Friday, November 30, 2012

Elder Sergei of Vanves on Repentance

Elder Sergei was born in the Netherlands in 1903. Most of his life was spent in France. His is a spiritual Child of Igumen Chariton the last abbot of Valaam before it was closed by the Communists. He spent his life in a country where there were few Orthodox Christians. His views are most helpful as he spent most of his life counseling spiritual children who lived in our secular Western society.

He taught that repentance was the “beginning, middle, and end of spiritual life.” He distinguished between two kinds of repentance: a) for a specific sin, b) for a general sinful state.

The first kind is most vital. he writes:
“There are three stage towards repentance for specific sins.    1) Repenting of the sin in your mind as soon as it is committed.   2) At the end of the day, when you are doing your examination of conscience, recall the sin and ask God for forgiveness again.   3) Confess the sin and repenting of it when you receive the sacrament of Confession.”
The first stage allows us to obtain forgiveness from God when dealing with our lesser sins and impure thoughts. He says,
 “If you have wicked thought and repent it by desiring to think and act otherwise, this sin is erased immediately.”
Elder Sergei put great emphasis on the second stage. We need to make sure to set aside the time to concentrate on repentance at the end of each day. At this time we should undertake a spiritual critique of all that we did during the day reviewing both the evil as well as the good we have not done. After this examination of our conscience we then seek forgiveness from God with sincerity and contrition for all the ways we have been unfaithful to Him. He says,
“We must have a sharp conscience, so that every night we can examine ourselves and what we did during the course of the day and see what we did wrong, what good we failed to do, and what we did poorly. then, we should ask God’s forgiveness for all these things.”“Always keep repenting, not because you have necessarily done something, but because our nature is weak. We must repent for what we are. When we repent, we must consider not just what we have cone wrong, but all the good we have failed to do.”
The third stage, confession before God in the front of a priest, is imperative  as it “allows us to avoid remaining psychologically and spiritually burdened by the sins we have committed in the past.”

The second kind of repentance involves our ongoing character. There are many sins were are unaware of. They have become part of our nature. In Confession we must ask God: “Forgive me my sins which I do not know, for all my unconscious sins.” He writes:
” We must also repent of all our failures and insufficiencies. We should not allow ourselves any excuses as there are no external circumstances that can justify our weaknesses.” 
Repentance is necessary fro everyone as there is no one without sin. Whoever does not think they are sinful is living in delusion. Repentance is an “inner stance” of the fear of God, remembrance of death, and above all, humility. It is “the key to the spiritual life.” He advises:
“God prefers someone who sins and repents for it to someone who think that he never sins and never repents.”
For those who have not repented in a long time they must ask God for forgiveness for their lack of repentance. God knows our sinful struggle, our condition of mortality, and is forgiving with infinite mercy for those who continually repent. Elder Sergei writes:
“Our attitude towards the Kingdom of Heaven should be like that of a traveler who must not become panicked about all the things he has to do once he arrives at his destination, but must continue on, planning for his current journey. We must realize that we do not know when the train will come that will take us to the Kingdom. to be ready when it comes, we should be like the wise virgins and always have oil in our lamps.”“We must never believe that our sinful state is beyond repair. We must be confident that there is always forgiveness for us. All we need to do to be forgiven is to ask.”
According to Elder Sergei, “repentance as a permanent state is the normal state of the Christian, and is the state of all the saints. We must then strive toward this goal with all our might and all our prayer. It will then reveal itself to us as a might force of spiritual progress. He says,
“Repentance is the key to spiritual life. It allows us to have the wedding garment without which we are cast out of he wedding feast.”

Reference: Elder Sergei of Vanves: Life and Teachings, pp 29-34

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Should We Spend Sundays?

Sunday is the day set aside to honor God and should be spent differently from all other days. It is a day we raise our minds and hearts to God with deep reverence towards Him and with profound gratitude and prayer. In the Old Testament it was the Sabbath that was such a day but in the New Testament it is Sunday, the Lord's Day.

Moses was told, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath fo the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work" (Exodus 20:8-10).  In the Old Testament the penalty for not keeping it holy was the death of the soul.

What were the reasons for this commandment from God?
a. It was hallowed by God in memory of the creation of the world. In Genesis ti says, "On the sixth day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it hHe had rested from all His work which God created and made" (Gen 2:2-3).

b. The other reason is the remembrance of the liberation of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage as we are instructed in Deut 5:12-15. Similarly the people of the New Testament were delivered from the bondage of sin by the death of Jesus Christ and it is prescribed also for us to consecrate the day of the Old Testament Sabbath on the day of the Resurrection, Sunday. 
Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg puts it this way: "The Lord has granted us six days of every week to carry out our business necessary for our earthly life, but the seventh day–only ne day–He appointed for rest under pain of eternal death for violating it..."

Saint John Chrysostom says: "It was the Lord's good will to prescribe that we dedicate one day in the weekly cycle to spiritual matters."

In the book of Acts we see that original Christians gathered on Sunday for the breaking of bread and listened to His teachings (Acts 20:7).

There are several obligation that Sunday imposes on us.
1. We should set aside all the business we need to engage in during the six days of the week to supporrt ourselves.

2. We should turn away from all impious acts that distract our souls from the remembrance of the Lord God, reverence towards Him, gratitude and a prayerful disposition of soul towards Him.  This includes all unedifying reading, conversations and games where our soul might lose remembrance of God and potentially be carried away by delights and sin.

3. We are to attend the Divine Liturgy. This service is the ultimate remembrance of God's various blessings. In our attendance we reverence God, give Him thanks, and seek through our prayers that His blessings will continue to be given to us. We join in communion with Him as we partake of His body and Blood.

4. We should reflect on all of God's creation and His All-Powerful nature, His Wisdom, Goodness and unconditional Love for us. We should experience the wonder and awe of His creation in the natural environment. We should reflect on His life and the path He laid out for us through His death and Resurrection.
Metropolitan Gregory says. "You who love God: follow the path unto which the Lord has directed you and fear nothing...only try to please the Lord God, and then, remembering the words of the Holy Apostle, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31)... Do not be afraid, just try and avoid all occasions of sin through which our enemy always more easily lures us into his nets and ruins us."

You should contemplate His passion and death, how he suffered for us and think of what is written in the Gospel of John, "Behold how God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).

5. We should read the Scripture on this day just like the first members of His Church (Acts 20:7). We are all called to live a holy life in His image. "God has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him." (Eph 1:4)

6. Metropolitan Gregory reminds us: "We must examine ourselves every day in relation to our salvation, so much more should it be our obligation on Sundays... Sunday before all other days should be a day on which we make the most attentive and detailed examination of our spiritual state in relation to salvation, and make a new, firm intention to root out from ourselves everything "opposed to God and our salvation."

Reference: How to Live a Spiritual Life, pp 112-137

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Are We to Conduct Ourselves in Our Daily Work?

Our work is different for each of us, but we must all seek to do it as God's work.  No matter what is the nature of our work, we should view our daily tasks as work that is entrusted to us by God Himself.  Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg outlines the following points of advice.

1.Whatever your work is, do it in accordance with your position and profession.  Do it as if it is for Christ Himself. You should do it with the attitude that it is what God demands of you. In reality you are working for God.  Paul says when speaking to servants, "Whatsoever you do for your masters in flesh, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ." (Col 3:23)

2. Do all your work from your soul, gladly and with great pleasure without grumbling. Remember, you are doing all your work for God Himself.

3. Do all that is required of your profession or position diligently and correctly. Do not permit any unnecessary slowness or carelessness.

4. If your work goes well and you are successful, do not ascribe this to your own powers, but give thanks to the Lord.  He said to His disciple John, without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

5. If the work you must do is difficult, unpleasant and demeaning, hindered by ill-intentioned people or unfortunate circumstances, and this leads you to feel despondent or disrespected, do not be weak and give in to negative thoughts. Do not allow yourself to succumb to anger, impatience, or grumbling.

6.To help keep your soul in a holy disposition during difficult or unpleasant work straighten yourself with the following thoughts:
   a) Think of this work as given to you by God for your salvation.  This is always God's aim.
   b) Think that his work may be your last of your life and God will when its finished be demanding an account from you as His judgment in eternity.
   c) Remember that these labors which you endure will not last forever. The will cease with the end of earthly life.  What we must prepare for is a life of eternity. The Lord "will render to every man according to his deeds. (Rom 2:6)

7. During unpleasant work you can support yourself with edifying singing while you work.  This cheers and calms the soul.

8. If you are engaged in physical labor that is mechanical in nature, you can reflect on the truths you have learned earlier though a sermon or from what you have read in an edifying book.

9. Think about the purpose of your work as God's work no matter what is demanded by yor position or duty. Think about how it relates to passages in Scripture and the temporary nature of all things of this world.

10. To keep your soul in a holy disposition during your work, frequently raise your heart to God with short prayerful petitions the are appropriate to the disposition of your heart.  If you practice the use of the Jesus prayer, this prayer will be always near to your lips.

11. Metropolitan Gregory says, "Whoever does his daily work in this way is, while toiling to maintain his physical life, working at the same time just as much or even more for the salvation of his soul. He works as he sought to work, for the glory of God. And the holy apostle commands us to do all to the glory of God (1Cor 10:31).

As a footnote he adds, "We should never do work that is incompatible with the law of God."

Reference: How to LIve a Holy LIfe, pp 68-85

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Conduct Ourselves in Illness

We can expect illness and troubles as we live in a fallen world. But, what are we to do when we become ill? Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg gives us some excellent advice from his classic book, How to Live a Holy Life.

1. His first point is that when we become ill we should thank God, knowing that illness is intended for our salvation. It humbles us, makes us aware of our immorality and the limits of our own powers. This is the time when most of us seek help from God. Illness is a great motivator to seek God and to contemplate the eternal life we truly seek. In illness we are forced to leave the sinful life we have been leading. We are separated from our neighbors so we are harmless to them and now able to spend time in quiet solitude with God. Metropolitan Gregory says, "So, thank God that He is not depriving you of His grace and is using one of His most powerful tools in that cause of your salvation."

2. Secondly, this is a time to reflect on how you have sinned in your life and how you have been unrepentant, how you may have avoided confession, failed to participate regularly in the Sacraments, or avoided daily prayer and the fasting guidelines of the Church. Remember that none of us are without sin. As Saint John says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1John 1:8).

3. Think that this illness may be your last. Make yourself aware of the reality of death. We do not know when death will come upon us.  Frequently it comes with illness unexpectedly. Make a confession and ask to receive Holy Communion. Be prepared for the next life, especially during time of illness.

4. When you examine your conscience and you find you are in debt to any one in any way, give instructions to repay and to make things right.

5. Make sure your legal provisions for you property are all in good order.  You want to free your soul in case you will be called to spend the last minutes of your life. You do not want to spend them on worldly cares, but for the eternal life of your soul.

6. Make sure you have called upon a physician and are taking all the medicines for your healing. God has provided all these things for our benefit. Remember, though, that it is God who heals.

7. Try to use this time for the benefit of your soul.  Use the time for prayer, reading spiritual books, or seek conversations with pious individuals.  Avoid TV or idle conversation. Ask for Icons in your room and make the sign of the Cross on yourself regularly. Use this quiet time you have for your spiritual growth.

8. Surrender yourself to God's will. Do not pray importunately for recovery. God knows what is best for your salvation. Remember illness is a tool for our salvation. Thank God for everything.

9. Do not become impatient if your illness becomes prolonged. Impatience, grumbling, or bad temper will not help your recovery.  Metropolitan Gregory says, "Be as patient as possible and pray thus: O Lord, I have sinned much and am worthy of eternal torment, but in Your boundless love, You do not  want me to suffer eternally but have subjected me to a temporal punishment, so that I may come to myself, repent, and reform. How great is thy mercy. Multiply my patience; grant me such grace that I may endure my illness in good spirits and with love for Thee...."

10. When you are feeling that you are regaining your health, Metropolitan Gregory says, "pray to the Lord God that , after the return of your health, He will be pleased to keep you from every sin and will give you a firm memory of those sensations and thoughts that you had during your illness, for very many sick people after the return of their health forget the sensations that they had during their illness."

11. If you feel that your health is worsening, ask for the Mystery of Holy Unction.  If the Lord does not will to heal you body, He will certainly heal your soul.

12. Finally, he writes, "entrust yourself completely to the will of God and do not wish for anything other than that the Lord God do with you whatever is pleasing to Him. This is the best attitude for every person, whatever his condition. Because whoever entrusts himself to the Lord God is God's, and such a one can never perish."

Reference: How to Live a Holy Life, pp 58-64.