Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Church in the Public and Political Sphere



The Church has recently completed and published a very important document: FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church. In a series of posts I will provide the highlights of this very important document and encourage you to study the full document. I have tried not to editorialize but only to emphasize some of the main points in each section. We begin with, “The Church in the Public Sphere.”

The foundation of the Church’s position on its role in the public sphere is Love.  This is the first and great commandment of the Law, to love God with one’s whole heart and one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:37–39). We are created to serve God and are made in His image. This means we are “called into loving communion with our neighbors and the cosmos.” ”It is only through our participation in the community of Christ’s body that any of us, as a unique object of divine love, can enter into full union with God. Our spiritual lives, therefore, cannot fail also to be social lives.” 

We live in a fallen world that is “broken and darkened, enslaved to death and sin, tormented by violence and injustice.” Because we are servants of God we must “strive against evil, however invincible it may at times appear, and to work for the love and justice.” In this obligation it may require “self-sacrifice.” Jesus Christ is our model, how he gave His life for us. We must follow Hm. To be a good servant we must rid ourselves of the “obstinate selfishness of our own sinful inclinations, and to undertake a constant effort to cultivate in ourselves the eye of charity.” We must see the face of Christ in others.

We need to have an attitude of compassion when it comes to dealing with those who are “the poor and disenfranchised, the abused and neglected, the imprisoned, the hungry, the weary and heavy-laden, the despairing.” We always need to remember how Christ condemned the wealthy and a luxurious way of life at the expense of caring for those in need. We must have concern about “indifference to the plight of the oppressed, and of exploitation of the destitute.”

Concerning our political sphere we must always remain Christ centered. For a Christian our “hope lies in the Kingdom of God and not in the kingdoms of this world.” We are not to put our trust “in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146[145]:3). There is no form of government that is perfect. “The Orthodox Church cannot judge all forms of human government as equivalent with one another, even though all fall far short of the Kingdom.” The Church “condemns every kind of institutional corruption and totalitarianism.” We are to obey authorities because this is needed for social order, but “When the commands of even a legally established political authority contradict our responsibilities as Christians, ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).” We should not “seek to advance the Christian faith through the use of political power or legal coercion.” Neither should we “surrender to a debilitating and in many respects fantastical nostalgia for some long-vanished golden era, and to imagine that it constituted something like the sole ideal Orthodox polity.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fear of Coronavirus


Do you know what is scary to most of us over 70? That there are silent carriers of the virus and that the health care system will soon be overwhelmed. When you get sick, even if you are a pretty healthy 70+ person, that you will be sent to a hospital with inadequate facilities, being unable to breath. Not one of your loved ones will be able to visit you, no one to hold your hand, to give you a caring smile, not even a priest. Then if you die after suffocating, lying on a mattress in the hallway, there will be no church funeral and possibly sent to a mass grave.  No normal grieving by loving family and friends.

This image is terrifying to many. But there are a few who have a very strong faith, who are not presently attached to activities of this world, who have a personal experience with God, who know first hand His love, who will welcome the call to death as the opportunity to enter into His Kingdom as promised in Scripture. They will not have fear.

If you are one who is fearful, then now is the time to intensify you search for union with Christ, to seek the Holy Spirit, to have a complete confession, even if it has to be done over the phone with a priest. You may not have the opportunity for Holy Communion, but Confession with a priest will suffice.
Read Scripture, not spicy novels, watch videos by spiritual people on YouTube, say the Jesus prayer throughout the day. Never forget that God is a loving God and Christ is ever present. He is within each of us who have been Baptized and Chrismated. He will not leave us. Call on Him like David in the Psalms. Let Him embrace you like Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Remember His suffering on the Cross to defeat death and show the way through resurrection. He is eternal, He is Love. He wants you in His Kingdom forever. Trust in Him. Be humble and surrender to Him. Seek forgiveness for all the ways you have not lived up to His teachings. Seek His mercy. He is all merciful. Reach out for Him with your whole heart. He will bring you comfort and joy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Seeking a Spiritual Union with God? — Basics of Orthodox Christian Prayer

How you pray affects the reality of your relationship with God. In the attached presentation is a summary of the principles of Orthodox Christian prayer that aid you in an ascent to a spiritual union with Christ. It is the 7th session in our series, Path to Salvation.


For more on prayer go to www.orthodox prayer.org


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A psalm to pray in this difficult time

Psalm 91
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers,
and under his wings shalt thou trust:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side,
and ten thousand at thy right hand;
but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge,
even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and shew him my salvation.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Brief History of the Orthodox Church



The Orthodox faith is about a Christ centered way of life. With faith and knowledge of Christ we begin to see our sinful condition. We learn that we have in our subconscious self many desires the church fathers call passions. We can also think of these as habits. It because of these that we find it so difficult to live all the things Christ has taught us. 
An Orthodox life, therefor, involves a struggle against these passions. To succeed in this struggle we need more than our self effort. We need divine grace. This is why Jesus taught His disciples the sacraments and empowered them with the Holy Spirit to establish Churches, ecclesias. The Church is for our healing
If we are to become Christ like, we need to surrender our will to engage in  the teachings He gave us through the Church. This involves regular participation in the sacraments, daily prayer an fasting and many others. 
To do this we must have confidence that the Orthodox Church is the true church, one that has His teachings undistorted by innovations. This is the role that history plays. By understanding the History of the Eastern Orthodox Church we learn how His truth was kept pure.
This video gives you a basic overview of this history.


Monday, March 9, 2020

Struggle with the Passions

Struggle with the Passions


The way of Life for an Orthodox Christian involves overcoming our passions. This is a struggle requiring our effort in cooperation with divine grace. In our fallen condition our brain is stronger than our soul. It operates based on patterns we call habits. 47% of our actions are based on automatic responses. Living a life of repentance we have to break these habits and develop God pleasing habits. This is difficult and why Christ gave us the Church with its sacramental life, guidelines for daly prayer, fasting, reading of Scripture and the Church Fathers, participation in spiritual fellowship like Bible study groups, and a spiritual father to guide us.



Monday, March 2, 2020

When Attacked, Respond with Love and Humility

Psalm 37 (38) verses 14 & 15 say in response to slander and personal attacks described in previous verses:
But I like a deaf man do not hear, And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth. I am like a man who does not hear, And who has no reproofs in his mouth
David demonstrates this in the story of Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-13). It is about an man who cursed and threw stones at David, but David did not respond or retaliate. Instead he accused himself of being worthy of such reproof. He responded in this way even though he had soldiers with him who could have killed Shimei who was from an enemy camp. 
Reflecting on this story we are reminded how we too are called to act in this way. But we realize how difficult it is to act similarly when we are attacked in anyway. 
The commentary of St. Ambrose on this Psalm reminds us of how Christ similarly responded as He was being falsely accused by Pilot.  As Elder Aimilianos says, “To be sure, it is no small thing to be patient, to act as if nothing were happening, when others are slandering you”
David shows how when we trust in God, we can recognize our own sinfulness when attacked by others and respond only with love. With love we will be like one who does not hear and is like a mute with no reproofs in his mouth.

From Saint Porphyrios says:
When someone injures us in whatever way, whether with slanders or with insults, we should think of him as our brother who has been taken hold of by the enemy. He has fallen victim to the enemy. Accordingly we need to have compassion for him and entreat God to have mercy both on us and on him, and God will help both. If, however, we are filled with anger against him, then the enemy will jump from him to us and make a mockery of us both. A person who condemns others does not love Christ. Our egotism is at fault. This is where condemnation of others stems from. (Wounded by Love, p 18)

Monday, February 24, 2020

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”



In Psalm 37 (38) we experience the nature of the true repentance King David offers to God. He is able to see the depths of His sinfulness and how awful it must look in the eyes of God. He even compares it to a pus filled festering wound. He is not referring to a physical wound but the wound in his soul. Seeing the loving nature of God David holds nothing back in his examination of his fallen condition. He pleads with humility for God’s help.

Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos offers us an outstanding commentary this Psalm (Psalms and the Life of Faith, p 223). Here are a couple of quotes from His commentary:

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”
"No one can comprehend his sinfulness, no matter how great it might be, unless he has glimpsed the holiness of God.”

As you think about these two comments you can see how sin, in his eyes and those of the great king David, are quite different from our normal view of sin. Mostly we think of sin as breaking a commandment of God, like breaking a law. But David is giving us an example, along with the the commentary of Aimianos, that there is much more to understanding sin.

What does it mean when we say, "sin is the point of contact with God?” Doesn’t this imply a personal relationship with Him? Our true sinfulness is normally suppressed deep in our subconsciousness because most of us think of ourselves as “good” people. But, no! Deep down inside there is a festering sore in our soul. When we uncover this we do so in relationship with our God. Bringing us into contact with Him, we see Him as a loving God who will forgive and heal. Because of His love, we can see the level of perfection that is in God Himself. We realize that we are far from our potential. We are humbled in front of God. We eagerly seek mercy and healing.

The second quote says that no one can comprehend their sinfulness unless they have "glimpsed the holiness of God." What does this imply? To know our sinfulness we cannot simply go down a check list of sins and identify our sins and expect God to heal us. We need to have our inner heart enlightened by God. Only when we have known the nature of His holiness can we truly see how sinful we are. This is not a negative thing that will throw us into despair, because, as we see His holiness, we will also see His infinite mercy, His unconditional love that never wavers. It is this love that enables us to see what we have hidden deep in our subconscious mind.

So what are we to do to come closer to God? We must seek to know His holiness so our true sinfulness can be revealed to us. It takes more than a surface self-reflection to get to the root of our fallen nature. This is why the saints are always talking about how sinful they are. As we come closer to God, we come to  know our potential and what is necessary to be united with Him in eternal life. The Orthodox Way of life will lead us to this deeper understanding if we follow it out of obedience at first and then out of our love for God.

Saint Theophan says, ”The awakening of the sinner is that act of divine grace in his heart, the consequence of which he, as one awakened from sleep, sees his sinfulness, senses the danger of the situation, begins to fear for Himself and to care about deliverance from his misfortune and salvation….
The door to conversion may be opened only under the condition that the spiritual way of life be revealed to the sinner’s consciousness in its full light, and not merely revealed, but that it touch the heart. (Path to Salvation, pp 102 & 103 )

Saint Poprhyrios says, “The love of God transforms everything; it sanctifies, amends and changes that nature of everything.” (Wounded by Love, p100)


Monday, February 17, 2020

Are You a Good Person? Beware!


Thinking of oneself as a good person can lead to deception. If your idea of being good is about following the rules given to you through your church or society, even if you say you believe in Jesus Christ, you may be on the wrong path. How can this be? It depends on the source of you inner disposition. If you are adhering to an orderly life through your own efforts then you are most likely in deception. To live a Christian life cannot be based on your efforts alone. Your choices must be based on your relationship with God, on the zeal and divine grace you receive from Him. There must be the sense in every act that you are cooperating with His will. Salvation cannot be gained through your own efforts.

Saint Theophan says,
This good order in one's conduct more than anything else can lead one into deception. Its true significance depends upon one's inward disposition, where it is possible that there are significant deviations from real righteousness in one’s righteous deeds. Thus, while refraining outwardly from sinful deeds, one may have an attraction for them or a delight from them in one's heart; so also, doing righteous deeds ourwardly, one's heart may not be in them. Only true zeal both wishes to do good in all fulness and purity, and persecutes sin in its smallest forms. it seeks the good as its daily bread, and with sin it fights as with a mortal enemy.
Our self-centerness blocks us from God and we are blind to the grace that God gives us. While our efforts to do good help us survive in the physical world and give us the necessary discipline needed for a more spiritual life, they are not sufficient when done only out of our own will. They are also most likely tinged with an underling sinfulness that is hidden. We need to give priority to developing a deep faith that is based on a pure heart open to grace. Then we will be on the right path to doing His will in cooperation with our own efforts.

When we think we are good people we are suffering from pride and probably unaware of our sinfulness. Beware!

Reference: Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 29

Monday, February 10, 2020

When Does Christian Life Begin?



A Christian life begins when we have overwhelming energy to fulfill a desire to be united with Jesus Christ.  This is called zeal.

Saint Theophan says,
Christian life is zeal and strength to remain in communion with God by means of an active fulfillment of His holy will, according to our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the grace of God, to the glory of His most holy name.
This zeal is evident to others as well. Others can observe the peacefulness they exhibit, the steadfastness they exhibit, and the sacrifices they are willing to make to live in a Christian way.

Saint Theophan says,
The person in whom this ardor is constantly active is one who is living in a Christian way.
This is about more than just trying to live by the rules of the church and commandments given to us by Christ out of obligation or fear. It's more than just tying to be a "good" person. The true Christian life is based on zeal, an inward awareness of God, a sense of communion and love with Him. The Spirit must be alive within and burning like a fire.

Saint Theophan says,
All this is good, but as long as it does not bear in itself the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, it has no value at all before God. Such things would be like soulless statues.
The beginning of Christian life begins with the inner working of divine grace. The first step to receiving this grace is Holy Baptism.

Reference: Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 27,29

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Why do we go to Divine Liturgy?


What are we looking for? A universal state of being within the Church; an inward state of being “conferred by Jesus,” experiences, feelings, longings, and visions.
Elder Aimilianos 

Elder Aimilianos points out that going to Divine Liturgy is a “movement from one place to another.” What are we to do when we leave the outside world and enter into the church?
To enter the church means to leave outside all those things that make up out life in the world...that which is ours and which belongs to us, our sin, our self will, and our desire... we leave behind not simply the things we see but even things we hope for.
He calls this a kind of “exile.” We enter into a clear free space that is like pure air. We should feel like we have entered into heaven, are standing there in its pure air. We have made a movement from one place to another. We are now in a place that contains no worldly pleasures. We feel we have been led to a foreign place where there is hope in a peace from all the cares and tribulations of an earthly life. We sense we have moved to a place that is closer to God.
When we enter into the open spaces of the church, we immediately experience a particular feeling, a feeling which confirms for us that here, in this place, our Helper is at hand. He is invisible, but you feel Him, as if He were rushing toward you, as if you could hear the sound of His breathing. He is your Helper, the One Who can deliver you, Who can redeem you, Who can satisfy your insatiable soul...
We come to Divine Liturgy to be close to God. Therefore we should go longing to see Him, to somehow feel His divine presence, to be united with the One we love above all else. When we do this our soul will be filled with a divine grief, recognizing what it lacks, yet desires. It will try to cry our seeking mercy, realizing that it cannot see God.

With this infilled longing we begin to pray. The Liturgy with all its hymns and prayers leads us in prayer. Our mind, being cleared of all our worldly cares begins to think about God. As the Liturgy progresses we begin to experience Him. We desire to taste Him, to receive His nourishment. Then in the Liturgy a divine table is set, beginning with the great entrance. With the whole choir of angels and the Saints joining in, the heavenly and earthly church becomes united. We call on the Holy Spirit and the gifts we brought as bread and wine become mystically transformed into Christ Himself.

We became aware of our separation from God before we entered the church and our sins that separate us from Him. We realize that the reason we came was to free ourselves from all the passions that cloud our heart. We see how difficult, if not impossible, it is to root these tendencies out. We acknowledge that it is only with God’s help that we can overcome our condition. We cry for forgiveness and repentance as we approach the Chalice to be joined with Him in Holy Communion. As we approach, we are in awe at the sweetness of God.

God is no longer the great absent one, but is greatly present and we begin to see His sweetness.

We also experience the pleasure of our soul as it becomes a participant in this union. When we participate in Communion our soul is nourished and we are given strength to help us overcome our worldly passions when we return to our earthly daily life.

But what is the reality for many Orthodox Christians? The elder tells us,
Most people go to church, present themselves to Christ, and leave without ever drawing out any of His strength, without experiencing His power, the way the woman with the flow of blood did (cf. Mt 9:20). And then say: “So what did I get from Christ? I came back from church the same person I was when I went.”
If we come to the church longing to see God, to experience Him, to receive strength from Him, we will leave a different person in some small way. Each time we are healed of our sinfulness bit by bit. 

The elder says, 
“This is why God has established this liturgical assembly. This is why He arranges for angels, archangels, and saints to be present here with sinners, so that each can give something to the other. The saints are here so that they can give their saintliness to the sinners. And sinners are here to convey to the saints their desire for their holiness, so they too, may be found in their company. We find all of this within the church, provided that all is still and silent within us, and that our gaze remains fixed solely on the drama unfolding before us.
When we come to church we are seeking an experience with God. Setting aside our worldly care and opening our heart to Him we will experience a renewed state of being conferred by Jesus. Everything comes from Him. Without our willing surrender, our recognition of our sinful state, we will gain nothing and return just as we were. All this has been established by Jesus for our healing, our perfection, the satisfaction of our spiritual seeking.



Reference: The Way of the Spirit, “On the State that Jesus Confers”, by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 55-69


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Faith: What Kind of Faith Is Necessary?



Discusses the deeper faith that results in knowing God by grace, leaving us with the zeal to perfect ourselves and becoming through the cooperation of our will with grace to live according to the commandments of God. This is a faith that is more than an understanding or a declaration of, “I believe”. It’s a deep faith based on an experience of God that comes from the uncreated energies of God, His grace, the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Path to Perfection - Saint John Cassian


Jesus came to save us. From what? Eternal damnation, separation from God, showing us the path to victory over death, eternal life in Paradise. The ultimate aim is to love God, finding unity in His embrace.

These two element of salvation point to the starting point for our spiritual journey to theosis. Saint John Cassian points out the following:
There are three things that restrain people from vice—namely, the fear of Gehenna or of present laws; or hope and desire for the kingdom of heaven; or a disposition for the good itself and a love of virtue. (411)
Vice, or sin, not living up to the ideal way of life that Christ showed us is eventually tamed with God's help. To take heed of His advice we begin our walk with Christ having a fear of the possibility of having our life end in death, nothing beyond, or even worse in eternal punishment as is described in Scripture.

Saint John points out that there is this three step process. He says further,
For the first two belong properly to those who are tending toward perfection and have not yet acquired a love of virtue, but the third particularity belongs to God and to those who have received in themselves the image and likeness of God. (412)
The beginning, he points out, is fear. We tend to promote the idea of love, but for those who have not embraced the seriousness of the meaning of life, love of God does not have a deep meaning as this can only come from an intimate relationship. Emphasizing the fear of God is most useful for those who may have been baptized as children, who have been brought up in the church, but have a shallow faith based more on family or cultural traditions, and who participate more out of obedience. Reminding them about the reality of death and the judgement that takes place may help them awaken to the seriousness about the way they live their life and the true reason fo Jesus coming for our salvation.

Fear is only the beginning and this will not be sufficient for continued growth or for those already awake in faith. In this fist phase we are like servants following the direction of our master. The next phase is to be freed as slave and become a hired hand. At this next stage is the emphasis on the reward, our the payment we receive, a place in Heaven, eternal life with bliss. 
Here is how Saint Cassian describes it.
If a person is tending to perfection, then, he will mount from that first degree of fear—which we have properly designated as servile and about which it is said: “When you have done everything say: We are useless slaves.” —to the higher level of hope, progressing by degree. Here the comparison is not with a slave but with a hireling, because now the person looks forward to the payment of a wage and as it were untroubled by the absolution of his sins and fear of punishment and is conscious of his own good works. (412)
The next level is when we reach toward perfection, the love of virtue and a disposition toward the good. This requires the grace of God. With His grace and our ascesis we can rid ourselves, motivated by the first to levels of understanding, of all evil or sinful tendencies, our passions.
We shall, then, be unable to mount to that pure perfection unless, just as he first loved us for no other reason than our salvation, we also love him for no other reason than sheer love of him. Hence we must strive to mount, in perfect ardor of mind, from this fear to hope and from hope to the love of God and the love of virtue itself, so we may attain to a disposition for the good itself and, to the extent possible to human nature, hold firmly to what is good. (413)
We are challenged by the Lord to go from the heights to still higher places in such a way that the one who is blessed and perfect in the fear of God and who proceeds, as it is written, “from strength to strength,“ (Ps 84:7) and from one perfection to another—that is, who mounts with eager mind from fear to hope—is invited again to a more blessed state, which is love, and the one who was a “faithful and prudent servant” (Mt 45:25) passes over to the intimacy of friendship and to adopted sonship. (418-419)
Eventually we come to the realization that love in the final aim. Motivated by the fear of the judgement and the promised reward in heave, we begin to experience Gods grace in a real way. We come to know his love. Not the the intellectual understanding that God sent His only Son to us out of love but an experience of this unbounded love that comes from his grace penetrating our soul. This love grows so strong that there is nothing we would not change in our way of life to become united with our lover forever.

Saint Cassian says,
It is in this sense, then, that our words should be understood—not that we declare that an awareness of everlasting punishment or of the blessed reward which is promised to the holy ones is of no importance. These things are helpful and introduce those who reflect on them to the beginning of blessedness. But, love, in which there is a fuller confidence and already enduring joy, takes them from a servile fear and hireling’s hope, brings them to the love of God and to adopted sonship, and, from being perfect, makes then somehow more perfect. (419)

Apostle Paul call this love the best of gifts
But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift ofprophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1Cor 12:31-13:3)

Reference: The Conferences of John Cassian, trans, Boniface Ramsey, OP, Paulist Press.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Purpose of a Christian Life


A video on the purpose of a Christian life. The first session in our series on the Path to Salvation.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Do we know our sinfulness?


King David committed horrible sins, adultery and murder (2Sam 11:2-27), but was not aware of how sinful he was until the profit Nathan came to him and told him a story that paralleled David’s life.  When Nathan told David a story of a supposed subject in his kingdom, that was actually a disguised story of David’s life, David severely condemned this person seeking to punish him. He asked Nathan for his name. Then when Nathan told him that he, David, was this person, he was awakened, he then condemned himself and sought God to help him repent (2Sam 15). This why the theme of many of his psalms are about repentance.

Are we like David, blind to our sinfulness? Who’s is your Nathan? How well do you know your sinfulness? Are you denying that you too are a sinner? 

Knowing our sinfulness is knowing ourselves. Not knowing our sinfulness is a common spiritual ailment. I have experienced this many times. Before I was a practicing Orthodox I was into various contemplative practices  I was also busy with my career and family, thinking every success was the result of my own efforts. There was no room for God. My contemplative efforts were simply to relieve stress.  At some point I discovered the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” It fit the passage meditation practice I had learned from an Indian teacher. But I made one change, I dropped the phrase, “I am a sinner.” Why? Because I did not know myself. I was like David, asleep, unaware about the nature of my separation from God even though I would attend Church regularly. I saw myself as a good person.

It took a number of years to break this shield and to see the depth of my sinful nature. It was after I began to learn about the Orthodox way of life. At first Confession was like going to the judge and pleading to have my case dismissed. But eventually, after experiencing the receptiveness of my confessions, I began to see the patterns controlling my inner being. To break this control I first had to learn more about the nature of God. I had to learn that God was love and he was merciful to those who recognized the nature of their condition and desired to change basic patterns of behavior in their life. I needed to learn that He was not a God seeking to punish me, but a God who had open arms to embrace me and to help me become more like Him. That He was all powerful and someone who could help me, like a loving father with his child.

At first I dealt with specific issues like judging others and anger. There would be cycles in this uncovering of sin. Recognition of one sin and it’s recurring pattern would lead to efforts to make changes in my life. Then there would follow periods where I was again blind to my sinfulness. Then I would beg God to help me see myself again as a sinner and eventually a new pattern would emerge. As this continued I came closer and closer to my basic issue, self-centeredness, my pride. When this became clear I was devastated because I was able to see the way I had lived my whole life in sin. Confession became more and more powerful.  The more I understood myself, the more God helped me.

We know that Christ came to save not the righteous but sinners (1Tim 1:15). He shows us that when we repent, sinners, publicans, and harlots easily enter into paradise (Mt 21:31), like David the adulterer and murderer. The main issue we face is pride. It underlies all sin. It, along with superficial piety, blocks us from seeing our sinfulness.

Seeing our sinfulness is more than acknowledging a particular sin, but is seeing that every aspect of our life is entangled with sin.
Archimandrite Aimilianos says: What does it mean to be a sinner? It doesn’t mean simply that I’ve committed a particular sin, but that my entire being, every aspect of my self, is entangled in sin, for in sins did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:7). From the very moment of my conception, long before I was born, before I ever had an opportunity to commit any kind of particular sin, I existed in a mode of fallen nature, in the fallen Adam, and as such I opened my eyes on a world adrift in evil and wickedness (1 Jn 5:19).
To become united with God, to become a true son of His, we need to know ourselves and know the loving nature of God. Then we will want to run to Confession, to follow the ascetic disciplines of the church, daily prayer and fasting, and go to Liturgy early to hear the prayers at Orthros and to receive Him in Communion by partaking His Body and Blood offered in the Divine Liturgy. 

When awake to our sinful nature we will no longer go to confession for relief, but to be rescued from this sinful condition, to be liberated, so God can lead us to paradise.


References: Psalm 37 (38), Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 191-260


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Humility!

Humility! The basis of all the virtues and the fundamental requirement for spiritual fruition. Do you have humility? You have God, You have everything! You don’t have humility? You lose everything! So retain the feeling of humility in your heart. Our natural and normal relationship with God requires a heart which is impassioned, contrite and entirely devoted to Him, a heart which cries mystically at every moment: ‘Lord, You know all things; save me!’ If we surrender ourselves into His hands, He’ll do with and for us whatever’s best for our salvation, according to His wise and holy will. Saint Theophan the Recluse 

The soul that has acquired humility is always mindful of God, and thinks to herself: 'God has created me. He suffered for me. He forgives me my sins and comforts me. He feeds me and cares for me. Why then should I take thought for myself, and what is there to fear, even if death threaten me?' The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God, for He said: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.   Saint Silouan the Athonite


Monday, January 13, 2020

COMPARISON OF HUMILITY AND PRIDE


Pride first manifests itself in the human heart. We can tell how deeply we are possessed by this sin by examining our own thoughts. To contrast humility and pride, here we juxtapose the two:

• A proud heart loves only itself. A humble heart loves everyone.
• A proud heart always promotes its own ego. A humble heart never talks about itself.
• A proud one is filled with envy. A humble one is filled with love.
• Pride exposes its gifts. Humility hides them. Pride boasts about its deeds. Humility never mentions them.
• Pride loves and is flattered by praise.
Humility avoids and is embarrassed by such.
• Pride remembers the evil done against it. Humility remembers only the good.
• Pride talks of vengeance. Humility speaks of love.
• Pride has a high opinion of itself. Humility remembers that all good things are a gift from God.
• A proud heart considers itself righteous. A humble one acknowledges its sinfulness.
• Pride seeks vengeance, hates others and finds joy in their misfortunes.
Humility forgives, loves and is happy when others succeed.
• A proud heart is self-confident. A humble one is filled with trust in God.
Pride seeks to be number one, does not tolerate superiority and if it meets such, it responds with envy.
• Humility seeks the last seat for itself and rejoices when others prosper and excel.
• Pride desires to be a king. Humility desires to be a servant.
• A proud heart is a well from which all bad things come forth.
A humble heart is a spring from which all good things flow.
• Pride destroys us spiritually. Humility saves us.
• If we ask pride: "What do you tell the hearts that give you refuge?" it will answer: "I tell them: Learn and show your virtues, quality and value and the whole world will bow to you and admire you. Then you
will be content." If we ask humility the same question, it will answer: "I tell them: Consider yourself nothing and you will have peace in God."
• Pride brings darkness to our hearts, humility brings light. In a heart that harbors pride there is no room for humility, since light and darkness cannot coexist in the same place. The brighter the day becomes in the morning, the further it pushes darkness away. The same happens in our inner lives —as our hearts fill with humility even the vestige of pride disappears.

Metropolitan Hilario Dorostolski

Sunday, January 5, 2020

On Pride


Pride is a sin I wrestle with. It’s a serious sin because it is known to be the root cause of other sins and separates us from God. Below are some thoughts on pride by Church fathers and others to help us understand this common sinful tendency.

Saint John Climacus says pride is:
“the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy.”... It involves “the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out.” “The proud man wants to be in charge of things.” “A proud man despises the meek.” “Pride makes us forget our sins...” “Pride leads to unholy thoughts.” “It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.” “I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glŠ¾rifying themselves.” “Blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride.”
Saint John of Kronstadt says,
When we hear anything bad said of anyone, then, inwardly comparing him with ourselves, we say in our heart: "I am not such; I am perfection in comparison to him," and thinking thus of ourselves and inwardly judging others, we are delighted at our superiority over others. This is the pride of Satan; this is the stench of the carnal, sinful man. May such thoughts flee from the soul! Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honor and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us...Spiritual pride also manifests itself by insensibility to our sins, by the Pharisee's self-justification and self-praise, by insensibility to God's mercies, by ingratitude to God for all that is good, by not feeling the need of praising God's greatness. Spiritual pride also manifests itself in boastfulness, in the proud man's pretended knowledge of everything, whilst in reality he knows very little or his spiritual eyes are entirely blind. "That is not worth reading," he says; " it is all well known; these sermons are not worth reading; they contain the one same thing which I already know.'' 
Saint Tikhon writes:
A proud man seeks honor, glory and praise by every means. He complains, he is displeased, he curses when deprived of honor and leadership. He begins labors that are beyond his strength which he is not able to manage. Out of self-will he interferes in the affairs of others. He desires to direct everyone...He boasts of himself shamelessly and exalts himself. He looks down on and humiliates other people. He does not submit, he does not obey his authorities and his parents. The goods they have they ascribe to themselves, to their own efforts and labors, and not to God. He greatly dislikes reproach and admonition. He is impatient, is displeased, complains and even curses when in destruction, in contempt, in misfortunes and calamities. He displays haughtiness and is somewhat pompous, etc. in word and deed.
So what is pride? Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. Is this love of ourselves pride? Prof. Paul Sands wrote an excellent article on this topic. He points out that the word “pride” has many different meanings. We often confuse it with “self-respect.” While pride that is to be avoided includes a feeling of superiority, self-respect does not. This is what Jesus meant when he says “as we love ourselves.” He means the proper regard for oneself as a human being. Self-esteem is another good concept that differs from the kind of pride we are to avoid. Self-esteem involves the proper judgement of our capabilities that Paul labels “sober judgement” (Rom 12:3). Neither should pride be confused with “feeling proud” of others when they do good. When we feel  proud of our children’s accomplishments this is an expression of our love. But in feeling proud of our own accomplishment can involve the dangerous notion of superiority. To avoid the sin of pride we must alway recognize God’s action in our lives. Remembering that we are His creation, made from the earth. In His eyes we are all equal, but He gives us differing gifts. We are expected to use them for the benefit of all, to do His will. When we lose this connection for our accomplishments and think everything is achieved only by our own will we are guilty of pride. If we attribute our achievements to the work of the Holy Spirit then we avoid the sin of pride. Paul’s says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6:14) In Philippians 2:16 he says, “as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Legitimate, godly pride has nothing to do with ourselves. (Romans 15:17)

Sinful pride blocks us from loving our neighbor by comparing ourselves to them, criticizing them, and feeling better than them even in little ways. We criticize others often because it makes us feel better than the other. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector provides an example, showing how destructive it can be to relationships: 
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'" (Luke 18:11-12). 
When we are prideful in a sinful way we forget that God created us equal, in His image and likeness, and we begin to credit ourselves for our accomplishments and develop a feeing of superiority over others. 1 Corinthians 4:7 states, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” Our sinful pride tempts us to be self-sufficient rather than God reliant.

Prideful people who see themselves as superior to others are described in the following ways: “stuck up”, they “look down their noses,” we say they live in “an ivory tower,”  as acting “high and mighty,” or puffed up”, “inflated” with self-importance. The proud assert their opinions while discounting and ignoring those of others. They seek to glorify themselves, and fantasize their own greatness.

Shyness is another kind of pride. A person who seems reserved and does not speak out much may also suffer from pride. We tend to be shy because we fear that others will find out how imperfect we are. When shy we link our self-esteem with an idealized view of ourselves. We fail to see that being God’s children we are equal in His eyes, but, because we have differing gifts, we have also weaknesses, that this is normal. We shouldn’t fear having weaknesses or compare ourselves with others. When you can see you own weakness and not fear exposing them you will also praise the gifts that others have. The proud person will see their shyness as a virtue rather than a form of sinful pride that we must overcome.

Prof Paul says there are three kinds of pride. Vanity, conceit and arrogance. Vanity is a preoccupation with appearances. Conceit is having an exaggerated opinion of your good qualities and achievements. It presupposes a superiority over others so everything about one’s self tends to be exaggerated and one criticizes the abilities of others to inflate their own superiority. Arrogance is the feeling of superiority. Arrogance needs no comparison to others. It’s beyond conceit. Those who suffer from this madly of pride cause all kinds of trouble by overestimating their own abilities and knowledge. They tend to set unreasonable goals and disregard normal limits. They will make poor judgements as they pursue goals to glorify themselves without having adequate knowledge, resources or planning.

Pride is a way people compensate for low self-esteem. In such cases people will develop an imaginary, idealized and unrealistic view of themselves. They suppress weaknesses and exaggerate their skills. This can cause psychological problems like depression when they cannot live up to this ideal image. They tend to minimize their failures or blame someone else or the circumstances. It’s too painful for them to admit mistakes or failures. Any form of criticism is defended against. 

Those with pride often find themselves in the midst of self-made controversies. Wanting to be first or recognized above others can lead to quarrels, envy, and even resentment. Remember when the disciple of Jesus were quarreling? 
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mark 9:33-41)
Having wealth can also exaggerate the notion of superiority, leading to expectations of special privileges, or not having concerns about needs of others with less resources or poor. They may even blame them of being lazy. In the Parable of the Sower, it is said: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in; it chokes the Word, which becomes unfruitful" – Mark 4:19.

The most dangerous aspect of pride is that it separates us from God. A proud person sees himself as being self-sufficient, knowing even more than God. It is only their own mind that has truth. He believes only in his own skills and way of life. Everything he has or achieved is seen through his self-will. God is distant and unnecessary. The problem of God for one with pride is that God is someone who is superior. It destroys the self image of self-sufficiency. They become their own God.

Think about what Jesus has taught and how difficult His teaching is to accept for one suffering from pride. He said that we can only save our lives by losing them (Mat 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Luke 9:24), he also told his followers to “take up their cross” and “deny themselves” (Mk 8:34; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23). Jesus calls His followers to follow Him alone and to put their trust in Him and have faith in the Kingdom to come. His way of life always exemplified humility and obedience to the Father.

St. Macarius wrote about the main signs that humility or pride is present in a person: 
“Let the following be for you a sign of humility or pride: the latter blames, reproaches, and sees blackness in others, while the former sees only his own bad state and doesn’t dare to judge anyone.”
Elder Ephriam on  answering the question, “When can we realize that we have egotism?
When one of our brothers makes a comment to us or when the elder reproaches us or points out one of our faults. If you feel bothered, upset, full of turmoil, dismay, distress, and anger internally, you can gage the corresponding size, depth, and length of egoism that exists within you. When someone is humble he accepts advice, criticism, and insults....At last, we must recognize our problem, we must acknowledge that egoism exists within us, and we must take a stance and put up a fight against it. When others point out mistakes and try to correct us, we should blame ourselves, accuse ourselves, scourge ourselves internally, strike our ego, take full responsibility, justify the person who corrected us and give thanks to God for attempting to cleanse us....We must fight against egoism, this evil wickedness, armed with the Jesus Prayer. The words “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” should not stop day and night, if possible,
Here is a list of questions to evaluate the condition of pride created by Fr. William Casey
  • In your heart of hearts, do you see yourself as being better than others because of who you are, what you have, or what you know?
  • In conversation with others, do you always seem to bring the subject back to yourself?
  • Do you always seem to talk about yourself, your interests, and your affairs?
  • Are you overly concerned about what people think of you?
  • Are you always trying to make yourself look good in the sight of others?
  • Are you always ready to stretch the truth — lie, that is — if that’s what it takes to build yourself up?
  • Do you always have to be right and hate to be contradicted?
  • Do you hold on to your own opinions even when they are proven to be wrong?
  • Do you find it easy to dissent from the teaching of the Church on faith and morals?
  • Do you think that you know better than the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, the whole Church, and the whole company of the saints? (Bonus question: Are you ready to bet your immortal soul on that?)
  • Are you ultra-sensitive to criticism, and do you struggle to accept even mild fraternal correction?
  • Do you find it easy to gossip?
  • Do you take satisfaction in hearing somebody else being torn down?
  • Do you jump on every chance to point out the faults and the mistakes of others?
  • Do you find it hard to forgive even the slightest offense?
  • Do you always feel a need to get even, and are always ready to hold a grudge?
  • Do you organize your life for the sake of appearances, and do you always feel the need to be noticed?
  • Do you perform your good works in order to win the praise of others, like the Pharisees who preferred the praise of men to the glory of God?
The opposite of pride is humility. To overcome pride we need to develop this virtue. This will be our next topic.


References:
The Deadly Sin of Pride, Family and Community ministries, by Prof. Paul Sands of Baylor University, George Truett Theological School.
The Danger of Pride and the Power of Humility, by Fr. Willian Casey, https://catholicexchange.com/the-danger-of-pride-and-the-power-of-humility
Journey to Heaven by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk
My Life in Christ, by Saint John of Kronstadt