The Prayer Flare

110921-N-XZ912-085NORFOLK (September 21, 2011) Members of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Seven (HSC-7) perform Search and Rescue (SAR) jumps for qualification on Wednesday night at Naval Station Norfolk. These qualifications help the navy with readiness and sustainability. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher B. Stoltz/Released)

Our house is nestled in a cove between two mountain ranges.  One in front of the house, and the other behind.  There are popular trails that follow the ridges of the mountains for those who enjoy a difficult hike.

The other night, we heard a helicopter circling nearby.  We peaked out a window and realized a hiker must have been injured and called for emergency assistance.  The helicopter spent some time maneuvering into the rescue area, which was near the ridge of the mountain slope.  It was night time and a storm was rolling in, so the task was both dangerous and difficult to navigate.  Continue reading The Prayer Flare

Playing in Fire: A Parable

hills_of_fire_by_kkartA man wakes up in an unfamiliar field.  Sniffing the air, he detects something burning, only to realize that the “fog” obscuring the sun above him is in actuality a thick cloud of smoke.  Rising to his feet, he confirms the entire field is encompassed by a wildfire, which is quickly drawing nearer to himself.  There is a section of grass that has not burned straight ahead of him.  Peering into the distance, he sees that it is a path leading to a large body of water.  Luckily, there is a dock with a boat at the water’s edge.  The captain of the boat is untying the ropes from the dock while frantically beckoning the man in the field toward himself.

The man in the field feels a gust of wind and sees the fire surging closer to him.  Continue reading Playing in Fire: A Parable

The Quest of Anodos (a short story)

desert_by_scorpio_empireThere was once a young man named Anodos. He found himself wandering through a sweltering desert with nothing but sagebrush and vultures as his companions. Naturally, our vagabond grew quite thirsty in his ramble under the sun.

As he strayed deeper into this rocky, lifeless land, he came upon a large house. Rushing forward, he hoped to at least receive some water, perhaps even a full meal. He knocked on the door and was greeted by a well-groomed, clean shaved young man. Explaining his thirst, the host Continue reading The Quest of Anodos (a short story)

On Refuge from Sinful Thoughts

castle_by_netdogThere was in a certain place a beautiful woman of questionable behavior. The ruler of this country took pity on her, that such beauty would perish, and, when he found the opportunity, he said to her, “Give up your immoral ways, and I will take you to my house and you will become my wife and the mistress of many treasures. Just watch that you are faithful, or else there will be such trouble for you as you cannot even imagine.”
 
She agreed to this, and was taken to the ruler’s house. Her former friends, seeing that she had disappeared, began searching for her, and found out that she was with the ruler.
 
Although the ruler was a terror, they did not despair of enticing the beautiful woman back to themselves once again, knowing her weakness. “We have only to go up behind the house and whistle; she will know who it is and immediately run out to us.”
 
That is just what they did.
 
They went behind the house and whistled. The beautiful woman, hearing the whistle, started. Something from her previous life stirred inside of her. But she had already come to her senses, and instead of running out of the house, she rushed into the inner chambers to the ruler himself, and immediately calmed down; she did not even hear the whistling that continued outside.
 
Her friends whistled a few more times and went off with nothing.
 
The meaning of the parable is clear. The beautiful woman represents the fallen soul that has turned to the Lord in repentance and made a contract to belong to and serve Him alone. The former friends are the passions. Their whistling is the impulses of passionate thoughts, feeling, and desires. Escape into the inner chambers is shelter in the depths of the heart, there to stand before the Lord.
 
When this is accomplished within, the passion that has troubled the soul leaves of its own accord as if it had never existed, and the soul calms down.


-=-From The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It. A parable by St. John the Dwarf adapted by St. Theophan the Recluse.

Continue reading On Refuge from Sinful Thoughts

The Kingfisher’s Snare

Below is a story my wife wrote regarding one of our recent adventures. She refers to me as “J.”

Male Belted Kingfisher. Canon 40D with 300mm f/2.8L IS, 580EX flash with Better Beamer in ETTL mode FEC 0.
Belted Kingfisher – wikimedia commons

At the end of our road, there is a fishpond with a tree arching over it.  On my walk today, I realized that a kingfisher was somehow caught on the end of a slender branch reaching out over of the middle of the pond (a kingfisher is a type bird, about the size of a crow with a great big beak and a bold crest).  He was dangling over the pond about a foot above the water, struggling to free himself to no avail.  I stopped to watch him, pain and pity filling my heart as he violently wrestled, but was unable to escape.  Weary and exhausted, the bird would rest and pant, hanging below the branch.  I surveyed the scene, seeking a means to rescue him, but couldn’t find a way to reach him over the water.  Grieved, I went home, unable to see how it was possible without wading into the murky pond of unknown depth. Continue reading The Kingfisher’s Snare

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

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 Confronting Temptations

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 The Sea of Darkness: A Parable

The Life of St Mary of Egypt

The Life of St Mary of Egypt

st-mary-of-egypt-julia-bridget-hayes

This beautiful Orthodox classic truly needs no introduction.  It is a very worthwhile read.  The text is from The Great Canon, the Work of Saint Andrew of Crete, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, USA.  You can download a PDF copy here: The Life of St Mary of Egypt

INTRODUCTION

“It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God” (Tobit 12:7)  So said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he performed the wonderful healing of his blindness. Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I (says St. Saphronius), in writing the life of St. Mary of Egypt, am afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in the earth (Mat. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Saphronius) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel –may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing story, which has taken place in our generation. Continue reading The Life of St Mary of Egypt

The Tale of the Onion

THE STORY

Onion_08_by_xiaocacaOnce upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died.  And not one good deed was left behind her.  The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire.  And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God?

Then he remembered and said to God, “Once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman.”

And God answered, “Now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is.”

The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her, “Here, woman,” he said, “take hold of it and I’ll pull!” Continue reading The Tale of the Onion

The Dream

I had a strange dream before waking this morning.

 A_Shopping_Day_by_jusuartI was in a booming metropolis.  There were tall buildings and skyscrapers and thousands of people milling about.  I saw several people loaded down with bags of stuff they’d “bought” from the stores that were everywhere.  Everything was free.  You simply went into a store, found what you wanted, and walked out with it.  But everyone was gloomy.
I went into a restaurant.  A young new arrival was there, and with bright eyes he was exclaiming, “I can get anything on the menu for free?!”  He ordered one hundred different things and they brought what he desired before him with no wait.  Yet he was not satisfied no matter how much he ate. Continue reading The Dream

The Carpenter and His Wardrobe

~Chapter 1: Forgotten Treasure~

old-wardrobe-odd-jeppesen (from fineartamerica.com)There sat a wardrobe in a large castle full of walking wardrobes.  These were no ordinary wardrobes, but rather the kind that can speak and interact with one another.

The Carpenter who built them frequently walked through the hallway, checking on the wardrobes, speaking with them.  Each wardrobe had a voice that was unique and beautiful.  Each one possessed a doorway, paneling, and trim designed by the Carpenter.  Some were plain looking, others decorated more elaborately.

One day, the Carpenter dropped by one wardrobe and knocked on the door.  “Hello, my beloved,” he said gently, “I have come to do some cleaning.” Continue reading The Carpenter and His Wardrobe