What It Means to Love Oneself

Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaching iconPop-spirituality is infatuated with the biblical statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18, Matt. 22:38, Mark 12:31, etc). I have heard people teach that it means we should pamper ourselves; others don’t know what to make of it. The fathers of the Church say little about this latter section of the verse in their commentaries, and I think it is because it was quite simple and common sense to nearly all generations of humans before us.

I recently discussed this with someone and shared the following: Continue reading What It Means to Love Oneself

Anxiety and Burning Out in the Christian Struggle

Elder Paisios
Elder Paisios

When asked about lay people coming home from a hard day of work and feeling too tired to complete a service commonly done after the evening meal, St. Paisios replied:

When they come home at night from work and feel tired, they should never pressure themselves and become anxious.  Instead, they should always say to themselves with philotimo [1], “If you cannot read the entire Apodeipno [2], read just half or one third of it.”  And then they should try not to get too tired during the day.  They should strive spiritually as much as they can, and do so with philotimo, entrusting everything to God, and God will act.  The mind should always be close to God; this is the best form of study.

   – Geronda, what does God think of intense ascetic discipline? [3]

If it is done from philotimo, people feel great joy; God also rejoices in the philotimo of His children.  A heart that is bursting with love drips honey.  But if it is full of egoism, it is tormented… Continue reading Anxiety and Burning Out in the Christian Struggle

Real Confusion and False Clarity

Thoughtful Mood by Hieromonk Savvaty- Valaam Monastery“Better real confusion than false clarity,” as Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory used to say.  It is a quote that has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  It seems it is in our nature to seek clarity in a situation, even if it cannot really be found.

St. Paisios lamented what television was doing to children and the upcoming society.  He stated that it was making us “numb and dumb.”  The internet has only taken that to the next level.  Now, when complicated issues arise, they are frequently either settled with a “virtual” shouting match or with memes, with the result that neither side is convinced.*  Continue reading Real Confusion and False Clarity

Calamities and the Wrath of God (St. Paisios)

St Paisios of the Holy Mountain (the Athonite)Locusts, wars, droughts, and disease, they are all scourges.  This is not God’s way of educating human beings; it is, rather, the result of our moving away from Him.  Scourges happen when we stray from God.  His wrath then comes to make us remember Him and ask for His help.  It’s not that He arranges and orders, so to speak, these calamities.  Rather, God allows them to happen because he sees how far human evil can go, and how unwilling we are to change our ways.  This is His way of bringing us to our senses.   But it is not something that He has arranged; rather, it is the natural result of our own self-will, our own actions.

God told Joshua [1] not to exterminate the tribe of the Philistines, because the Philistines were supposed to be a scourge to the Hebrews every time they would forget God.  So every time the Hebrews abandoned God, the devil acquired rights over them, and he would have his “cousins,” the Philistines, attack them.  They would take the Hebrew children, smash them on rocks and kill them.  Once when the Hebrews were attacked without being at fault, God fought on their side.  He sent big hail, the size of stones, and destroyed the Philistines, because in that case the Israelites had a right to divine intervention. [2] Continue reading Calamities and the Wrath of God (St. Paisios)

The Tanager’s Lament

Scarlet Tanager wikimedia commonsWhile working outside recently, I suddenly noticed a brightly colored scarlet tanager on the ground about ten feet from me.  He would peck at bugs on the ground and then furiously scratch and preen his feathers.  His body was in rough shape, with patches of feathers missing, probably due to a mite or lice infestation.

I finished my work and sat upon the ground, my heart filled with compassion as I watched him suffering with his parasite infestation.  Continue reading The Tanager’s Lament

Confronting Ecclesiastical Issues

Paisios monachos Agioreitis20The following is advice given by St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1994.  It is from his text With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man.  I am posting it because of the buzz of conversation happening in the Orthodox world regarding the Great and Holy Council of Crete. 

-Geronda, what is the right way to confront difficult ecclesiastical issues?

We must avoid extremes; extreme solutions will never solve a problem.  in the old days, the grocer would add little by little with the scoop on the scale until he got the exact weight and the scales were balanced.  In other words, he did not add or remove large amounts abruptly.  Extreme positions always cause suffering for our Mother the Church, as well as for those who hold those positions, because an extreme stance has a way of nailing people into place.  Continue reading Confronting Ecclesiastical Issues

Message of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to Those Who Have Assembled in Crete

His Holiness Patriarch Kiril

To His Holiness Bartholomew

Archbishop of Constantinople – the New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch 

To their Holinesses and Beatitudes the Primates of Holy Churches of God 

To archpastors, pastors, monastics and laity who have assembled on the Island of Crete 

Your Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew,

Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,

The Most Reverend Fellow-Archpastors,

The Honorable Representatives of Local Orthodox Churches:

I cordially greet you on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and on behalf of the Orthodox faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova and other countries, who comprise the vast flock of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Continue reading Message of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to Those Who Have Assembled in Crete

Pentecost Icon Explained

Pentecost1As with all icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Pentecost icon teaches theology and brings us into the reality of the event depicted.  Below are a few reflections on the symbolism and meaning of this icon.

The Position of the figures represents harmony in which no apostle is better than another.  The inverse perspective prevents the apostles who are near the back of the semicircle from being painted as smaller, which would happen in the rendering of most normal paintings.  In actuality, they are depicted slightly larger, particularly Peter and Paul as the chief apostles.  But even then, they are among equals.

There is also no discord or chaos, which contrasts with some of the Western paintings of this event, which can be a bit dramatic.  There is no sign of appearing drunk, which they were accused of that morning.  Everything is sober and harmonious. Continue reading Pentecost Icon Explained

For Orlando

mother-of-god-softening-of-evil-hearts-2-tatiana-vodichevaLast night, a man, heavily armed with firearms, entered into a gay club and killed over 50 people, and injured even more. This is the most deadly shooting we have experienced in America. The man who committed this atrocious crime was reportedly a Muslim who had either sympathies or direct ties with the radical Islamic State group.

While I cannot offer an official statement from the Orthodox Church, I can say that myself and many other Orthodox Christians grieve with the family and friends of those who were murdered in this senseless act of violence. Continue reading For Orlando

The Glorious Ascension

Ascension-croppedA great and powerful king ruled over 100 beautiful cities.  However, one of the cities fell into trouble: enemies came from outside and persuaded many in the city to rebel, telling them, “The king lives so far away, he doesn’t care for you anymore.  Why don’t you appoint a new king among yourselves?”  As the people fought with one another about who would be the new king, the enemy’s army suddenly invaded, destroying and burning the city, while making its inhabitants their slaves.

What do you think this wise, powerful, but loving king did?  He left the ninety-nine safe cities and came to the rescue of the one lost city.  He and his army drove out the enemies and freed the enslaved people.  What was the king’s next course of action?  Did he burn down the remainder of the city and kill all the people?  No!  Instead, he constructed even greater walls and more magnificent buildings.  He made the city even greater than before! Continue reading The Glorious Ascension

The Half Gospel of Spiritual Death

004 Ladder of Divine Ascent - ancient Russian icon croppedAlthough six hundred and three thousand armed [Israelite] men were said to have left Egypt, no more than two of these entered the promised land…many are said to be called but few are said to be chosen.  Bodily renunciation and removal from Egypt, as it were, will be of no value to us, therefore, if we have been unable to obtain at the same time the renunciation of heart which is more sublime and more beneficial. -Elder Paphnutius [1]

There are some Christians who believe that works of charity and social justice are the primary evidence of being a Christian.  They point to passages such as what is in Matthew 25 regarding the sheep and goats.  Some even attest that the Gospel boils down to nothing other than charitable works toward one’s neighbor.

But is that the entire gospel message?  I don’t believe so, Continue reading The Half Gospel of Spiritual Death

Illusionary Food and the True Bread

Thanksgiving Dinner by Ramon2002There was a man who had not eaten in days. Passing out from hunger, he dreamed he was at a luxurious banquet, surrounded by food of every kind. He ate every delicious meat, cheese, and rich food one could imagine. But his hunger never abated. The more he ate, the more tortured he felt. But what choice did he have?  He continued to gorge himself, never finding satisfaction.

This is a metaphor for the spiritual life. Continue reading Illusionary Food and the True Bread