Monday, July 9, 2018

Beware of Too Much Reading


When we begin our search for a God it is natural for us to seek out knowledge from books, especially those written by our Church Fathers, the saints and elders of the Church. But there is a danger in this that we must be aware of.

Saint Theophan the Recluse says,
Turning his mind towards God with all his might, his one desire would be to read only of Him, to speak only of Him. But these occupations alone will not lead to what is sought, unless accompanied by other, more practical activities.
We also need to learn how to live the Orthodox life. This involves prayer, both collective prayer we experience in our worship services and our private prayer that is a daily activity. We must participate in the Sacraments especially Holy Communion and Confession. The other ascetic practices such of fasting are also important. We must gain self knowledge so we can make changes in our way of life. There are passions or habits we have that must be controlled. (See booklet Ten Points For an Orthodox Way of Life). So what is the danger in reading?

Saint Theophan writes,
The practice of reading and speaking of God will, used on his own, create a facile habit for such things: It is easier to philosophize than to pray or pay attention to oneself. But since it is a work of the mind, which falls so easy into pride, he predisposes a man to self-esteem. It may altogether cool the desire for practical effort, and consequently hinder sound progress by a flattering successfulness in this mental activity. For this reason sound-minded teachers warn their pupils of the danger and advise them not to concern themselves too much with such reading and talk to the detriment of other things.
Reading and dialog can become a substitute for what is really necessary to acquire the Holy Spirit so one can live in a way that is Christ like to live in union with Him.

Saint Theophan again,
It is wrong to become too much attached to reading it leads to no good and builds a wall between the heart and God would lead to the development of harmful.
When you read, read with the intention of learning how to change yourself. Then make a sincere effort to actually change how you live. Without changes little is gained.

Reference: Saint Theophan, The Art of Prayer, p 168

Monday, July 2, 2018

How to Seek Inner Peace




In the beginning of our spiritual journey we realize that we lack an inner peace, and realize that the way we are seeking to find it only seems to bring more turmoil. We have a feeling that God is distant from us and that our inner being is seeking a peace it cannot find. This motivates us to renew, or even begin for the first time, our search for God, and a deep inner spiritual peace only He can bring. This effort is brought about by our conscience and engages our will to take actions that will help us change our way life.

We seek spiritual books to read, we seek out a spiritual father to teach us the way, and we begin to attend worship services more regularly. With our sincerity in this effort, we are properly guided and  encouraged to also actively participate in the sacramental life of the Church, primarily Confession and Holy Communion. We learn about, and begin, the ascetic disciplines of fasting and daily prayer, and learn how to properly prepare to receive Holy Communion regularly.

Through our participation in the Sacraments, our self-knowledge increases, and we become aware of how often we miss the mark in fulfilling God’s commandments. With this increased knowledge we receive the gift of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit, which begins to work from within us.

Saint Theophan the Recluse put it this way:
If all goes well, a man who seeks after God will, upon reflection, decide to give up distractions and a life lived in self-denial, inspired by fear of God and by his conscience. In answer to this decision the grace of God which until now has acted from without, enters within through the sacraments; the spirit of man, previously important, now becomes full strength.
We begin our Christian journey with the insight that we are separated from God and an awareness that our soul seeks an inner peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit working from within our being. We read and get advice from a spiritual doctor, most commonly our parish priest, and begin to nurture our soul through the sacramental life in the Church. We experience this sacramental way of life as the spiritual medicine that brings God’s Grace, Christ Himself, and the Holy Spirit, to grow within us. It is this spiritual force that warms our heart, purifies it, brings us into a closer relationship with God, and  develops an unshakable inner peace. We discover that this is a peace that is not disturbed by the trials and tribulations of our earthly life.

Reference: Saint Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer, p 167

Ten Points for Living the Orthodox Way of Life 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Do you Feel Something is Lacking in Your Christian Life?


If you feel something is lacking in your Christian faith, this is when your Christian life can begin in earnest. In an earlier post Elder Archimandrite Aimilianos told us it begins when we have the feeling of being separated from God, a feeling that something is lacking in the practice of our faith. He also said this feeling is necessary if we are to begin  to walk the path to salvation as promised.

Saint Theophan the Recluse says,
We become aware of this incompleteness, and see the incorrectness of our way of life and the instability of our efforts. And so we turn from outward to inward piety. We are led into this either by reading books about spiritual life, or by talking with those who know what the essence of Christian life is, or by dissatisfaction with our own efforts, by a certain intuition that something is lacking, and that all is not going as it should.
He tells us that this awareness of something lacking comes when we have lived what is normally seen as a good life, but we do not have inner peace and do not have what Saint Paul says is promised, “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17). He says,
Once this troubling thought is born in us, then by talking with people who have knowledge he will come to realize what the matter is, or we may read about it in a book. Either of these things will enable us to see the essential defect in the order of our life, namely our lack of attention to the movements within ourselves, and our lack of self-mastery.
It is when we realize that something is lacking in the practice of our faith that we become motivated to seek what kind of changes are necessary for us to become united with him so we are able to endure whatever life brings, doing His will, and living with inner peace.

Saint Theophan tells us that this is when we begin to understand that the solution lies in the condition of our inner being.  He says,
We understand then, that the essence of the Christian life consists in establishing ourselves with our mind in the heart before God, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is in this way we are enabled to control all inward movements and all outward actions, so as to transform everything in our self, whether great or small, into the service of God, the Trinity, consciously and freely offering ourselves wholly to God.
This is when we can benefit from studying the Ten Point Program For Living an Orthodox Life booklet to learn how to live the Orthodox way of Life. This gives us the path to what our soul is seeking, union with God.

Finally Saint Theophan writes,
Once one has become conscious of what the essence of Christian life is, and has found that it is something that he does not yet possess, he sets to work with his mind in order to achieve it. He reads, thinks, and talks. And so he comes to realize that the Christian life depends on union with the Lord.

Reference: The Art of Prayer compiled byIgumen Chariton of Valamo, p 165

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why must we cry out to God in prayer.

To develop a personal relationship with God and know Him through His energies we need to pray from the depths of our being. This is more than  mental effort.  It demands our use of our deeper noetic faculty. This is said by our Church Fathers to be in the “heart” where the “spirit in the heart” speaks.

Archimandrite Aimilianos says that in prayer,
What matters is that a cry should come forth from the depths which, like a loud roar, like an earthquake, will shake the heavens a finally force God to answer, and to say to us [like He said to Moses] “Why do you cry to me?” (Ex 14.15).
Why do we have to cry? Elder Aimilianos says it is to wake God up, just like the Apostles had to do when they were caught in a storm while on a boat with Jesus. Feeling in danger they cried out to Him, woke Him up and He calmed the storm.(Mt 8).

But surely God knows what we need. So what do we cry out?

Elder Aimilianos says
God does this, first so we will express our longing for Him, and for that longing to be uniquely ours. Second, so that we can become of our need and nakedness [sinfulness], and third so we can learn to seek Him.
If God were simply to surrender to us without our effort we would also easily discard Him. He wants us to seek and experience Him. In this way our prayer will become meaningful and lead us in the way of His commandments.

This is still only the beginning in our journey of prayer.

Reference: Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Church at Prayer, p 18

Monday, June 18, 2018

What is our faculty of noetic perception?

In prayer it normally seems that God is so distant. After all, He is Spirit and we are flesh. We are created and He is the Creator. We must accept that we can never know God in His entirety. We can, however, know His energies, but never His essence. How is it we can know His energies.

It is through our faculty of noetic perception that we can know God in part and have a personal relationship with Him. This faculty is given to us by God and is one we must cultivate. It is through this faculty that we can speak with spirit to Spirit. 

Saint John Climacus says,
The intellect is clothed in the faculty of noetic perception...and we should not cease to seek for it within ourselves.
St. Diadochos of Photiki says,
By means of love the soul is joined to the virtues of God, searching out God by means of noetic perception.
Elder Aimilianos says
Faculties of noetic perception, as they are called, because it is these which can palpably lay hold of God, especially what we call the contemplative faculty (noeron). This has the ability to be drawn toward God, and, in a certain manner, speak to God, as we would say. For this to take place, the contemplative faculty must be completely united with our reasoning faculty, that is, with our mind, so that the entire content of my spiritual being can be turned toward God, addressed to God, directed to God.
It is in this way we say we are united with God and can converse with Him. Because of this faculty in the depths of our being, we are able to cry out to God, even though He is heavenly and we are earthly. Seek it always, as Saint John says, and we will discover the path to deep prayer, to know God’s energies and converse with Him.

Reference: Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Church at Prayer, p 16

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Does Orthodox Way of Life Begin?



Our deeper spiritual life begins when our soul begins to long for God and assert itself in our conscience. When  this happens it leads us to change our way life.

Elder Aimilianos says,
When it is, then, that a soul says: “l must live a Christian life, I must live differently”? When it acquires
 the sense that it is a soul in exile; when it realizes that it is something that has been cast away, and now exists outside of its proper place, outside of Paradise, in a foreign land, beyond the borders within which it was made to dwell.
To begin to think about changing our way of life, to live according to the ten points of an Orthodox Way of Life, we must begin to acquire the feeling that we are separated from God. This is a feeling where we sense there exists some invisible barrier between us and God.

Spiritual life does not begin from any kind of intellectual analysis. On the contrary such efforts may only increase the size of the barrier. 

Elder Aimilianos says,
The Spiritual life, you see, begins with a kind of vision, with the feeling of banishment, and this is not arrived at by means of any intellectual analysis or evaluation. I simply feel within myself the presence of a wall, a barrier, and I don’t know what’s beyond it.
This is a feeling that there is an insurmountable obstacle that we must overcome, that there is a “dividing wall” (Eph2.14) between us and God. We realize how distant we are from God. We begin to understand that He is Spirit but we ourselves are only flesh. We realize that we don’t really have any conversation with God, but only talk at Him, often only out of obligation.
As this feeling of separation, of being in exile, develops, we begin to seek God in earnest. First must come this feeling of being separated from God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
But if the soul doesn’t have this feeling, it can’t even begin to embark upon a spiritual life. It may live a Christian life, but only in a manner of speaking, only in appearance, only on an intellectual level, only within the limits of its own conceptions.
This feeling of separation provides the proper motivation to participate in divine services, personal prayer and ascetic practices voluntarily without the sense of obligation or “l must.” The soul will move us forward based on a divine vision, one where we begin to see our fallen nature and realize we belong in paradise.

The beginning is not a fear of condemnation to a burning fire in hell, but a desire to be united with a loving God. This feeling of separation leads us to try to understand why we are separated and the desire to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to unite us with Him.


Reference: The Way of the Spirit, Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 2-6

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marriage as a Spiritual Journey


Having just celebrated 54 years of marriage I was drawn to reflect on this blessed sacrament. Elder Aimilianos says marriage is a journey of pain, love as well as a journey to heaven. I can say I have experienced the pain and love in my marriage as the two seem to go hand in hand.

The Elder says
“It is an adulteration of marriage to think that it is a road to happiness as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life.” 
A fruitful marriage requires an understanding of love as well as having a relationship with Spirit. When we participate in the sacrament of marriage our souls are being joined as one. Marriage is a union of two people. Being joined in Spirit we then begin a joint path facing all the trial and tribulations of earthly life. But for this to be a harmonious path and one that allows us to grow spiritually we must have a relationship based on love.

But what is Love? Elder Aimilianos says the following:
The aim of love is for one person to give joy to another person; to voluntarily deprive myself so the other feels at ease, feels secure in his life.
Saint Paul tells us that this requires “bearing patiently with another’s failings” (Eph 4.2). This means that love begins by accepting the other person as they are. This is the first lesson I remember learning in the early days of my marriage of 54 years. After our sexual passions are tamed we begin to see the failings of our spouse and of ourself. If the marriage is to survive we quickly grasp that this spiritual journey of union requires we accept that we are different and have different wants and desires. We each have our passions that must be endured until they are overcome and our self-centeredness is snuffed out. This requires the development of humility and selflessness. I think this requires along with our individual efforts the work of Spirit, a recognition that both partners are made in the image of God along with the acceptance that we are both sinners, unable to fully live the commandments of Christ. Being united in the Church we are aided in this struggle and given help with the sacramental life. Our life together in the Church is important. I was not Orthodx before I was married but thankfully it was expected that I join the church. This has made it possible for us to grow together with a shared faith. This is probably the greatest blessing I have received.

Love involves being kind to one another. But what does this mean? Saint Paul says, “We are kind by forgiving one another” (Eph 4.32). My wife taught me that forgiveness is a daily thing.  For her it was important to not let the night pass into a new day without resolving our difference. Saint Paul also teaches this. He says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4.26). Because of her insistence on this daily reconciliation we never grew far apart. Another thing we learned to do later in life was to pray together each morning and evening. We don’t always agree with each other, but we maintain respect for each other’s needs and a tolerance of our failings.

Respect for each other is an important dimension of love. Paul also says, “Love is expressed by honoring one another - looking to each other’s interests” (Phil 2.4). To do this we must let our spouse have their freedom to do what they want. We have to respect their unique and personal interests. We have to show our delight in their pursuits and achievements. 

Further, we must learn to always be kind and to be careful when discussing our spouse’s failings. We must first express ourselves in a way that shows respect and brings joy, communicating an understanding of our respect and caring for them. We cannot know what is hidden deep in their soul, but we can assume that buried there is pain, difficulties and torments. We must therefore be very careful to not unknowingly hurt their soul. If we can first bring a “bright face” and make the other person smile in our discussions then both of our hearts are opened. Then it is possible for the Holy Spirit to work in both our hearts. Our respect and kindness for each other makes us aware of God’s love for us and we receive more freely His grace.

Elder Aimilianos says
When someone shows you the love of God, kindness, and delicacy of feeling, this is communion with God.
When our hearts are open we see the humanness in each other and then become sensitive to the failings we both have and have compassion. We recognize that neither of us is perfect. From this humility comes kindness, understanding and forgiveness. We can then help each other in our struggle.

Marriage is made beautiful by acknowledging our human condition, having hope and being strengthened by our difficulties. It is a spiritual journey of two people who have been joined in a union by the Holy Spirit. We become one and have the capability of complimenting one another because of our differences and imperfections. As Jesus told us, in marriage “Two will be as one flesh” (Mt 19.5, Mk 10.7). Marriage is a journey of love based on kindness and respect.

Saint Peter also gives us insight about the nature of this union. He reminds us of the innate difference between men and woman. He tells us that men have a different psychology and tend to be more self-centered and more easily tempted to become angry as their ego is challenged. He says women tend to have a gentile and quiet spirit with patience. They are not as easily angered. I am ever thankful that my wife has shown this quality and has the patience to deal with my ego that is so easily hurt. Men and women naturally compliment each other. This is all part of God’s plan for us.

Peter also says the man must show understanding of his wife’s desires, and he must always treat her with respect (1Peter 3.7). Failing to do so, he risks hurting her deeply without realizing it. I cannot tell the number of times I have learned this lesson. Peter also says that we must have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1Peter 3.8). 



A good marriage involves pain and love. By having respect for each other and having kindness, accepting we are different but united in union, our struggle to perfect this union brings us closer to God. It is a struggle that purifies our heart so we can see God as Jesus tells us. Marriage is a spiritual journey based on love. In this way we learn to live God’s two greatest commandments, to love thy neighbor as oneself and to love God with our whole heart.