Reflection: Prayer

justin-popovich-color-addedIt is by the ascesis of faith that a man conquers egotism, steps beyond the bounds of self, and enters into a new, transcendent reality which also transcends subjectivity.  In this new reality new laws rule; what is old has passed away and all is made new.  Plunged into the unknown depths of this new reality, the ascetic of faith is led and guided by prayer; he feels, thinks, and lives by prayer.

Tracing this path of faith in the intellect of man, St Isaac notes that the intellect is guarded and guided by prayer, every good thought being transformed by prayer into a pondering on God.  But prayer is also a hard struggle, calling the whole person into action.  Man crucifies himself in prayer, crucifying the passions and sinful thoughts that cling to his soul.  Prayer is the slaying of the carnal thoughts of man’s fleshly life.

Patient perseverance in prayer is for man a very hard ascesis, that of Continue reading

Reflection: Faith

Below I continue my series from St. Justin Popovich.  This is my favorite article I have ever read on faith because St. Justin makes it so practical.  Faith is far more than an ascent to a certain philosophical position, but is the fruit of the struggle to reach our first step of union with God.

St Justin PopovichIt is by the ascesis of faith that the treatment and cure of a soul which is sick with the passions is begun.  Once faith begins to live in a man, the passions begin to be uprooted from his soul.  But until the soul becomes intoxicated with faith in God, until it comes to feel faith’s power, it can neither be healed of the passions nor overcome the material world.  There is both a negative side to the ascesis of faith, freedom from sinful matter, and a positive side, oneness with God.

The soul, which was dispersed by the senses among the things of this world, is brought back to itself by the ascesis of faith, by fasting from material things and by devoting itself to a constant remembrance of God.  This is the foundation of all good things.

Freedom from enslavement to sinful matter is essential for advancement in the spiritual life.  The beginning of this new way of life is found in the concentration of one’s thoughts on God, in incessant pondering on the words of God, and in a life of poverty.

Through faith the mind, which was previously dispersed among the passions, is concentrated, freed from sensuality, and endowed with peace and humility of thought.  When it lives by the senses in a sensual world, the mind is sick.  Continue reading

Reflection: The Sickness & Healing of Understanding

The Sickness of the Organs of Understanding

St Justin PopovichAnalyzing man by his empirical gifts, St. Isaac the Syrian finds that his organs of understanding are sick.  Evil is a sickness of soul, whence all the organs of understanding are made sick.  Evil has its perceptions, the passions, and the passions are illnesses of the soul.  Evil and the passions are not natural to the soul; they are accidents, adventitious, and intrusive, an unnatural addition to the soul.

What are the passions in themselves?  They are a certain hardness or insensitivity of being.  Their causes are to be found in the the things of life themselves.  The passions are the desire for wealth and amassing of goods, for ease and bodily comfort; they are thirst for honor and the exercise of power; they are luxury and frivolity; they are the desire for glory from men and fear for one’s own body. Continue reading

Saint Paisios, a Clairvoyant Elder of Our Times

Elder_Paisios_of_Mount_AthosToday we celebrate the memory of Saint Paisios, an Athonite elder whom God greatly gifted with miraculous wonders and clairvoyance due to his faithful struggle in Orthodoxy.  For his feast day (July 12), thousands upon thousands of people having been lining up to venerate his grave in Greece.

Elder Paisios gives me hope.  Seeing just how much the ways of the world have infiltrated into the lives and minds of Church-going people, it is good to see that God is still granting us clairvoyant elders for our guidance and salvation.

starsenios-elder-paisiosIf you are unfamiliar with Elder Paisios, you can read a biography of him here on OrthodoxWiki.  Also, there is a collection of his teachings, stories, and a biography here on this site.  In short, he was baptized by St Arsenius, raised by a pious mother, and after serving in the military, became a monk of Mt Athos.

I highly recommend the books that were compiled from his teachings.  Unlike many of the writings of the saints that are geared toward monastics, Elder Paisios had a great deal of contact with lay people and understood how weak today’s modern man is.  He mixed stories with his teachings and taught with sympathy and gentleness. Continue reading

Bring Back the Disney Princess!

Sleeping Beauty, Disney princess, type of the Theotokos MaryIn some of the classic Disney movies, the princess is in the forest surrounded by animals that befriend her and even sing with her.  They follow her and adore her.  These scenes reveal a character with purity of heart, a soul that was so undefiled that even nature was unafraid of her.

These scenes spoke to people at the time the movies were released, and even to myself when I was a child.  They reminded us of a memory we all instinctively carry within us: the memory of Eden.  In the Garden all of nature was subject to man and was at peace with him.  After the fall into sin, the animals became afraid of man because while we are still in the image of God, that image has been soiled and defiled by sin. Continue reading

Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 4

Warmth of Heart and Authentic Spiritual Experience in Prayer

holy friday, good friday OrthodoxThis is true life in God! To desire and seek God for the sake of God, and to possess Him and partake of Him in the way and measure that He wishes.
-St Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare

Prayer is a beautiful thing, and a heart that is earnestly seeking God in purity will find Him. In my spiritual journey, I have found that Orthodoxy offers the deepest, most spiritually balanced, and safest way to experience God through prayer. While there are outward “formalities” and we do not encourage the heightened emotional states found in charismatic circles and among some Roman Catholic “contemplatives,” our prayers are far from lifeless.

In fact, St Theophan the Recluse heavily emphasizes praying with feeling and the need to have “warmth of the heart” in prayer. This is a good feeling that overflows from a heart that is open and loving toward God. On our end, we open ourselves to receiving this divine warmth through making an effort to pray and overcoming various difficulties. On His part, God bestows the gifts of warmth and grace at His discretion. Continue reading

Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 3

CHARISMATIC AND NEW AGE SPIRITUALITY

worship_by_knilvrieWithin the confines of western Christianity, one of the fastest growing sects of Protestantism is the charismatic or Pentecostal movement. This movement is so influential, that just recently the Southern Baptist Association changed one of their rules and decided they will now support missionaries who speak in tongues. Charisma Magazine explained this as the Baptists attempting to keep up with the competition.

Outside of Christianity, another movement with some identical experiences and teachings could collectively be called “New Age spirituality.”

The main similarity that both of these paths share is that they offer spiritual experiences without asceticism.  In other words, they offer an experience of “God” without the necessity of taking up your cross and following Him or sacrificing worldly and fleshly desires. Continue reading

Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 2

BEYOND ATHEISM AND RATIONALISM

Refuge by Dan MIn my last post, I discussed how many of us experience moments of transcendence that leave us with an inexplicable knowledge that there is more to this life than the material world that immediately surrounds us. The mindset of this world and forms of atheism attempt to belittle or deny us this knowledge because it is supposedly not rational or scientifically provable.

However, according to some recent research, atheism is declining in numbers. While numbers are not everything, it reveals the atheists are fighting a losing battle because humans are naturally predisposed toward spirituality. It takes effort to shut down this aspect of our being, and it is rewarding when we don’t do so. Continue reading

Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 1

Through the Trees by DanWhile reading this, you are probably sitting in a room. Around you are most likely walls and perhaps other people behind some of those walls. If you could see through the walls surrounding you, a vision of more walls would likely be had if you are in a city, and trees and earth if you are in the country.

Were you to somehow float above everything with the vision of an eagle, your position would allow you insight on more things and people. Your knowledge of your surroundings would no longer be contained to the four walls about you.

Many of us have had such “transcendent” moments where it seems we tap into something higher than ourselves. Perhaps this has come during prayer or divine services; frequently this is experienced in nature. I had an atheist friend who confessed to having several of these moments while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Continue reading

On The Acquisition of The Holy Spirit

The enlightening discussion between Motovilov and St Seraphim of Sarov on acquiring the Holy Spirit.  It seemed proper to post on Holy Pentecost.

st seraphim of sarov with a bear from nativityofchristnetIntroduction

Saint Seraphim of Sarov was born in 1759, in the city of Kursk. His parents were pious Orthodox Christians, examples of true spirituality. At the age of ten, Seraphim was miraculously healed from a serious illness by means of the Kursk icon of the Theotokos. As a boy, he immersed himself in church services and church literature. He began monastic life at the hermitage of Sarov at the age of nineteen. He was tonsured as a monk when he was twenty-seven, and soon afterwards was ordained a deacon. Continue reading

Why a Closed Communion Table? Part 2

akathist resurrection eucharist orthodoxOne of my greatest stumbling blocks coming into the Orthodox Church was the closed communion table. Growing up Protestant, my experience was that the table was open to anyone who considered themselves to be a Christian. Attending an Orthodox Church and not being able to partake of the Eucharist was difficult for me. I believe in Jesus, isn’t that enough?

My historical studies revealed just how unaware I was of Christian practices before the 20th century. I blogged about that previously; this blog will be focused more on the theological reasons for a “closed table.”

Perhaps the best place to start is with scripture and the questions:

  • When did Christians begin partaking of the Eucharist?
  • What is the Eucharist?
  • Why do Christians partake of it?
  • And finally, why is the table open only to Orthodox members in good standing?

Continue reading

Developing Inner Prayer, Part 2

silence at ValaamGod does not need our prayers or praise. But we as His creatures, made in His image, must return to the Source of our being in order to become fully alive and filled with love. Two of the most important steps toward developing inward and outward prayer are realizing the great love of God and then putting our faith and hope in that love.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, “God Himself wishes and is ready to give you all that is needed for you to serve Him rightly, and to bestow upon you every blessing you need.” Continue reading