Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday of Souls

Saturday of Souls
Reading from the Synaxarion
Through the Apostolic Constitutions (Book VIII, ch. 42), the Church of Christ has received the custom to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since many throughout the ages, because of an untimely death in a faraway place, or other adverse circumstances, have died without being deemed worthy of the appointed memorial services, the divine Fathers, being so moved in their love for man, have decreed that a common memorial be made this day for all pious Orthodox Christians who have reposed from all ages past, so that those who did not have particular memorial services may be included in this common one for all. Also, the Church of Christ teaches us that alms should be given to the poor by the departed one's kinsmen as a memorial for him.
Besides this, since we make commemoration tomorrow of the Second Coming of Christ, and since the reposed have neither been judged, nor have received their complete recompense (Acts 17:31; II Peter 2:9; Heb. 11:39-40), the Church rightly commemorates the souls today, and trusting in the boundless mercy of God, she prays Him to have mercy on sinners. Furthermore, since the commemoration is for all the reposed together, it reminds each of us of his own death, and arouses us to repentance.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Developing Unceasing Remembrance of God

Life lived in a spiritual manner is a life where there is a continual remembrance of God.  Saint Theophan says that this is most essential for any success in our spiritual life.  He says,
If you have not achieved [continual remembrance of God], you will come to nothing.  You will have no success at all in the spiritual life.
How do we develop our life so that each moment is filled with the remembrance of God?  Here are some suggestions from Saint Theophan:
Meditate more on the divine Creation and Providence.
Concentrate on the Incarnation of God the Word and the matter of salvation
Reflect on His death, resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
Consider the descent of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on Pentecost.
Think about the beginning of the Church.
Meditate on the divine attributes of God: goodness, wisdom, omnipotence, justice, omnipresence, all-mightiness, all-knowingness, ever-blessedness, and greatness.
Make your short prayer in praise of God.
Always thank God for everything––even our past misfortunes.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 215-218 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Work and the Burdens of Daily LIfe

Our daily lives are of necessity filled with daily chores and work.  This is our duty, to do them and to do them well.  All our activities, including our work, even household chores, must be performed so that we are not distracted from thoughts about God.  We cannot assume that because it is work, we do not have to think about God.  God needs to be a part of every aspect of our lives.  But, the reality is for most of us, when we are off to work, we are also away from thinking about God.  This is wrong and dangerous.

Saint Theophan reminds us,
Life's everyday affairs, upon which the foundation of the home and society depend, are appointed by God, and carrying out them is not a desertion to the sphere of the ungodly, but a continuation of Godly affairs.
We need to carry our both our household duties and our work in a way that we carry our the commandments given to us by God.  Do everything as if you are doing God's work.  This is the truest reality.  All you do must be done for God.

Saint Theophan says,
Begin doing things with the knowledge that doing them in this way is a commandment, and do them as God's commandment is to be done.  Once you have set yourself to this, there is nothing that will turn your thoughts away from God; on the contrary, everything will bring them closer to Him.  All of us are servants of God.  He has appointed each person a place and occupation, and He looks to see how each one of us carries it out.  He is everywhere.  He looks after you, too.  Keep this in your thoughts and do each thing as if it were entrusted to you directly by God, no matter what it is.
It is our obligation to God to carry out all our activities with attentiveness and enthusiasm.  Saint Theophan says that if we perform Godly work in a carless manner it is cursed.  Nor, do we want to carry worry into our work.  Worry only disturbs our minds and keeps us from focusing properly on the task at hand.

Saint Theophan says,
Have enthusiasm for your work and, performing it with utmost care, expect success from God, dedicating the task to Him, no matter how small it is, and you will get rid of worry.

Reference: The Spiritual LIfe, pp 212-215 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Advice on Controlling Thoughts in Prayer

One of the most common questions asked about prayer is about how to control distracting thoughts.  When we get serious about our prayer life we assume that all we have to do is to make the time and commit to doing it.  We quickly find that we have very active minds and there are forces that try to disrupt our prayer time.  We desire to concentrate on God but we are continually brought back to concerns of this world through thoughts that continually interrupt our prayer.  If you find this tendency disturbing, this is a good sign of your sincerity.  Prayer is not a time for daydreaming, relaxation, or problem solving.  It is a time to lift ourselves above our worldly minds, above the control of our brain and senses to God.  Concern about our ability to focus and concentrate is essential for developing a meaningful prayer life.

Saint Theophan tells us,
Steadfastness and continuity of labor over oneself is an essential condition for success in the spiritual life.  Lasting pacification of thoughts is a gift from God, but this gift is not given without intensifying one's personal labors.
God is all loving but He will not give us something unless we put our full effort into it.

Saint Macarius the Great says,
It is necessary to force oneself even in prayer, if one does not have spiritual prayer... God seeing that a man is calling with effort and restraining himself (that is , his thoughts) against the will of the heart, grants him true prayer.
True prayer is a prayer that is not distracted by any thoughts, where one is absorbed in prayer, where the mind stands before God.  In this state it does not want to leave this place with God.

The dangerous condition is where we voluntarily allow our thoughts to wander.  Here is some advice from Saint Theophan when we are faced with involuntary thoughts during prayer. He says, "When your thoughts stray involuntarily, you must immediately turn them back, reproaching yourself, regretting and grieving over your weakness."

Saint Theophan also suggests that it is helpful to memorize your prayers.  Even better is to go to a church and pray.  But where we mostly pray, at home, we need a place where we will have minimal distraction, the comfort of icons, a cross, and candle lamp.

Saint Theophan also suggests that we prepare ourselves for prayer.
Make some preparations for prayer, trying to collect your thoughts ahead of time and direct them toward standing worthily toward God.  Rouse within yourself the need for prayer at this particular time, because there may not be another time. Do not forget to renew the consciousness of your spiritual needs and for the most immediate real need of all––the settling of your thoughts in prayer with the desire of finding satisfaction for them, namely in God. When there is is this consciousness and the feeling for such needs in the heart, the heart itself will not allow your thoughts to wander off to something else, but will feel more keenly your complete helplessness; without God, you are completely lost... Go into it with a feeling of total misfortune and the consciousness that there no one who can deliver you from it except the One God.
More on attention in prayer

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 209 - 212

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saint Theophan's Advice on a Prayer Rule

The advice given below is specific advice Saint Theophan gave to one of His Spiritual Children.  Therefore, one must be careful in simply adopting it as ones's own prayer rule.  Always review your prayer rule with your spiritual father who will help you establish one that is  appropriate for your current spiritual state.  Just like we have different books in first grade than in 12th, there are different levels in prayer that are appropriate to our differing spiritual situations.

Saint Theophan advises in the following way:
One does not have to do many prayers. It is better to perform a small number of prayers properly than to hurry through a large number of prayers...  I would consider the morning and evening prayers as set out in the prayer books to be entirely sufficient... Just try each time to carry them out with full attention and corresponding feelings... Prayer does not mean that we just recite prayers, but that we assimilate their  content within ourselves, and pronounce them as if they came from our minds and hearts.
When you stand at prayer, be careful to keep your mind from drifting and your feeling from coldness and indifference...  After you have recited each prayer make prostrations, as many as you like, accompanied by a prayer for any necessity that you feel, or by the usual short prayer...
You must also maintain prayerful attention towards God throughout the day... it is good, very good to memorize several Psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, and doing this instead of short prayers.
Go to bed with a short prayer on your lips and fall asleep with it or recite some song.
You may limit the entire prayer rule to just prostrations with short prayers and prayer in your own words. Stand and make prostrations, saying “Lord have mercy,” or some other prayer, expressing your need or giving praise and thanks to God. You should establish either a number of prayers, or a time–limit for prayer, or do both so that you do not become lazy.
The essence of prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God; these little rules are an aid. We cannot get by without them because of our weakness.
More on prayer and a prayer rule 

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 204-209

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rules for Staying on the Path from Saint Theophan

Saint Theophan offeres the following set of rules for staying on the spiritual path to union with God.

1. Fear doubt. it is the primary enemy. Our diligence before God... gives rise to the idea that we have some special quality by comparison with others and even by comparison with ourselves; this is more likely to occur when we have achieved some success along the path... We begin to daydream of ourselves as perfect beings who accomplish wonderful things... The enemy seizes us like a helpless prey.

2. Fear and apprehension will not abandon you. We walk amongst snares. the enemy never immediately temps with what is obviously bad; instead, is more likely to deceive us with the appearance of good.

3. May the fear of death and of judgment and death never leave you. From morning, at the same time you are renewing the memory of the Lord in your heart, take care to add to this the memory of these final things.

4. It is impossible for you to be completely removed from society. however, it is up to you as to how much time you spend in less desirable company. When you are in society, do not forget, to the extent that you are able, to keep your attention on the true Lord, Who is closely by and within, and do not forget the remembrance of death, which is ready to take you. Do not give your heart over to the pleasurable impressions of the eyes, ears or other senses. Life in that world is bad. Too many things, people and activities crowded into the soul; the mental impression of all this then disturbs it. It is also not conducive to proper prayer. There is only one remedy for this: guard your heart as much as possible from the pleasantness of impressions.

5. Do not, however, avoid people, and do not be gloomy... You should spend more time with their own kind. Most likely you have good habits. Do not fall away from them that you make yourself seem something out of the ordinary, and do not run the danger of peoples gossip.

6. Spiritual studies–prayer, reading, and meditation–must be done every day without they'll. What you do when is for you to decide yourself. Get up a little earlier, and before you leave the house, do your spiritual studies to the extent possible. Spend a little more time in prayer, however... After prayer, read meditatively, and apply everything you read to your own situation, or think how to bring in about and your life.

7. Labor with all your strength; bring to the Lord all your concerns about success. Trusting God is the foundation of spiritual life. Nothing will happen all of a sudden; everything will come about in its own time. Everything you seek with faith will come. But when? When the Lord is ready to grant it. be patient, remaining steadfast in the ways you have begun.

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 201-203

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jesus Prayer with Attention is the Key

The true path to union with God is one that involves the continual remembrance and God and always acting on the guidance of our conscience. It is only in this way that we can do as we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." One of the most fundamental practices to make this a reality in ones life is prayer.  Saint Theophan says prayer is "a spiritual barometer for self-observation."  In prayer we find out how "high or low our spirit has gone."  A sound prayer life involves regular morning and evening prayers. This is supplemented with the ongoing repetition in our minds of the Jesus Prayer so that we attain continual remembrance of God through unceasing prayer.

Saint Theophan offers us some advice about prayer.
He says,
The essence of prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God...You must train yourself in remembrance of God, and the means for doing this... is short prayer, in which you continually repeat the thought, "Lord have mercy!" "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!"
In addition we need to train ourselves to focus on pray and not to let our minds wander. Saint Theophan address this as follows: 
Make this your rule: always be with the Lord in mind and heart; never allow the thoughts to wander, but when they do, call them back again and force them to stay at home in the house of the heart and speak with the most sweet Lord.  Once you have made this rule, you must force yourself to carry it out faithfully.
My own spiritual father gave me this simple advice when I discussed this common problem with him, "Just decide to reject them! When you do, they will stop." Prayer involves giving your full attention to God alone.

From my personal experience, the practice of the Jesus Prayer in conjunction with controlling the thoughts is the essence of a fundamental spiritual practice that will lead you continually closer to God.  Everything will follow with ease once you have engaged in a regular practice of the Jesus Prayer. Once the mind has been conditioned to remember the prayer in all situation, then God will be in your presence and  there is time for you to listen to your conscience and to act with wisdom instead of passion.

More on the Jesus Prayer

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 198-200

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Gain Inner Peace

If you stop and examine your thoughts during a typical day you will probably find that they are all directed to things of this earthly existence.  They are all about worldly cares.  They rarely contain thoughts about heavenly things. You will feel that it is maybe even impossible to raise your thoughts to a heavenly level during the day.  The accumulated thoughts are like a confusing mishmash of ideas. They are filled with passionate thoughts, judgments, joys and sorrows, love and hatred, disappointment and accomplishment. You will see that they are continuous, ever active, and seem impossible to stop or control.  So how can one ever attain a peaceful mind?

What are we to do?

Saint Theophan says,
Begin by directly removing the cause of all this disorder. The cause of the disorder is that our spirit has lost its original foundation. Its foundation is in God.  Thus, the first thing is this: It is necessary to get in the habit of unceasing remembrance of God, along with fear and reverence.
As discussed in the previous post the way to this unceasing remembrance of God comes through our practice of a short prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” The constant saying of this prayer will eventually bring us peace of mind and eliminate the disorder that we find among our thoughts.

In addition St. Theophan adds the following rule,
Do not do anything that your conscience prohibits, and do not omit anything that it says to do, whether great or small. The conscience is always our moral guide. The cherished thoughts, emotions, and desires that are within us give us over to improper whims; this is cause, incidentally, by the fact that our conscience has lost its force. Restore its force, and expressed full obedience to it. You have now educated by finding out all that you must and must not do. Follow it undeviatingly, and with such perseverance that she would not allow yourself to do anything against it even if you were to die... a conscience with reverential remembrance of God is the wellspring of a true spiritual life.
That, then, is all! Remember God with reverence, obey your conscience, and arm yourself with hope through patience. May the Lord bless you to be so inclined and to be in this frame of mind.
Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 189 - 193 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Secret to a Spiritual Life Amidst Busyness

Most of us have lives that are filled with busyness.  We are constantly on the go, busy with work, caring for our family, involved in self-help activities, engaged in entertainment, following our kid's sports, caring for elderly parents and so forth.  Life in today's interconnected world is very demanding. We are never out of touch and continually responding to shifting demands and needs. We are often so busy that we do not even think about God the entire day.  Many of us do not even have time for daily prayer.  All this leads us to a stressful life, one that is separated from God.

To transform such a life of busyness, the secret is "unceasing remembrance of God." This is our most important spiritual task, to learn how to remember God at all times no matter how busy we are. By fortifying ourselves with such remembrance, God never leaves our mind. with God in our mind at all times He is always with us and is everywhere. This is the only way to transform our lives into one that is forever spiritual. All our activities become made up of actions dedicated to the will of God. We become more able to choose those activities which are truly important and to give up those that are not so important.  We even learn, though God's grace, how to make increasing time for daily prayer, regular worship and participation in the sacraments.

Saint Theophan instructs us as follows:
Nothing special is required for this, just the intention of accepting it and exerting yourself, and remembering that the Lord is in you and close by you, and looks in you and inside of you just as intently as if someone were looking right at you. So that you do not do something, just remember that the Lord is close by and watching. Work at making this a habit and you will get used to it, and as soon as it is a habit, or is almost a habit, you will see the read gaming action that comes from it in the soul. Just do not forget that remembrance of God is not like remembrance of other things, that it must be combined with the fear of God and reverence of Him.
To make it easier to acquire the habit of remembrance of God, there is a special method for fervent Christians; that is, the unceasing repetition of a short prayer... most common is “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!” If you have never heard this, then listen, and if you have never done it, then begin doing it from this moment on. Whether you are walking, sitting, working, eating, going to bed, repeat over and over the words, “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!” From long practice of this, the words will fasten themselves to the tongue so that they will repeat themselves. This has a very settling effect on the soaring and wandering of the thoughts. Again, do not forget to combine this prayer with reverence.

More on the Jesus Prayer

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 187–188 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Does Humility Lead Us to Righteousness?

This last 
Sunday's Gospel lesson, the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, emphasized humility as a key attitude for repentance. To repent we must not boast of our spiritual feats, but humble ourselves like the Publican who longs for a change of mind. We are called to learn this secret of the inward poverty of the Publican rather than the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who is convinced of his perfectness and not open to change because of his pride. 

Saint Gregory Palamas answers the question, Why does Humility lead us to righteousness?
Why does humility lead up to the heights of righteousness, whereas self-conceit leads down to the depths of sin? Because anybody who thinks he is something great, even before God, is rightly abandoned by God, as one who thinks that he does not need His help. Anybody who despises himself, on the other hand, relies on mercy from above, wins God's sympathy, help and grace. As it says, “The Lord resists the proud: but he gives grace to the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34 Lxx).
When we compare ourselves to the calling of God, being made in His image, we can be no other than humble. Unless we think this way, why do we need God's help?  We will remain stuck in our own ego-centeredness, condemned to the heights of our own making. Our end when it comes will also be of our own making.  We will die with only our own thoughts to comfort us.  Humility is the key to knowing and becoming united with God so we can live in His grace. All we need is a little bit of humility and God will widen our perspective little by little until we find His full glory. As we prepare for this Lenten period, let us all seek to find one new limitation we have that keeps us from a full union with our God.

Reference: Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, pp 6-7

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Articles, Links and Books on Confession

Repentance leads us to salvation provided it is coupled with Confession. Confession is what reconciles us with the Father who loves us unconditionally. He does not want us to die as a sinner, but wishes us to return to union with Him and attain eternal life in His kingdom.... more

Preparing for Confession by Department of Religious Education from "My Orthodox Prayer Book"
Rules for a Saving Confession by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev (pdf)

The Ten Commandments by Rev. George Mastrantonis

Repentance and Confession - Introduction
 by Fr. John Chryssavgis

What Is Necessary for a Saving Confession?
 by Saint Innocent of Alaska, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of North America

Self-Examination Before Confession
 by Saint Nicolas Varzhansky

How Everyone Should Prepare Before Confession:

An Excerpt from Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession) by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 

A Catechism on Confession.

Reprinted from The Shepherd, published by the Brotherhood of St. Edward the Martyr, London, England.


From "The Way of a Pilgrim"

A Lament for Sin
 by St. Basil the Great

Some reflections on Confession
 by Alexander Schmemann (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall, 1961, pp. 38-44)

Preparing for Confession -
from Orthodox Christian Information Center

Biblical Theology and the Sacrament of Penance

Sacrament of Penance by Bishop Thikon

Objections to Confession
by Archimandrite Seraphim (Aleksiev) of Bulgaria


Links For more information on Confession
Repentance leads us to salvation provided it is coupled with Confession. Confession is what reconciles us with the Father who loves us unconditionally. He does not want us to die as a sinner, but wishes us to return to union with Him and attain eternal life in His kingdom.... more
To make a good confession it is necessary to prepare yourself carefully. Ask God to give you Grace to make a thorough examination of your conscience, the courage to make a sincere and complete confession, and the strength to amend your way of life in the days to come... more
10 Commandments 
Questions for Self-examination

Scripture for Self-examination
51st Psalm
Parable of the Lost Son

Recommended Books

FORGOTTEN MEDICINEThe Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance,Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev.
Book Review/Summary by Rev. Richard Andrews

In The Forgotten Medicine, the renowned Bulgarian spiritual father Archimandrite Seraphim (†1993) details the reasons many give for not coming to Confession, and for each of these he clearly brings forth the truth of the matter. For those who feel awkward because of not knowing how to approach Confession, he explains in depth how to prepare beforehand and what to do afterwards.
“In the Mystery of Repentance the spiritual afflictions of a man are treated, impurities of the soul are removed, and a Christian, having received forgiveness of sins, becomes innocent and sanctified, just as he came out of the waters of Baptism”. — excerpt from The Forgotten Medicine
Chapter V - Rules for a Saving Confession
Do You Have a Ticket?, by Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili:
a very concise and inspiring small book on confession in the Orthodox Church. Written in the style of the great saints of our Church. A must-have for any pious Christian. "Not Three Times a Year": a profound chapter on the importance of frequent confession (Ch. 11).

Confession, by Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery):
this was used as the primary reference for the section on Confession in the book A Guide to Orthodox Life and comes highly recommended by the author. It is mainly geared towards Priests (to teach them to be better confessors); however, there is a wealth of information for laypeople as well.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Lament for Sin - St. Basil the Great

Weep over your sin: it is a spiritual ailment; it is death to your immortal soul; it deserves ceaseless, unending weeping and crying; let all tears flow for it, and sighing come forth without ceasing from the depths of your heart.

In profound humility I weep for all my sins, voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious, covert and overt, great and little, committed by word and deed, in thought and intention, day and night, at every hour and minute of my life.

I weep over my pride and my ambition, my self love and my boastfulness; I weep over my fits of anger, irritation, excessive shouting, swearing, quarreling and cursing;

I weep for having criticized, censured, gossiped, slandered, and defamed, for my wrath, enmity, hatred, envy, jealousy, vengeance and rancor;

I weep over my indulgences in lust, impure thoughts and evil inclinations; covetousness, gluttony, drunkenness, and sloth;

I weep for having talked idly, used foul language, blasphemed, derided, joked, ridiculed, mocked, enjoyed empty gaiety, singing, dancing and every pleasure to excess;

I weep over my self indulgence, cupidity, love of money and miserliness, unmercifulness and cruelty;

I weep over my laziness, indolence, negligence, love of comfort, weakness, idleness, absent-mindedness, irresponsibility, inattention, love of sleep, for hours spent in idle pursuits, and for my lack of concentration in prayer and in Church, for not observing fasts and not doing charitable works.

I weep over my lack of faith, my doubting, my perplexity, my coldness, my indifference, my weakness and unfeelingness in what concerns the Holy Orthodox Faith, and over all my foul, cunning and reviling thoughts;

I weep over my exaggerated sorrow and grief, depression and despair, and over sins committed willingly.

I weep, but what tears can I find for a worthy and fitting way to weep for all the actions of my ill fated life; for my immeasurable and profound worthlessness? How can I reveal and expose in all its nakedness each one of my sins, great and small, voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious, overt and covert, every hour and minute of sin? When and where shall I begin my penitential lament that will bear fitting fruit? Perhaps soon I may have to face the last hour of my life; my soul will be painfully sundered from my sinful and vile body; I shall have to stand before terrible demons and radiant angels, who will reveal and torment me with my sins; and I, in fear and trembling, will be unprepared and unable to give them an answer; the sight and sound of wailing demons, their violent and bold desire to drag me into the bottomless pit of Hell will fill my soul with confusion and terror. And then the angels of God will lead my poor soul to stand before God 's fearful seat of judgment. How will I answer the Immortal King, or how will I dare, sinner that I am, to look upon My Judge? Woe is me! have no good answer to make, for I have spent all my life in indolence and sin, all my hours and minutes in vain thoughts, desires and yearnings! And how many times have I taken the Name of God in vain!

How often, lightly and freely, at times even boldly, insolently and shamelessly have I slandered others in anger; offended, irritated, mocked them!

How often have I been proud and vainglorious and boasted of good qualities that I do not possess and of deeds that I have not done!

How many times have I lied, deceived, been cunning or flattered, or been insincere and deceptive; how often have I been angry, intolerant and mean!

How many times have I ridiculed the sins of my brother, caused him grief overtly and covertly, mocked or gloated over his misdeeds, his faults or his misfortunes; how many times have I been hostile to him, in anger, hatred or envy!

How often have I laughed stupidly, mocked and derided, spoke without weighing my words, ignorantly and senselessly, and uttered a numberless quantity of cutting, poisonous, insolent, frivolous, vulgar, coarse, brazen words!

How often, affected by beauty, have I fed my mind, my imagination and my heart with voluptuous sensations, and unnaturally satisfied the lusts of the flesh in fantasy! 

How often has my tongue uttered shameful, vulgar and blasphemous things about the desires of the flesh!

How often have I yearned for power and been gluttonous, satiating myself on delicacies, on tasty, varied and diverse foods and wines; because of intemperance and lack of self-control how often have I been filled past the point of satiety, lacked sobriety and been drunken, intemperate in food and drink, and broken the Holy Fasts!

How often, through selfishness, pride or false modesty, have I refused help and attention to those in need, been uncharitable, miserly, unsympathetic, mercenary and grasped at attention!

How often have I entered the House of God without fear and trembling, stood there in prayer, frivolous and absent-minded, and left it in the same spirit and disposition! And in prayer at home I have been just as cold and indifferent, praying little, lazily, and indolently, inattentively and impiously, and even completely omitting the appointed prayers!

And in general, how slothful I have been, weakened by indolence and inaction; how many hours of each day have I spent in sleep, how often have I enjoyed voluptuous thoughts in bed and defiled my flesh! How many hours have I spent in empty and futile pastimes and pleasures, in frivolous talk and speech, jokes and laughter, games and fun, and how much time have I wasted conclusively in chatter, and gossip, in criticizing others and reproaching them; how many hours have I spent in time-wasting and emptiness! What shall I answer to the Lord God for every hour and every minute of lost time? In truth, I have wasted my entire life in laziness.

How many times have I lost heart and despaired of my salvation and of God's mercy or through stupid habit, insensitivity, ignorance, insolence, shamelessness, and hardness sinned deliberately, willingly, in my right mind, in full awareness, in all goodwill, in both thought and intention, and in deed, and in this fashion trampled the blood of God 's covenant and crucified anew within myself the Son of God and cursed Him!

O how terrible the punishment that I have drawn upon myself!
How is it that my eyes are not streaming with constant tears?.. If only my tears flowed from the cradle to the grave, at every hour and every minute of my tortured life! Who will now cool my head with water and fill the well of my tears and help me weep over my soul that I have cast into perdition?

My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me? Be it unto me according to Thy will, O Lord! If Thou wouldst grant me light, be Thou blessed; if Thou wouldst grant me darkness, be Thou equally blessed. If Thou wouldst destroy me together with my lawlessness, glory to Thy righteous judgment; and if Thou wouldst not destroy me together with my lawlessness, glory to Thy boundless mercy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Staying on the Path

There are many forces at work which will try to lead us astray from living a God-pleasing life. It is important to continually pay more attention to the inner nudging of our conscience than to external things. This is not to say we should ignore or separate from external events, as this is also a reality of our life.  But first and with the highest priority is giving our attention to our inner life directed toward our relationship with God.

Saint Theophan reminds us that this takes courage.
Provide yourself with only one thing, strong encourage: no matter what happens, stay with what you have begun...  no matter how life goes, whatever successes and failures there are, you should give all of this over to God's will.
When we examine the lives of saints we see that they have been led, often through great difficulties, with God's love. We see that when they devote themselves to perfecting their way of life through God, God leads them to perfection in differing ways.

Living a life focused on God does not necessarily eliminate the difficulties of life in this world. We will surely encounter numerous difficulties, both inner and outer. These are all things that God allows to happen for our benefit. There is one potential danger, however, and that is one of becoming overconfident when we do not encounter such difficulties.

Saint Theophan says,
Those who do not encounter inward or outward impediments and who see that everything is going smoothly began to fantasize that this is the way things are, and they suppose they have driven out all adversaries, who were unable to show themselves. As soon as such thoughts have settled in, the adversary immediately enters and begins fabricating vainglorious dreams from which are born self-conceit, the falling away from God's help, and the cessation of searching and striving after this help. 
Therefore, it is important never to let up. Our entire life is one that involves spiritual warfare. We must constantly be alert and humble, recognizing that there is an enemy who is continually trying to distract us from the path.

Orthodox Way of Life

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 175-177.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saint Theophan defines what it Means to be Diligent

Seeking to live the life according to God's will is what we are called to do.  This Saint Theophan calls being diligent.

Here is how he puts it.
 Our entire lives, in all their parts and  details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God, in praise of His Most Holy Name. Thus, we should examine each act which occurs to see if it is in compliance with the Divine will and then perform it with the conviction that is totally in compliance with it and is pleasing to God. A person who always asks with such discretion and in the clear consciousness of pleasing God with his actions cannot fail at the same time to acknowledge that his life is proceeding truthfully.
This is a life, that is lived with a full knowledge and consciousness of the teachings that are found in the Gospels. It is a life that is lived with a continuous knowledge and relationship with the Holy Spirit. It is a demanding way of life. It is one that requires attention to every detail, every dimension, all aspects, of each action that we take. When we have this diligence, God is always foremost in our awareness.

Saint Theophan continues to also point out that this is not necessarily a life that is seen as exceptional by societal standards, nor is it necessarily a life of perfection.  It is a life dedicated to God.
Although his acts are not brilliant or perfect, he permits nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him. This consciousness fills his heart with peaceful quiet from the tranquility of the conscience, and with that spiritual joy which is born of the feeling that he is not alien to God. For although he is not great, or distinguished, or famous, he is still His servant who tries in every way possible to please Him, directs all his efforts towards this, and believes that God himself sees him as such.

To live diligently we must consciously choose such a life. Saint Theophan calls this a "God-pleasing life" as compared to a "Man-pleasing life." This is the nature of the Orthodox way of life.

Ten Points of the Orthodox Way of Life

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 169-172

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seek Your Shortcomings with Passion

Continuing our discussion on confession from the previous post, Saint Theophan reminds us that it is important to take on this task with passion. You must critically  judge yourself without making any excuses. You must have confidence that with God's help you can overcome your weaknesses once you recognize them and accept responsibility for all of your actions.

Saint Theophan says, 
When you come to say in your heart “I am guilty,” you must supply the fear of Divine judgment.
We must always remember that God is most merciful. He will forgive us of all of our shortcomings as long as we are repetitive and working to make improvements. 

Saint Theophan says, 
A gracious God gives us the hope of forgiveness of guilt, if we repent with contrition and set forth a firm intention to flee past sins and not anger God by them. This is the essence of repentance.
Do not just be a passionless seeker of your shortcomings; mourn for them, and sincerely regret that they were committed. Mournings begets the humble resolution to flee shortcomings; while knowledge alone, although it is accompanied by the intention to be cautious, leads to pride...
It is important to record all of your shortcomings as soon as we become aware of them. In addition, make the extra step to write out a plan for how you can go about correcting them. Then, you need to include in your prayers this effort, asking the Lord to grant His help in overcoming your sinfulness so you can better do His will. With this approach and attitude you can then approach the sacrament of Confession at which time God will fully forgive you for all of your sinful actions clearing your Divine record of all sins.

He also recommends that you read the story of how blessed Theodora endured the toll-houses. This story is included in the life of St. Basil the Younger celebrated on March 26.

More on preparing for confession

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 164-168

Monday, February 7, 2011

Advice on Preparing for Confession

We are again fast approaching the Lenten period.  This is a time for introspection and a rededication to nurture our spiritual well being.  One of the activities, in addition to fasting, that most participate in during this time, is the Sacrament of Confession. Saint Theophan the Recluse offers some advice on preparing for this most important and valuable Sacrament.

He says,
The first thing to do in making repentance is to go inside yourself and begin to look over what is within...  no one except yourself can go inside of yourself and analyze the workings of your conscience...
 To examine yourself well, you must turn your attention to the three aspects of your active life. 1) the actions, those isolated acts which are performed at a given time in a given place and under given circumstances; 2) the disposition of the heart and the characteristic tendencies which are concealed beneath the actions; 3) the general character of your life.
First step: listen to your conscience and all those actions which it exposes to you, without any excuse, acknowledge as sinful and prepare to confess them...  It is a necessity for the conscience to turn for assistance to the Commandments of God that are depicted in the Word of God, and, in reviewing them, to find out if we have done anything contrary to any of them. By doing this, we may recall much which we have forgotten, and much that is recalled will be presented in a form other than how we interpreted it.
Second step: go over the Commandments and see whether you carry them out or not. For example, the commandment enjoins us to offer charity every time someone asks for it. Look at yourself, do you always offer it, or not? Do you sometimes refuse it, not because of any important reason, but simply because you scorn the beggar? If this turns out to be the case, take note: it is a sin. The commandment says to forgive everyone everything, even that which is unpleasant and offensive... In this way you will make a detailed examination of your actions.
He also points out that is important to examine the disposition of your heart. What is its mood, what is its inclination, what is your heart like? Christ has told us what are the proper disposition that we as a Christian should have in our heart. These are humility, contrition, meekness, love of righteousness and truth, mercifulness, pure heartedness, love of peace, and patients.

St. Paul gives us the following dispositions of the heart which she calls the fruits of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22, 23)." "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also you are called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:12–15)."

In opposition to these we have the passions that are operating within us. The main ones are pride, vanity, selfishness, intemperateness, anger, hatred, envy, idleness, desire for sensual pleasures, gloom, and despair. The challenge in preparing for our confession is to identify which one of these passions has become dominant within us. 

Saint Theophan says, 
Everyone has one main passion around which all the others in twine themselves. You must take care to seek out this one above all.
When you do this you will find out the disposition of your heart. This is what is most difficult and most important to transform or change. This involves a difficult struggle. Be realistic and develop a personal strategy to effect change it your disposition.  Seek the help of God through your prayers.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 156-162

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Some advice on Praying at Home

First one should have a prayer rule that you have developed with your spiritual father.  Here is a link to a suggested prayer rule. Saint Theophan offers this advice,
Do not make a rule that is too long and drawn out for you.  It is better to stand at prayer a little more often and to make a few prostrations during the course of the day, doing this frequently, so that the entire day is filled with prostrations.
For those who already have a regular daily prayer routine and a prayer rule they follow and feel the need for more prayers, especially during the Lenten period or other fasting time, he offers this advice,
Pray a little more without the prayerbook, expressing your vital spiritual needs to the Lord in your own words.  In the morning and evening, red no more than on ordinary days, but before the beginning of the recited prayer and afterward, pray your own prayers.  In between the prayers that you read, insert your own prayer with prostrations, both from the waist and to the ground, and from a kneeling position.
Then after you have completed your regular prayers is advises this,
Do some reading with meditation.  You need to read, not to pack your mind with diverse information and ideas, but to receive edification and to understand how best to accomplish those things which are necessary for us us...
It goes without saying that he implies spiritual books for this purpose, Scripture, lives of the saints or books by well known spiritual fathers and elders.

For more on daily prayer at home.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 153-154

Friday, February 4, 2011

Advice on Dealing with Stray Thoughts in Church

One of the problems we all face is the tendency for our minds to take over while we are in church where we are supposed to be in prayer. This happens to all of us as it i the nature of our mind to be always active unless we command through our soul to stop.   This part of our mind is part of the body and needs to be controlled by the higher part of our being.

Here is some advice from Saint Theophan the Recluse:
First we are to pray as follows:
Pray with sincere warmth, with an outpouring before God, with feelings of contrition, humility and reverential fear and with diligent petitions for your spiritual needs.
When we even approach prayer in church with this attitude we will still be faced with stray thoughts.  Here is how how recommends to deal with them
As soon as you notice your thoughts have left church, turn them back and do not ever allow yourself consciously to daydream or to stray in thought...  When the thoughts stray unbeknownst to you, this is also a small sin; but when you begin wandering off in thought purposely while you are in church , this is as sin...It is like a man who has gone to the king in order to ask him for something who then begins to make faces and fidget in the king's presence, without paying any attention to him...  With respect to thoughts there are these two rules: 1) As soon as you notice this straying, turn the thoughts back, and 2) do not consciously allow the thoughts to wander.
A remedy against straying thoughts is mental attention, attention to the fact that the Lord is before us and we are before Him.... The attention is attached to the Lord by fear of God and by the desire to please God.  From these come warmth of the heart, which draws the attention to the One Lord... Without labor and mental effort you will not attain anything spiritual...

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 151-152