The Pitfall of Criticism

mtathos1Among the stewards [of St Panteleimon Monastery on Mt. Athos] was a certain monk, Father P., who was outstandingly capable, yet somehow always unlucky – his initiatives usually met with no sympathy among the fathers, and his undertakings often ended in failure.  One day, after such an enterprise had resulted in disaster, he was subjected to sharp criticism at the stewards’ table.  Father Silouan was present with the others but took no part in the ‘prosecution.’  Then one of the stewards, Father M., turned to him and said:

‘You are silent, Father Silouan.  That means you side with Father P. and don’t care about the damage he has caused the community.’

Father Silouan said nothing, quickly finished eating and then went up to Father M., who by that time had also left the table, and said to him,

‘Father M., how many years have you been in the Monastery?’

‘Thirty-five.’

‘Have you ever heard me criticize anyone?’

‘No, never.’

‘Then why do you want me to begin on Father P.?’

[from St Silouan The Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press]

A TURNING POINT

When I read the above narrative I had to stop and put the book down.  Could anyone claim to have known me for even thirty-five minutes and state they had never heard me criticize others?  Words of judgment, criticism, and condescension were part of my vernacular.  Granted, they were frequently used to be humorous or tout my intelligence (pride); I was convicted at that moment that many of my thoughts and words revolved around criticism. Continue reading

The Life-Giving Cross

Great Lent - Week 3

There is a beautiful irony in the language of the Orthodox Church.  While certain parts of Great Lent focus on the cruelty and brutality that Christ endured for us on the cross, most of our hymns point to the victory, freedom, and life achieved through what was once an instrument of torture and shame.

That is one of the things I admire about Orthodoxy: it does not seek to generate a service filled with emotion or warm fuzzies; instead, it is a spiritual experience.  Emotions are not bad, but they are temporary.  When a service aims to move people through emotional appeal, those who conduct it can be certain that people will fall away from or out of that emotional state, possibly as soon as they leave the parking lot.  The Orthodox Church changes and transforms us by offering an experience of God Himself.

The following are selections from the vespers service of the Adoration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross:


 

O Christ our God, of Thine own will Thou hast accepted Crucifixion, that all mankind might be restored to life.  Taking the quill of the Cross, out of love for man in the red ink of royalty with bloody fingers Thou has signed our absolution. Continue reading

Confronting Temptations

Elder Ephraim of Arizona, image from hellas-orthodoxy.blogspot.com

Elder Ephraim of Arizona, image from hellas-orthodoxy.blogspot.com

The Great Fast, also known as Great Lent, is just around the corner.  During this time, many Orthodox will begin eating a vegan diet.  Many of us will also make an effort to say a few more prayers each day and eliminate some distractions such as social media, television, and internet usage in order to create more time for prayer and spiritual reading.

These things of themselves do not save us.  Rather, they are the method which we use to open ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Those who are taking their spiritual struggle seriously during the Great Fast will likely find that the amount of demonic warfare increases.  This manifests itself in different ways: new distractions when we pull away from old ones, a barrage of thoughts that come during prayer and spiritual reading, and other temptations that wish to test our resolve.

Many of us wonder: why do I have to face these spiritual struggles?  Wouldn’t it be so much better if God could just wave a magical wand over us and make temptations go away?  Why do we have trials?

In answer to those questions, I will post the insights and stories of a God-bearing elder whose own elder was St Joseph the Hesychast.  He is from Mt Athos and currently is the elder of a monastery in Arizona.  His name is Elder Ephraim and this is from his book The Art of Salvation. Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 4

WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society; image from Wikipedia

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society

After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.

Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess? Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

JESUS IS THE GREAT I AM

from https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/discovering-the-unburnt-bush-icon/When arguing with the Pharisees one day, we read in John 8:56 Jesus claimed,

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.

For fairly good reasons, the Jews scratched their heads, a bit perplexed. Here was a fairly young man, roughly 30 years old, claiming to have known Abraham. So, not knowing his exact age they argue, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?

Jesus said to them,

Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.

Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

THE FAMOUS 3:16 AND SPIRIT CHILDREN

from http://kmooreperspective.blogspot.com/2012/05/closer-look-at-john-316.htmlOne of the most popular verses in the entire Bible is also from St John’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In this we see a radical concept: Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. CS Lewis explains it quite brilliantly in Mere Christianity:

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in the modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds.

But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a… statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one…

What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.

Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 1

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

A Biblical Defense for Christ’s Deity

Jehovahs Witnesses evangelizing (from wikipedia)Several years ago, a fairly young couple close to my age knocked on my door. After greeting them, I found that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to spread their message. I asked them, “Why would I want to study the Bible with people who aren’t even Christians?”

They responded, “But we do consider ourselves Christians.” This surprised me. I knew little about them except that they were considered a cult by most Christians. My question gave them an opportunity for making a few arguments that piqued my curiosity. At that time, I was in my spiritually restless stage and looking for something deeper than the Sunday Morning Show of American Christianity.

So, after some discussion that afternoon I invited them to come back. All in all, we spent about a year meeting weekly to discuss and debate “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” which was also the name of the booklet we were working through together. Near the end of that time, I went with them to one of their Kingdom Hall meetings. Continue reading

Understanding Through Action

StNikolaiVelimirovichIn today’s culture we like to talk about ideas.  We, or at least I, sometimes talk more often than is necessary.  There’s a tendency to theologize and philosophize about God and Christ, rather than doing the simple but difficult work of knowing Him through action.

Below is today’s homily from the Prologue of Ohrid by St Nikolai Velimirovich as translated and published by the Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Western America.

Homily from the Prologue of Ohrid, January 21

Whoever chooses to do His will [God’s Will] shall know whether my teaching is from God” (St. John 7:17).

It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whosoever would do this, that one will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God.

If you cry for the sake of God, you will know what kind of comfort He is. If you are merciful, you know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called the Son of God. If you forgive men, you will know God forgives you.

Never can anyone be able to know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the Will of God. For only doing the Will of God, fulfilling the commandments of God, that is the key for unlocking Paradise in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation.

St. Basil writes: “In order to understand that which is hidden in Sacred Scripture, purity of life is needed.”

What else does the Lord want from us when He teaches us that through doing His will, we arrive at the understanding of the divinity of His teaching? He simply wants that we, by our deeds, become convinced of the divinity of His teaching. He does not want that we be convinced of this in an easy manner, but rather in a more difficult manner, not only by listening but by doing, because whoever is convinced in an easy manner will easily waver and change his mind and for him who is convinced in a difficult manner, it would be difficult for him to change his mind. Brethren, that is why we must endeavor to fulfill the Will of God in order that we may know God and save our soul.

O Lord, All-Wise, help us by the power of Your Holy Spirit to do Your will.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

SOURCE

The Sea of Darkness: A Parable

ocean 279 by He ngki24I arise from my deep slumber, my feet standing upon a rough, rocky surface. Before me lays an ocean that stretches as far as eye can see. But the ocean does not glow with the colorful light dancing about in the sky above me, nor does it reflect a deep blue or green. Instead, it seethes in blackness, and consumes the light that would have otherwise played upon its surface.

Something is amiss about this water, so I step forward for a closer inspection only to leap back to where I stood before. What lay before me is not an ocean of water, but rather an abyss of vermin and foul creatures crawling upon one another. Behind me is no sure footing, it seems the rough rocky surface upon which I stand is the only place left in this love-forsaken world.

Suddenly, an angel stands at my right side. “Where am I?” I plead.

“The place you would not understand,” he replies with solemn countenance.

“What is this terrible ocean that surrounds me?” I ask fearfully.

“This endless, abysmal sea,” he says while extending his hand about us, “is filled with the sins of your entire life, from youth to old age.”

“Certainly I could not have sinned that much!” I protest, not because I think him a liar, but because of the fearful truth in his words. Continue reading

My Journey into The Ancient Church, Part 2

Part 1 // Part 2

LOSING INTEREST

Old Cells by Sergey Kompaniychenko - Valaam MonasteryAfter months of what felt like dry liturgical services, my quasi-Pentecostal mindset wondered: where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? I recognized the validity the Orthodox Church’s claims to have the same beliefs and practices as the early church, but what good is that if the Holy Spirit has abandoned them and their services are dead and boring?

It was then that I somehow came across the book The Way of a Pilgrim. It is the story of a young Russian peasant during the late 1800’s who set out on a quest to experientially understand St Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing.” Continue reading

My Journey into The Ancient Church, Part 1

Winter by Hieromonk Savvaty (Valaam Monastery)

Part 1 // Part 2

My journey into Orthodoxy was not easy.  But it is not meant to be easy.  It challenged me (and continues to do so) to become the person God has created me to be, and to recognize my place in His Body, the Church.

When one becomes Orthodox they are called a “convert,” which helps to emphasize just how much of a change one must experience.  Becoming Orthodox is not simply acknowledging one belief system as being superior to another.  It is an ontological change, meaning it regards your entire being. Continue reading

A Timely Homily

Coptic Nativity iconThe following is a homily I recently read that was originally intended for the Feast of the Annunciation, but because that feast is so closely tied to Nativity in its themes, I decided to share it here at this time.  It is the third homily on this subject by the bishop St Gregory the Wonderworker, probably written sometime around AD 260-275.

It was one long paragraph and I have divided it into several sections so that it is much easier to read.  All of the bold type is my addition and the italics my emphasis.  In particular, I wanted to emphasize that salvation in early Christianity was understood to be God rescuing his beautiful creation from death, which had entangled it due to sin.  In that regard, it is full of poetic love and (like all Christian writings from antiquity that I have read) it lacks any concept of a wrathful God desiring to take out his anger and justice upon His son on the cross.  Especially enlightening is the dialogue between Gabriel and the Lord. Continue reading