The Everyday Martyrdom

Christ being taken down from the cross“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.(Jn 15:13)

I was reminded of the words of Christ while reading last night.  The Christians in the ancient Roman Empire (third century) were being persecuted, turned from their homes, burned, tortured, and beheaded.  A civil war broke out and then a plague infested the area, which distracted the unbelievers from the persecution.

I was deeply moved by the account which St Dionysius the Great wrote* regarding the total selfless and divine love the Christians displayed.  I will quote him at length here:

DIONYSIUS TO THE ALEXANDRIANS

Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.
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The Key to Unlocking the Scriptures

http://www.deviantart.com/art/Hipster-Kitteh-295639576In my Protestant years, I dabbled in a subculture of hip, intellectual Christians.  They knew a bit of Greek, a dash of Hebrew, Jewish customs of the New Testament era, and history and culture of the Judea region during the Roman rule. When studying the Bible, we would ask, What are the underlying Greek/Hebrew words used here? What is the sociological and political context? Who is speaking and who is the audience? What are modern scholars saying about this passage?

TWO UNSPOKEN CONFESSIONS

Now that I am Orthodox, I do not engage in such activities quite as often. It is not that those things are wrong. In fact, when one looks past the intellectual pride of unlocking and parading some unknown meaning in the text, these questions truly reveal an unspoken confession. Namely that we realize a literal, straight-forward reading of the biblical text only reveals partial meanings.  When one’s entire faith relies on the right understanding of a book, that can be problematic. Continue reading

The Fly and The Bee

from http://30-noir.deviantart.com/art/Honeybee-155189173Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.

Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow. Continue reading

Feeling Frustrated with the Spiritual Struggle

from http://joan-kagami.deviantart.com/art/Frustrated-47950294When I began my spiritual struggle shortly after converting to Orthodoxy, I felt frustrated. I had joined a church that felt too demanding: fasting every Wednesday and Friday, pre-communion prayers Saturday nights, an expectation to actually change and live a holy life, morning and evening prayers, feast days and periods of fasting. It all seemed like too much.

There is a rhythm to the life of the Church; entering into it takes time. But I wasn’t used to that. My Protestant upbringing and the American culture made me want instant results, even for sinful habits that were deeply entrenched. In charismatic circles, we would always pray for instantaneous miracles and deliverances from evil. To expect anything less could mean one had weak faith.

At a few points, the temptation entered into my mind: “This is too much for you, and for anyone except the most saintly. You know you can’t settle for mediocrity, and you’re certainly not a saint, so just give up on Orthodoxy. Don’t keep pushing yourself into a lifestyle that is simply too pious for you.” Continue reading

Living in Evil Times

by RadojavoDuring my childhood, I remember hearing adults speak of this world being full of evil.  Many believed in an imminent return of Christ due to the intolerable corruption with which they were surrounded.  I believe it is that sentiment that drives many religious sects to dwell on the book of Revelations and hold the plethora of “end times” discussions that we observe.

Now that I too am an adult I cannot ignore the fact that there is an abundance of evil in this world.  If I am ever in doubt, I have to look no further than a news report regarding whatever events are happening in the Middle East.

THE WORKS OF THE LORD

Yet there is something that has irked me for many years about people becoming hysterical (in its more extreme forms) over the sins of the world.  I don’t believe in the modern myth of progress, but I don’t believe in a fear-based myth of severe regress either.  When surveying the history of mankind and the Church, it seems to me that there has always been evil, yet it permeates culture in varying forms. Continue reading

St Gregory The Wonder Worker

Gregory The Miracle WorkerToday we celebrate the feast day of St Gregory the Wonder Worker (also known as Gregory Thaumaturgus).  I wanted to write about St Gregory because there are many people who believe that the concept of the Trinity was introduced into the Church at the Council of Nicea by Constantine and his “cohorts.”

I remember reading some pamphlet produced by the WatchTower a few years ago that was given to me by Jehovah’s (false) Witnesses.  At that time, I was attempting to figure out what I believed.  Was the church corrupt by the time of Constantine?  Was the doctrine of the Trinity a heretical concept later introduced?  I felt that Jesus was likely God incarnate, but I wanted to be open-minded to counterarguments.  The pamphlet was so full of historical flaws, misquotes of ancient Christian texts, and bad philosophy that I tossed it aside. Continue reading

A Holy Degradation – The Way of Christ

from orthodoxroad.comThere is an unpopular teaching that I frequently see in the scriptures and in the Church Fathers. I say “unpopular” because I did not hear much about it in my Protestant years.

In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul writes, “…a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” He goes on to say he pleaded with the Lord three times to remove this thorn, but the Lord replied:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Paul concludes:

Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s exact ailment has been speculated by many scholars. Continue reading

Dabbling in The Unknown

from http://madeincg.deviantart.com/art/Mysterious-World-327313394There is a peculiar desire in many of us: we want to know that which is hidden.  We are almost instinctively drawn to those who speculate or even pretend to have answers to unanswerable questions.  It is the reason many Christian denominations hold conferences and seminars on unlocking the secrets of the book of Revelations.  They advertise, “This has stumped Christians for 1,900 years, but we got it figured out!”  And they draw a crowd.

Whether it be heaven, hell, toll houses, the salvation of unbelievers, or the end times, we are easily sucked into conversations about things we truly don’t understand.  At most, the scriptures and fathers have only given us hints about these things. Continue reading

The Desert Fathers on Judging and How to Treat Others

1024px-Righteous_Syncletica_of_Alexandria_(Menologion_of_Basil_II)If you have decided to embark on the journey of deepening your faith and your connection with God, you will probably meet resistance on the path of peace very soon.

Amma Theodora, one of the Desert Mothers taught the following:

You should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie*, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away.

I share that quote to encourage you to stay strong in this fight against evil. As soon as you decide you are going to attempt to live a life free of judging others, somebody will do something to annoy you, hurt you, or test you in some way. It is not that person’s fault, but rather it is God allowing your resolve to be tested. Continue reading

Judging Ourselves and Others

AN EXPLANATION

Elder PaisiosI recently wrote about the Restless Emptiness that so many of us feel.  As I mentioned before, the reason we feel restless and empty inside is because we have these alien tyrants called the “passions” ruling us from the throne of our hearts.

My recent posts have been along the same theme: diagnosing and finding the proper therapy for the emptiness that we have within us.  This post follows along those same lines.

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Saying “No” to The Culture

Searching__but_not_seeing__by_LyndzieMany of us in the West have lost interest in philosophical belief systems and are searching for something much deeper. It is that search that brought me to Orthodoxy, and now the healing process has begun. Below is an excerpt I recently read by an Archimandrite on Mt Athos regarding why we feel a restlessness within us:

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The Middle Ages passed. Scholasticism gained strength. Roman Catholicism advanced. St Gregory Palamas, the herald of grace, was treated as deluded and a heretic. The West advanced in its philosophy. Its programme was put into action. It progressed along the lines of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It built technological civilisation, the most elaborate prison man has ever known. Continue reading

What I Learned from The Moon

Crescent moon by Dan McKemy (cropped)

PART 1

A few nights ago, I was admiring the mountain valley that we live in as it was illuminated by the moon light. I thought, “The moon is so bright tonight you could almost read a book with its light.” But at the same time there was something missing.

The moon reflects the light of the sun, but is not a source of light itself (as we all know). No matter its brightness, it fails to provide heat, warmth, or nourishment for life on this earth. The sun, however, provides light, life, and beauty.

So often I am like the moon. Continue reading