Monday, May 18, 2015

Role of Reason and Logic in Our Spiritual life



I was trained as an engineer so I have an orientation to viewing things from a logical and scientific perspective. But this view often causes anxiety and gives me difficulty in my spiritual life. When I try to apply logic and science to an event we might call a miracle, I am easily confused. The spiritual reality of the event is lost. My mind tries to take an miraculous event like Lazarus' return to life and seek to develop rational scenarios in which he might not have been dead, but only subdued with some drug or herb, or something else that would give a rational explanation about how Jesus could raise Him from the dead.

I have found that when I am able to let go of this rational approach, a whole new world opens up. Scripture takes on a whole new meaning. Spirit is revealed. The saints and angels come and interact with us, miracles become realities. All becomes different.
Elder Paisios says,
The mysteries of God will be impossible to know and will appear strange and contrary to nature as long as we don't overturn our secular mindset and see everything with spiritual eyes. Those who believe that they can come to know God's mysteries through mere scientific theory, without spiritual life, resemble a fool who thinks he can look through a telescope and see Paradise.
Too often I am this fool. For many, overcoming our addiction to rationalism or scientism presents a great challenge. The secular world view in these times is based on rationalism and scientism. How do we overcome this tendency to allow our rational mind to dominate and blot out everything spiritual?

While I have not completely overcome this disability, here are some of the approaches that have helped me.

Bible Study: When reading Holy Scripture do not try and analyze it. Let the words enter your heart instead of your mind. Read it prayerfully and reflectively with the assumption that its words contain knowledge that will lift you beyond what your rational mind can ever figure out. See Scripture as your Divine teacher. As soon as you begin to analyze, looking up the Greek words, seeking archaeological evidence, checking parallels with history, searching for academic Biblical scholars'  explanations, you will never allow Scripture to teach you. You will aways be trying to figure it out with your rational mind. When you assume that you cannot understand it fully with your rational mind, then you will become a learner of spiritual truths. Then you will allow your heart to be opened and your soul to be nurtured. When you come to a passage you can't understand, do not discount it or judge it, but only say to yourself, "I am not yet ready to understand this." Pray that God may reveal this to you at some time in the future and continue reading thinking that the Scripture is my teacher, not my mind. You will find that Scripture begins to talk with you in a new way. You are giving it the authority it deserves, as the Word of God, to become a powerful teacher about Spirit.

Prayer: This is a  big one. For a long time I thought of prayer as a discipline, a way to gain control over my mind and its ability to rapidly generate thoughts, or as an obligation. I tried hard. I would increase my time in prayer with great effort. It was again my rational mind acting to stay in control, a form of pride. Then I began to realize that this was not leading me to a relationship with God that I desired. God did not seem to be listening to my prayers. I would struggle to find time to pray. Then one day my spiritual father said to me after I explained to him my difficulty in prayer, "Why are you so self-centered." That's all he said. I immediately thought, "Who me, self-centered?" I began to think about what He meant. Then I remembered he also said that Christ needs to be at the center of everything. "What did this mean," I pondered. In the Jesus prayer it is supposed to be a prayer of the heart and using my rational mind I would force my mind with great effort to focus itself on the heart. I was expecting some bright light to descend from above. Suddenly it dawned on me that Christ, the Light of Light, was already within me. He dwells in my heart. I receive Him into my being every time I participate in Holy Communion. Realizing this inner presence, My mind suddenly let go. My prayer was now in the heart where Christ abides. My mind was at peace. There was a sense of real communion with God. There were no flashing lights, only peace. He is now with me all the time whenever I stop and let go of my rational mind. It's not that I lose control, but I gain a different kind of control, one that is based on surrender to Spirit.
Saint Paisios says,
"When the mind enters the heart and the two work together, our work is not anymore the work of logic and reason. Sound reasoning is a gift. But this gift must be restored and sanctified."
Divine Liturgy: This is another place where I found you can experience a great change when you let go of your rational mind's control. When we enter with the Gospel book there is a prayer read that calls for the heavenly realm to join us. It reads: "O Master, Lord our God, Who has appointed in Heaven legions and Hosts of Angels and Archangels for the service of Thy Glory, grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of Holy Angels serving with us and glorifying Thy goodness..." Here in the procession we are joined with all the angels and begin to prepare for the ultimate gift, Christ Himself, His Body and Blood, which will shortly be offered to us. To fully participate in the Divine Liturgy you have to accept the idea that invisible beings are real and then Spirit will make them appear as a reality to you. They are part of God's created reality and are especially present with us during the Divine Liturgy. Allow them to enter your presence as you worship and they will nurture your spirit and your soul will be filled with delight.

Daily Life: Learn that you do not have to feel you have to plan everything or explain everything.  With the right attitude you will find there are miracles happening all the time. Don't let your mind fool you, telling you this is not true.

Saint Paisios tells us,
If we try and solve problems using nothing else but our logic, we will end up quite confused. In each and every one of our actions, God must take the lead. Everything we do we must do trusting God, for otherwise we will be full of anxiety, our mind will get overwhelmed and our soul will be miserable.
This is a lesson that has taken me many years to learn and I still struggle to let go and not try to find a rational or scientific explanation for everything.  But knowing the right way to balance rational thought with Spirit I can catch myself and seek His help, putting my full trust in Him instead of my own intellect. This is when Christ becomes the center of my life.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mid-Pentecost - What is the Significance of this Important Feast Day?


We are at the mid-point between Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ and His victory over death, and Pentecost where He sends down the Holy Spirit, the “living water,” so we too can follow Him. In this feast we continue the celebration of the Resurrection that emphasizes the Divine nature of Christ. Simultaneously, we are reminded that  the descent of the Holy Spirit is coming soon. We should become aware of the joy our soul seeks to receive His Grace through the Spirit. It is His grace that enables us to follow His teachings, to make our lives Christ centered, to live united with Him in hope of our Resurrection. We are encouraged to think of the joy in receiving the Holy Sprit so that we too can share with others the love God gives us. We can become His light that shines through us like “rivers of flowing waters” (John 7:38).

During the feast we can reflect on the nature of our faith and how weak it is in these times, how few follow His teachings. We too often say that it is more important for us to follow our inner feelings and not to be constrained by His teachings. We think this is freedom. But let’s realize when we say this we are admitting we are a slave to the norms of our current secular culture instead of God’s hopes for us.  The way of our times is not true freedom. It will not lead us to eternal life in His kingdom. In this feast we are reminded to thirst for what is beyond earth, beyond our feelings, beyond our self-centered wants and desires, to thirst for the Holy Spirit that is to be sent to us by Christ Himself on Pentecost. This will bring us true joy, true freedom, and the strength to follow Christ.

For the next week we sing along with the Resurrection hymn the following:
Having come to the middle of the fest, 
refresh my thirsty soul with the streams of piety;for thou, O Savior, didst say to all:Let him who thirsts come to Me and drink.O Christ our God,Source of Life, glory to Thee.

Monday, May 4, 2015

17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life.


Happiness is often elusive, especially in our daily work. Life involves many temptations and unexpected troubles. With a solid faith and proper way of life it is possible to find joy in everything you do or are faced with. The following seventeen points will bring God into your life each hour of your day allowing you will become more effective and true to your deepest values.   Implement them and you will find they also will lead to a life based on joy.

1. Remember your power to choose.
You make the choices in your life. You can choose  to act with God or to ignore His grace. You were created in God's image and have free will.  If you feel unhappy remember that you are making this choice and that you can be making a different choice which will bring divine joy. Do not blame anyone but yourself for your dissatisfaction with your life. Instead examine the choices you have made and commit to making new ones.

2. Do not worry about what you cannot control.
Worry will not accomplish anything but anxiety. It can even cause lack of sleep and health problems. Christ tells us to have faith and not to worry. (Matt 6:25) He tells us to remember the birds and how God cares for their needs. He further says, "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?" (Matt 6:28). Remember that God knows what you need and you can trust in Him to provide what is necessary. Focus on living each moment with Him as your guide.

3. Don't compare yourself to others.
When you compare yourself to others you ignore the reality that God gave each of us unique gifts. We are all different. Paul says, "There are diversity of gifts but one Spirit." (1Cor 12:4) He tells us there are diversities of ministers and activities that each of us is given through the Spirit. (1Cor 12:8) You must find a way to use your unique God given gifts in all aspects of your life, and not assume that you can or should do everything others can do. Be thankful for the gifts you have, understand them, and use them fully. Praise and give thanks for the gifts you see in others. Do not try to be like someone else but develop your unique capabilities and let God's gift of beauty be fulfilled in you.

4. Give thanks to God for everything.
Paul says, "rejoice always...in everything give thanks for it is the will of God in Jesus Christ...Hold fast to what is good." (1 Th 5:16-18) He tells us to make our life a continual prayer. When you are in constant contact with God you will be guided to do His will in all things. Remember all things are sent by Him. You may not understand why he allows some of the difficulties that we face, but you will be rewarded if you always give thanks for all He allows to happen to you, both what you see as good and bad. With patience and endurance, out of our difficulties will come something good. Remember the story of the Paralytic who waited for thirty-eight years to be healed by Christ (John 5:1-15). Paul reminds us to give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)

5. Don't judge others
Remember this: as you judge others so will you be judged (Matt 7:1). When you judge others you are only putting added pressure on yourself. You must develop humility and remember what you do not like in others is what you have in yourself. You are called to love your fellow workers and neighbors, and if he or she is doing something you do not think is right you must discern with compassion how to correct the undesirable behavior, not by judging the person, but by seeking ways to help them out of your love. Judging separates us from others, destroys love, and leads to unhappiness.

6. Forgive others and don't carry resentment
In the Lord's Prayer we ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matt 6:12). God will forgive you only if you are able to forgive others. When you carry resentment in your heart for past misdeeds you will find yourself angry, anxious and separated from God. You will continue to carry negative thoughts and never be able to be happy. When you forgive you are relieved of a great burden and God will give you grace to help you erase any resentment you may have. Remember that one of the basic commandments is to love others as we love ourselves and as God loves you. Try to see that we all are imperfect and struggling with the challenges of life and we need the help of others.

7. Plan for the  difficulties you may face during the day
Each morning in your daily morning prayer, take a few minutes to think about what potential issues you might face, those situations where it may be difficult to live your values as taught by Jesus Christ. Doing this in a prayerful way will guide and prepare you to deal with them.  Prepare yourself each day for the struggles of the day. More on daily prayer life.

8. Remember the Jesus Prayer
If you remember God throughout the day it will help you in all things.  One of the greatest gifts you have is prayer. The Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner," is one that can be etched into your brain with constant repetition so that it will be on the tip of your tongue always, no matter what you are doing. Learn this practice and your life will be transformed. More on Jesus Prayer

9. Help others
You can always find ways to help others. Try to find ways to help those who seem to give you the most difficulty during the day. Kindness only leads to more kindness. When you make an effort to help someone it softens your heart and brings more grace on you.

10. Simplify
Often we try to do too much and our life becomes unbalanced. We find we do not have the proper time for family or our Church family. We become consumed by our work and other duties, and become lax in our spiritual life. Then stress accumulates.  At times you need to look at what is really important for you to be able to follow Christ. Then use your free will to make new choices and implement changes in your life, seeking a way of life that allows us to keep Christ in the center of all you do. Get rid of those things that are not important. Use your free will to implement changes. Following God's will involves your cooperation through your choices.

11. Use your talents wisely
Since we all have differing gifts that have been given to us by God you need to make sure you are using those given to you to the fullest.  Examine your gifts and then look at your work-day tasks.  How can you better use what you are naturally good at. You may at times have to look for a different job if you are so constrained by your current situation that you cannot use your natural gifts.  But in  almost every situation there is room for you to exercise to the fullest what God has given you. Transform the way you do your work.

13. Let His grace shine through you - be a light
Remember that Christ is always with you.  As you generate thoughts of loving kindness the goodness of Christ will flow from you and you will become a positive force for the benefit of others. You need to let His light shine through your actions and your attitude. Become a beacon of goodness and love.

14. Choose you friends carefully
Often we make the mistake by not being careful who we choose to be our friends and who we spend our time with.  If anyone is having a negative impact on you, stop and evaluate this relationship. Negative people or people with different values can easily lead you astray.  Be prepared to change who you spend your time with.

15. Eliminate negative thinking 
Negative thinking only leads to bitterness, sadness, and even wicked thoughts. You need to learn to recognize all such thoughts and totally reject them. Seek to find the sources of negative thinking that are influencing you.  It may be commentators on TV, what you read, Facebook friends, or your personal friends. Find all sources and eliminate them from you life. Your creative mind will be opened by positive thought and you will be able to better apply your gifts to your work. Your positive thoughts will help others become more positive. Negative thoughts will always lead you away from happiness.

16. Review your life's actions each evening.
Each evening, during your evening prayers, take a moment to review how well you did during the day with the difficult situations you faced.  Did it go as planned or do you need to make corrections. If you were led to sinfulness then immediately ask God for forgiveness and determine how you can do things differently next time. Remember God always understands the difficulty you face and is always forgiving when you seek His forgiveness with sincerity.

17. Remember your mortality and the eternal life to come.
Hope is important as you face all the trials and tribulations that you will face in your lifetime. If you always think about the certainty of your own mortality, not in a morbid way, but in one based on the hope you have of eternal life given to all through Christ's victory over death in His Crucifixion and Resurrection, you will always have hope. Remember our aim is to become united with God in eternal life in His kingdom. All your difficulties are but the path of preparation for the life to come.

For more on an Christian way of life see the Ten Point Program for an Orthodox Life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Orthodox Prayer

Prayer is the way we develop a loving relationship with God. In the Orthodox Church we have a 2000 year history of Daily Prayer as well as our Liturgical and Sacramental life. Prayer is something that takes time to develop like anything else. It takes us many years just to learn to speak. We had schooling to learn how to speak properly and to write. The Church provides a depth of guidance about Prayer. 

Our Parish maintains the most searched site on Orthodox Prayer. If you search on Google it will appear with the top ranking.  It contains many articles from the Church fathers and others on daily prayer, the Jesus Prayer and much more. You will find the basics as well as helpful information for those more spiritually advanced in their prayer life.

We just revamped the website with a flexible design to make it more readable on smartphones and tablets. Check it out and explore the path to a fulfilling prayer life. 


"He who is able to pray correctly, even if he is the poorest of all people, is essentially the richest. And he who does not have proper prayer, is the poorest of all, even if he sits on a royal throne"  
- St John Chrysostom


www.OrthodoxPrayer.org

Let us know what you think. Your comments would be appreciated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai Needs Your Help


St. Catherine’s monastic community is the oldest in the world. The current Monastery walls were built in the sixth century. Situated on the holy ground where Moses encountered God at the Burning Bush, Saint Catherine's Monastery has, through the years, represented Orthodox Christianity's tradition of sanctity to broader society (see below for more on this). 

 However, due to the humanitarian crises of the wider region and the depressed Greek economy, it has lost major sources of income that enabled the Monks to carry out this mission and maintain the Monastery for future generations. There are no local Orthodox communities in the autocephalous Archdiocese of Sinai to support St. Catherine's. 

 Given the tenuous economic situation at St. Catherine's, Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery (FMSM) was founded to support the Monastery’s continued expression of the timeless values of Orthodox spirituality. In addition to information on how to donate and news, the website, http://www.mountsinaimonastery.org/, has many photographs, as well as information about the relevance of the St. Catherine's to the world (Sinai Today page). People can also submit questions on any topics they like (Q&A page), and we will send them to the Monastery and post answers. 

 FMSM is an IRS approved not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charity. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. The board and staff consist entirely of volunteers who are recognized by St. Catherine's and include a Monastic associated with the Monastery. All donations go to the Monastery, though on credit card donations, there is a small, standard credit card fee. 

 His Eminence Archbishop Damianos of Sinai and abbot of the Greek Orthodox monastery relays the following: 
 The great and difficult journey into the desert is something desired by all who value inner peace. Hence, the monks consider the continued operation of the monastery a duty not just to themselves, but to the visitors who reach this wilderness from all corners of the world, hoping to experience the stillness that exists between the soul and God amidst such beauty sanctified by the divine Presence.  While the Sinai monks have no wish to burden others, even very modest contributions go far in Egypt. Together with the prayers of the faithful, these will sustain the Monastery in its spiritual goals, which value the peace of one’s neighbor as much as one’s own. 
 For those who are interested, this is from the Sinai Today page about the Monastery (http://www.mountsinaimonastery.org/sinai-today/): 
 Most are drawn by the Monastery's location on Mount Sinai, or Horeb, which was retained in local memory as the site of the miraculous events of Exodus, where the holy Prophet Moses encountered God at the Burning Bush and then received the Ten Commandments. The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai, as St. Catherine’s is officially named, also houses the world’s greatest collection of Byzantine icons, as well as a famous collection of ancient manuscripts second only to that of the Vatican. 
 For the student of religion or spiritual seeker, the Sinai Monastery stands at the apex of revelation where the New and Old Testaments meet, for the brilliant radiance of Moses’ countenance upon his descent from Sinai prefigures the way of divine Grace to come in the New Testament.  
 As seen through the prism of Sinai’s ancient spiritual tradition, the ultimate significance of the events of Exodus emerges in the New Testament era. Given their own experiences of the purified soul’s participation in God, the Fathers of the early Church were able to discern essential aspects of Christian theology in Moses' experiences of God, first at the Burning Bush and then on the Holy Summit of Sinai. Thus, the tradition of the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament revealed on Sinai finds its fulfillment in the way of love taught by Christ, the journey whose stages are clearly set out in Saint John Climacus of Sinai’s Ladder of Divine Ascent and reflected in the life of the Great-martyr Catherine of Alexandria, whose relics are preserved in the Holy Monastery. 

 For anyone interested, donations by credit card can be made at http://www.mountsinaimonastery.org/donate/ and those by check should be made out to Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery and mailed to: Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery PO Box 231953 Encinitas, CA, 92023-1953 USA 
Thank you very much!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation or Prayer?

Feeling stressed and burdened with hectic schedules many are flocking to meditation training programs. A recent article in our local newspaper reported the following:
Meditation, primarily a 2,500year-old form called mindfulness meditation that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment, has gone viral.The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity.
Orthodox Christians have a surer way of finding a joyful way of life. Instead of mindfulness meditation the Orthodox Church teaches the way of prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. When this is based on a faith in Jesus Christ and participation in the full sacramental life of the Church, we will find a greater peace than can ever be found with mindfulness meditation.

Being mindful, or watchful as Orthodox Christians say, is important for our spiritual well being. To be watchful we must have a mind that is under control and not simply being swayed from east to west, from heights to depths, based on the surrounding stimulus it receives from our senses. The form of prayer that has been taught since the time of Christ is to repeat over and over with sincerity, "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner." This is not a mantra. This is a short prayer that affirms our faith in Christ, it recognizes how far we are from the way of life He has taught us, and we ask for His help and forgiveness. By repeating it over and over each morning and evening for at least 15 minutes every day then expanding to 30 minutes, the prayer becomes programed into our physical being through the interconnection of the neurons in our brain. Eventually it becomes a prayer that is with us continually linking all our actions with the will of God.

We begin by praying it verbally and then when God allows, we find we can say it in our mind only with few distractions. The discipline of sincere prayer is to develop the ability to reject the distractions, the thoughts that try to keep us from prayer. This takes effort and time. But instead of putting time into a mindfulness meditation practice, put your time into prayer. You will find you will get greater benefits.

Unfortunately many will say such spiritual disciplines are only for monastics. But the reality is that if we are to be able to follow the teachings of Christ, we need God's help plus our efforts to control our bodily passions. This is why the disciplines like the Jesus Prayer and fasting are emphasized in the Orthodox Church. Most importantly we must to learn to become watchful, to control what thoughts we allow to affect our body's action. If we can learn to control our mind with God's help, then we will receive more of God's grace to do all things He commands.

For information on the Jesus Prayer
For information on the Ten Point Program for an Orthodox Christian way of life.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

We Are God's Children Through His Resurrection




Imagine what a great event has taken place. Humankind once enjoyed the ideal place to live but lost it and became subject to the passions of a physical life where death always looms in our mind. Losing a perfect life in Paradise humans became self-centered and sinful unable to fulfill the ideals God planned for them. We are all made in His image and called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love God with our whole heart and soul. But fearful of death and sinful, we struggle to fulfill this ideal. We may appear rich on the outside, we have a large house, fine clothes, a beautiful automobile, but on the inside our souls are unclean.

After a long period of time from the event of our creation, and after many attempts to prod us to reclaim our place in Paradise, a great day came. A king came, not an earthly king, but the true king of the universe, He who created all we know out of nothing and Who directs the universe. This king we lovingly know a Jesus Christ.

Christ is the king who saw our unclean state of our soul and our suffering and self-centered way of life. He had compassion for His creation and cleansed us with His priceless blood He shed for us on the Cross and clothed us anew with the robe of resurrection, and made us His children.

A good child is one who loves his parents and who obeys their instruction. A good parent loves and cares for His children. Christ and His Father, who is our father, are the perfect parents and want to raise us as their perfect children. In this way, God is glorified.

When Christ was resurrected after His cruel crucifixion we were raised from darkness to light and from a miserable state to paradise. Here is how Holy Scripture describes th effect of His Crucifixion and Resurrection: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe" (John 1:12).

Christ seeks all of us. He does not want to discriminate. When we believe in Christ and are baptized we become true children of God. We are transformed and protected by His grace. We are nurtured in His Church as we strive to become like Him, to become good children and glorify His name. This is a path that is open to everyone no matter what their nationality, no matter what time they live, no matter what their language, nor their sex. All can become His adopted children.

With the Resurrection and our faith we become a Child of God! We no longer have the fear of death which most people in the world fear. Knowing the future of our resurrection if we follow Him, death offers no fear. Christ has conquered death by His death and Resurrection. We have become a blessed child of God. Now, we too can have eternal life with Him and return to Paradise.

Let's give thanks for this great blessing that has been given to us through His death on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection. We worship and we glorify Him now and forever unto the ages of ages.

Christ is Risen! Truly He has Risen!