Thursday, April 28, 2011

A New Baby - A Time of Change

An recent article in the WSJ peaked my interest .  It reported that a new baby can have a negative impact of a marriage relationship.  With the arrival of a child into a relationship there are new responsibilities, such as who gets up in the middle of the night to attend to the infant's needs, who changes the diapers and so forth.  Studies show that two thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child.  The main issue is that there are new tasks introduced into the relationship that take up time. These new responsibilities now have to be sorted out.  These easily become the source of conflict and can lead to permanent damage to a relationship.

Here are four issues identified in the article:
1. Increased conflict - more likely to have more intense fights over financial issues
2. New Roles - Men receive less attention and women focus more of their attention on the new baby.
3. Conversation Changes - Occupied with then new issues of child rearing that the talks necessary to maintain a should relationship are ignored. Also there is less time for intimate sexual relationships.
4. Less Sleep - The baby's schedule usually means that there is less sleep for both parents.

This said, how can these issues be overcome to maintain a sound relationship with God and each other?
The proven answer is prayer.  If the couple learns to make a small amount of time to pray together, then they will be blessed with God's grace to deal with the complications of a new child being introduced into the relationship. When we learn to pray together, then, as we face difficulties, we remember to call on God to help us, remembering His love for us, giving us greater patience to hold onto love for each other.  With prayer all difficulties can be endured.

A couple must first set aside a specific time for joint prayer.  It is also advised to include the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,; as part of daily prayer.  The repetition of this prayer helps us develop the readiness for prayer at any time, especially when conflict arises.  When conflict does arise, the couple is more likely to pause and to make a small prayer, seeing help to calm themselves so they can deal with the issue causing the conflict in a reasoned manner.

A new baby is a time of change.  Examine your spiritual life and make sure it is in proper order.  If you do, you will be able to deal with all the changes demanded of a new parent.

Some guides for a daily prayer rule

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me ...
By Elder Joseph, the quieter and Spilaiotou (1897-1959)

Always try to make sure that the prayer of Jesus Christ is included in your daily cycle, your work, your every breath and your every sense. Oh, then how will your heart rejoice! How delighted you will be because your mind will rise towards the heavens. Wherefore do not forget to always say: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

When you chant you will understand the chants; you will have  the desire and you will likely have the voice and humility to give back, accordingly, the words of God. Therefore do not do injustice to your soul anymore, but say inwardly the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me...

When you work, do not let all your thoughts and strength be absorbed in your work, but say the prayer in a whisper.  Then your works will be correct, error-free, your thoughts will be clean, and your work performance will be greater. Go ahead, then, say the prayer of Jesus Christ, so your works will be blessed, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

The Holy Spirit protects the soul that prays.  It enters the depths of the soul, has control over the inner world of the soul and it directs it towards God's Holy Will. Only then the soul has the power to say, along with the Prophet: Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Ps. 103, 1). Go ahead and pray: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, so you will have the protection of the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit protects your soul, you feel  fulfilled and humble. You are not affected by injustice, irony or praise. You live in a spiritual atmosphere, which  the virus of sin cannot penetrate. Only the Holy Spirit can judge our souls, no else has that right. The  Holy Spirit gives us new eyes and new reasoning. Say the prayer frequently so you can live comfortably in any environment;  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

More on Jesus Prayer

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Understanding God’s Role in Disasters

Understanding God’s Role in Disasters

How can we ever understand why God allows disasters like the horrible earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan? To the survivors, there is no answer that will lessen their suffering and grief. Silence at such a time should be our only response. But, we seldom deal with tragedy in this way. We long for these events to have some meaning. But, more often than not, there is none. That is because catastrophe, destruction and death are not the creation of God. They are in fact the enemies of God.

We do not live in a museum. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes are the result of forces created by God to sustain and nourish life. God has not created a dead planet, but a free, vibrant and dynamic world. With that freedom, at times, come disaster and death. But, God has made a mockery of death and destroyed its power over us. In the midst of tragedy, it is easy to lose sight of God’s true purpose — to heal the world and unite all humanity to himself.

As David Bentley Hart writes in The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? “For after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.” So, when we see the death of a child, Hart later reminds us, “we do not see the face of God, but the face of his enemy.”

We must understand there is a distinct difference between that which God permits and that which is his will. As described by Hart, “God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills.” In other words, what God permits to be is not necessarily what he wills or desires.

There is nothing inconsistent, Hart writes, between an all-knowing and all-powerful God that creates a world of complete autonomy and freedom but who also can “assure at the same time that no consequence of the misuse of that freedom will prevent him from accomplishing the good he intends in all things.” God heals and redeems all things, even the greatest tragedies of human existence. This is how the Eastern Orthodox tradition understands God and his interaction in and with our world. God is love and light, and in him is no darkness or evil at all. So, everything that comes from God, even that which is awesome, powerful and destructive, “must be good and true and beautiful.” “It is this love and goodness of God,” Hart continues,”that the Christian is bidden to find in the entirety of the created order.” In the end, the Christian is called to labor to see a deeper truth than the mere harsh and brutal nature of the world — “a truth that gives rise not to optimism but to joy.”

A more thorough discussion of this topic from an Eastern Orthodox perspective can be found in: The Doors of the Sea, Where was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart; published in 2005 by William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.

by John Choate and Jon Mark Hogg, members of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dealing with Anger with the Help of the Jesus Prayer

One of the common issues we all face is becoming upset due to the actions of another person.  Often this involves the one we most love. When we are upset and angry we say and do things we wish we had not done.  We are like Saint Paul who said,
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19)
When we are angry we are separated from God. How do we as an Orthodox Christian avoid this kind of response which is definitely one taken out of self-interest and not our of love for the other person.

This is a situation where the Jesus Prayer can be most helpful.  Once we have practiced this prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner") by repeating for at least ten minutes each day, it becomes a prayer that is always in our mind and easily accessible when we become upset. When we are upset, we will have access to a way to reconnect with God by repeating this simple prayer.

Here is a simple way to eliminate the consequences of our disagreements with others:
1. Make a regular practice to pray the Jesus prayer each day for at least ten minutes as part of your daily prayer rule.
2.When you find yourself feeling upset, say the Jesus Prayer to yourself.  Move away from the situation.  Take a walk and repeat the prayer in cadence with your walk.  This will help you cool your emotions and grace will come to you to help you deal with the situation in a Christian way.  When you are calm, feel the love of God in your heart, ask the other person for a convenient time to talk.
3. When you have a chance to talk with the other person admit that what you want to say is difficult for you to say and admit that you may not hear or understand fully the other's viewpoint.
4. After saying the prayer to yourself, begin the conversation with an "I" statement. Say, "I felt hurt when you did...."  Do not begin with a "You" statement like, "When you do.... you make me upset." .  When you accuse the other person you will make them feel threatened and they will want to fight back.  There are always two sides in a disagreement.  Begin by admitting your part of the situation, acknowledging that both are a party to the disagreement.  Sharing your feelings sincerely will make it easier for the other person to share theirs.
4.  Ask the other person for their point of view.  Say something like this, " I know you do not intend to hurt me.  Why did you do ....? Help me to better understand."  Then you have to be calm to listen to the answer.  Always have the Jesus Prayer on your lips to keep you connected with God and His grace.
5.  Engage in a full and open discussion with love in your heart.  Explore how you can both change so future encounters do not end in the same way.  Seek for an agreement to act differently the next time this situation happens.  Say a prayer together.  A hug always helps show your sincere love for the other person.

More on the Jesus Prayer 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Four Things Essential for Our Spiritual Struggle

Saint Hesychius give this advice on our struggle to overcome the passions:
One who is engaged in the spiritual struggle must have at every moment the following four things: humility, extreme attentiveness, refutation (of the thoughts) and prayer.
Humility, in so far as its adversaries in combat are the demons of pride, so that he will have at hand Christ's help in his heart, for ' the Lord resists the proud.' (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5) 
Attentiveness, so that one does not allow the heart to have any thought, no matter how good it seems.
Denial, so that as soon as one has detected a thought that has come, he may repulse it immediately with anger.
Prayer, so that after refuting a thought, one may immediately cry out to Christ with 'groanings which cannot be uttered' (Romans 8:26)  Then the ascetic will see the enemy bound or chased by the honorable name of Jesus, like dust by the wind, or like smoke that vanishes with it's dreams.
Saint Hesychius adds the following on the importance of prayer,
One who does not have prayer that is free from the thoughts is without a weapon for battle.  I understand prayer to be that which is carried unceasingly within the depths of the soul, so that the enemy who is secretly fighting may be vanquished and scorched by this invocation to Christ.  For you must look with the sharply focused eye of the mind so that you will recognize what has entered into it, and after doing so, immediately cut off the head of the snake through refutation, and at the same time call on Christ with groaning. Through experience you will come to know God's invisible help; then you will see clearly the true condition of the heart.

Saint Theophan advises in his commentary on the teaching of Saint Hesychius,
A person whose decision to belong to the Lord is sincere cannot by-pass the path described.  He may preform great labors and get around things in various ways, but until he comes upon this path, it is to no purpose.  I am pointing you directly to the path so that you do not wander all over the place.  Be more diligent in your undertaking, and you will find success.  However, you must labor with all your might, because without labor there will be nothing.

Reference: The Spiritual LIfe, pp 249-253

Friday, April 8, 2011

When Passions Strike, Seek the Lord

Attacking the thoughts that lead us to actions that are not in keeping with the teachings of Christ is a simple matter.  Attack with vigor!  We have to see them as something we hate and forcefully take a stand and they will desist. Of course it is most helpful when we have developed a prayer practice which is with us at all times  (i.e. the Jesus Prayer).  Then we will know when and how to subdue the attack.

St. John the Dwarf says,
 I act as a man sitting under a tree who looks attentively around him.  This man as soon as he sees wild bests coming towards him to eat him, immediately climbs up the tree, and the bests, after coming up tp the tree, walk around for a while and go away.  And I, as soon as I observe mental beasts coming toward me in passionate thoughts, immediately rise up in my mind to the Lord, and the beasts cannot get to me as they are forced to scatter every which way.
Here is a parable from St. John the Dwarf.
There was in a certain place  a beautiful woman of questionable behavior.  the ruler of this country took pity on her, that such a beauty would perish, and when he found the opportunity, he said to her, 'Give up your immoral ways, and I will take you to my house and you will become my wife and the mistress of many treasures.  Just watch that you are faithful, or else there will be such trouble for you as you cannot seven imagine.'  She agreed to this, and was taken to the ruler's house.  Her former friends, seeing that she had disappeared, began searching for her, and found out that she was with the ruler.  Although the ruler was a terror, they did not despair of enticing the beautiful woman back to themselves once again, knowing her weakness. 'We have only to go up behind the house and whistle; she will know who it is and immediately run out of the house to us.'  that is just what they did.  they went up behind the house and whistled. the beautiful woman, hearing the whistle, started.  sSomething from her previous life stirred inside her.  But she had already come to her senses, and instead of running our of the house, she rushed in the inner chambers to the ruler himself, and immediately calmed down; she did not even hear the whistling that continued outside.  Her friends whistled a few more times, and went off with nothing.  

The lesson is clear.  When we are tempted we can escape by retreating to our inner chambers of our heart and stand before the Lord, "Lord have mercy on me a sinner."  If we do this any passion will leave us undisturbed.

Saint Theophan advises,
Learn this story by heart and always act according to it meaning.  You will see how quickly inner peace that has been disturbed by the appearance of passions is restored within you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Our passions develop in a very logical way.  First, think about the normal state of our mind. It is continually occupied with thoughts that are wandering every which way, usually without much direction.  Mostly they are associated with mundane affairs and sometimes we will even daydream. This thought filled mind is one that we need to harness with a continual remembrance of God.  Its is normally in an uncontrolled state.

While our mind is cruising from thought to thought we may be confronted with a situation that draws our attention. We begin to question about the nature of this oncoming encounter.  It could be toward one we hate or one we love.  If its one who has harmed or wronged us in the past, some feeling of dislike or anger or even revenge may rise in our thoughts. It is at this point that we have to reject the thoughts forcefully before we are led to an action dictated by our passion.

A sin begins with our attention being gathered in a way that leads to a feeling and then a desire.  Then, if we hold onto this desire we begin to think of ways to act to satisfy it.  If it is a feeling of lust, we may have a desire for sexual relations to satisfy our desire for the pleasure of such an act.  We will begin think about how we can take actions that will satisfy our sexual hunger, our desire for personal pleasure.  There may even be along period where we figure out how to accomplish this.  We are already in a state of sin. Holding on tho this desire we lose our freedom and eventually we will act.  The desire wins even when we know that this act goes against the way God intends for us to act.  Finally, we will have to deal with the guilt associated with such an action.

The solution is to immediately drive out the passionate thought the moment our attention is drawn to the object that engenders passionate desires.

Here is the advice from Saint Theophan:
If you immediately drive away the passionate thought, then you put an end to the entire struggle.  There will be neither feeling, and even more, there will be no desire.  Make the decision to act in this way.... If the feeling begins to stir involuntarily along with the thought, immediately chase out the feeling with the thought... The moment you discover a passionate impulse within yourself, chase it out.  Make this your rule: Do not voluntarily praise either passionate thought, feeling or desire, and immediately chase them away with complete hatred as soon as you detect them.  You will always be innocent before God and before your own conscience.... You will carry out the act of purification (cleansing), laboring diligently at the purifying of your soul.
This is not that difficult to do.  You must first have a firm faith which gives you the motivation to discipline your mind.  The more you keep God in your mind the more likely you will be able to interact to reject such feelings.  This is why a life of prayer, fasting and repentance is so important.  It leads us to this purification where we learn how to control our mind's activity and to routinely root out our tendency to lock in on our desires without constraint. With a disciplined mind we are liberated from any control by passions and remove what blocks us from God.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 237-243

Monday, April 4, 2011

No Passion is too Small

There is no Passion that is too small. All must be controlled.
Saint Theophan says,
No matter how small or weak a passion appears, it is necessary to regard it as if it were the largest and most powerful.
How do we go about driving them out?  Saint Theophan tells us this is the proper use of our anger.

He says,
How can you drive them out? Through inducing wrath that is hostile to them, or by getting angry within yourself against it as quickly as possible.
A passion cannot be sustained without your inner support.  So when you rise up against it in a strong way it is destroyed and its strength vanishes.  The slightest sympathy towards it will sustain it.

Prophet David says in the Psalms,
Be angry, and sin not (Ps 4:5).  
In other words be angry at the passion and then you will not sin. As soon as you detect even the smallest passion, rise up against it with strength.  Realize that this is an attack on your relationship with God.  Its action separates you from Him. Use your anger in a constructive way to aid you in coming closer to God.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 233-236

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rooting Out Hidden Passions

GuardianAngel.jpgAfter much effort we often feel like we have mastered the passions yet we still sense a block in our pathway to God.  Often we only think of the obvious forms of passions.

Here is how Saint Theophan explains the realms of passions:
One should be humble, but passion teaches pride and conceit; one should be meek, but passion incites irritation and anger; one should be rejoice at another's good fortune, but passion stirs up envy; one must forgive wrongdoing, but passion provokes vengeance.  thus, passionate feeling and action is contrary to everything that is just.

Often we do not recognize our passions because they emerge in a hidden form.  For example, when we become angry, our anger is obvious to everyone.  But anger is not always obvious.  Sometimes it is cloaked as righteous indignation. You may justify to yourself that because you (falsely) know you are right, your feeling of anger or your rebuke is justified.  You may harbor an inner judgment of the person involved so there is not immediate outward sign of your anger.  It can be silent and well as deceptive.  We have to constantly be on the watch for all forms of our passions.

As we grow spiritually, at first, our guardian angel may whisper a warning in our ear.  This is an inner voice we must learn to pay attention to at the very beginning of our spiritual life.  As our spiritual experience grows we develop the ability to distinguish intuitively between what is a proper action and what is against God's will.  It is as Saint Paul says, those "who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb 5:14).

Saint Theophan gives this advice:
Consider where your thoughts and feelings are inclined––whether to pleasing God or to self-indulgence.  It is not at all difficult to do this.  Just pay attention to yourself.  You know it is not a mistake if you do something in opposition to self-indulgence....Self-indulgence is to blame for all troubles.  If you examine it, you will see that every bad thing that is allowed comes from this. Consequently, if you go  counter to it with steadfast resoluteness, you will probably not allow anything that you should not...

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 230-233