the people"?) How many American Orthodox today have the "legs of steel" of old world Orthodoxy? Pews teach us to be spiritual wimps. "Could you not watch with me one hour?" asks the Lord. Would we who shrink from standing one hour, be willing to suffer for Christ, as millions of our Orthodox brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers in this very century have had to suffer?

3) Pews destroy the traditional feeling of freedom in church. With the installation of pews, we are no longer "bothered" with all the moving around which used to take place. You know, grandmothers lighting candies, children kissing icons, and the worshippers gathering around their priest like a family gathered about their father.

4) Pews fill up the open space in the middle of our temples, where the clergy and the people used to join together in a sort of sacred dance as the clergy, censing and processing, moved amidst the constantly changing configuration of the Laity.

Today this is reduced to the priest and servers marching in and marching out. How can we dance with pews on the ballroom floor? Pews transform worship for us into the merely formal and frosty affair that it has become in mainline American religion. The colder worship gets, the less attention we must pay to the unreal demands that religion, as our forebears knew it, puts on us. Certainly we can't allow our religion to become our way of life, if we expect to get ahead in the real world.

5) If children must be brought into the Church, at least they can play under the pews, where they won't be distracted by the ceremonies going on up front. Do kids understand all that anyway? Wouldn't they be better off in Sunday School coloring pictures and playing games, where they don't bother the adults while they sit back and enjoy the liturgical music concert?

6) Although pews are admittedly not a feature of the Orthodox liturgical tradition as our ancestors knew it, we're in America now, and here things are different. We need to be relevant. The more we can be just like the big and important religions in America, the more influence Orthodox Christianity will have. We can't afford to lose our big chance to mold American thought, and we will lose it if we cling to silly traditions with a little t, like pewless temples. And besides, is it not crystal clear that if we look too different we won't be able to achieve prestige, success and power in our society? Isn't that what life is all about?

7) Thanks to pews, on the weekdays of Lent we no longer have to endure those humiliating prostrations. Other [Christian groups] don't do that kind of thing in church, not even the Catholics. Why should we? And during funerals, pews spare us from gathering around the casket like we used to. Isn't the function of the modern funeral to shield us from the unpleasantness of death? The accepted modern American view is that we never really die, we just fade away.

These blunt observations are not meant to offend, but to hammer the point home vividly. The Liturgical Movement and the Orthodox liturgical tradition are both absolutely right: what we do in liturgical worship molds our thinking, attitudes and behavior. That's precisely why the issue of pews is so critically important. We hope this call for renewal will not be dismissed out of hand as "off the wall extremism," for this is not a "party" issue; it is a matter of life and death for American Orthodoxy. Pews are a spiritual carcinogen. Like Social Security in politics, pews may be an "untouchable" issue, but in spite of that, Orthodox America must begin renewal in this regard.

The pews in our churches are a much bigger problem than the use of foreign languages, for pews silently speak louder than words. Pews outshout the greatest of preachers and the most effective of teachers. Pews skillfully contradict the most excellent administrator and the most caring pastor. Pews drown out the words of our greatest scholars. A parish priest can brilliantly teach his flock about the place of the Laity as members in the priestly Body of Christ and co-celebrants in the Divine Liturgy, while the pews his people are sitting in, with the subtle dynamics of liturgical drama, insidiously whisper the very opposite. "Psst ... all you really need to do is pay your dues, call yourself Orthodox, watch the Liturgy, and leave the full-time practice of religion to the paid professionals." Neither unknown languages, nor choirs, nor even operatic compositions, could ever deprive the Laity of their active participation in the Divine Liturgy as members of the priestly Body of Christ. For they also serve who only attentively stand to pray. But when the Laity, as a mistaken gesture of kindness, were given pews so they could sit back, relax and watch the show, it was as if they had been deposed from their Sacred Ministry.

We're not calling for fanatic "pewoclasm." Liturgical renewal must not be divorced from loving pastoral concern. But we do need to face it: the use of pews and rows of chairs in our churches is a liturgical distortion which powerfully distorts our self-understanding as Orthodox Christians. We need renewal in the Orthodox teaching that we come to church not to be entertained but to work, to do together the Work of the People, the Holy Liturgy. Perhaps we could begin that renewal by removing several front rows of pews, inviting the faithful to stand before the iconostasis from the Great Entrance through Communion. Then let us progress back as fast as is pastorally feasible to the traditional practice of having seats only around the periphery of the church interior for the elderly, the infirm, for mothers with babies, for the weak and for the tired. That practice is not "merely traditional." It expresses a vital and fundamental aspect of Orthodox liturgical teaching.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Supernatural virtues of the saints

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶126. The man who despairs of himself when he hears of the supernatural virtues of the saints is most unreasonable. On the contrary, they supremely teach you one of two things: either they rouse you to emulation by their holy courage, or they lead you by way of thrice-holy humility to deep self-contempt and realization of your inherent weakness.

Those Kneeling Prayers!
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Those Kneeling Prayers!
Fr. David Thatcher - May 24th, 2010

This past Monday Eve — that is, on Pentecost Sunday afternoon — we prayed the Kneeling Prayers at the Vespers for Holy Spirit Day, on Monday. I love coming to each feast day, in its distinctiveness, and partake of some unique aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ communicated through that liturgical celebration. And Pentecost does not disappoint, with its annual Kneeling Prayers.

Yet, as a priest and the one leading the people of God in these important prayers, I must admit a certain degree of struggle with these prayers. Undoubtedly, “love-hate relationship” is much too strong, but you get what I mean. These prayers are, well, quite long; priests are tempted to read them quickly, which would result in less than full comprehension. They’re read once a year, so there’s no opportunity to absorb them over time by repetition, week by week. They’re written in classic Byzantine style, not certainly in classic English style, with its genius of directness and simple elegance. (You can tell I teach writing, eh?) I wish that I were more pious, less of a sinner, so that such thoughts wouldn’t enter my head like so many birds stealing the fruits of faith, but there you have it.

So, let’s look more closely at them, in order to understand them better. In these Kneeling Prayers there’s actually seven different prayers, done in three sets of kneeling: two in the first set, two in the second set, and three in the third set.

Each set ends, sealed as it were with a lovely capstone, with one of the ancient vesperal prayers for light, from the Great Church of Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. That much makes sense: praying for light as we re-enter the world from the heady days of Pascha-Pentecost, and enter “ordinary time” in our cycle of the church year. We need the light of Christ in the dark paths of this world, as our Gospel for the Feast proclaimed.

I believe that the latter is important to the content of these prayers: all the talk (prayer) about forgiveness, strength, and even death makes sense as we turn the corner from the glory of Pascha and into the normal mode of sacramental discipleship. We kneel. We fast. We sin…and confess. We beg for God’s mercy. We die…or rather enter into eternal rest in the God of the living. These are the dynamics of authentic spirituality and real life in Christ. Such things always involve struggle, spiritual warfare, and self-denial as we joyfully offer up our lives as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable. They are the core of sacramental discipleship, of preparation and fulfillment in our festal cycles, of self-emptying and divine infilling by the Holy Spirit. Walking in the light is no cakewalk. So, we kneel. And we pray, at length, prayers which embrace the various dimensions of being a Christian seeking the fulness of the Spirit of God this Pentecost season.

St. Paul commanded us to pray with understanding. Certainly this is all the more true on the Great Feast of Pentecost. For on this day the Apostles spoke in languages they did not know, in order to be understood by the crowds of non-Palestinian Jews in Jerusalem for the feast. The holy fathers call Pentecost the Anti-Babel: God’s remedy for the confusion of tongues when He judged the builders of Babel. So, we need to understand these Kneeling Prayers. Heed, then, the wise words of the late Father Alexander Schmemann, onetime Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, about these special Pentecostal Prayers:

We are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost” — and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches — for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit – “the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Let those humbled by their passions take courage

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶13. Let those who have been humbled by their passions take courage. For even if they fall into every pit and are trapped in all the snares and suffer all the maladies, yet after their restoration to health they become physicians, beacons, lamps and pilots for all, teaching us the habits of every disease and from their own personal experience able to rescue those who are about to fall.

Three Muslims are Baptized
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Three Muslims are Baptized
Jun 10th, 2011

A week after Fr Zacharias Kerstyuk baptized a Muslim in Spain, three other Muslims who had survived the crippling of the ship decided to become Christians. Fr Zacharias now tells Pravmir how and why this came about.

The last moments before the sacrament

The men who have become Christians are all members of the crew on board the same ship which had been crippled. They are of Georgian nationality. There were six Georgians from Ajaria on board the ship, three Orthodox and three Muslims.

The last moments before the baptism were a trial. I had spoken to the men for a long time and allowed them to be baptized, convinced that they were really ready for it inside themselves. And then at the agreed place on the shore we all waited, with the ship just nearby, but the sailors were not there. We waited for twenty minutes and still they did not come.

I thought to myself: ‘What a pity, but probably they had just given way to emotion and than at the critical moment they changed their minds’. The captain had come long before the service was to begin. But then another moment went by and we saw the men hurrying towards us, smiling.

Now they are Orthodox Christians.

The change in their consciousness had not at all been sudden

They had been impressed by what the captain had done, they had been penetrated by his zeal for Christ and his gratitude. However, the change in their consciousness, unlike with the captain, had not at all been sudden.

At first they had thought about it, watched what was happening and asked questions. It was clear that something profound was going on inside them. And then, some time later, they told me their intentions.

Two of the young men have Christian wives and they supported their husbands in their decision. On the eve of the baptism I spoke to the wife of one of the new converts on the telephone and she is very happy because now their family is of the same faith.

They had searched for God and found Him

I thank God for this event that has happened in my life as a pastor. This past month there have been so many things happening in my priest’s soul, more than ever before. They had searched for God and found Him.

Now there are only three Muslims left on board the ship, two Turks and one Syrian. The Turks are getting on in years and probably would not want to change anything in their view of life, although they realize that something they cannot explain has happened. The Syrian is a convinced Shiite. I know from Libya that it is virtually impossible to convert a Shiite to Christianity. But nevertheless they all continue to wear the crosses they have recently been given with pleasure and they glorify Jesus. They say: ‘The prophet Isa helped us’.

After they had been baptized, the Georgians fixed up a real feast for our parish, with Georgian dishes and songs. They even ran up their flag. I have not seen people so happy for a long time.

‘I remember who I am now’

I and the ship’s captain who was baptized the day before continue to meet and talk with warmth. He helped organize the baptisms. He tries to take communion more often, asks me about the prayer rule and whenever we meet he always smiles and makes the sign of the cross, as if to say: ‘I remember who I am now’.


Friday, June 10, 2011

The temptation to retire from our place

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 4 ~ On Obedience

¶109. It is impossible that the devil should act contrary to his own will. Let those living a heedless life, whether persevering in one solitary place or in a community, convince you of this. Let the temptation to retire from our place be the proof for us that our life here is pleasing to God. For being warred against is a sign that we are making war.

A Muslim is Baptized
Orthodox Christianity and the World

A Muslim is Baptized
Jun 8th, 2011

This story comes from Archpriest Zacharias Kerstyuk, who works for the external relations department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Fr Zacharias used to look after the parishioners at St Andrew’s Church at the Ukrainian Embassy in Tripoli in Libya, but now serves in Spain.

The Muslim

He is Turkish, a ship’s captain and travels all over the world. He is 49 years old and has spent 25 of those at sea and has been in all sorts of difficult situations. He is a clever man and speaks some five languages.

At Sea

This spring his ship was in the Atlantic, when suddenly it broke down. The main engine stopped and the generators packed up.

They drifted for a long time, unable even to send out an SOS. There was nothing to eat or drink and the crew began to get alarmed. Everything they tried ended in failure. Despair set in. There were over thirty in the crew, Georgians, Syrians, Turks and two Ukrainians. Their only hope was in God.


The Muslim captain began to pray for help. He also saw how sincerely the Georgian Orthodox prayed. Then he himself turned to Jesus: ‘If Jesus helps me, then I’ll become a Christian’, he decided. The day was not over before the engines came back to life.

They reached Algiers on the smoky engines, but the port would not take them in. All they would do was allow them to take some food and drink on board and anchor in their territorial waters. They stood at anchor for a whole month there, waiting for spares from the shipping company. Refusing to wait any longer for help from the ship’s owners, the IMO (International Maritime Organization) ordered them to proceed to the nearest European port. This was Cartagena in Spain. The ship stopped five miles from shore – it had run out of fuel. With great difficulty they were towed into port.

The Baptism

Since there were Ukrainians on board and I am a Ukrainian, I was at once contacted about the irregular situation in which our nationals were involved. I went aboard and met the Ukrainians who introduced me to the rest of the crew. I spoke at length with the captain about Orthodoxy, about God. I saw that the man had really taken a conscious decision.

I had three preparatory talks with the captain. Since this was a very important step I received his wife’s permission. These people had been born into Islam but only kept it superficially, just like the many who among us call themselves Orthodox only because they were baptised in it in childhood.

The wife said that she accepted her husband’s decision, as that was his will.

The man said to me: ‘I want to be Orthodox, Jesus helped me, I’ll keep everything that is asked of me because I believe’. Seeing such a firm will in him, I baptized him in the Mediterranean Sea.

He told me that he had never sensed or felt the presence of God in Islam, but he could feel Jesus in his heart. The next Sunday the captain came to communion for the first time.

The Crew

The captain invited his friends to the service, six of whom also took communion. I have not seen people taking communion with such devotion for a long time the way he did. At the moment another two sailors in the crew also want to get baptized. We are having preparatory talks and I hope to baptize them next week.

At my first talk with the captain, I asked: ‘Aren’t you afraid that the Muslim sailors will cut your throat?’ He answered: ‘So what, I’ll lock the doors tighter at night’.

During the talk Muslim sailors came along and looked at me in such a way that I felt frightened. The second meeting was much more pleasant and the third very easy. I answered their questions. We spoke about life, joked and I showed them crosses which I offered them.

They took them, put them on and I heard them talking to each other: ‘Perhaps it’s true and Jesus did help?’ After that I went to see them again and I saw them, Syrians and Turks, still wearing the crosses around their necks as before. Having been at death’s door, these people can now make sense of a lot more.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The place in which we are attacked

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 15 ~ On Chastity

¶62. As we have said before, some people in hermitages suffer far more severe attacks from the enemy. And no wonder! For the demons haunt such places, since the Lord in His care for our salvation has driven them into the deserts and the abyss. Demons of fornication cruelly assail the hesychast in order to drive him back into the world, as having received no benefit from the desert. Demons keep away from us when we are living in the world, that we may go on staying among worldly-minded people because we are not attacked there. Hence we should realize that the place in which we are attacked is the one in which we are certainly waging bitter war on the enemy; for if we ourselves are not waging war, the enemy is found to be our friend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Changed intention

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 22 ~ On Vainglory

¶30. Often after being stripped by vainglory, we turn and strip it more cleverly. I have seen some who began spiritual activity out of vainglory, and although they made a bad start, yet the end proved praiseworthy, because they changed their intention.

Euthanasia and The Sixth Commandment
Orthodox Christianity and the World

Euthanasia and The Sixth Commandment
Archpriest Victor Potapov - Apr 20th, 2007

Thou shalt not kill.

All societies have attached great importance to death and dying. Our many forebears who lived in agricultural communities accepted death fatalistically: Death was just in the nature of things and accepted with customary ceremonies. Contemporary industrial and postindustrial societies, however, have new set of experiences and sensibility in the problems of death and dying. Medical science and technology permit us to prolong life, and we live much longer than our forebears. However, many older people do not find that the additional years turn out to be the best time of life, but that they are a slow and steady advance into enemy country. For some, this experience can be unbearable.

In 1990, Americans were shaken by the following event: Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired pathologist, constructed and offered to interested persons a device that journalists christened “the suicide machine.” At the request of a 54-year old woman who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he inserted into one of her veins a syringe connected to this machine. The patient pressed a button, a solution of potassium chlorate began to enter the vein, and within a few minutes her heart stopped.

In the Netherlands, the sick who experience unbearable sufferings can now ask a physician to help them die. If several physicians testify to the incurability of the illness, the sick person can get a lethal injection. Opponents of such “medical assistance” are careful to point out that such injections–when used to execute the death sentence for criminals in American prisons–are frequently called “a cruel and inhuman punishment.”

Does a person have the right to end his life with dignity? Must a physician or a guardian prolong a person’s life when it is obvious that he has no chance to lead a “normal life”? Can an ethical physician cut short the life of a hopelessly sick person to free him from unbearable suffering? These questions are timely because life expectancy keeps increasing, and mankind strives to better the quality of life on earth. Every physician and priest and every other person who has anything to do with the sick and dying must answer these questions. The Church does have a teaching concerning “euthanasia,” which is a Greek word meaning “a good death.”

The Orthodox Church teaches that euthanasia is the deliberate cessation of human life must be condemned as murder. However, the headlong progress of medical technology and artificial means of sustaining life requires that Church moral theologians define the Church approach more precisely, to the problem of euthanasia and the problematic “right of a person to put an end to his life.”

To define more precisely, let us say that euthanasia is killing people painlessly who are hopelessly sick. Advocates point out that contemporary medicine for the hopelessly sick does not help their recovery but prolongs their dying. In turn, one must ask it is murder, not to use the good things of contemporary medicine to prolong the life of the hopelessly ill.

The Church Fathers taught that death is unnatural for man, because man was created not for death but for life. Along with suffering and illness, Death does not occurs according to God’s will. The Book of Wisdom says–For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things, that they might have their being (Wisdom 1:13-14). And in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we read: For I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore, be converted and live (Ezekiel 13:32).

The Holy Fathers taught that the meaning of Adam’s sin is that man, who was created in the image and likeness of God and infused with breath by His Spirit, chose death instead of life, chose evil instead of righteousness. And so death passed upon all men, for that in him [Adam] all have sinned (Romans 5:12), says the Apostle Paul. And having sinned, man brought death also to his children, who share his nature and life.

Spiritual life for the Christian is first dying with Christ to sin and the world and then passing with Him through the experience of bodily death in order to be resurrected in the Kingdom of God. Christians must transfigure their own death in the affirmation of life, meeting the tragedy of death with faith in the Lord and conquering, according to the words of the Apostle Paul, the last enemy death (I Corinthians 15:26) by the power of one’s faith.

I am the resurrection, and the life: He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).

The deeply believing Christian must be ready to accept any death, for his faith in the Resurrection and in the infinite goodness of God are measured by his acceptance of death. A Christian is called to have the remembrance of death, that is, not to forget his mortality, but to remember that the final triumph of light will appear only after the resurrection of the dead. Preparedness for death does not mean that earthly life loses its value. On the contrary, it remains the greatest good, and the Christian is called unto the fullness of the present life, insofar as he can fill each moment of this life with the light of Christ’s love.

This patristic description of life and death implies that a Christian is forbidden to participate in the deliberate cessation of the life of others, including the lives of the hopelessly ill.

Although the Church suffers together with people in extreme misfortune, the Church cannot forget her mission to preserve the sacred gift of life. The Church approves the use of various medicines and even narcotics to decrease the physical pain of the sufferer. Where death is clear and inescapable, and when the person is spiritually prepared for death by means of confession and communion, the Church blesses that person to die, without the interference of various life-prolonging medical devices and drugs.

The Church tries to instill in the sufferer that his illness is caused by sin: his own and that of the whole world too. If he bears his sickness righteously, manfully, and patiently, that is, with faith, hope and even joy, then he becomes the world=s greatest witness to God’s salvation. Such patience is the glorification of God amid suffering and sickness. It is the greatest offering that man can ever make during his life on earth.

All the saints suffered some physical infirmity. Even those who healed others by their prayers never asked for healing. And the obvious example is Jesus Himself. For as much then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, teaches the Apostle Peter in his First Epistle, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God (I Peter 4:1-2).

According to the grace given us by the Lord, Christians must spiritually partake of the sufferings of Christ. Inasmuch as the Church blesses the hopelessly ill person to prepare for death consciously, not resorting to artificial means of life-support, the Church decisively parts from those who would call prolong the life of all of the dying by any means. In Her prayers at the parting of the soul from the body, the Church prays for God to send to the hopelessly ill a speedy and painless end. The Church teaches that prolonged life of the hopelessly ill conflicts with God’s planning for that person. One ought not to generalize. Maintaining the life of the each gravely ill individual needs a careful and all-round discussion with the relatives of the ill person, his physician, and spiritual director, together with prayer for God’s guidance.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for men

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 26 ~ On Discernment

¶31. Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion for stumbling in anything in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow?

Venerable John of Damascus ~ Funeral Hymns in the Eight Tones

Tone 1
Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth has stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more illusive than dreams; comes one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Thy countenance, the sweetness of Thy beauty, to him (her) whom Thou hast chosen grant repose, for Thou art the Friend of Mankind.

Tone 2
Like a blossom that wastes away, and like a dream that passes and is gone, so is every mortal into dust resolved; but again, when the trumpet sounds its call, as though at a quaking of the earth, all the dead shall arise and go forth to meet Thee, O Christ our God: on that day, O Lord, for him (her) whom Thou hast withdrawn from among us appoint a place in the dwellings of Thy Saints; yea, for the spirit of Thy servant, O Christ.

Another in Tone 2
Alas! What an agony the soul endures when from the body it is parting; how many are her tears for weeping, but there is none that will show compassion: unto the angels she turns with downcast eyes; useless are her supplications; and unto men she extends her imploring hands, but finds none to bring her rescue. Thus, my beloved brethren, let us all ponder well how brief is the span of our life; and peaceful rest for him (her) that now is gone, let us ask of Christ, and also His abundant mercy for our souls.

Tone 3
Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come; our wealth is with us no longer. How can our glory go with us? For when death has come all these things are vanished clean away. Wherefore to Christ the Immortal King let us cry, To him (her) that has departed grant repose where a home is prepared for all those whose hearts Thou hast filled with gladness.

Tone 4
Terror truly past compare is by the mystery of death inspired; now the soul and the body part, disjoined by resistless might, and their concord is broken; and the bond of nature which made them live and grow as one, now by the edict of God is rent in two. Wherefore now we implore Thy aid grant that Thy servant now gone to rest where the just that are Thine abide, Life-bestower and Friend of Mankind.

Another in Tone 4
Where is now our affection for earthly things? Where is now the alluring pomp of transient questing? Where is now our gold, and our silver? Where is now the surging crowd of domestics, and their busy cries? All is dust, all is ashes, all is shadow. Wherefore draw near that we may cry to our immortal King, Lord, Thy everlasting blessings vouchsafe unto him (her) that now has gone away, bringing him (her) to repose in that blessedness which never grows old.

Tone 5
I called to mind the Prophet who shouted, I am but earth and ash. And once again I looked with attention on the tombs, and I saw the bones therein which of flesh were naked; and I said, Which indeed is he that is king? Or which is soldier? Which is the wealthy, which the needy? Which the righteous, or which the sinner? But to Thy servant, O Lord, grant that with the righteous he (she) may repose.

Tone 6
My beginning and foundation was the form-bestowing Word of Thy commandment; for it pleased Thee to make me by compounding visible and invisible nature into a living thing. Out of earth was my body formed and made, but a soul Thou didst give me by the Divine and Life-creating In-breathing. Wherefore, O Christ, to Thy servant in the land of the living, in the courts of the righteous, grant repose.

Tone 7
Bring to his (her) rest, O our Savior, Thou giver of life, our brother (sister) whom Thou hast withdrawn from this transient world, for he (she) lifts up his (her) voice to cry: Glory to Thee.

Another in Tone 7
When in Thine own image and likeness Thou in the beginning didst create and fashion man, Thou didst give him a home in Paradise, and make him the chief of Thy creation. But by the devils envy, alas, beguiled to eat the fruit forbidden, transgressor then of Thy commandments he became; wherefore back to earth, from which he first was taken, Thou didst sentence him to return again, O Lord, and to pray Thee to give him rest.

Tone 8
Weep, and with tears lament when with understanding I think on death, and see how in the graves there sleeps the beauty which once for us was fashioned in the image of God, but now is shapeless, ignoble, and bare of all the graces. O how strange a thing; what is this mystery which concerns us humans? Why were we given up to decay? And why to death united in wedlock? Truly, as it is written, these things come to pass by ordinance of God, Who to him (her) now gone gives rest.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
The death which Thou hast endured, O Lord, has become the harbinger of deathlessness; if Thou hadst not been laid in Thy tomb, then would not the gates of Paradise have been opened; wherefore to him (her) now gone from us give rest, for Thou art the Friend of Mankind.

Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Virgin chaste and holy, Gateway of the Word, Mother of our God, make supplication that his (her) soul find mercy.

One virtue only which the demons cannot imitate

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 25 ~ On Humility

¶17. In the whole universe there is one place that has only once seen the sun, and there is one thought which has often given birth to humility. And there was one day only on which the whole world rejoiced, and there is one virtue only which the demons cannot imitate.

Commentaries suggest the following interpretation:
"One place" = Bottom of the Red Sea.
"One thought" = Remembrance of Death and Crucifixion
"One day" = Christ's Resurrection, Christ's Nativity or Noah's Leaving the Ark
"One virtue" = Humility.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Walk the way of humility

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 25 ~ On Humility

¶58. The Master, knowing that the virtue of the soul is modeled on outward behavior, took a towel and showed us how to walk the way of humility. For the soul becomes like its bodily occupations. It conforms itself to its activities and takes its shape from them. Authority served as a ground for arrogance for one of the angels, although that was not why it was conferred on him.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Just as a furnace tests gold

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 19 ~ On Sleep and Prayer

¶8. Just as a furnace tests gold, so the practice of prayer tests the monk's zeal and love for God.

Constantly wrestle with your thought

Venerable John Climacus ~ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 4 ~ On Obedience

¶92. Constantly wrestle with your thought, and whenever it wanders call it back to you. God does not require from those still under obedience prayer completely free of distractions. Do not despond when your thoughts are plundered, but take courage, and unceasingly recall your mind. Inviolability is proper only to an angel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave!

St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople
The Catechetical Homily on Holy Pascha

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first.
He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.

He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hades, He made Hades captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hades, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Easter Song

Easter Song
People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Nightengales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!

- St. Nikolai Velimirovic

The Angel Cried

Paschal Canon - Ode 9
The angel cried to the Lady full of grace: Rejoice, O pure Virgin.
Again I say: Rejoice. Thy Son is risen from His three days in the tomb.
With himself has he raised all the dead. Rejoice, all ye people.
Shine! Shine! O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you.
Exult now and be glad, O Zion.
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of thy Son.

The Angel Cried

Paschal Canon - Ode 9
The angel cried to the Lady full of grace: Rejoice, O pure Virgin.
Again I say: Rejoice. Thy Son is risen from His three days in the tomb.
With himself has he raised all the dead. Rejoice, all ye people.
Shine! Shine! O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you.
Exult now and be glad, O Zion.
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of thy Son.