My father used to always tell me, "Remember you are part of a family and what you do reflects on the reputation of our family." My dad was not a model Christian, but was always an exemplary citizen and lived by Christian principles. I respected him and always remember this simple direction he gave me. My actions had an impact on the reputation of others I loved.
A good name is important. It says in Scripture, "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." (Prov 22:1) With a good name we we gain the trust of others. When we are attacked by others unfairly in a way that may discredit our name, we need to have concern. What is it we should do as Orthodox Christians when we receive such an attack?
This is a question that Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg addressed in his book, How to Live a Holy Life. He gives us four points to consider.
1. First of all, no matter how bad and how injurious the evil talk spread about us may be, we must guard ourselves from anger, verbal abuse, and revenge, but remain as placid as possible in spirit, because we must be of one spirit with Christ, and Christ, in face of all the accusations from the Jews, remained in a placid, not in the least bit vengeful, spirit. Christ, "when He was reviled, reviled not again...but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously, the holy Apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:33).
The first thing is to remember the example of Christ and remain calm and objective so we can deal righteously with the accuser. This requires a command of our passions so we do not become angry and respond inappropriately. This is where we can draw on prayer and especially the Jesus prayer, because with daily practice it is with us always to keep us away from passion, allowing us to guard our anger when unfairly charged.
2. When you hear that others are speaking badly of you and ascribing to you vices of various sorts, bad intentions and so forth, then immediately subject yourself to the strictest examination to see whether the vices they ascribe to you are really there... Examine yourself very closely: don't those vices actually lurk within you, if only to a small degree?
When you find only a shred of truth in the accusations then immediately repent and offer fervent prayers asking to be relived of this vice and work with zeal to make corrections in your own ways. Use every such circumstance to first examine your own way of acting. In this way any accusation can become a blessing helping you to become a better Christian in Christ's image.
3. If after the most attentive, impartial examination of yourself, you find that the vices ascribed to you do not exist, you may legitimately defend yourself and refute the slander leveled at you, but only when finding this necessary not because of your self-love or pride but because of your position in society. But defend yourself calmly without anger or indignation.
This is not an easy step to take as we are so often hurt because of pride or some undeserved overstated image our ourselves and our false image of our importance. We must be sure we pick our battles carefully and most objectively without emotion coming from an ego-centric pride.
4. If you see defending yourself will not do you any good, then:
Always remember always, Christ is our example. In addition to prayer, read the Scriptures and seek the examples of everyday life He shows us. It is clearly one based on humility and dispassion. He prayed and fasted to condition His human flesh to be obedient to His divinity. This is our challenge as well and why all the elements of the Orthodox way of life are so important.
a) Try to hear the slider leveled at you, now matter how serious, with patience, and console yourself with the thoughts, "God sees my innocence, so what should I grieve about: He Himself care for me, and, if my vindication will be beneficial for me, then He Himself will vindicate me. He will declare my innocence at the Dread Judgment at least, and all the people and all the Angels of God will vindicate me with Him."
b) Console yourself even more with this thought: "They let forth a great stream of abuse on our Savior when He lived on earth, but He never justified Himself in any court. Some of the abuse was very serious, but He endured everything with equanimity. That is how I should act. "The Disciple is not above his master and it is enough for the disciple that he be as his master" (Matt 10:24-25).
c) Double your efforts to conduct yourself as irreproachably as possible in all circumstances of your life. Endeavor not only to avoid giving others occasion for spiteful talk by any of your words or deeds, but also, endeavor to avert an occasion to be even suspected of any vices, and therefore avoid even permissible behavior if it somehow can give cause for slander...
d) If the evil talk spread about you does not cease, or even multiplies, then resort to nothing but fervent prayer that the Lord God may have the kindness to enlighten and correct your slanders Act this way because Jesus Christ Himself acted this way even with his executioners (Luke 23:34).
Reference: How to Live a Holy Life, pp 55-58
Saint Seraphim of Sarov says "the true goal of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit." He says,
"What God requires is a true faith in Himself and His Only begotten Son. In return He generously bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Lord seeks hearts filled with love for God and for one's neighbor."
Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that this is not a task just for monks, but is one for all Christians.
"Those who live in the world, even though married, should resemble the monks in everything else. You are wholly mistaken if you think that there are some things that are required of seculars, and others for monastics... They will have to render the same account... When Christ orders us to follow the narrow path, he is speaking to all men."
The level of perfection that we are all called to, does not come without our effort. This effort involves what is commonly termed ascetic practices which include a daily rule for prayer and fasting as well as the study of Holy Scripture and other spiritual writings.
When St. Seraphim says, "to acquire" the Holy Spirit, he uses this idea of acquiring in a similar way to saying we acquire material benefits. Saint Seraphim says,
Surely you understand what it means to acquire money? The acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God is exactly the same. You understand I am sure, O lover of God, the meaning of acquiring in a worldly sense. The primary aim of ordinary people in a worldly sense is to acquire, or to make, money... the acquisition of the Spirit of God is the same as the acquisition of capital with the difference that it is eternal and dispenses grace. Since it is so similar to everyday ordinary money, it is acquired in much the same way.
How do we acquire material wealth? We must train ourselves, develop valued skills, and apply them through hard work. For spiritual benefits we also must work and prepare to receive the heavenly benefits.
Saint Seraphim continues,
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself compares our life in this world with a marketplace. He likens our everyday activities to trading, telling, telling us to 'trade till I come, redeeming the time, because the days are evil' (cf. Lk 19:13; Eph 5:16). In other words make the most of your time by obtaining heavenly blessings in exchange for you earthly good. The goods you should be trading in are those very same good works done for Christ's sake that confer upon us all the grace of the Holy Spirit.
It is these good works which include not only charitable acts but also our ascetic efforts that are essential to purify our mind and heart from the bodily passions that too frequently take precedence over the desire of the soul.
Ascetic efforts cannot be considered as merits to earn God's grace, but only as means to an end, They prepare us for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and union with God. With the Holy Spirit moving though us we must align our free will with God's and live the virtues. This is only possible though the work of the Holy Spirit. But, we must always remember that God will not judge us based on our ascetic efforts, but will judge us based on our humility as expressed in our love for others and love for God.
Saint Seraphim says,
Prayer, fasting, vigils and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in and of themselves, do not constitute the true goal of our Christian way of ice. They only serve as the indispensable means of attaining it. The true goal of our Christain life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. Fasting, keeping vigil, prayers, and charity, as well as every other good deed done for the sake of Christ, are but the means through which we may acquire the Holy Spirit of God.
The love of God must be the motivation of all our actions. As we learn to love others we will increase our love of God. As our love of God is increased so will our love for others. The ascetic practices cannot interfere with our love for others. If we must take care of the needs of a child or a parent or any other person, we cannot use our ascetic practices to excuse ourselves from our loving care of others. But we also must recognize that this ability to love is increased as we purify our heart and mind and this comes about as a result our ascetic efforts so we can acquire the Holy Spirit.
Reference: The Joy of the Holy by Harry M. Boosalis, pp 35 - 43.
A major issue highlighted in a recent WSJ article is job stress. They say that job pressures are the No. 2 cause of stress after financial worries. Many companies are taking action to address this issue using what are termed "Mindfulness-based tress reduction" programs like those developed at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.
The essence of these programs is training in the use of mindfulness meditation. This is an approach of training the mind to become aware of the present moment without trying to judge or strive. There is what they call formal and informal practice. The formal is private time sitting in meditation and the informal is carrying this practice into our daily life. The research shows that these programs can effectively deal with many psychological symptoms such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety and other medical issues. They show that it increases one's ability to relax, increases energy and enthusiasm for life, enhances self-esteem and an increases ability to cope with both short and long-term stressful situations.
Does this mindfulness process sound familiar?
Orthodox Christians have known of such an approach for thousands of years, but it is one which has even more power because it is based on faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." This ancient prayer also involves formal and informal practice. The formal leads to the informal.
This not just a prayer for stress reduction or self-improvement, but is much more. The Church Fathers tell us that it is essential for our spiritual growth and that such a prayer practice helps us learn how to cooperate with God for our salvation. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom says the "more than any other" prayer, it helps us to cultivate the ability to "stand in God's presence." With humility this prayer has power because we are calling on Jesus Christ for mercy.
When one makes a practice of praying this prayer over and over each day, praying for one half an hour daily, the prayer eventually becomes part of our being and then is always in our heart and mind. When we have cultivated this prayer over a period of time, then, when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, the prayer is immediately on our lips bringing God's grace to calm us. It also helps us follow Christ's will in this situation. Instead of simply dealing with stress, we advance our faith in God as we deal with the many stressful situations in our lives. In this way it is much more powerful than any stress reduction technique.
To learn more about the use of the Jesus prayer as part of our daily prayer rule go to our website on Orthodox prayer at OrthodoxPrayer.org. You will find there links to numerous books and articles and videos from our Church Fathers as well as a brief brochure you can download.
Orthodox Christians have a wealth of inner practices that guide us towards a union with God. It is this union we long for. It is our separation from God that is the underlying cause fo all our anxiety and stress. This is all part and parcel of the Orthodox Way of LIfe.
When can we say we are rich? Most of us in the United States are rich compared to peoples in most of the world. The basic way to think of being rich is having more resources that you need to support the basic needs of life. A third world development agency that I am familiar with, Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka, identified the following ten basic human needs for all individuals in a just society.
1. Clean environment
Many of us have these needs met and have much more. We are the rich. If we find ourselves wealthy in this way how are we to act?
2. Adequate supply of water
4. Nutritious food
6. Health care
8. Fuel and lighting (Energy)
9. Access to education
10. Cultural and spiritual engagement
Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg gives us some direction. He writes:
Never think as many foolish people among the rich do, that you owe your wealth to your intelligence, cleverness or your energy. Although you, perhaps are really intelligent, clever, and energetic, never attribute the acquisition of your wealth only to these attributes; for consider: who gave you your intelligence? Who gave you health and strength, so you can work? Who blesses your labors with the successes you desire, while many others no less intelligent and hardworking than you are hardly able to get their daily bread?...Remember the word of the Spirit of God, "The Lord...maketh rich." (1 Kings 2:7).
We must be ever thankful for what we have that allows us to engage in luxuries most cannot enjoy. We need to always be humble about our fortunate situation and not forget that all is a gift from God. We need to offer our thanks to Him for our good fortune. Probably the biggest issue is to not let our wealth became an obsession so that we become a slave to maintaining it or increasing it. If we do, our heart becomes corrupted. We will live in fear that God will take this away from us so we become psychologically and physically burdened by our attachment to wealth.
Metropolitan Gregory says,
Jesus Christ says that wealth can be very perilous for the soul: "A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heave (Matt 19:23), and "they that will be rich fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition, and the holy Apostle says (1 Tim 6:9)
Metropolitan Gregory also give those who are rich advice about prayer.
When you pray, never in your prayer ask the Lord God for permanent continuation of your earthly plenty, and expecially do not ask for increase of wealth.
If we who are wealthy always remember that our situation is a blessing that comes from God, then we can retain humility and recognize the proper ways to use this abundance for the work of God. We need to search our heart for why He has blessed us with great wealth and care for it as a steward of God's kingdom. We should pray to be guided in the proper use of our wealth according to His will. God expects those blessed with wealth to help others to attain these ten basic human needs that we take for granted.
If you consider yourself to be blessed with the above basic human needs, read the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-26) and reflect on your responsibilities based on the blessings you have been given.
I must admit, this has been a continual struggle for me throughout my own life.
Reference: How to Live a Holy Life, pp 46-47
As Orthodox Christians, how are we expected to relate to one another? Jesus was very clear on this. He tells us that we are to love one another. He told this to his disciples numerous times. He says forcefully, "This is My Commandment, That you love one another. (Jn 15:17) This commandment was then repeated by his disciples in their writings. He is also very clear about the extent of this love. He tells us that we are love our neighbor as we love ourselves What ever you wish men to do to you, this is what you should do to them, Matthew records. (Matt 7:12)
Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg gives us some direction about how to live these words in our relationships. He was writing in the 19th century.
1. He says to wish the best to all your neighbors. "rejoice when they are happy and commiserate when they fall into misfortune."
2. Do not speak poorly of anyone. You surely would not want someone to speak poorly of you. Do not be suspicious of anyone, he says. As Paul tells us, "Love loves no evil." (1 Cor 13:5)
3. You like it when others speak well of you, so "speak well of all your neighbors, be especially careful not to slander your neighbor."
4. When someone speaks ill of someone that is not part of your circle of close friends, try to defend them if at all possible and never repeat what you have heard.
5. You do not like it when someone divulges your shortcomings, therefore, when you see the weaknesses in others do not speak ill of them to others. 'Charity...beareth all things... endureth all things' (1 Cor 13:4-7). You must seek to find the proper time to help such a person to see what they may not see in themselves so they can correct their ways. This takes a lot of love and carefully picking the right time to act. Avoid a direct confrontation that may raise anger as you would not like someone to tempt you in this way.
6. Strive to help others who are in need as much as you can. Metropolitan Gregory says, "a) We must, before helping others people help those whom God's foresight has united us with.... b) Among the above, before others, come to the assistance of those who are especially in need, that is the ill and disabled. Even if you cannot give them what they specifically need, than at least visit them, serve them in some way, and comfort them. Act this way even if they are totally ungrateful to you, for 'Love does not seek its own' (1Cor 13:5)"
7. Pray for all the departed and especially for those who died suddenly without proper preparation while still in serious sins. Metropolitan Gregory says, "Remember them more often, and offer what alms you can for their salvation.... [they] need our help incomparably more than those among the living who are extremely impoverished, because the reposed are now incapable of helping themselves. Only we the living can offer help."
8. Jesus asked us to love others as He loved us (John 15:12). Therefore, we must strive to develop our faith in Him along with a zealous desire to do His will. Metropolitan Gregory says, "We should act in relationship to our neighbor so that he might acquire love for Him, zealously striving to fulfill His commandments and thus continually grow toward eternal blessedness... The spiritual need of our neighbor is incomparably more important than any of his physical needs."
9. Our spiritual help should be offered first to those that God has bound us to, our children, relatives, friends, benefactors and employes.
10. As his last point he says, "we should never refuse physical and especially spiritual help to the depraved, to foreigners, non-orthodox, heretics, atheists, and enemies, for all of them, no matter what their orientation or disposition, are human, all created by the Creator, all with an immortal soul and in the likeness of God... We should show love to all people."
As Father Gregory tells us, if we work at doing these things the world will be different, it will be filled with happiness. It is by loving others that the universe is transformed in His love. He looks for us to work in cooperation with His love. This is the way love is spread to all peoples. It is also the way we love God.
Reference: How to Live a Holy Life, Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg
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