Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chruch Prayer

From the letters of Fr. Clement Sederholm (1830-1878) to his father.

I can briefly explain to you concerning prolonged prayers in our [Orthodox] Church. Every one of us prays not for himself only and not in their own way. We gather together for common church prayer in order to fulfill the unity and mutual love which is commanded by the Holy Spirit as well as what is prescribed by the apostle: forsake not the assembly as do some (Heb. 10:25). No matter how elevated the apostles stood they did not remove themselves from the assembly of believers (Acts 3:1). And that a few prayers of the Church are stronger than the prayers of one man can be seen from the fact that the Apostle Peter was freed from prison by the prayers of the Church (Acts 12:5-19). Our church prayers are made up of psalms, church songs, and various prayers. Every person praying follows the church prayers as they can: if his thoughts scatter he can quickly gather his senses and again follow after the course of the service and pray. But when someone prays alone and composes prayers himself then if his thoughts scatter it is harder for him for begin again to pray; and where does he start? If you, at your age and after long years of studying lofty subjects, feel how hard it is to keep your thoughts together, what can be said about a beginner? Concerning those who already reached the a high level of spiritual life, they add their short prayers to the common church prayer.
I heartily wish that my explanation turns out to be satisfactory to you.

Taken from Blog Incendiary

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Why do we Pray?

First of all, Christ asks us to pray. He tells us in the Gospel of Luke, How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13). We pray so that God can help us to become more like Him in our actions.
Second, we pray for our renewal and the growth of our soul.
Third, we pray to give thanks to God for all he provides for us.
Fourth, we pray to seek forgiveness for our sinfulness as humility is a prerequisite for prayer.

We can also pray to seek help for others as well as ourselves. But we must not forget to pray for His help in our own spiritual growth. This is not selfish, but essential for us to better love and serve others and carry out God’s commandments. We can ask also for His help in supporting us in the various ascetic practices we choose to undertake to help purify our inner being.

We are asked to pray without ceasing. Here are the Scripture references to this idea.
Pray without ceasing (1Thess 5:17)
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Eph 6:158)
He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke 18:1)

God intends our life to become one of a constant prayer where we are continually in a relationship with Him. This is our main task, to draw nearer to God. How do we do this? Saint Isaac of Syria reminds us that it is impossible to draw near to God by any means other than unceasing prayer.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Feasts of the Theotokos

A new section has been added to the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral's web site about the Feasts of the Theotokos.
• Sources
• Parentage of Mary
• Nativity Story
• Icon of the Nativity
• Hymns
• Sermon St Andrew
• St. Demetrius
• Immaculate Concep.

Entry to Temple
• Entry Story.
• Growing Up
• Selecting a Husband
• The Betrothal
• James and Veil
• Hymns
• Icon for Entry
• Gregory Palamas
• Animated Story

• Lifestyle of Mary
• Outward Appearance
• Depiction in Icons
• Appear. of Gabriel
• Icon of Annunciation

• Preparations
• Her Repose
• Procession
• Translation
• Appearance
• Hymns
• Gregory Palamas

• Mary as Mediatress
• What Does the New Testament say about the Virgin Mary the Theotokos
• Icon - Platytera Ton Ouranon

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Prayer - St Nectarios of Aegina

True prayer is undistracted, prolonged, performed with a contrite heart and an alert intellect. The vehicle of prayer is everywhere humility, and prayer is a manifestation of humility. For being conscious of our own weaknesses, we invoke the power of God.

Prayer unites one with God, being a divine conversation and spiritual communion with the Being that is most beautiful and highest.

Prayer is a forgetting of earthly things, an ascent to heaven. Through prayer we flee to God.

Prayer is truly a heavenly armor, and it alone can keep safe those who have dedicated themselves to God.

Prayer is the common medicine for purifying ourselves from the passions, for hindering sin and curing our faults.

Prayer is an inexhaustible treasure, an unruffled harbor, the foundation of serenity, the root and mother of myriads of blessings.

St Nectarios of Aegina. From Know Thyself (Το γνωθι σαυτον), p 44. Translated by Constantine Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints, vol. 7, pp 181-182.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

St. Macarius the Great on Prayer

We ought to pray, not according to any bodily habit nor with a habit of loud noise nor out of a custom of silence or on bended knees. But we ought soberly to have an attentive mind, waiting expectantly on God until He comes and visits the soul by means of all of its openings and its paths and senses. And so we should be silent when we ought, and to pray with a cry, just as long as the mind is concentrated on God. For as when the body does any task, it is completely occupied with the word and all its members help one another, so also the soul should be totally concentrated on asking and on a loving movement toward the Lord, not wandering and dispersed by its thoughts but with concentration waiting expectantly for Christ.

And thus He will enlighten, teaching on how to ask, giving pure prayer that is spiritual and worthy of God and bestowing the gift of worship “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).

Except taken from the book: Pseudo-Macarius: the fifty spiritual homilies and the great letter.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hallowed be Thy Name

Are we simply stating the obvious when we say “Hallowed be thy Name” as we recite the Lord’s Prayer? Surely, we all know that God is all powerful, all good, and creator of all, most holy and therefore to be glorified. God does not need to affirmed that He is “Hallowed.” After all, Hallowed means to be honored as holy. Saint Gregory of Nyssa reminds us in his third discourse on the Lord’s Prayer that what is intended in this phrase is something quite different than recognizing the holy nature of our God.

At the beginning of the Prayer we address God as “Our Father.” This means that we see ourselves as a child of God. As a child in a family bears a responsibility to uphold the reputation of our family. The family’s reputation is determined by the behavior of its members. Therefore, to honor God’s name as holy means we must be holy like Him.

We are in danger of blasphemy, warns Saint Gregory. If we call ourselves Christians, and God our Father, and by our actions contradict this name what will non-believers think about our God? Being His children will they not see our God with the attributes of our evil doings? People outside the faith do not normally distinguish between the exercise of our free choice and God’s will, but see our evil actions as being “against the mystery of the faith itself.” Through our actions we can be accused of blasphemy.

What we are praying for is that the Name of God should not be blasphemed but instead “be glorified and be hallowed through our way of life.” We ask that our actions glorify God so others will know it to be “hallowed” through our good works. It is as Jesus instructed us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)

Saint Gregory says the following about the the way of life that we are asking for as we repeat this phrase in the prayer:
...a way of life achieved through virtue and cleansed from all stain of sin, a life free from all suspicion of wickedness. Such life shines with prudence, dignity and discernment. It displays fortitude against the attacks of evil passions, being in no way weakened by bodily pleasure. It is separated from such things as luxury, slackness and the delusions of vanity–and to such an extent that in participates in ordinary necessities only as far as is needful, touching the earth as it were with the tip of the toes. It is not submerged in the enjoyment of pleasures accompanying this earthly life but transcends all the deceits that result from the bodily senses. It uses the body to strive for the spiritual life. It esteems one thing as wealth, that is, the possession of virtue; one nobility, that is, the closeness with God; one value and one power, that is, the mastery of self and freedom from human passions. Rather constrained by the length of the earthly way of life, it is eager, as in the case of those distressed at sea, to reach the port of rest. Who, then seeing such a believer would not glorify the Name invoked by that manner of life?

Those who see such a believer will surely glorify a Name that is involved by such a way of life. When we say “Hallowed be Thy Name” we are asking for God’s help to actualize His good in ourselves. We are asking that as His child, He help us live a life that is ”blameless, just and pious.” It is as Paul instructs to us, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Col 3:2)” Saint Gregory says, “by no other means can God be glorified in a person except insofar as his virtue bears testimony that the divine power is the cause of these blessings.”

Commentary on Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s Third Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ten Point Program For Orthodox Life

Translating Orthodox Christian Ideals Into Daily Life
1. Prayer
Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.

2. Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments
Attend and participate in the Divine LIturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.

3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church
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. Watchfulness
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 Companionship
Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.

10. Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers
Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.

Explore the webstie

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Life of the Desert Fathers

An incredible video about a trek to Saint Anthony's Monastery. It will give you an idea of the kind of asceticism that the Desert Fathers under took and are still undertaking in many Orthodox monasteries throughout the the world. It is produced by the BBC and runs about 1 hour. Here is a another link to view this video.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Just for Mothers

Your immediate concern should be with yourself. Strive hard to be a Christian wife and a Christian mother. This is not easy. If you do strive for this, you in your world will find as many snares and pitfalls as we [i.e., monastics] do in ours. Yours may be a different kind, but they are no less difficult to evade.
Starets Macarius of Optina

“How can I, living in the world, dwell in the presence of God?” The elder answered” “Do everything as one cooperating in God’s work.” To be a fellow worker with God in the task of marriage and bringing up Christian children is a grandiose and holy role…. All you learn about marriage, all your work for your marriage, is work for the salvation of your children, and this is not something small, but something which is of eternal value.
A contemporary monk

Remember that love of the neighbor is the first work you must strive for. And you do not even have to leave your house to find that neighbor; your husband is that neighbor; your mother is that neighbor; and so are your children.
Starets Macarius of Optina

The question for Christians who are already married and raising children is not: “How can I reduce to a bare minimum my family obligations so as to be “free” to lead a “more spiritual” life?” It is rather: “How should I nurture within my family life my love for God and my neighbor?”
Sister Magdalen

The joint prayer of husband and wife is a great force.
Starets Macarius

Not merely by living with him as a wife will she be able to save her husband, but by openly demonstrating a life lived according to the Gospel…. It is possible in the case of wives to display the same zeal and enjoy the same advantage [as Saint Pricilla in teaching Apllos: Acts 18:24-26]… The display of a grand philosophy and much patience, the scoffing at misfortunes of marriage, and the determination to follow this task through from beginning to end–this is to make the soul of one’s partner to be saved.
Saint John Chrysostom.

Meaning of Motherhood

Tomorrow my baby girl will be 3 months old! I can't believe it....it seems like she's been with us for so much longer than that, yet it also seems like she was born just yesterday! Last time I blogged, I was sick with a fever that lasted for over a week. It was such a trying time for me...being sick. Selfishly, I just wanted to escape...to go somewhere where I could just take care of myself, and not have to think about anyone else's needs. It overwhelmed me to realize that it will be a very long time (if ever) that I won't have other people to put before myself. I felt guilty for wanting to "escape", but I know I'm not the first mom to have those kinds of feelings. Being sick also made me feel so incapable as a mother, not being able to take care of Maggie by myself. I don't know why it threw me off so much, but I lost any confidence I had and just wanted to give up at being a mom, because I thought I couldn't handle it.

I realize this is only the beginning of my journey as a parent, and there will be thousands of trials to come. But, the most important thing I've learned through this is that I can't do all that a mom needs to do without the grace and help of God. The more I try to do it alone, the worse I feel about myself as a mom. I need God on those mornings that I'm not ready to start the day, but Maggie is. I need God when I don't think I have any more energy to walk Maggie around the house to get her to fall asleep for her nap. I need God to remind that in serving Maggie and Daniel, I am serving Christ. I need God to help me die to my wants and desires, to whittle away at the selfishness in the core of my heart. I need God.....that is the point.

I've lived most of my life trying to do everything by my own strength and my own might, and I succeeded at times and definitely failed at times. I've often quit when things got too hard, but there's no quitting motherhood. God is showing me that this old way of living is not going to work anymore. I have to "put off the old ways" and put on the ways of Christ. Without Christ, I don't know how I can meet the demands of motherhood. I'm not one who is faithful about reading Scripture or quieting myself before the Lord in prayer...but I'm doing my best to invite God into my day, and asking Him to guide me and help me. This is just the beginning...for our relationship with God is limitless. Marriage and family life can truly be a path to salvation, if we serve our family as unto Christ, and die to ourselves. Lord have mercy on me and help me as I struggle on this new path of motherhood. May it be blessed, fruitful, and salvific!

by Christie Summerfield
posted on her Blog, Diary of a new Mom, April 9, 2009

The Holier-than-Thou Effect

In an article in the health section of the New York Times, Benedict Cary pointed out that social psychologists have recently been studying what they call the “holier-than-thou” effect. It is well known that people tend to over estimate their own abilities, fortunes, status, discipline and sincerity.

On example cited is a study of Cornell students. They were asked to predict how likely they would be to buy a daffodil at Daffodil Days, a four-day campus event to raise money for the American Cancer Society. 83% predicted that they would buy at least one flower while thinking that only 56% of their peers would do so. This clearly indicates a “holier-than-thou” attitude among the students. Five weeks later at the actual event, only 43% of the same students purchased a daffodil. Not only did they feel morally superior to others, but they also overestimated their own righteousness. “Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that people on average tend to think they are more charitable, cooperative, considerate, fair, kind, loyal, and sincere than the typical person but less belligerent, deceitful, gullible, lazy, impolite, mean, and unethical---just to name a few, says Nicholas Epley and David Dunning of Cornell University.

Remember the story of the Publican and the Pharisee? The Pharisee, who Jesus knew to be a hypocrite, stands proudly proclaiming, “‘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)” What research is showing us is that today it is the norm to be like the Pharisee. In our moral pronouncements we tend to overestimate our ability to act with moral conviction. In this sense we are no different than the Hypocrites Jesus railed against.

Is this how we act in our practice of the Lord’s commandments? Do we think that we are more likely to follow the Lord’s will than others? Do we in reality fall short of our own estimation of our own standards? Is it possible that we may be blind to our own sinfulness?

When it comes to our own estimation of our godliness we do overestimate our self-evaluation of the morality of our actions. This may be why so few take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession. When we think about confession we often think, “I am not a sinner.” Because of this optimistic self-evaluation we do not partake of this most important and healing sacrament. If you find yourself thinking this way, reflect on this “holier than -thou” effect and try to examine how it works on yourself.

Coming back to the story of the Publican and the Pharisee, what did the tax collector, who is among the most despised class of people of that time, do? “Standing afar off, [he] would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ Jesus completes this parable saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

"Not only can you wish but you must endeavor to perfect yourself in humility, that is, to regard yourself in your heart that as lower than every human being and every creature.”
Ambrose of Optima

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What does it mean when we say, “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”? - Part II

More commentary on Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s Second Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father who art in Heaven” reminds us of the “homeland from which we have fallen,” says Saint Gregory of Nyssa. What is this “homeland” he is referring to? He is reminding us that our true homeland is “Heaven,” the place where your “Father” lives. Do you call home “Heaven”? Once you accept this idea of “home” then think about how far we have fallen to find ourselves in this existence here on earth where death, strife and suffering abound. It is the appreciation of this gap between our life in exile here on earth compared to our true home in Heaven that is essential to have in mind to properly recite the Lord’s Prayer with sincerity.

Saint Gregory uses the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 to emphasize this point. In in this story the departure of the young son from his father’s home is like our fall from heaven. He leaves a abundant life with his father only to find himself in utter despair deprived of all his homeland freely provided for him. Saint Gregory most importantly points out that he is not brought back to his homeland, back to his original prosperity, until he acquires a consciousness of his dire misfortune. To return the son had to awaken to his desperate situation and express his regret. Before he was accepted in return the son offered this prayer, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” With this expression of regret he was welcomed back with open arms back into his homeland. The key was his confession and recognition of his fallen condition. In return the father gave him a new robe symbolizing the first robe that man lost due to his disobedience when he ate the forbidden fruit and become aware of his nakedness. He was also given a ring with a carved stone which signifies the regaining of the divine image. And, he was given shoes to symbolically protect his heel from the bite of poisonous snakes symbolizing the attacks from the devil on our weak points. We must recognize that we are living at a great distance from our true homeland. We need to express our regret that we have deviated so far from what God has naturally given us. With faith and sincere confession, we too will be welcomed back like the prodigal son. Calling on "Our Father Who Art in Heaven" is a recognition of the place of our true home in Heaven, the kinship with have with our God, and our desire to return home.

Children of God
Scripture says, “To whoever received Him, He gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). By calling God our “Father” we imply that we have committed ourselves to the way of perfection, to become a likeness in His image through goodness. Similarly He points out, if we retain evil traits such as envy, hate, slander, conceit, greed, and desire for glory, the father we call to will be one who has kinship to these traits. And who has kinship with these traits? Saint Gregory writes, “The prayer of a evil person, as long as the evil remains in him, is an invocation of the Devil.”

Saint Gregory points out that the path we are assumed to be on when we recite this prayer is one that leads us back to paradise and our attainment of a likeness with God to become “just, holy, good and the like.” This is not a physical path whose distance we can measure, but a spiritual one based on the simple act of free choice. He says, “Because no physical labor is necessary to make the choice of what is good–and free choice can be followed by success in whatever one chooses–it is possible for you to occupy heaven immediately upon putting God into your mind.” It is a life of virtue, living God’s commandments, following the direction of “Our Father Who art in Heaven.”

So, to approach God and say “Our Father Who art in Heaven” we must first examine our way of life. We need to examine it to make sure it embodies the qualities worthy of divine kinship. We need to fully recognize the nature of our true homeland and how far we have fallen. We must have a contrite heart and regret about our present condition. Only then can we call upon God as “Our Father.”

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