A few year ago, I read in one of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church that it would greatly benefit Christians to read books on warfare because it would teach us to engage the enemy in spiritual battle. Those who have experience in combat likely understand this better than myself.
I just recently acquired a copy of the ancient Chinese classic The Art of War and have been impressed with it. Everything in it must be understood allegorically, which is a bit tough for me at times. But Lord willing, I will perhaps extract a few of the more easily grasped gems. Continue reading Lessons from the Art of War: The Five Factors
I have been communicating with a person of a similar background to myself in the charismatic movement. I am posting this as it may help those who are looking into Orthodoxy from such a background:
Let’s begin with liturgical worship vs. charismatic worship. For the first few months of inquiry into the Orthodox Church, I found the liturgical style of worship to be quite boring. However, after I began to learn to develop the inner prayer (Jesus Prayer), I found myself deeply moved by the richness and beauty of the liturgical style. Since then, I’ve only been to non-liturgical services a couple of times. Each time I could see people were sincerely attempting to enter into communion with God in their own “tradition”, but it no longer appealed to me.
Looking back on my Protestant years, I do not deny that God met me in special ways when my soul genuinely sought him. But now I honestly feel that it is as if I was playing in a little sandbox, and when God led me into Orthodoxy, it was as if He said, “This will blow the walls off your sandbox. Here’s a beach!”
So come, my dearly beloved son. Come now, even if for only one day, to talk about God and to theologize; to enjoy what you yearn for; to listen to the rough crags, those mystical and silent theologians, which expound deep thoughts and guide the heart and nous towards the Creator.
After spring it is beautiful here – from Holy Pascha until the Panagia’s day in August. The beautiful rocks theologize like voiceless theologians, as does all of nature – each creature with its own voice or its silence. If you bump your hand against a little plant, immediately it shouts very loudly with its natural fragrance, “Ouch! You didn’t see me, but hit me!” And so on, everything has its own voice, so that when the wind blows, their movement creates a harmonious musical doxology to God. And what more shall we say about the creeping things and winged birds? When that saint sent his disciple to tell the frogs to be quiet so that they could read the Midnight Service, they answered him, “Be patient until we’re done with Matins!” Continue reading The Rocks Theologize Like Voiceless Theologians
I have hardly posted any blogs lately, and that is largely due to being busy with work and travel. I spent some time at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and greatly enjoyed my stay there. It is the oldest Orthodox monastery in America and has been a place of rest or repose for several saints. With 300 acres of land to explore, dozens of little chapels tucked away in the woods, and beautiful daily liturgies, it is a place of spiritual renewal and refreshment. It is under the OCA jurisdiction, and fortunately, the services are almost completely in English.
Rather than complete a detailed write up and review of my stay, I have instead decided to post several photos of my visit. I hope you enjoy them:
There are many Christians who deeply fear doubt due to their genuine desire to love God with all their being. This fear of doubt and refusal to acknowledge little “fires” that are kindling in the back of the mind can sadly lead to the spiritual collapse of some Christians. Abbot Tryphon of Vashon Island, Washington, has written about how doubt differs from unbelief, and how to approach doubt in a healthy manner. Below are his thoughts:
I once met a woman who claimed she never doubted her faith, and had never experienced even a moment when she didn’t believe everything the Church taught. Within that same year, this woman had abandoned her faith, and apostatized from Orthodoxy. Her fear of harboring even a little doubt about her belief in God, and her trust in the Church’s teachings, had left her vulnerable. She did not understand that although the counterpart of belief is unbelief, doubt itself must be viewed as simply a hesitation between two positions. Continue reading Doubt Is Not Unbelief
In 1992, Olympic runner Derek Redmond’s hamstring snapped mid-race. He hobbled to a stop as the other runners flew past him. With much pain and tears, he began to limp and hop toward the finish line, refusing to give up.
It appears several coaches advised him to stop running, probably to avoid hurting himself further. Already in excruciating pain, he could hardly move. But then his dad, Jim, reached him. After collapsing onto his father in tears, together they slowly and painfully made their way to a touching finish as his dad continually waived away those who were attempting to stop them.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7) These words of St. Paul have made an impression on me since my youth. Continue reading Finishing Salvation
Pop-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.
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 , “If you cannot read the entire Apodeipno , 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? 
“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
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  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.  Continue reading Calamities and the Wrath of God (St. Paisios)
While 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.