Monday, December 31, 2018

10 Orthodox New Years Resolutions



Making New Years resolutions? Consider the following Ten Points for a better Orthodox way of life. These will nourish your soul and bring you closer to God and an eternal ire in His kingdom.

1. Praying Daily: Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.
2. Worshiping and Participating in the Sacraments: Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.
3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle: Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.
4. Using the Jesus Prayer: Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.
5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life: Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.
6. Being Watchful: Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.
7. Taming the Passions: Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues.
8. Putting Others First: Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.
9. Spiritual Fellowship: Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.
10. Reading Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.

Link to guidance on these ten points: Ten Points for an Orthodox way of lifef
For hard copy email 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Culture Wars: Can Christianity Change the World?



Today we face much cultural turmoil and seemingly unreconcilable differences. Our discourse often becomes harsh and even hate filled. It seems we have lost a Christ centeredness in our lives. We seem to be trying to solve our cultural value issues thinking we can change it through political ends. We use social media to spew out our differing opinions thinking that this will make a difference. But history clearly tells us changing a culture is not so easily done. 

Is it possible that Christians today have taken the wrong track in putting their energies into political action and social media? When we engage in these arenas don’t we become one with the culture we don’t like. Do we act in a way that exhibits the life and teachings of our Savior? Our actions do not communicate an alternative to the present potpourri of ideas and values. Sociologist James Davidson Hunter demonstrates that political action has never been the cause of cultural shifts even though some good things can happen in this way. More often it leads to oppression of minority views, more division and greater discord. If we truly want to bring Christ back to the center of our lives, a different approach is necessary. 

We are creatures of God called to something much higher than life in this world, the Kingdom of Heaven. To reach this kingdom, Scripture makes it clear, we must become continually better at living like Jesus Christ and become an active participant in a true compassionate faith community. To achieve our God given calling and make a difference in this world, our lived life in our faith community must be different from the general society. 

This view is clearly spelled out by the acclaimed sociologist Dr James Davison Hunter in his book, To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. I suggest you read it. 
He writes, 
“Contemporary Christian understandings of power and politics are a very large part of what has made contemporary Christianity in America appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective—part and parcel of the worst elements of our late-modern culture today, rather than a healthy alternative to it.” Pg 94 
Jesus offers a new alternative. His power is quite different. It is based on His submission to His Father’s will. This we must learn to follow.
“The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. . . . I can do nothing on my own. . . . I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5: 19, 30) 
He is also extremely humble becoming a servant, taking on human flesh and is obedient even to death on the Cross. He is compassionate. We too must learn humility and compassion.
“Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45) 
He never advocated violence or coercion. in the Sermon on the Mount he said, 
“Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” And also, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5: 39, 44). 
Our actions cannot limit freedom, promote violence or hatred or involve coersion. Jesus demonstrates a different, non political power.  To follow Him is difficult in our modern pluralistic society that embraces diversity and relativism. We must become leaders, but not in a political sense. We lead through humility and obedience.

His teaching calls us to “observe all things [He] commanded” (Matt 28:19-20). Saint Paul teaches to walk in the Spirit: 
To be  “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1: 9–10). 
This way of life is known to be a struggle, requiring preparation, training, ascesis, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the needed role of the Church.

When we examine how the early church grew and shaped a new culture over many years, we find that Christians lived a life based on the way Christ lived. They were different in how they lived. Many even sacrificed their life to stay true to their faith.  It was their faithfulness to His way, His teachings, and their exemplary love for all humankind that made them different. They lived in a very difficult time that was in great odds with Christian teachings. Even so, they did not seek to overthrow or change the government, but lived by the Spirit, as Saint Paul says. They understood that the kingdom sought was not of the world but of the Kingdom of Heaven. They trusted in God and relied on the work of the Holy Spirit. They were faithful in all things. Their efforts were aimed at becoming like Christ, humble, obedient to His teachings, compassionate, accepting that we are all sinners knowing we are all made in God’s image. 

Isn't this is what we as Christians must now do? First, we must understand the limits of our current condition and accept the reality that our current Christian institutions, our leaders and members, and most importantly, ourselves, do not model the life and teachings of Christ. Thus we are powerless. Filled with pride, we only profess Christian ideals and try to impose morality on others through political actions and social media. Sometimes we even forget the commandment to love our neighbors, even our enemies, finding ourselves rejecting or condemning others because they are different. We must learn to live with love in a world with a plurality of values and ideas while holding true to those Christ teaches us. 

I do not think it is likely that the current state of Christianity will ever bring about societal change. Our churches can best focus on spiritual development of its members, helping them to gain the power of the Holy Spirit, to become mystically united with God, to unite their will with the will of God, and live in love and humility.

This is the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the way of life it prescribes and nurtures. The Church is a place for spiritual healing, it’s the loving body of Christ, a place where we can surrender to His teachings and be guided to a way of life that is filled with love of all mankind. So what are a few of the key elements in this Orthodox way of life?
1. Praying Daily: Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.
2. Worshiping and Participating in the Sacraments: Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.
3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle: Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.
4. Using the Jesus Prayer: Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.
5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life: Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.
6. Being Watchful: Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.
7. Taming the Passions: Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues.
8. Putting Others First: Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.
9. Spiritual Fellowship: Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.
10. Reading Scripture and writings of the Church fathers. 
Practicing these basic elements will lead to continual spiritual formation, a deeper and deeper faith, and a change in our way of life when practiced as a member of a church community under the guidance of a spiritual father. It is a life that begins with faith and nurtured by repentance and cooperation with grace. It demands humility and an open heart for God’s love to permeate.

James Davidson Hunter writes in his book,
The task for the church and all Christians—in every generation is to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”; to seek to integrate the very order of the heavens within our personal lives and relationships, our families, our work and leisure, and our communities. God’s Kingdom, of course, is not political in character but spiritual, moral, relational, vocational, and environmental (including the social milieu). P 268. 
Christians, like most modern people, have politicized every aspect of public life and private life as well—from church/ state issues, education, the media, entertainment and the arts, and the environment to family values, sexuality, and parenting. In this, they mistakenly imagine that to pass a referendum, elect a candidate, pass a law, or change a policy is to change culture.
In so doing, Christians undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance.  P275
Christians must cultivate tension with the world by affirming the centrality of the church itself and the parish or local congregation in particular.
James Davidson Hunter

Reference: Dr James Davison Hunter, To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.






Thursday, September 13, 2018

Politics and Spirituality: Feeling anxious or distracted by Political rhetoric?

In today’s heated political season it is important not to get distracted. Saint Paisios warns, 
"Now days, too much "world"-- an excess of secular spirit  -- has entered the world and will destroy us. People have taken this "world" into their hearts and have expelled Christ."
Take for example the current popular political slogan, "Make America Great Again." (I use this as an example at the risk of being accused of being political, but this is not my intent. Hear me out. Its not an issue of being Republican or Democrat on any other political persuasion.) Have you thought about what Great means in this context? If you ask around, you will find that there is no agreement what is meant by this. Each person has their own idea about what will make their country great.

We can think about “greatness” in two ways. One is secular or worldly and the other spiritual. Generally we think in secular terms, worldly or politically, seeking ways the government can better our lives. This is the realm of politics. In this realm we all have differing views. Some want new laws while others want old laws revoked. Some want a racial bias in our rulers and others more diversity. Some want an economy where there is some income distribution while others oppose any. Some are pro-life and others pro-choice and so on. The issues are all worldly. The list of differences is endless and sometimes they are very extreme. There is no basis for a common view. Everyone has their own option. There is no absolute truth, right or wrong. When we become aligned with a political part, we are no longer capable of having a rational dialogue with those of another party. Friends are lost as we find our selves angered by opposing views or personalities. It is like our minds are frozen. Each person thinks that if their idea is implemented by the government it will make society greater and any other view will bring disaster. The political slogans become divisive rather than unifying.

When we think of greatness in spiritual terms, the focus shifts from thinking of the government as our savior to  our relationship with God. As we examine the ideal life taught by Jesus, we discover the limitations we have in ourselves. Jesus came to teach that peace and joy only comes from within ourselves. It’s no longer about the external laws. The "kingdom of God is within," "Purify your heart and see God,"  He teaches.

Even Jesus struggled with communicating this message because the Jews were expecting a great political leader to make them great and free them from a oppressive Roman government. They could not grasp His spiritual message about the Kingdom of heaven. They were blinded and distracted by their political or worldly aims of control and power to enforce external laws.

When we view greatness spiritually, we see that for greatness it is necessary for each of us to correct the imperfections in ourselves, learn to control our own passions so that we can truly love God and love others as ourselves. We need to overcome our anger, our desires, our lust, and so forth. This is what is meant by, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In heaven there is no struggle. Greatness in this spiritual sense then becomes unifying. We find that all of us are struggling to become better persons, and with mutual love seeking forgiveness and forgiving others. With this view, a great society is one where everyone is seeking to improve themselves, learning how to love each other as themselves, and with faith calling on the Holy Spirit to help us all. 

I think this spiritual quest is the only way we will gain what we are seeking. While there may be some small incremental improvements that can be made in the secular arena, our aim must be a union with God and eternal life in His kingdom. This may not be possible in this earthly life, but we can have hope with faith, and give our best efforts to purify our hearts to be worthy of eternal life is His kingdom. 

We must heed the warning given us by Saint Paisios and not become distracted by the many worldly slogans that politicians bombard us with through highly polished advertisements. Don’t let this heated political season distract you from our goal to be united with Christ. Guard against anger. Don’t fall into hatred of anyone or any group of people. Have compassion for those who think differently from you. Try to understand their point of view. Remember we are all made in God’s image and all struggle with our passions. Don’t put time into watching cable news instead of your daily prayer time. Read Scripture and a book by one of our Church Fathers. Attend Liturgy, prepare and receive Holy Communion and pray for the well being of all humanity. Review the Ten Points for an Orthodox life and focus on becoming more like Christ in all your daily activities.

Don’t let the “world” overtake your heart and blot out Christ.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Prayer - 54 Points on Prayer from Saint Theophan


The following 54 points on prayer from Saint Theophan the Recluse are taken from the collection of writings on prayer found in the book The Art of Prayer.

1. Enter into the spirit of the prayers which you hear and read, reproducing them in your heart; and in this way offer them up from your heart to God, as if they had been born in your own heart under the action of the grace of God.
2. Prayer is the primary work of the moral and religious life. p62
3. The atmosphere of the soul is not purified until a small spiritual flame is kindled in the soul. This flame is the work of the grace of God....This flame appears when a man has attained a certain measure of purity in the general moral order of life. p 65
4. The principal thing in prayer is a feeling heart. p 67
5. You must not let your thoughts to wander at random, but as soon as they run away, you must immediately bring them back, reproaching yourself, regretting and deploring this straying of the mind...you must make great effort. p 67
6. The virtuous and humble monk hides his virtues as a rich man hides his treasures, and does not follow his own wishes. p 75
7. Do not allow your mind to be idle, but let it meditate and pray in secret...sometimes meditating on a verse from the Psalms, and sometimes praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” p 77
8. Meditate on the thought of God, On the remembrance of death, and recollect your sins with self reproach. Be conscious of these things and speak about them often with yourself m where am I going? Or: I am a worm and not man. p 79
9. Prayer must not be simply an occupation for a certain time ,but a permanent state of spirit. p 80
10. He who prays without ceasing dwells constantly in the Lord, knows the Lord as God, acquires fear of Him, by fear enters into purity, and by purity into divine love. p 84
11. God is everywhere: see that your thoughts too are always with God. p86
12. The principle thing is to walk before God, or under God’s eye, aware that God is looking at you, searching your soul and heart, seeing all that is there. p 90
13. There is just one method which is obligatory for all: to stand with the attention in the heart. p98
The essential part is to dwell in God, and this walking before God means that you live with the conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is in everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself. p100
14. Awaken in your soul the thirst for salvation...And then cry out to Him...It is not words that matter but your feeling nags towards the Lord. p 108
15. Let the Jesus Prayer be on your tongue; let God’s presence be before your mind; and in your heart let there be the thirst for God, for communion with the Lord. When all this becomes permanent, then the Lord, seeing how you exert yourself, will give you what you ask. p108
16. To achieve spontaneous prayer, we must force ourselves to pray in a particular way — with the Jesus Prayer. p113
17. Before or after your rule of prayer, night and morning or during the day, consecrate a fixed period of time for the performance of this one prayer. p 113
18. The more the Jesus Prayer penetrates into the heart, the warmer the heart becomes, and the more self propelled becomes the prayer, so that the fire of spiritual life is kindled in the heart. p 114
19. When you pray, do not end your prayer without having aroused in your heart some feeling towards God, whether it be reverence, or devotion, or thanksgiving, or glorification, or humility and contrition, or hope and trust. Also when after prayer you begin to read, do not finish reading without having felt in your heart the truth of what you read. p 120
20. Our whole object is to acquire the habit of keeping our attention always on the Lord... p122
21. Any rule of prayer that is properly followed will produce as its first fruits attention and a warm tenderness of heart. p 124
22. It is necessary in the first place to be cleansed of passions. p 126
23. Try to acquire a kind of soreness in your heart. p 127
24. Consider everyone to be better than yourself. p 129
25. Establish in the heart a quiet but warm and constant feeling towards God, not expecting ecstasy or any extraordinary state. p131
26. But as soon as man expects to achieve something in virtue of his own power and self-mastery, then immediately true spiritual life, full of grace, is extinguished. p 134
27. Also must he force himself to self-belittlement, regarding himself as poor and the lowest of all men; he must refrain from idle talk, always studying the words of the lord and keeping them on his lips and in his heart. He should also force himself to avoid irritation and angry speech... p135
28. It is best never to think of yourself as having attained anything, but always to see yourself as poor, naked, blind, and worthless. p 136
29. He who in total humility puts himself in the hand of a merciful God, attracts the Lord to himself. p 136
30. If you have filled your mind with earthly things, if you have given yourself up to the cares of daily business, you have already quenched the Spirit. p150
31. Set your affection on things above, not on things of the earth. p151
32. Do not measure yourself. If you think you can decide any question about your progress, it means that you are beginning to measure yourself to see how much you have grown. Please avoid this as you would avoid fire. p 159
33. Remembrance of God is never idle but invariably leads us to meditate on the perfection of God and on His goodness, truth, creation, Providence, redemption, judgement, and reward. p 163
34. It is wrong to become attached to too much reading. It leads to no good and builds a wall between heart and God. It leads to the development of a harmful curiosity and sophistry. p168
35. Instead of concentration upon external behavior, all those who work on themselves must have as their aim to be attentive and vigilant, and to walk in the presence of God. p 170
36. When we have no communion with God, and do not feel Him within us, we must recognize that we have turned away from our aim and from the way chosen for us. p 172
37. You must believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is within us—by the power of baptism and holy communion, according to His own promise; for He is united with us through these Sacraments. p 173
38. The kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us... This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom...and God accepts the sacrifice. p 180
39. What have you to feel above all else? Self-satisfaction, self-appreciation, self-conceit, and all other things beginning with self. p 187
40. Giving yourself in prayerful surrender to God and His grace, call out each of the things that incite you to sin and try to turn your heart away from them, directing it towards their opposite... It is necessary to go on working on ourselves in this way until, instead of self-pity, there is born in us mercifulness and ruthlessness towards ourselves, a desire to suffer, to torture ourselves, to tire out our soul and body.... It is ne essay to go on working until our appetite exclusively for things material, sensory, and visible disappears completely, and is replaced by a feeling of disgust for such things; and instead we begin to thirst and to search only for what is spiritual, pure, and divine. ...the heart comes to be filled with a sense of being but a pilgrim on earth, whose whole longing is for his heavenly home. p 203
41. Do not theologize. P 208
42. High opinion of ourselves gives rise to two things: blowing our own trumpet and censuring others. p 209
43. Refrain from any kind of judging. We should do better to direct our censure and criticism against ourselves. p 210
44. Self-gratification is the cause of all evils. p 214
45. When you talk to someone, above all refrain from upsetting him by aggressiveness, or by expressing an opinion directly opposed to his, from an obvious desire to have your own way. P 217
46. Progress in the spiritual life is shown by an ever-increasing realization of our own worthlessness, in the full and literal sense of this word. p222
47. Tears are the measure of progress, an unceasing tears are a sign of coming perfection. p226
48. The more man contemplates his sin and the more he laments over himself, the more pleasing and accessible he is to the Holy Spirit, who like a physician approaches only those who recognize themselves as being ill... Look upon your sin, and search it out... Deny yourself...and weep over it. p 227
49. Activities are not the main thing in life. The most important is to have the heart directed and attuned to God. p 235
50. Act and speak always with the awareness that the Lord is near and direct everything according to His pleasure. p 239
51. A custom yourself to be with the Lord unceasingly, whatever you may be doing, and do everything for Him, striving to bring it to harmony with His commandments. Then you will never feel sad, for you will know that you are always doing His work. p 239
52. To do everything in the Name of the Lord means to turn all to His glory, to try to perform everything in such a way as to please Him, conscious that it is His will. It means also to surround every deed by prayer to Him; to begin it with prayer and to end it with prayer; as we begin, to ask His blessing; as we proceed, to beg His help; and as we finish, to give Him thanks for accomplishing His work in us and through us. p 249
53. Wish that the spirit of deep humility should always reign in you. This brings tears and contrition, and it also prevents us from being puffed up with pride at having them. p 274. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

More wisdom on Reading



When reading the holy fathers, we find a place that responds to us: say, a word about a virtue that we do not have, but would like to acquire, or about any shortcoming that we have and from which we wish to get rid of, - let us stop and reflect on this. For example, I found some teaching on the passion of anger. I close the book, I sit, I think and I pray, how can I stop being angry, and imprint it in my mind. And when we read an infinite number of pages in a row, and we like everything, and the content is full of meaning, then we forget a lot. If I read, read, read, and eventually close the book and leave - then I do not remember anything and do not return my mind to the read. The goal is not to read as many pages as possible, but to make us benefit from what we read.
Abbess Theosemni of Chrysiopigi Monastery Chania, Crete

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.

Monday, May 28, 2018

In Prayer, the Foretate of the Heavenly Kingdom

After attaining silence in prayer and the intense desire for the Holy Spirit we realize that He is very close. We want even more to draw Him inside us so we can be renewed and cleansed of every stain our soul may have. We witness a mystical expectation. This is when we Elder Aimilianos says we will we receive the delight of the silent foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Elder Aimilianos says,
Why?... Because God is in the heavens, I’m here, and so this delight which I will have, this prelude, must, let’s say, be a kind of prior introduction for me into the bosom of the Kingdom of Heaven. It must be my first, distant intelligence of the sounds and angelic voices which are heard up there. And it follows that I become aware, more or less, of what Paradise is, what the Kingdom of Heaven is. ...I have to find out where He is and know what it is that He is in.
At this stage we begin to have some ideas about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin to gain glimpses into the answers to our questions about the heavenly realm. What is heaven? What is it like there? Are their dwellings? What are the saints and where are they? What is Christ like there? What is the Holy Trinity? Receiving these insights we still know we are far away, but now we can begin to see beyond the most distant star this distant Kingdom that awaits us.

The Elder says,
I begin to understand and my soul starts to be warmed by these mysteries which, to some extent, are beginning to be revealed to me. And then, my beloved brethren, there begins - let me put it like this - a new period in my spiritual life: luxuriating in silence or silence in luxuriating. In other words, something different.
He describes this as a different silence, silence of our spirit, of the eyes of our soul. Previously it was a silence of our faculties. Now we find ourselves in the silence of our spiritual world. We lose ourself in this world and find ourselves before the gates of Heaven.

The Elder describes like this,
Since I find myself before the gates of Heaven, I luxuriate, I enjoy a warmth, a coziness and I keep silent, in order to be able to hear His voice. Now, however, as we said, my spirit is silent, the spirit which will cry, “Abba, Father!”. Now it’s silent, I’m happy. I have a warmth inside me, even bodily. I’m at rest. I’m relaxed. I’m in the mood to pray. I don’t want to pray though, I want to wait for God.
Next the Holy Spirit comes and it’s me with God.

Monday, May 21, 2018

In Prayer: When the Holy Spirit Enters



Continuing with the teaching on Prayer by Elder Aimilianos: He has lead us from a dry struggle to silence, to a desire for the Holy Spirit and the awareness of the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, waiting in anticipation of the Holy Spirit which seems to be nearby. Now he tells us about the entrance of the Holy Spirit into our prayer.

He writes,
The Holy Spirit begins to blow. It is the Holy Spirit who unites me to God, Who brings me into contact as regards His energies and I begin to have an inkling of what is happening. Then the Holy Spirit, Who is light, when He enters into me, reveals to me the depths of my heart.
We are unaware of what lingers in the depths of our hearts. So much of who we are lies hidden from us until the Holy Spirit enters.

He says,
When the Spirit comes close, He reveals to me, my beloved brethren, the blackness inside me, my sins, and I begin to have knowledge of myself. In physical silence, in spiritual silence, God begins to communicate with me by revealing what lingers in the depth of my soul.
 The Elder says it is “like a spotlight and illumines my heart.” ...I come to understand two things. God shows me through the entrance of the Holy Spirit that it is in the center of my soul, my heart, where I will be united with God. And second this is where the obstacles are that separate me from God. These are “ignorance and heedlessness”.

He says,
I neither remember Him nor know Him. Why? Because He is hidden by my passions...My heart is closed by my own passions; that’s what it means. What happens now is that I begin to learn what passion is and how I am controlled them. My ignorance is exposed and I now know why I have been repeating the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” I now know what it means in the Psalm that says “cleanse and make me whiter that snow.” I now can see what is the extent of the cleansing needed to be united with God in prayer. Now I really know I need His mercy. Now what is necessary for life in the Kingdom of Heaven is clear. I now know what passions are and all of them that are in me. I understand the needed battle that needs to take place to cleanse my heart. I now know how much I need His help.
The Elder says that now is the time “for us to see if we’ll accept or reject Him.” He also reminds us that up to this time we have only been playing a game with God.  Now the real struggle begins and if we accept Him we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

What do we have to do? He says we must be wary of our egotism that we have been hiding behind, we must accept this sinfulness that has been revealed.
I have to shatter my being...just as you use a nut-cracker to smash a nut and it makes a “crack” and splits open and you pick up the pieces, that’s what I have to do to my heart! So I can get out the rubbish and throw it away, so I can discover that what I am, what I have loved, what I have desired, what I have asked for in my prayer so far, all that is what Saint Paul calls refuse and I am called on to deny it. To understand that it is refuse, so I can be filled with God. 
He says that if feel that I really need to know God and need to clean out all the “rubbish,”  and that I will not deny God for the sake of myself and accept the challenge to clean up the mess, then I will find the first tears flowing from my eyes.

He says,
In my pain, I begin to cry out again: “My God, my God”. Now I’m saying “Come, Holy Spirit and cleanse me of my sin. Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, come and teach me in my ignorance, come abide in me, who am so bad, so full, and cleanse me of every stain. Take out whatever is inside me, so that you can come and dwell there”. Not I can say the prayer of the Spirit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What comes after Silence in Prayer?



Silence comes gradually in prayer. This is our first stage in seeking a union with God. It is this silence where you are able to hear more than your heart beat. It is in silence that God can speak to us. In silence we come to know our soul and the life giving spirit that dwells within.

Elder Aimilianos says,
 I have to learn to be silent, that is, I have to learn to listen, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God. Within this silence, I’ll then be able to hear the beat of my heart, not the beat of my bodily heart, but I’ll feel my life-giving-Spirit, my hypostasis, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.
It is in silence that we can come to know and experience the Holy Spirit, the uncreated energies of God. It is in this silence of prayer that we begin to desire to acquire the Holy Spirit. We want to know what is the real meaning of the Holy Spirit. What we need is a revelation, Elder Aimilianos tells us, so we can understand the true meaning of the Holy Trinity revealed to us in Scripture. This is an experience that he says comes gradually.

He says,
The experience comes gradually, progress within our soul and God takes up His place within our being. And His steps and His voice mingle with our steps and our voice and then we become one with God.
This is all part of a long process that comes from our love of God, Our humbleness, our patience seeking and endurance in prayer. Eventually we develop this true desire for the Holy Spirit.

The Elder says,
We begin to desire the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so that at some stage we can say:”Come and abide in us, Holy Spirit, and cleanse us from all stain” because our souls are full of stains, they fill our souls and there is nothing we ourselves can do about it
We want to be pure in heart so we can see God as Jesus promised us. Not in some future life but in our life right now. It is only in this way that we can do with certainty the will of God. With a soul cleansed of all stain we know His will for us and can begin to act as a loyal servant.

This stage of desiring the Holy Spirit is only a temporary stage. Once we realize that is is the acquiring of the Holy Spirit that is essential for us we still have not acquired it.

The Elder tells us,
We feel this anxious expectation, then we’ll progress and we’ll have that silent delight which we call the foretaste of the coming of the Spirit and awareness of the presence of God.
To be in communion with God we need to call for Him, we need to seek, we need to knock on His door as Scripture says. Then in silence with great anticipation we, in our complete humility, we realize that without the Holy Spirit we cannot understand, we cannot be cured of our blindness or the satins that block us from God. The Elder tells we must say, “Spirit, where are you for goodness’ sake. You teach me!”

Now we must wait in anticipation feeling that He is nearby.