A New Beginning in Stillness

Abba Poeman said about Abba Pior, “Everyday he makes a new beginning.”

This New Year’s Day, I ask myself, “What is it that keeps me from making a new beginning, not only of 2018, but of everyday?”

When I stop to analyze my habits and my thoughts, I see some areas that need improvement.

One thing that comes to mind is social media.  There have been a significant number of articles floating around on the internet lately that reveal the detrimental psychological effects of social media, not to mention the spiritual damage that is incurred.

In addition to causing depression and increasing suicidal tendencies, it keeps us distracted and unfocused, making it difficult to produce quality work throughout the day and to keep our minds sharp and able to pray.  Years ago, an abbot told me that a large part of the reason we become bored in church is because our minds have been damaged and over stimulated by social media, the television, radio, etc.   Scientific research is now showing that he was correct.

When is the last time we have spent an hour in silence?  No TV, no smartphone dinging its notifications, no radio in the car.

It seems like if we get a moment — the phone isn’t ringing, the kids are being quiet, there’s no pressing urgent item to work on — we reach for the smartphone or tablet. We look to the electronic device that is literally providing a dopamine hit in our brains and slowly altering it, creating an addictive cycle — the same one cocaine addicts are caught in.

We get that feeling of instant gratification.

But then that ebbs away.

Restlessness, sadness, even a bit of depression takes its place.  This is the cycle that many of us are caught in.  We want that chemical-induced instant gratification.

But what if, instead, we reached for the phone and turned it off?  What if we then picked up our prayer rope or a good book?  It seems that such a little gesture would be all that it takes to begin to break the psychological and spiritual trap we are in.

May God give us the strength and resolve we need to make everyday a new beginning this year. Continue reading A New Beginning in Stillness

The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a good friend of mine who is not a Christian, but who has been on a quest for spiritual truth and authenticity for many years. In it, I try to express the truth of Christianity without getting too caught up in the normal terminology that we Christians use.

I do feel like the past holds the key answers for the present. The more I read the Buddha, Lao Tzu (Taoism), Confucius, and Eastern Orthodox desert spirituality, the more I see that the spiritual giants of the past were pointing humanity toward many of the same things. I’m not a fan of syncretism because it tends to ignore diversity within each system while trying to suppress the differences. But the teachings of these amazing men and women have survived thousands of years because, over and over, humanity has confirmed that their teachings are the closest thing to truth that we have discovered. Continue reading The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

The Desert of Our Present Life

After passing through the Red Sea, the Hebrews were within a couple hundred miles, or a two week journey on foot, from their destined Promised Land.  Yet it took them forty long years of circling in the wilderness before arriving at the place promised to their forefather Abraham.  The desert met these former slaves with all of its harshness, trials, temptations, scourges, and the occasional oasis.

Why did God lead them in circles in the wilderness when they were so close to the Promised Land?  In short, they were not ready to receive such a great inheritance.  At the first sign of difficulty, war, hunger, thirst, or any other trial, they would throw up their hands and say, “If only we had stayed in Egypt!  There things were safe and familiar; in Egypt our bellies would be filled.”  Continue reading The Desert of Our Present Life

Faith and Works

A renown Protestant theologian recently accused the Eastern Orthodox Church of teaching a “cursed” theology of salvation by faith and works.

I have seen such attacks on the Orthodox Church before, and I usually ignore them due to the ignorance of the speaker.  But since this is a common misconception about Orthodoxy, I thought I would put together this article to hopefully provide clarity.

Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, has a 16 minute video posted below in which he refutes the mistakes that the Protestant theologian made.  He is more gracious and patient than me.  I’ll provide a summary of my understanding on this topic and then link to Mr. Hanegraaff’s video.

Neither works nor faith alone will save you

Continue reading Faith and Works

The Butterfly and the Cross

When reflecting upon a short video I watched on the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly, I was struck by an interesting fact: the caterpillar digests itself and turns into ooze.

As a caterpillar hangs from a branch entering into its next life phase, its exterior hardens, transforming into the familiar cocoon.  However, its interior does the opposite.  For a period of days, the creature that was once a caterpillar turns into goo with its digestive enzymes breaking down its body.  Miraculously, the pile of ooze encased inside the cocoon will transform into a beautiful butterfly.

In this process, I see a reflection of our transformation from lowly creatures crawling about in hardships and sin to flying creatures of beauty.  I’m sure thousands of Christians have written about this parallel.  But the thing that caught my interest was the pile of goo.

That pile of goo represents everything that the caterpillar had been through and assimilated into itself during its short life.  When it becomes a butterfly, the goo is not removed with something else taking its place, but rather the goo is the very material used to transform the lowly caterpillar into a butterfly.

I see the same with us.  All our lives we accumulate these sinful passions, terrible experiences, abusive situations, anger and hate: in a word, a big sticky pile of goo that seems to have no redemptive value. Continue reading The Butterfly and the Cross

Unveiled Holiness

There exists a tendency in our American culture to think of ourselves as being on familiar terms with God.  I am a friend of God proclaims the chorus of one popular Protestant “praise” song; Jesus is my homeboy states a trendy shirt design.  Our Lord is much more comfortable if he is friend, homeboy, or Buddy Christ, and God the Father if he is little more than a senile grandpa upstairs who blindly loves all of his little grandchildren.  A god that demands nothing from us and only exists to make us feel good is wildly popular, but is a false god created in our own image.

Many Christian groups have created a false sense of familiarity with God by removing awe and reverence from Christian worship.  They have banished the priesthood (after all, we’re all priests anyway, right?); stripped the walls of sacred art; replaced a service focused on the presence of Christ with one focused on a sermon; and replaced architectural beauty with either four walls and a pulpit or something that looks more like a nightclub.  All of this removes from us a proper sense of reverence. Continue reading Unveiled Holiness

Good King Wenceslas

You’ve probably heard the song Good King Wenceslas around Christmas time. Who was he and why do we sing about him?

He was king of the Czechs about a thousand years ago and ruled with utmost compassion and love for his people. His heart was bigger than his entire kingdom. In addition to numerous charitable deeds that he personally carried out, he also translated part of the New Testament into the language of the people so they could understand it.

Today is his feast day, that is, the day on which he is remembered and commemorated. Below is more about St. Wenceslas, also called Vatslav from the The Prologue of Ochrid:

Vatslav was the grandson of St. Ludmilla. As king, he labored in the Faith like the great ascetics, and strengthened the Orthodox Faith among his people. He was strict in ensuring that no innocent person suffer in the courts. In his zeal for the Christian Faith and in his love for his fellow man, St. Vatslav purchased pagan children who were being sold as slaves, and immediately baptized them and raised them as Christians. He translated the Gospel of St. John into the Czech language, and transported the relics of St. Vitus and St. Ludmilla to Prague. His brother Boleslav invited him to be his guest, and then killed him in his court. Immediately after this, Boleslav brought in German priests and had the services celebrated in Latin. St. Vatslav suffered in the year 935 and his relics repose in Prague.

More information: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2017/09/28/102754-martyr-wenceslaus-the-prince-of-the-czechs

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