Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spirit of Prayer

...We should do well to remember that prayer,
independently of man’s intellectual capacity, can bring a higher form of
cognition. There is the province of reflex consciousness, of demonstrative
argument; and there is the province where prayer is the passageway to
direct contemplation of divine truth.

There is a pronounced tendency among scientists of the present century to
claim integral knowledge of the natural world. ‘The sum total of all that is
already known emphasises the unlimited capacity of the human mind, and
proves that every natural phenomenon is cognizable’, declared a Russian
scientist in 1958. We, Christians, similarly aspire to integral knowledge of
being, in the deepest and widest sense. The world of matter does not yet
encompass plenitude of being. Without belittling the importance of
experimental science, of vital necessity, perhaps, in the struggle for
existence, we still cannot overlook its limitations. I once heard the following
story of a professor of astronomy who was enthusiastically discoursing in a
planetarium on the nebulae and like marvels. Noticing an unpretentious
priest who had joined his group of students, the professor asked him:

‘What do your Scriptures say about cosmic space and its myriad stars?’
Instead of giving a direct answer the priest in turn posed a question.
‘Tell me, Professor,’ he said, ‘do you think that science will invent still more
powerful telescopes to see even farther into the firmament?’
‘Of course progress is possible and science will always be perfecting
apparatus for exploring outer space,’ replied the astronomer.
‘There is hope, then, that one day you will have telescopes that can show all
there is in the cosmos, down to the last detail?’
‘That would be impossible- the cosmos is infinite,’ replied the scientist.
‘So there is a limit to science?’
‘Yes, in that sense, there is.’
‘Well, Professor,’ said the priest, ‘where your science comes to a full stop,
ours begins, and that is what our Scriptures tell of.’

Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (2001) (2nd ed.) His Life is Mine. Chapter
6: Prayer of the Spirit. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Cathedral Prayer web page with many articles on Prayer

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why We Need to Pray by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christ the Divine Word gives us instruction on prayer. To His worthy disciples who diligently seek the knowledge of prayer, He shows how to gain the favor of God's hearing through the words of the prayer "Our Father, who art in heaven." And I will dare add to what is written. The present gathering needs to learn not only how to pray but that we must, by all means, pray. Perhaps, this has not yet been understood by many. For many in daily life have neglected and passed over this sacred and divine work of prayer. About this matter, therefore, it seems good to me to testify as strongly as possible that first of all we must, as the Apostle says, "persevere in prayer" (Rom 12:12) and thus, secondly, we must listen to the Divine Voice which defines how to offer our supplication to God.

[What is that "Divine Voice"? How often do I pray? Do I feel like I am too busy? Are other things in my life keeping me from prayer? Do I have faith that God can help me through prayer?]

For I see that in the present life everything else is busily pursued. One person fixes his soul on this matter and another on that. But the benefit of prayer is not eagerly sought after. The merchant rises early for business. He fights to show his goods to buyers and to beat his competitors. He tries to be the first to serve the customer and sell off his things. In the same spirit the buyer, too, thinks about how not to lose out on what he needs, nor to be preceded by another. He runs not to the place of prayer but to the place of trade. All are equally possessed by the desire for gain. They struggle to keep ahead of their neighbor. And so the hour of prayer, stolen away by intense cares, is given over to business.

[If I feel that I am too busy for prayer what are these "intense cares?"]

All seem to act the same way -- the craftsman, the orator, the one who files a lawsuit, as well as the one who happens to be the judge. Each devotes his whole self to what is at hand and forgets the work of prayer. He considers engagement with God a harm compared to the work before him. For whoever practices a craft thinks God's alliance is useless and unprofitable for one's current business. He therefore forsakes prayer, putting all hope in his own hands and forgetting Him who has given us hands. The orator, too, while carefully crafting his speech, does not consider Him who has given us speech. Instead, as if he had brought himself into existence, he relies wholly on himself and his pupils' studies. He thinks that nothing good will accrue to him through God's action, estimating study to be preferable to prayer.

[Do I think time with God is worth my time? What can I give up to make more time for prayer?]

In a similar way other occupations, through care for material and earthly things, cut off the soul's engagement with what is better and heavenly. It is for this reason that life is engulfed by sin, entangling all human affairs and forever increasing in dimension. And that because forgetfulness of God prevails over all things. People do not connect the benefit of prayer to their pursuits. Greed enters into business. Yet "greed is idolatry" (Col 3:5).

[What kind of sin do I observe in my daily life? What role do I pay in it? How well do I know my own sinfulness? How do I experience greed?]

Accordingly, the farmer does not measure tilling the land by his essential needs. He gives wide entrance to sin in his occupation by always extending his efforts to achieve more and by spreading out to what belongs to others. From this cause disputes arise that are difficult to resolve. Those who are possessed by the same sickness, namely greed, conflict with one another over boundary lines. This is the source of tempers, evil impulses, and violent acts against one another that end up many times in bloodshed and murder.

[What kind of disputes to I find myself in? What causes them? ]

In the same way disputes in the courts, finding a myriad of ways to promote injustice, serve the manifold wiles of sin. The judge either tips the scales of justice willingly for a gift, or ratifies injustice involuntarily by being deceived through the subtleties of those who distort the truth. But of what value is it for us to detail each instance through which sin is mixed with human life in complex and diverse ways? For the cause of sin is none other than that people do not engage God's compassionate help with their burning concerns.

[Is it possible that a better relationship with God could help me deal with the nature of the world I must interact with?]

However, if prayer precedes labors, sin will not find entrance into the soul. When the remembrance of God is established in the heart, the wiles of the adversary remain futile. And everywhere in disputed matters justice acts as mediator. Prayer keeps the farmer from sin, bringing about ample crop to a small plot, so that sin will no longer find entrance together with the desire for more. So also in the case of the traveler, or one sent to perform some service or arrange a marriage.

It is the same with everyone who intends to do something: if he does everything with prayer, he will be prevented from committing sin. Nothing contrary will drag the soul down into passion and the undertaking will be successful. But if one gives oneself wholly to one's affairs, he distances himself from God. Then, necessarily, one who departs from God must in all ways come under the influence of the adversary. One who does not unite himself with God through prayer is separated from God. Therefore, it is necessary first to learn from the word of Scripture that we "must always pray and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). For unity with God occurs through prayer. Whoever is united with God is separated from the adversary.

[Saint Gregory is trying to tell us that prayer is essential for a virtuous life. Without prayer we find ourselves separated from God - sometimes angry, sometimes despondent, and often unfulfilled. It is through prayer that we can find the peace we seek (not less difficulties) as we go about our daily task. Prayer is the way we find unity with God he says. As Orthodox Christians this is our aim, theosis.
For help on prayer visit our website on prayer and see your spiritual father for guidance.]

Trans. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, 2003

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are we All Sinners?

Do you remember what Adam did after he eat the forbidden fruit and God called to him saying, “Adam where are you?” He hid. He was ashamed of his sinfulness and because of his pride did not want to face God. Are we not the same? Do we not hide from God too? Why is it that so few participate in the Holy Sacrament of Confession? Is it because we are hiding from God? Are we afraid to acknowledge our sinful condition? After all, we ALL are sinners.

When we face judgment at the time of our death, who will be our judge? Will it be sufficient for us to have made our confession to others? Or, will it be sufficient to have confessed privately by ourselves with God? The Church teaches, based on Holy Scripture, that is is only by God that we will be judged. No human being can be our judge. It is only God who can give us forgiveness for our sinfulness. Christ empowered to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit to serve as the means to absolve us of our sins, just like in Baptism. This same power was passed on through Ordination of the priests of the Church. A Priest invokes the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confession for the absolution of all our sins. This is why its so important for us to arrange for our Confession by a priest. We need to have the courage to take the time to go into the Church, to stand in front of the icon of Christ, and make our confession to God with a priest as our witness. Then, if we have given a sincere confession, he will lift his stole and place it on our head and read the prayer of absolution and the Holy Spirit will cleanse us. This is the proper way to cleanse ourselves of our sinfulness.

Don’t be like Adam and hide from God and avoid this most important sacrament of the Church. It is only given to us as a gift of mercy for our benefit. It is available to you because of the unconditional Love that God has for you.
Cathedral Webpage on Confession

Side Note:
There was a very gracious lady who was mailing an old family Bible to her brother in another part of the country. "Is there anything breakable in here?" asked the postal clerk."Only the Ten Commandments." answered the lady.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jesus Prayer

For detailed information on the use of this prayer see this article Jesus Prayer and visit our prayer page on our web site.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Information to help in Preparing for Confession

Here are links to guides to help you prepare for a good confession.
Scripture passages
Questions related to the Ten Commandments.

Two or three weeks before going to your Spiritual Father, sit down in a place of quietude, bowing your head, examine your conscience....
Consider how many sins you committed in deed, word, and by coupling with thoughts, after your last confession,... remember the people with whom you sinned and the places where you sinned, and diligently reflect upon these to find every one of your sins....
You should not be satisfied with merely examining your conscience and finding your sins, for this profits you little, but struggle by every means to kill your sins through grief in your heart, namely through contrition and affliction....

"When our soul leaves this world we shall not be blamed for not having worked miracles, or for not having been theologians, or not having been rapt in divine visions. But we shall certainly have to give an account to God of why we have not unceasingly mourned." (Saint John of the Ladder step 7) For this reason we sinners must daily, if not hourly, examine ourselves, if we are in the true state of repentance. And if we suppose that we practiced other virtues and good works with the help of Jesus Christ that day, we must still, however, always remember the virtue of repentance and never forget it....

It is necessary for all Christians to be healed of the passions and wounds of sin, and then also to keep all of the commandments of the Lord and to perform every virtue....
Let us be completely healed of the wounds and ailments of sin through the commandment and virtue of repentance. For if we die healthy and healed of passions and sins through repentance, we will go to the kingdom of heaven. But if we die unhealed, sick, and crippled through unrepentance we will go to Hades. For the kingdom of heaven is not a hospital and an infirmary which receives the sick and the crippled, but is a home and palace which receives the healthy and strong.

From Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession by Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prayer and Silence

An experience of stillness is essential for every person who wants to learn the art of prayer. To achieve this experience, one should not necessarily withdraw to the desert. But one has to put aside some minutes every day, go into one’s room, “shut the door and pray to God Who is in secret.” Our usual temptation, or deception, is that we are always very busy and forever rush to do something extremely important: we believe that if we spend too much time in prayer, we will not have the opportunity to do these important things. The experience of many people shows that half an hour spent in prayer seldom affects our “business” negatively, in spite of our initial concerns. On the contrary, prayer teaches one to concentrate more to make one”s mind more disciplined: as a result, time is won rather than lost.

The lack of taste for solitude and silence is one of the most common illnesses of the modern person. Many are even scared of remaining in stillness, being alone or having free time: they feel more comfortable being constantly occupied; they need words, impressions; they always hasten in order to have the illusion of an abundant and saturated life. But life in God begins when words and thoughts fall silent, when worldly cares are forgotten, and when a place within the human soul is freed to be filled by Him.

To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer. Silence is not merely negative — a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech — but, properly understood, it is highly positive: and attitude of attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening. The hesychast, the person who has attained hesychia, inner stillness or silence, is par excellence the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his own but that of Another speaking within him.4

Like every conversation, prayer is a dialogue, and its aim is not only to express oneself but also to hear Another.

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeyev)

More on Prayer

Friday, March 13, 2009

How to Prepare for Confession

How to Prepare for Confession
Advice given by Saint Theophan the recluse from his well known book Path to Salvation.
To make a good confession it is necessary to prepare yourself carefully. Ask God to give you Grace to make a thorough examination of your conscience, the courage to make a sincere and complete confession, and the strength to amend your way of life in the days to come.
Think timidly and fearfully of our weak human condition.
Begin your examination from the time of your last confession; try to recall whether you omitted anything through carelessness or lapse of memory, or from fear of embarrassment. Examine yourself with the assistance of the form of self-examination according to the Ten Commandments of God which follows.
It is most necessary that you be truly sorry for the sins which you have committed, and that you firmly purpose amendment of your manner of living. Embrace the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32).
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
You must take time to know your sins. This can not be taken for granted as most of us are blind to our sinfulness. Make up a sheet with the Commandments of God on one side and your life on the other. Examine the differences.
Recall all your obligations in relation to God, your neighbor and yourself. Go through the ten commandments. Review the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). Read the Epistle of James and the Epistles of Paul especially Romans 12:9-21 and Ephesians 4. Also read the Epistle of Saint John.
Seek out the things you should not have done and those which you should have done but didn’t. Also examine your good deed and try to see the motivations which were behind them. Was there a self serving agenda associated with them? Be specific in your examination. In each case try and to identify the time, place, people involved and so forth. This will help you to avoid meaningless generalities and make you aware of specific behaviors that you will want to examine to change.
Once you have competed this list, which may be lengthy, Identify the underlying pattern that shows you the characteristics of your inner heart. Identify the passions which are governing your life. Find the one passion which conditions all the other actions. Once you have identified this you have found the root of your sinfulness.
Next, reflect on these sins and their root until you see clearly that each one was committed according to your own desire. Don’t listen to the excuses your mind will begin to make for you. These don’t help. Keep working on this until you are ready to honestly say, I am guilty of this and that. In this process you will feel burdened and wretched. Don’t let this get you down. Feel good that you are uncovering your sinfulness and increase your desire to uncover them all. The right feeling to have is one of regret and repentance. This will lead you to making a vow to change. This is true metanoia or repentance.
Once you have completed this process you are prepared for the sacrament of confession. It is through the sacrament that all the guilt and bad feelings can be erased and you can start with a clean start on a new way of life in Christ. It is a renewal process that you need to undertake at a minimum of once a year.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Meaning of Theosis

This video provides a understandable view of the essence of Orthodox spirituality. Worth your time as part of your Lenten refletions.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why go to Confession?

Why go to Confession?
Repentance leads us to salvation provided it is coupled with Confession. Confession is what reconciles us with the Father who loves us unconditionally. He does not want us to die as a sinner, but wishes us to return to union with Him and attain eternal life in His kingdom. We see this clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son who said, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” (Luke 15:21) With this the father opened his arms and embraced him. The Holy Fathers have taught us that Confession is the renewal of our Baptism. The Lord knows our weaknesses and does not punish us for them if only we are willing to repent and work to change our ways.
Yet, no matter how great our repentance is, if it is not completed by the Mystery of Confession it does not give rise to salvation or reconcile us with God. It is only through Confession preceded by the sincere repentance that our sins can be cleansed and our soul be healed. Repentance alone is not sufficient.
It is no different than when we have a bodily ailment and are suffering. It is not sufficient for us to know what we are suffering from. This will not cure us. We must seek out a physician of the body to help us get well. It is the same with our sins. It is not sufficient to know them and feel sorry about them. This is only the beginning of our healing. We must seek out a spiritual doctor, a Priest who is a Confessor, so he can grant us remission and offer the appropriate remedies for our spiritual sickness. If we do not, we will not be cured and our soul in its sickness will be eternally separated from God.
Ask yourself, “How close do you feel to God?” If you do not have an intimate relationship with God throughout the day, you suffer like all of us from a sinful condition. This is our fallen condition that we all find ourselves in. You are not alone in this condition. We are all in need of healing. Confession along with regular participation in Holy Communion, fasting and daily prayer, heals us and brings us closer and closer to God. Our aim as Orthodox Christians is to come into union with God through our participation in the sacraments of His Church. Confession is one of the very powerful sacraments to help us along this path. Make arrangements for you confession during Lent.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Message from Metropolitan Jonah

Let our fasting be accompanied by the refusal to indulge in judgment and criticism of others: gossip, slander, suspicion and innuendo, all that is hateful to God. Let us fast from meat, as we fast from the carnality of hatred and resentment of others, which is the source of our passions, pain and addictions. Let us fast from cheese, as we cut out the bitterness that curdles the joy in our lives, the pure milk of love. Let us fast from eggs, so that the seeds of corruption do not hatch in our souls. Let us fast from oil, so that we do not grease our lips to slander and fry our neighbor. Let us fast from wine, that we might remain sober and watchful, to maintain the purity of our souls, minds and hearts.

Let us make this Lent a spiritual fast, so that purified in mind and heart, as well as in body, we might behold the radiant Resurrection of Christ in the reception of the Holy Mysteries at Pascha, but most especially, in the resurrection of our souls. Let corruption be abolished, and let us be loosed from the sins that keep us enslaved. The only place to start is in our own souls, mindful of our sins, and in a spirit of love and compassion towards our neighbor. Only by the purification of our souls, freed from the guilt of sin and pain of resentment, will we be able to feast with Christ at His Messianic Banquet, illumined by His grace, being made partakers of the eternal Joy of His Kingdom.
Complete message on AOI Blog

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Recipes for the Fast

Here is a link to the recipe page on our web site that has cook Books as well as many inks to sites that have some good lenten recipes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saint Nectarios on Fasting

Saint Nectarios of Aegina (1920)

Fasting is an ordinance of the church, obliging the Christian to observe it on specific days. ...He who fasts for the uplifting of his mind and heart towards God shall be rewarded by God, Who is a most liberal bestower of divine gifts, for his devotion. 
...unless one lifts his mind and heart towards God through Christian--not Pharisaic--fasting and through prayer, he cannot attain a consciousness of his sinful state and earnestly seek the forgiveness of sins.. Prayer and fasting--Christian fasting-- serve as means of self-study, of discernment of our true moral state, of an accurate estimation of our sins and of a knowledge of their true character.
The purpose of fasting is chiefly spiritual: to provide an opportunity and preparation for spiritual works of prayer and meditation on the Divine through the complete abstinence from food, or the eating of uncooked food or frugal fare. 
However, fasting is no less valuable for physical health, since self-control and simplicity of life are necessary conditions of health and longevity, as dietetics tells us.
Vol 7 of Modern Orthodox Saints, 2nd ed., p 178

Monday, March 2, 2009

First Day of the Fast

Today is the first day of Lent, the Great Fast to prepare us for the feast of Pascha.
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew says, "The fast proposed to us by our Holy Church is not any deprivation, but a charisma. And the repentance to which it calls us is not any punishment, but a divine gift." Link to Encyclical by Bartholomew
The fast is for our spiritual benefit helping us to control our bodily instincts so they can be directed to glorify God rather than ourselves leading us toward union with God and eternal life in His kingdom. Fast according to your means advises Saint Athanasius the Great. Make a rule for your fast and stick to it throughout the Lenten period. Holy Week and Pascha will take on a new and deeper meaning for you.
Link to more by Athanasius on Fasting

Saint Athanasius The Great on Fasting

Saint Athanasius the Great says,
Being first purified by the fast of forty days, by prayers, and fastings, and discipline, and good works, we shall be able also to eat the Holy Passover in Jerusalem. (Letter III) We do not celebrate these days in the character of mourners; but as refreshing ourselves with spiritual food, we impose silence on our fleshly lusts. For by these means we all have strength to overcome adversaries, like Judith, when, first having occupied herself with fasting and prayers, she overcame the enemies.(Letter IV) Let us thus engage in the holy fasts, as having been prescribed by Him, and by means of which we attain the way to God. (Letter V)