Contemplating the Face of Christ

Face of Christ Holy Napkin Towel ShroudA friend recently asked me, “What does it mean to contemplate the face of Christ?”  Here is an attempt to provide an answer:

That is a difficult question and I honestly cannot give you an answer that is based from my own experience. But, God willing, I will give you something that will help out at least a little bit.

First of all, contemplation (as I have come to understand it in Orthodoxy) has nothing to do with the imagination. So, we do not picture Christ in our minds in order to contemplate Him and His face. Doing so ultimately leads to idolatry because Continue reading Contemplating the Face of Christ

Whose Ascetic Am I?

bulgaria mall-bulgariamall.bgI remember a day in my college years, I was in a department store trying on some shoes and a pretty young lady was sitting a few feet from me.  She had some flashy, fashionable high heel she was trying on and her mother remarked, “Those look uncomfortable.”  Completely unfazed, the daughter replied with a smile, “pain is beauty.”  Now, some ten years later, that brief conversation still comes to mind.  What does it say about our humanity? Continue reading Whose Ascetic Am I?

Saint Moses the Black

st_moses_3_trim_1200One of the first saints I encountered while researching Orthodoxy was St. Moses the Black (also called the Ethiopian).  There was something about his unconquerable spirit, when faced with temptation, that greatly inspired me.  Additionally, the man had grasped what it means to be humble and to not judge one’s neighbor.  Below I will provide some excerpts from the Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich and some of St. Moses’ teachings from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The Reading

Moses was an Ethiopian by birth and by profession, at first, a robber and leader of a band of robbers and, after that, a penitent and great ascetic. As the slave of a master, Moses escaped and joined the robbers. Because of his great physical strength and arrogance, the robbers chose him as their leader. Continue reading Saint Moses the Black

The Many-Faced Painting: A Parable

Reach by Kevin Conor Keller - ordinaryfoxThere was once a grand and beautiful painting created by a genius artist. He gave this painting to his students before departing this world. The students wrote many lessons regarding the deep symbolism of the painting and various sayings of their inspiring teacher. The painting was not only the unification and culmination of their writings, but of all of the cosmos and life itself.

In order to share the image with other countries, duplicates of the painting were made with extreme attention to detail. The written texts continued to be passed down from generation to generation along with copies of the painting. Over the years, the painting was framed in many different ways: sometimes it contained a simple wooden frame, other times its frame was gilded with gold and ornate carvings. Various regions created frames depending on Continue reading The Many-Faced Painting: A Parable

In Praise of The Theotokos!

A Homily

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Some seven hundred years ago, St. Gregory Palamas delivered a beautiful and inspiring homily regarding the Dormition of the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary. Below are some excerpts:

…There is also nothing dearer or more necessary for me than to expound with due honor in church the wonders of the ever-virgin Mother of God…If “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15) and “the memory of the just is praised” (Prov. 10:7 LXX), how much more fitting is it for us to celebrate with highest honors the memory of the ever virgin Mother of God, the Holy of Holies, through whom the saints receive their hallowing?

That is exactly what we are doing today by commemorating her holy dormition and passing away, through which, having been made a little lower than the angels (cf. Ps. 8:5), she arose incomparably higher than the angels, archangels, Continue reading In Praise of The Theotokos!

Reflection: Grace and Freedom

Justin Popovich with children-smallThe person of Christ the God-man presents in itself the ideal image of human personality and knowledge.  The person of Christ of itself traces and defines the path of a Christian’s life in every way.  In Him is found the most perfect realization of the mystical union of God and man, while at the same time He reveals both God’s work in man and man’s in God.

God and man working together is the basic indication of Christian activity in the world.  Man works with God and God with man (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9).  Working within and around himself, the Christian gives himself entirely to ascesis, but he does this, Continue reading Reflection: Grace and Freedom

Reflection: Humility

saintjustinpopovichwithchildFaith has its own thought-forms, having as it does its own way of life.  A Christian not only lives by faith [1], but also thinks by faith.  Faith presents a new way of thinking, through which is effected all the work of knowing in the in the believing man.  This new way of thinking is humility.

Within the infinite reality of faith, the intellect abases itself before the ineffable mysteries of new life in the Holy Spirit.  The pride of the intellect gives way to humility and modesty replaces presumption.  The ascetic of faith protects all his thoughts through humility, and thereby also ensures for himself the knowledge of eternal truth. Continue reading Reflection: Humility

Reflection: Love

justin popovich - young monastic-smallLove is born of prayer, just as prayer is born of faith.  The virtues are of one substance, and are thus born of one another.  Love for God is a sign that the new reality into which a man is led by faith and prayer is far greater than that which has gone before.  Love for God and man is the work of prayer and faith; a true love for man is in fact impossible without faith and prayer.

By faith man changes worlds: he moves from the limited world to the limitless, where he lives no longer by the laws of the senses but by the laws of prayer and love.  St. Isaac lays great emphasis on the conviction he came to through his ascetic experience: that love for God comes through prayer – Love is the fruit of prayer. Continue reading Reflection: Love

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: Prayer

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: Faith

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 Reflection: The Sickness & Healing of Understanding

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 Saint Paisios, a Clairvoyant Elder of Our Times