Thursday, September 30, 2010

Illusions in Prayer - Joy

We must also be careful of feeling of joy that comes with prayer.  Often this is said to be the test if a response is from God.  But this too can be an illusion to one who suffers from pride.

John Climacus says in the seventh step ,
Reject with your right hand, the hand of humility, all streams of joy. Least, since you are unworthy, this joy prove a temptation, and lead you to mistake the wolf for the shepherd.
Elder Macarius says,
The Apostle says that real spiritual joy is one of the rarest fruits of the spirit, to be attained only near the summit of the way, after all evil habits and thoughts are overcome, all passions conquered, and reconciliation with is reached.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 106 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Illusions in Prayer - Visions

Visions in prayer are normally temptations from the devil aimed at reinforcing our pride.

I once had the experience of praying for something I wanted to do, but was advised not to do so by my spiritual advisor.  A friend suggested I go to a certain place where there were relics of a Saint and to pray to her.  This I did every day for a week.  Nothing happened in the first few days. But I continued to visit trying harder to gain the advice from the Saint.  Then on the last day I was to be there, I saw her hand move and point to the Church.  I then interpreted this on my own as an answer to do what I wanted to do.  Little did I know that this was only the action of my pride working in me. It was a forced vision.

Here is a response by Elder Macarius to a similar situation:
You were several times visited by the illusion that as you looked at the icons they changed, until one day rosy rings, detaching themselves from the icon of our Lady, entered your heart bringing with them the firm conviction that you had been granted the pardon of your sins.  On the authority of the Fathers, I can assure you that the moment you accepted this as a revelation, and ascribed a moral value to the experience, you fell into the clutches of the devil.
The visions we have in prayer or in our dreams can be very misleading when we still suffer from pride.  Only with the gift of discernment, which comes with humility and God's grace, can we ascribe with any certainty spiritual meaning to visions.  This is why a spiritual guide is so important, because we will surely face many illusions aimed to mislead us to reinforce our condition of pride.

The more you advance spiritually the greater the temptations you will face.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 104

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cautions on Reading the Fathers

As Orthodox Christians we are encouraged to read the writings of the Fathers, but some cautions are due.  Many of the Father's writings were written to those monks who were spiritually advanced.  This is especially true of the writings that are contained in the Philokalia. Therefore we must approach such writings with great humility.

Elder Macarius advises as follows:
It is admirable that you should be reading the Fathers.  Bear in mind, however, that  their writing is like a thick forest: venturing there unprotected, without knowledge and without guidance, we easily go astray and may even run into grave dangers.  Many readers have erred from undue self-assurance; whoever attempts a shortcut to the higher life, and sets out willfully to acquire and appropriate vision and other spiritual joys, call down on himself the divine wrath.
Our first task is master our passions.  Often this is a long and arduous task.  But, it cannot be shortcut.

Isaac the Syrian says,
Do not imagine that you have left the thicket of passions behind you, until you are well within the walls of the citadel of humility.
We have to make sure that our prayer is that of the publican and not the pharisee.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 102

Monday, September 27, 2010

More from Elder Macarius on Suffering

Suffering for Christians is the way our souls are polished. Without suffering we become prideful and self-willed in all our actions.  But when we are in pain and suffering it is not easy to remember this.  

Here are some words of encouragement from Elder Macarius:
No matter how little you love God, He still loves you; loves you so much that He showers all this grief and pain on you, making your punishment in this world so great  that it may perhaps suffice to amend you, and make unnecessary the dread punishments of the next.  These others you may be spared!
Your past and present torments and sufferings are poured down upon you to test your faith and steel it; they also work to curb your lusts and passions.  Humble yourself.  God succors the humble.  

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 101 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How About our Dreams - Are These Revelations?

In our day and age it is common to heat people in casual conversation share their dreams.  Often they see them as direction for God even when they are seeking clarification from a friend.  What are we to make of this common occurrence?

Elder Macarius give the following advice:
It is dangerous to assume that our dreams are revelations: this leads to spiritual pride.  Ponder calmly: is it likely that a heart and mind, both fully under the influence of all the wildest passions, can truly mirror divine revelations?  Does not such an assumption betray undue reliance on your own worthiness? For who can esteem himself worthy of such grace?

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p100 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Conditions for Practice of the Jesus Prayer

Elder Macarius gives us the conditions for the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

• Access to experienced Spiritual director
• Absolute obedience to the director
• Keen sense of responsibility to God, men, and even things
• True humility
• A detailed and sensitive execution of God's commandments
• Thorough cleansing of the heart from sins and passions

All the above are important to avoid the dangers of our pride and self-willed action.  It is easy in our culture of self-help remedies to turn prayer into a method.  When this happens you will only amplify your own ego.

Elder Macarius says,
A proud, self-willed decision to acquire through this practice greater spiritual gifts, abilities, or consolations, is a sin and a great danger.
Pride, the greatest  enemy––not of mental prayer only but of all religious practice––lies in wait for us, all along the way.
It is out of a burning desire to ask our Lord for forgiveness for our sinfulness that we should long to practice the Jesus Prayer.

The Elder says,
Only those who always feel like the publican at prayer, and the prodigal son on his way home, can practice with impunity. 

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp 98-99 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Danger of Delight in Prayer

Do you ever find that prayer is more satisfying alone at home than in Church?  If so, you are facing a great temptation. Elder Macarius says that if our prayers at home as such that they "call forth the sweetness and the tears that you delight in, God is ill pleased."  Prayer can easily become something that is done for our satisfaction lacking the necessary humility for true prayer.  The Elder says, "Sweetness and tears, unaccompanied by a sense of the deepest humility, are nothing but temptations."

When we have this "pleasure" in prayer at home but do not find we can call on the same "pleasure" in Church, we cannot conclude that we do not need to go to Church to pray.  This is a delusion.  We are being tempted by our pleasure in prayer at home to avoid our worship in church.  In this way we will not find true peace.  We are being overtaken by our pride.

The Elder says,
Pray simply.  Do not expect to find in your heart an remarkable gift of prayer.  Consider yourself unworthy of it.  Then you will find peace.  Use the empty cold dryness of your prayer as food for your humility.  Repeat constantly: I am not worthy; Lord, I am not worthy!  But say it calmly, without agitation.  this humble prayer, unlike the sweet one you delight in, will be acceptable to God.
Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp 96-97

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Harmony in Marriage

When we celebrate the sacrament of marriage we become one flesh.  As such we are committed to share all things: our possessions as well as our weakness and failings.  Love of other is the basis of a fruitful relationship.  Our trials and tribulations in marriage leads us to a firm relationship with our God.  This is the spiritual path we have chosen.  It is the arena where we work out our perfection. 

In our difficulties we must pray to be shown the way to overcome differences.  To ask that we be shown our own faults so we do not dwell only on the faults of the other.  We need to pray for the strength to forgive all the trespasses that have been made against us as well as to be forgive our own trespasses. Married life is a continual test of our Christian values n action.

Prayer is essential for a loving peace.  Married couples should pray together

Elder Macarius says,
The joint prayer of a husband and wife is a great force... Remember that under all circumstances, humility is your surest weapon.
Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 89 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Temptations and Peace of Mind

We all long for peace of mind––a mind that is not continually tempted and one that does not feel bothered by many things.  Peace of mind is a grand thing to gain. But, how to gain it?  Here is advice from our Lord Jesus Christ
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt 11:29).
Temptations play an important role in our spiritual development  They help us develop the strength to overcome them and grow spiritually affirming our faith.

Elder Macarius tells us that we cannot achieve peace of mind except by a battling with temptations. 

He says,
Our Lord too, fought, suffered, and sorrowed much before the time of His death on the cross.  He was reproached, vilified, humiliated, and tempted.  And He laboriously built up for us a picture of His own life on earth, which all of us must strive to follow...
When beset by temptations pray for courage and strength to remain firm.  remember: there is an eternity.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 84 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Battling Pride

We continually hear that pride is at the root of our sinfulness.  In God's eyes it is the the penitent sinner that is preferred to the proud person.  The remedy to pride is humility, but how does one develop humility?

Here is what Elder Macarius has to say,
Well, acquire this art through reading the Fathers; pitiless self-examination and self-accusation help too; also, making clear to ourselves how much worse we are than others; and refraining from all condemnation of them while we accept all their condemnation of us, as sent by God to cure our hideous spiritual sores.
This battle for humility is not an easy one or one that is quickly won.  It is not easy to refrain from condemning others while accepting the condemnation that is given to us.  We are constantly being tripped up by our passions.  A high degree of discipline in life is required.  We must always be on the alert. As we progress along this narrow and difficult path we will be tempted to have pride in our progress.  When this occurs our progress ends.  Our success in life, our well-being at work or in the home, can also hinder us by stroking our pride. Our successes make us feel as if we are in control.  The more successful we are in a worldly life it is all the harder to develop humility.

The Elder says,
Humility is the only weapon that wards off all attacks, but it is difficult to fashion, and the art of using it iis often misunderstood, particularly by those who live an active life.... Remember always that the whole of human misery is the consequence of pride.  Humility alone is the path to joy, the gate to the blessed nearness––the intimacy of God.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Combating Anger

A common malady we all face is anger.  What is the best way to eliminate this undesirable behavior?  Many follow the path of trying to avoid the situation that causes it or simply walk away when it arises.  While this may be useful, Elder Marcarius calls it a weak way to combat this evil tendency.  You will not eliminate anger by this course.

Consider the person who raises ager in you as someone being used by God to show you your greatest weakness, Elder Macarius tells us.  He says,
This rage slumbers in you at all times but is hidden until this person, the hand of God, reveals discloses it.  Combat this temptation through practicing humility, charity, courage.  It will take long to conquer; but pray for help and start now.
Anger was given to us to combat against sin, not to use against our neighbor.  It's improper usage is caused by pride.  Only humility and prayer will lead to mastering this weakness and directing this force the conquering of evil.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p78

Friday, September 17, 2010

Passions - Why Do We Pursue Them?

What is the evil of following our passions?  The problem is that they are never satisfied.  We desire more and more of this and that and never are completely fulfilled.  The satisfaction we gain is only temporary, fleeting, always fading away.  What we truly seek is what is permanent, a longing of the Spirit, to be united with God.  The passions and their desires are false substitutes to satisfy this deeper longing.

Our greatest gift is a free will.  We can choose to do God's will which brings lasting joy, or to follow our passions seeking only temporary pleasures. One leads us to union with Him and the other.....

Elder Macarius says,
We must keep our arms polished and use them courageously in our two unceasing wars: our offensive war, the fight to understand and follow His law; and our defensive war, our resolution never to succumb to that which is contrary to His law; the law being nothing but His expressed will.
It is when we deviate from His law that we find ourselves in this unending striving for things that only bring temporary satisfaction.

The Elder says,
For, alas, no sooner does a man break God's law, than he is spiritually punished: having lost grace, he eats away his heart in vain longings, endeavoring all the while to choose for himself the best of many equally bad things. these longings and endeavors deflect his attention away from his real good, and dim his intelligence.  Soon, having become a slave to his passions, he can no linger resist their lure; then the mead of pleasure changes to the sting of retribution.
Stick to the principles and disciplines of an Orthodox Way of Life and you will be guided to make the right choices.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 77 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Work

We have the responsibility to provide for our own needs.  In addition we must do our share to support our community as caring for our own well-being.

Elder Macarius says, 
Living in the world, benefiting by worldly society of men, it is a sin to evade responsibilities and to thrust them on others.
Work coupled with responsibility is essential for our spiritual well being.

The Elder  says,
Idleness begets many vices... Arduous work often prevents this.
Bemoaning the lowliness of a job is not healthy either.
If it the lowliness of the job that destresses her, tell her that she issuffering from pride, which she should busy herself uprooting.  Tell her from me to rejoice, praise the Lord, and spend more time in prayer.  All work is good, but prayer is the best work of all.
Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp 71-72

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Much is Proper to Give to the Needy?

What is our responsibility when it comes to using our financial resources to help the needy?  Are to give all we have to the poor?  The spiritual issue involved is about our love of money and our priority given to efforts to the acquisition of more and more for our own benefit and a luxurious life style.  As Paul said in his letter to Timothy, "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (Tim 6:10). In our alms giving we need to be reasonable as well as compassionate. We must remember that we have responsibilities to our family which need to be met.

Here is advice from Elder Marcarius,
Living in the world, surrounded by your family, you cannot possibly give away all of your possessions.  So you must aim at finding the golden mean, and strive to keep to it: never turn your back on the world, but see to it that the world does not engross you.  All things that your children require you should carefully keep for them.  Any surplus of any kind, give away to the needy.
He emphasizes the idea of reasonableness.  This is important as the needs of the needy are very large and one person cannot possible fulfill them all.  Our good intentions to give all we have to help others must be tempered with reason.

Elder Macarius says,
Give your mite with a feeling of deep compassion.  But above all be reasonable.
Even if you gave all you had, you could not properly alleviate the intense misery of them all.  On the other hand you have your family to care for and must strive to keep them comfortable, although it is right to dispense all luxury for yourself and them.
A part of this reasonableness is to avoid lavish spending. Every luxury can be seen as taking something away from those who do not have what they need for basic daily life.  

Finally the Elder says,
Humble yourself and find peace.
I recommend careful examination of your own expenses, with a view to cutting down a margin of unnecessary little luxuries.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 69 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What to Do When We Feel Weak

Doing God's will is not an easy task for most of us.  We are so bound up in the drives of our physical existence and the issues of this world that we too often forget God.  When we forget God our actions are made from our own will.  But, even when are are of the right mind and seeking guidance from God, we often feel that our ability to do what God is asking of us is difficult and even impossible.  We may feel weak even when being guided by God. How do we deal with this weakness we seem to have?

Here is the advice from Elder Macarius about this question:
Let this weakness be a source of humility, Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak! (Ps 6:2).  Resolutely steer the right course and hope for the best.  Search the most hidden meanders of the dark labyrinths that surround the luminoous core of your heart.  And uproot pride wherever you find the weed.
Do you see how he turns this problem into an opportunity. To admit our weakness and seek God's help requires our humility.  This leads us to a realization of our need for His help.  In reality we cannot carry out God's will with out this kind of surrender and with His grace.

The Elder says,
Alone, you were weak indeed, but with God's help you are mighty and strong. Steeling your own will to do His, humbly throw yourself on His mercy.  If you do so, my prayers will be of the greatest help to you.
Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 66

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dealing with Sorrow

We all face at some time in our life small and great afflictions.  These can be a time of testing for our faith.  God has said, "Call upon me in the time of trouble; so I will hear thee, and thou shalt praise me" (Ps 50:15-16). It is in difficult and troubled times that our faith is affirmed.

Elder Macarius says,
Believe firmly that no suffering or sorrow can visit us––not a hair of our heads can fall––without God intending it.  Although we are always inclined to put down our misfortunes to the ill-willed or stupidity of other men, these are, in reality, only tools in the hand of God. Tools, used to fashion our salvation.
When we are filled with sorrow or feeling the least bit depressed we need to call on God for His help.

The Elder says,
Sorrow weighs you down? Never mind. The grateful heart, humble and wise––the heart which has become grateful, humble, and wise––will be greatly consoled and blessed with serene joy.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp 61, 63 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Faith, Freedom and Responsibility

There are many who see faith as a limit to their freedom.  "Why should I blindly believe," they ask.  We must remember that faith is a gift from God that does not destroy our freedom but grants us greater freedom.  With faith we are freed from anxiety, sorrow and the fear of death.  But with this faith come responsibility to act.  We have been given a free will, and, using the example of Jesus, we must align our will with that of God.  This may seem at first as a limit to our freedom.  But in fact it leads to greater freedom.  The commandments are simple: Love God and love others.  Our faith calls us to love and to abandon our pride––to give our self-will over to God's will.  When we do good works we must not have pride in them for they will no longer be works of love, but only acts of self-centeredness.  When we act with pride it may feel as a loss of freedom, because our acts become acts of obligation instead of the freedom giving acts of love guided by God's grace.

Elder Macarius provides us with this advice:
When God, using our conscience, calls us to righteousness and yet our self-will opposes Him, He respects our freedom and lets our own will be done; but then, alas, our minds grow dull, our will slack, and we commit iniquities without number.  On the other hand, the fruits of the spirit are soon granted to them who follow the commandments of Christ our Lord.
When we are blessed with faith we act with love and complete freedom guided by God's grace.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 57

Friday, September 10, 2010

Humility Revisited - A Confession

I don't really feel qualified to write on the subject of humility because pride is my main weakness.  But, due to my lack of humility, I will anyway. 

Pride is a lack of humility. So, in a sense, maybe I do know something about humility in a back-handed way.  Pride seems to me to be the result of my dependence on my own will, seeing myself as the center of everything, the place where I control my life.  When faced with a choice where do I go to make a decision?  Do I seek input from others?  Do I seek guidance from God?  I must say, all too often, my choice is based on my own inner thoughts and the result is one that favors my own self-gratification.  I often feel trapped by the desires of my own being and the comforts offered by this world. I truly tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain. To give up my own pleasures and endure discomfort or pain for the benefit of others or my God is not an easy choice. To accept that I am not the king of my own world, that I do not control it, is difficult.  But this is what humility calls me to accept.

Elder Marcaius helps us gain a proper perspective on this topic of humility. He says,
You should know by now that great storms of passion are allowed to assail us whenever we have been indulging pride, self-adulation, high opinions of our own intellectual powers; or when we have pandered to the vicious pleasure of humbling others, intentionally.  The medicine is simple: humility, a sincere humbling of self.  This alone can bring relief: through meekness––harbinger of peace.
Humility is not difficult to understand.  It is no more than accepting that I am in fact limited in my own ability to make rational choices on my own that are consistent with the God's commandments.  I have no special possession of truth or what is best for me or others.  When I can accept that I am a limited creature, that I owe my existence to an all powerful God, that I am created in His image, and I and everyone else are struggling with the same temptations and possessing to differing degrees pride, then maybe I will begin to walk a path toward humility.

In the end I know I will be forcefully humbled by death.  Hopefully before this event I will come to terms with this virtue.  Humility is the same as love for it is only with humility that I can truly love another.

Saint John Climacus says,
Love and humility form a holy pair; what the first builds, the second binds, thus preventing the building from falling asunder.
Jesus gave us two commandments––to love God with our whole heart and to love others as ourselves.  To follow as his disciple I have no choice but to learn about humility.  Only with humility will I gain His grace which will empower me to overcome all earthly temptations as well as the sorrows of this worldly life.  Knowing that I am not in control, in a strange way, leads me to humility, peace and love.

Lord Have Mercy.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp 47-48

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dealing with Grief

When we face the loss of a loved one it is natural for us to grieve.  Jesus Christ said to His followers in His Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."  When we encounter a person with grief we can only have compassion for their sorrow.  This is how we express our love and understanding.  It is not necessary to say much: "I am sorry," a hug, a feeling of empathy for the sorrow they experience.  

For Christians this sorrow should not last long. We can remind ourlselves of the Passion of Christ and how He accepted the Cross for our benefit.  In His death we learned of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life.

Elder Macarius says,
In the ground of the Christian heart, sorrow for the dead soon melts, illumined by the light of true wisdom.  Then, in place of the vanished grief, there shoots up a new knowledge made of hope and faith.  This knowledge does not only wash the soul of all sadness; it makes glad.
Ponder these words: 
Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed; and: If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (II COr 4:6, 5:1).

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 41, 45 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Problem of Desire

Is our desire for a good life a sin?  How can it be evil when we desire to do good and strive with all our energy to bring it about.  Such desire cannot be evil.  It only turns to evil when we do it out of our self-gratification, to boost our own self-image at the detriment to others.

Elder Macarius says,
It is nonsense to say that all desire is sinful, that we should never ask God to fulfill our wishes, that we should feebly abandon ourselves to what comes along.  Surely to act in this manner would be contrary to reason, to human nature, and to Holy Scripture.  Desire is not a sin; only the desire of evil is wrong.  How could man belong to the kingdom of the Word, be reasonable creature and free––if all desires were wrong?... You are not a log or a stone; nor were you ever intended to be...

Reference: Russian Letter of Spiritual Direction,  p 38

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Difficulty of Free Will

We often describe the free will God has given us as one of His greatest gifts.  It is, after all, through free will that we can choose to be united with God out of love. Without it, it would be impossible to love.  But, unfortunately, with our free will we can also choose to ignore God's will and act only in our own interests.  In fact, isn't  this how we use it most frequently?  When we misuse it there are consequences in that we distance ourselves from God and live as sinners jeopardizing our salvation.  Sometimes, in worldly terms, it seems as if we are profiting handsomely based on measures of our material well being.  But what about our spiritual wellbeing? We may have chosen a path that yields a great financial fortune, but at the expense of living our true values. With our well being we take on added responsibilities in God's eyes to put it to do His work, not just to enhance the comforts in our worldly life.  Our aim has to be to do good out of our love for God and others.  When we use our free will in this way God will support us and reward us, if not in this life, in the life to come.

Elder Macarius says,
When our desires, illumined by ur own intelligence, are aimed at brining about good––that is the will of God on earth––and when we act in accordance with this aim, God is well pleased and supports us.  even when, in a fit of wild madness, we wish to contest His will and strive to act in a manner that conflicts with it, He still refrains from breaking our will, and permits us to act wrongly, but freely.  True, in the first case we reap our reward, in the second punishment, as is abundantly testified in Holy Scripture.
We are constantly reminded by our Church Fathers that God will never limit our use of our free will.  He will not stop us from acting against His will, because this would be to limit us and take away the possibility of us loving Him and others.  Love only comes out of free choice. This reality makes life difficult and the need for careful discernment in all of our choices.  The best advice is not to take any action based solely on our own determination, but to consult with others, especially our spiritual guide.

Final thought from the Elder,
Even those of us who enjoy long years of opulence and fame can find no consolation, no gladness, unless our heart is illumined by the steady light of peace.  It is this peace that we must seek, it is of this peace that we should pray. The peace that our Lord gave to His disciples and to all those who really have faith in Him

Reference: Russian Letter on Spiritual Direction, p 38, 39

Monday, September 6, 2010

Following His Will

The key to our spiritual maturity is humility.  It is in humility that we are able to do God's will.  God's will works in two ways: Things that He desires and those that He permits.  It is when we we surrender our own will that we begin to see what He desires for us and are able to differentiate from those He permits.

Elder Macarius says,
Since God's will works in two ways, it does not bind us or make us unfree.  Some things He desires; others He permits.  The second way is made manifest when we insist on things happening as we think best.  But when we docilely abandon ourselves to His will, He manifests the first, which is, ultimately, of greater advantage to us.
This idea of surrender of our will is not easy to accomplish and requires much work with such activities like fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture, participating in the Sacraments––all the elements of the Orthodox Way of Life.  This is the aim of the Orthodox Way of Life.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 36. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Coping with Tragedy

When we or our friends are faced with tragedy it is common to ask, "Where is God? Why does He allow this to happen?"  The Fathers always tell us something that is hard to accept––"Accept the will of God, Give Him thanks."

Here are the words of Elder Macarius,

Believe firmly: this tragedy is not the outcome of chance concatenation of events. God Himself––God, whose ways are inscrutable––has confirmed them with the seal of His divine purpose. Why? Either as a punishment––but not necessarily for any sins of yours––or to try the power of your faith, and steel it. But whatever the reason, the whole occurrence is one more proof of His love of you, for "Whom the Lord loveth He Chasteneth, and scourageth every son whom He receiveth... But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons (Heb 12:6,8)... Strive hard for patient endurance! Do not weaken. Hourly thank God for all. And He will see to it that good comes of your right attitude.

We are asked to accept all that comes our way with humility.  When someone hurts us we forgiven him.  When we lose a loved one we grieve for the loss, but we should also thank God for what we have been given and affirm our belief in His kingdom and the reality of eternal life.  So often we are called to endure very painful situations.  When we do, remember the Passion of our Lord, the pain of the Cross, and how this led to the Resurrection.  Pain and suffering are part of this fallen world and through it, with faith, we are brought closer to God to become joined with Him to enjoy eternal life in His kingdom.

Pray for strength to endure with love and stand firm in your faith no matter what.  At some point in our life we will face pain and suffering.  This is our crucifixion and our opportunity to be joined with Christ.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p33 - 34

Friday, September 3, 2010

Do Not Limit Yourself to Striving for Outward Order

When we begin the Orthodox Way of Life so much of what we learn has to do with our outward actions: such actions as daily prayer, fasting  prostrations and so forth.  But this is not the aim of our Orthodox life.  Our aim is to join in union with God, to live and act in accordance with His will for us at that moment.  This requires an inner development as well as an outer one.  The outer actions lead us to the inner.

Elder Macarius says,
Do not limit yourself to striving for the right outward order: fasting and prayer.  Strive also for greater inward order, only to be attained through intensified love and deep humility.
Humility leads to love. This becomes the outward expression of our mature spirituality. When we live in union with God we can only love others and all of God's creation.

To attain this inner direction of life is something that takes much time and effort. The key is overcoming our ego-centeredness––gaining humility.  In our society our ego-centerness is continually reinforced so it is very difficult to overcome.

What are the signs of humility?
Here is advice Elder Macarius gave to one of his spiritual children,
You aspire after higher and more consoling forms of faith, and this shows your lack of humility. Rest content with what has been given you; all faith is grace, and God will give more when, and if, He finds fit.
Humility is a reality when we no longer seek more than we have.  When we can accept everything we are given as a gift from God then God's grace will fills us and love will pour forth from our hearts.  Overcoming ego-centeredness is a process of surrender. When we surrender our outward efforts will be overtaken by our inner relationship with God through His grace.

Reference: Russian Letter of Spiritual Direction, p30 - 31

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Using a Spiritual Guide

When you find a spiritual guide you still retain the responsibility to use your free will and your faith to assist the work of your guide. The efforts of a true spiritual guide are not based on His own opinions, but insights he gains through prayer.  All spiritual advice must come from God alone.  The Guide helps us gain this godly advice when we may not be able to discern for ourselves the will of God.  We must pray that our guide will be given the ability to communicate the words that God intends for us.

Elder Macarius of Optina put is this way,
You say I helped your aunt. That cannot be.  Only the mistakes are mine.  All good advice is the advice of God; His advice, that I happen to have heard rightly and to have passed on without distorting it...  I shall try to answer you as best I can, but you must pray.  Pray that God may grant me the ability to say the right words which will bring you help.  
We also need to have faith.  We must have the firm conviction that all wisdom comes from God.  It is not the wisdom of the person (guide) we seek.  We seek his assistance in correctly seeing God's will for us.

The Elder says,
Pray too, that He may grant you the right faith: faith in our Lord as the lord of all wisdom. No good can come of this letter without His special help.
We all need a spiritual guide.  Seek one and he will be shown to you.  Pray for him to intercede on your behalf and follow what he says. When you cannot follow your guide, you no longer have one and must seek another. A guide will help you avoid egoistic tendencies that so often crop up to block our spiritual progress.

Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 26

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


For the maintenance of their armed forces, the Roman emperors decreed that their subjects in every district should be taxed every year. This same decree was reissued every fifteen years, since the Roman soldiers were obliged to serve for fifteenyears. At the end of each fifteen-yearperiod, an assessment was made of what economic changes had taken place, and anew tax was decreed, which was to be paid over the span of the fifteen years. This imperial decree, which was issued before the season of winter, was named Indictio, that is, Definiton, or Order. This name was adopted by the emperors in Constantinople also. At other times, the latter also used the term Epinemisis, that is, Distribution (Dianome). It is commonly held that Saint Constantine the Great introduced the Indiction decrees in A.D. 312, after he beheld the sign of the Cross in heaven and vanquished Maxentius and was proclaimed Emperor in the West. Some, however (and this seems more likely), ascribe the institution of the Indiction to Augustus Caesar, three years before the birth of Christ. Those who hold this view offer as proof the papal bull issued in A.D. 781 which is dated thus: Anno IV, Indictionis LIII -that is, the fourth year of the fifty-third Indiction. From this, we can deduce the aforementioned year (3 B.C.) by multiplying the fifty-two complete Indictions by the number of years in each (15), and adding the three years of the fifty-third Indiction. There are three types of Indictions: 1) That which was introduced in the West, and which is called Imperial, or Caesarean, or Constantinian, and which begins on the 24th of September; 2) The so-called Papal Indiction, which begins on the 1st of January; and 3) The Constantinopolitan, which was adopted by the Patriarchs of that city after the fall of the Eastern Empire in 1453. This Indiction is indicated in their own hand on the decrees they issue, without the numeration of the fifteen years. This Indiction begins on the 1st of September and is observed with special ceremony in the Church. Since the completion of each year takes place, as it were, with the harvest and gathering of the crops into storehouses, and we begin anew from henceforth the sowing of seed in the earth for the production of future crops, September is considered the beginning of the New Year. The Church also keeps festival this day, beseeching God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth. The Holy Scriptures (Lev. 23:24-5 and Num. 29:1-2) also testify that the people of Israel celebrated the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets on this day, offering hymns of thanksgiving. In addition to all the aforesaid, on this feast we also commemorate our Saviour's entry into the synagogue in Nazareth, where He was given the book of the Prophet Esaias to read, and He opened it and found the place where it is written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for which cause He hath anointed Me..." (Luke 4:16-30).

It should be noted that to the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1 is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a moveable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1 is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.