Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Fasting

On Fasting - A comprehensive article covering the history of fasting, its ancient practice, why we fast and the guidelines of the Orthodox Church by Deacon Haralambos
Link to pdf file of article
Link to Cathedral web page on fasting

“The head or chief of the virtues is prayer; their foundation is fasting.
Fasting is constant moderation in food with prudent discernment in its use.
Proud man! You think so much and so highly of your mind, while all the time it is in complete and constant dependence on your stomach.
The law of fasting, though outwardly a law for the stomach, is essentially a law for the mind.
The mind, that sovereign ruler in man, if it wishes to enter into its rights of autocracy and retain them, must first submit to the law of fasting. Only then will it be constantly alert and bright; only then can it rule over the desires of the heart and body. Only with constant vigilance and temperance can the mind learn the commandments of the Gospel and follow them. The foundation of the virtues is fasting.”
Saint Ignatius Briantchaninov

"If you control your stomach, you will mount to Paradise; but if you do not control it, you will be a victim of death."
Saint Basil the Great

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Orthodox view of Sin

Vladika Lazar's Dialogue with the Baptists

Is Facebook dangerous?

"Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned."

"Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred."

The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favorite websites each day.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why Fast?

Fasting, in our days, has become one of the most neglected spiritual values. Because of misunderstandings regarding the nature of fasting, because of confused and reversed priorities in its use, many of today's Orthodox Christians fast very little, or disregard fasting altogether.
Fasting was practiced by the Lord Himself. After prayer and fasting for forty days in the wilderness, the Lord victoriously faced the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-­11). The Lord himself asked the disciples to use fasting as an important spiritual weapon to achieve spiritual victories (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Luke 2:37). The example of the Lord was followed by His disciples (Acts 14:23; 27:9; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:27, etc.). What is fasting? Why is it so important? Why does fasting precede such important feasts such as Easter and Christmas?
First of all, fasting is abstinence from food. By detaching us from earthly goods and realities, fasting has a liberating effect on us and makes us worthy of the life of the spirit, a life similar to that of angels. Second, fasting, as abstinence from bad habits and sin, is the mother of Christian virtues, the mother of sound and wholesome thinking; it allows us to establish the proper priority between the material and spiritual, giving priority to the spiritual.
Fasting is the advocate of repentance. Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they refused to fast from the forbidden fruit. They became slaves of their own desires. But now through fasting, through obedience to the rules of the Church regarding the use of spiritual and material goods, we may return to the life in Paradise, a life of communion with God. Thus, fasting is a means of salvation, this salvation being a life we live in accordance with the Divine will, in communion with God.
Because of the liberating effect of fasting, both material and spiritual, the Church has connected fasting with the celebration of the major feasts of our tradition. Easter is, of course, our main feast. It is the "feast of feasts." It is the feast of our liberation from the bondage of sin, from corrupted nature, from death. For on that day, through His Resurrection from the dead, Christ has raised us "from death to life, and from earth to heaven" (Resurrection Canon), Christ, "our new Passover," has taken us away from the land of slavery, sin and death, to the promised land of freedom, bliss and glory; from our sinful condition to resurrected life.
It is most appropriate to prepare for this celebration through a liberating fast, both material and spiritual. This is the profound meaning that fasting takes during the Great Lent. Let us allow ourselves to take advantage of the spiritual riches of the Church. Let us use the precious messianic gifts offered to us through its sacramental life, through its celebrations of the central mysteries of our salvation in Christ. Let us use the spiritual weapons,"to fight the good fight, to walk the way of fasting, to crush the heads of the invisible dragons, to prove ourselves victorious over sin, and without condemnation to reach our goal of worshiping the Holy Resurrection" (Prayer of the Presanctified Liturgy).
This is the challenge of the Great Lent: to use fasting to obtain the resurrected life, to unite with the Risen Lord. Who could refuse to accept this challenge?

Metropolitan Maximos

Great Lent Begins

As we enter the Lenten season (March 2), there are things we can do to prepare ourselves for the celebration of The Resurrection on Pascha. Here are some things we should consider:

Prayer - All good things begin with prayer. Think about it this way; when we meet someone we like, we spend time talking with them. The more we talk with them the more we know them and the more we want to know. Prayer is a conversation with God. We should tell him our fears, ask him to guide us and thank him for our blessings. If you do not already have one, order an Orthodox prayer book to help you.

Go to Church - We know some of us may think that church only occurs on Sunday. Wrong! The Orthodox Church offers an entire cycle of worship throughout the year. No time is that more evident than during Lent. We should go to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday but we should also go to the other liturgical services (Vespers, Compline, Salutations & Akathist Hymn, Pre-Sanctified Liturgy). But here is the really important part, we should not just "go" to the services…we need to be active participants in the services. Ask your priest where you can get books for the services so that you can participate by reading, chanting and following along.

Repentance/Confession - We know it is hard, but confession is necessary for spiritual growth. Do not look at it as going in with your shopping lists of sins and trying to rattle them off as quickly as possible. Instead look at it as an opportunity to fix your relationship with God through repentance. Repentance is accepting that we have done something wrong and (here's the hard part) committing to try very, very hard not fall into those sins again.

Read the Bible - If you don't have one, get one immediately! Ask your priest for the list of daily bible readings for the church calendar. This will help you in your journey through lent and throughout the year.

Fast - We know what you are all thinking… beans, greens and rice how does that make me a better Christian? Fasting is really about discipline. We discipline ourselves in other areas of our life (athletics, academic). We should be disciplining ourselves spiritually in what we do as well as in what we eat.

Give - Take time during lent to give to those in need. You do not need money to do this. Ask yourself how can I give of my time, talents and treasure to give Glory to God?

Excerpted from: For The Youth-What's Up With Lent?
by Melissa K. Bazos and Anna Nicole Kyritsis

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cultural Treasures of Greece

Solidarity, the main charity organization of the Church of Greece, has launched “The Cultural Treasures of the Church of Greece,” a multimedia site rich with art, architecture, manuscripts and a digital map where these can be sorted by location.
The GR Reporter news site says that more than 30,000 Church treasures can be found in the digital map. “The project was one of the dreams of the deceased archbishop Christodoulos, who started it,” it says. The information is presented in Greek, English, and Russian.

The site also makes available the Greek Christian Monuments documentary which has beautiful scenes of monasteries, frescoes and other works of art.

From AOI by John Couretas | February 20, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Habit of Prayer

The Habit of Prayer
By fatherstephen

Though created in the image of God - man has fallen far. The image is not demolished, but we have not fulfilled the likeness and we frequently distort the image beyond recognition. Part of the true human life described in Genesis, are the “walks in the Garden” with God. Man and God converse - they share communion with one another. We see the restoration of this in the life of Christ whose constant life of prayer is frequently referenced in the Scripture.

Man makes a return to the Garden when he turns to God in prayer. The essence of all prayer is communion with God. Prayer, even intercessory prayer, is always about communion with God. We do not pray in order to change God’s mind. We do not pray in order to get things. We do not pray in order to make things happen. We pray in order to be in communion with God, Who alone does what He wills, gives what He wills, and governs the universe without advice from anxious men.

As we pray, and the more truly we pray, we unite ourselves to God, and His actions. His will and His gifts become things for which we can give thanks.

I have often read about the “habit of prayer.” The one problem with this description is that it can be seen as an activity that we ought to do often, when prayer is, in fact, a state of being in which we should dwell constantly. We are not ever truly ourselves when we are not in prayer.

As communion with God, prayer is itself life-giving. How could we want a life-giving activity to be less than constant? If we are engaging in activities that are not life-giving, then we are exercising communion with death. There is no neutral ground.

This does not mean that we may not go about our daily chores and responsibilities. But learning to go about them in a state of communion with God is to learn what it is to live our lives as truly human. We were not created for death, but for life and communion with God.

There are many ways we maintain such a communion: use of the Jesus Prayer; the use of frequent or constant thanksgiving; the use of small verses of Scripture offered up to God throughout our activities. There is nothing we do, apart from sin, that cannot be done better in communion with God. If it is an activity that we cannot ask God’s blessing for, then it is an activity that we should avoid. As St. Paul said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Most important to me as I think on this topic is the true nature of prayer and communion with God. Prayer will not be a habit so long as it seems a laborious activity that we carry out because we “ought to.” This is the thought of a slave and not a son. Until we come to know God as our Father we will not be able to pray in such a way that it can become our true life. This is a gift of grace, a kindness from God. If you pray like a slave, then ask for the gift to pray like a son. God is a good God and wishes to free us from slavery and adopt us as His children.

Though the desert fathers said, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath,” it is also true that prayer should increasingly be a source of life for us, so that even if we struggle, it is as if a man who has difficulty breathing still struggles to breathe. He doesn’t just give up on breathing because it’s too much trouble. He will breathe until he can breathe no more. We must pray until we can pray no more.

More on Prayer

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lord's Prayer - Gregory of Nyssa

The following is an excerpt from Gregory of Nyssa's sermon 1 on the Lord's Prayer.

The Divine Word teaches us the science of prayer. And to the disciples worthy of it, who eagerly asked to learn to pray in such a way as to win the favor of the Divine hearing, this science is proposed in the words that prayer should take. Now, I make bold to add a little to what Scripture says; for the present congregation needs instruction not so much on how to pray, as on the necessity of praying at all, a necessity that has perhaps not yet been grasped by most people. In fact, the majority of men grievously neglect in their life this sacred and divine work which is prayer. In this matter, therefore, I think it right first of all to insist as much as possible that one must persevere in prayer, as the Apostle says; secondly, that we must listen attentively to the Divine Voice which proposes to us the manner in which we should offer prayer to the Lord. For I see that in this present life men give their attention to everything else, one concentrating on this matter, another on that; but no one devotes his zeal to the good work of prayer.

Full sermon

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Friday, February 6, 2009

"Nothing Comes Without Effort"

Nothing comes without effort. The help of God is always ready and always near, but is given only to those who seek and work, and only to those seekers who, after putting all their powers to the test, then cry out with their whole heart, “Lord, help us.”
Saint Theophan the Recluse

Monday, February 2, 2009

Orthodox Christianity in Modern Times

Bishop Kallistos Ware speaks about Orthodoxy in modern times.

Why Do We Need the Church?

"When we stay within the embrace of our mother the Church, we can know that we are with our Lord."

A frequent question we hear is "Why do we need the Church?" People want to know why they must go to a particular church, attend services they may not understand, obey rules that feel constricting to their lifestyle, and spend time with others they do not know or want to know. They say it is enough to talk to God in their own way, where and when they are in the mood to do so. They have lost the vision that our Lord's purpose for incarnating as a human being was not simply to establish places to gather for rituals and coffee hour. "Church" is far more than buildings, rites and rules.

Why do we need church?so that we can know, experience and live within God, here on earth as well as in eternity. How can we possibly make such an incredible claim? On the one hand this life with God is difficult to describe in words, in the same way it is difficult to explain failing in love. On the other hand, Scripture is very clear that knowing God is precisely what He has in mind and to know God is to live in Him. He created each and every one of us deliberately, on purpose, for the sole aim of living with us and in us throughout all of eternity.

This teaching is found throughout the entire Scripture. The Old Testament is one long story of God searching for His people because they were always running away from Him by falling back into idolatry. When He actually came to dwell among us in the flesh, knowing Christ was not a question for the Apostles. They were blessed to actually experience the Godman with their five senses. St. John describes this most clearly: "That which we have looked upon and touched with our hands... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you" (1 Jn. 1:3).

However, the strongest language in Scripture about knowing Jesus as both God and man comes directly from our Lord Himself. He says such words as these: "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and My own know Me" (Jn. 10:9). "Abide in Me, and I in you" (Jn.15:4). "And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent" (Jn. 17:3).

How do we come to know Jesus? He Himself tells us that He will send His Holy Spirit to teach us all we need to know, including how to pray to Him. And the Spirit will not only reveal Jesus to us but will actually live within us: "the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you" (Jn. 14:17). This teaching about knowing God is not just for early Christians, an opportunity somehow not fully available in our own time. St. Silouan, who reposed just seventy years ago, witnesses to this:

The Father so loves us that He gave us His Son: but such was the will of the Son, too, and He became incarnate and lived among us on earth. And the holy Apostles and a multitude of people beheld the Lord in the flesh, but not all knew Him as the Lord; yet it has been given to me, a poor sinner, through the Holy Spirit to know that Jesus Christ is Lord ... the soul suddenly sees the Lord, and knows that it is He ... The Lord in His boundless mercy accorded this grace to me, a sinner, that others might come to know God and turn to Him... The Lord is my witness (St. Silouan of Mount Athos, SVS Press, 1999).

When our Lord chose to create us, He gave us everything to make us His own, worthy of eternal life with Him. He grafted us into His very Body, which on earth is manifested as the Church. Elder Porphyrios says, "With the worship of God you live in Paradise. If you know and love Christ, you live in Paradise ... The Church is paradise on earth, exactly the same as paradise in heaven" (Wounded by Love, D. Harvey Publisher, 2000, p.90).

When we look at the Church on earth we sometimes only see buildings, lots of rules that are not always comfortable, and some pretty high expectations in terms of our behavior and the choices we make in life. The Church seeks to get involved in our lives in all sorts of ways we are expected to go to services, fast, give alms, read Scripture, receive the sacraments, and pray regularly at home and in all places. The Church tells us how to behave, how to dress, how to relate to each other and the world around us. This can all start to feel pretty heavy and constricting. This sense of burden was not God's intention! Everything concerning the Church has one purpose and one purpose only: to bring us into closer communion with our Lord, to prepare us for eternity. This is where knowing God and living in His Church comes together. Fr. Zacharias, a priestmonk from England, describes it this way:

When man responds to [the] love [of Christ], he realizes that he is, above all, a worshipping being. The grace of God which has touched his heart enables him to perceive the image of God, Who is the true pattern of his life, Who ignites within him the desire to live once more according to the original purpose of his creation.

Grace initiates this change in him, but in order for this grace to bear fruit, he must live as a member of the worshipping Body that is the Church, the Church being the assembly of the saints through whom God speaks and in whom He is reflected. Our common membership unites us to our brethren who continuously stand before God, and this allows us to test ourselves safely, for the saints have themselves travelled the road to purification. And as members of the worshipping Body of the Church, we participate in the divine purity ... Our purification does not happen mechanically ... The human will must labor together with the grace of God (The Hidden Man of the Heart, Mt. Thabor Publishing, 2008, p. 125).

The Church is not just an earthly institution that seeks to control us by rules and limit our worship to stale rites. It is a living, breathing being literally the Body of Christ. This means that our life in Christ can only be lived within the life of the Church His Body. All aspects of this life nurture and form and protect our spirit. The boundaries set by the Church are not there to restrict us but to give us freedom. Within these walls, our spirits can soar. When we stay within the embrace of our mother the Church, we can know that we are with our Lord. We can fully open ourselves to Christ's love, to the blossoming of our spiritual lives in limitless joy and peace.

From “Life Transfigured,” A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, volume 40, #3, Nativity 2008
Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The life of an Orthodox Christian is one of prayer

From an Anglican Priest
In the Orthodox tradition, it is the person who truly prays who is a theologian and a God-seer. The goal of a life of prayer is living a life of active love for all people. And the result of a life of prayer is to be filled with mercy and forgiveness, to bind up wounds and to love.

Evgarius is quoted in the Philokalia as having once written: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”

To pray truly, we can learn from the traditions of others. The beauty of Orthodox liturgy, the insights provided by the Orthodox use of icons, the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and the rich treasurers in the Orthodox monastic writings can help each of us to develop our own practice of prayer.

From: PATRICK COMERFORD's thoughts on spirituality, theology, history and travel

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