Monday, February 24, 2014


Forgiveness is a central aspect of the Orthodox Way of Life.  As we approach Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of Lent it is worthwhile to reflect on this important virtue.

Jesus tells us "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matt 6:14). God's willingness to forgive us is linked with our willingness to forgive others.  He also says, "if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your father forgive you" (Matt 6:15).

Saint Seraphim of Sarov writes,
Whatever the offense that had been given, you must never try to avenge it. Instead you must all the more try to forgive the offender with your whole heart, even though your heart itself may try to resist you.... Do not nurture hate or malice in your heart toward anyone that hated you. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ instead, and strive to love our enemies and to do good in return as much as we possible can.
Jesus tells us, "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matt 5:44)This is a difficult teaching that Jesus has shown us, but is necessary if we are to be joined with Him in love. To not forgive others, blocks us from Him because our heart is clouded by our grudges.

Why is this imperative so hard to follow? Why are we unwilling to forgive others? Are we not sinners also? Do we not what others to forgive us when we fail to act out of love? Do we not want to be united with God in His love? 
Unfortunately we are confused by our intellect. I find myself thinking I am superior to others and able to be the judge of others actions when with a little reflection I find I am the greater sinner. Reflect on Job and God's testimony that he turned away evil. Consider how Joseph did not seek revenge against his brothers. Consider Saint Stephen's actions as he was being stoned. All the saints demonstrated this virtue as they were persecuted. Look at your patron saint and see how he or she was able to forgive others. The saints see the evil working in a person and are able to hate the evil but maintain love for the human being.

On Forgiveness Sunday evening there is a vespers service that marks the beginning of Lent. At the end of this service each participant is asked to forgive the others who are assembled. There is an opportunity for each person to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. It is the proper preparation to begin the period of Great Lent, to begin the fast with a heart filled with love, to start the period of self reflection and repentance in humility.

Let us act on what we recite daily in our prayer to the Father, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Let us all search our hearts for all signs of grudges we are holding onto and give them up to Christ.

Alexander Schmemann writes,
To forgive is to put between me and my "enemy" the radiant forgiveness of God himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless "dead-ends" of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a "breakthrough" of the Kingdom into this sinful world. (Great Lent, p 28)
Be sure to attend the forgiveness service in your parish on the Eve of Forgiveness Sunday.

Monday, February 17, 2014

10 Things Orthodox Christians Would Like You to Know

My friend Daniel Miles sent this to me and asked me to post it on the blog to help answer the questions you may get from your non-Orthodox friends.

10 Things Orthodox Christians Would Like You to Know
1) We don’t worship Mary.  We hold her in a place of esteem because of her singularly unique role as the birthgiver of Jesus Christ.  Orthodox Christians state and affirm over and over again throughout the worship services that God alone is the only One to Whom worship is due.  
2) We don’t worship icons.  Icons are like a family photo album.  Just as in our own families, where we keep the pictures of our loved ones who have departed this life on shelves and hanging on walls, we also keep the pictures of the members of our larger Christian family around, particularly those members of our Christian family who have led exempliary lives.  The word icon only means “image” or “picture”.  
3) When we talk about tradition, we don’t mean the traditions of men, we mean Holy Tradition.  The traditions that the Church has taught have always been those that have been led by the Spirit.  It was the tradition of the Church that gave us the New Testament and, the New Testament also continues to inform that traditon.  It is cyclical and not mutually exclusive.
4) Orthodox Christianity is not “works” based.  It always takes the grace and will of God to bring about our salvation.  We do good works because it is the outpouring of the joy that we experience through living Christ-centered lives and because it is an expression of righteous living and of love for God and neighbor.  There are no “points” earned by doing good works.  
5) There’s no such thing as the Byzantine Empire.  This was a term invented by French scholars retroactively during the rennaisance.  Constantine moved the capital of the empire to the east and Constantinople became known as New Rome.  Though portions of the Western half of the Roman Empire fell, the Eastern half continued for over a thousand years after the Goths sacked Rome.  Those living in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire did not think of themselves as “Byzantines” or even Greeks.  They were Romans.  Even today, the Turks still refer to Orthodox Christians living in Turkey as “Roman”.  
6) “True” Christianity did not disappear when the Church received legal recognition from the Roman Government.  Faithful, pious and righteous Christians continued to live in faith and suffer martyrdom and persecution.  The Church thatwas founded by Jesus Christ, and its theology, remained intact.  Those who became frustrated with government intervention in Church life struggled to maintain the purity of the church’sdoctrine and life.  However, since the Church continued to adhere to its basic teachings without dilution, it was necessary for pious believers to continue their struggle within the church.  It was believed that no person had the right to create or invent his or her own church.  It is also significant to mention that the Orthodox Church continues to bear much fruit.  If losing one’s life, or martyrdom, is the ultimate expression of one’s devotion to Christ, there has never been a more fruitful time within the Church.  There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all previous centuries of Christian history combined.  Most of these martyrs were Orthodox Christians who refused to renounce their faith.  
7) The Orthodox Church is not a denomination nor is it “non-denominational”.  It is pre-denominational.  The Church was without break or separation for more than 1,000 years.  The Orthodox Church did not break away from any other group.  The Orthodox Church continued right along up to this day.  In fact,groups that refer to themselves as “non-denominational” because they are free standing churches, not connected with any larger mainline protestant confessions, are, in fact, denominations.  Since a denomination means a breaking down of the whole or a separation, they are simply denominationsconsisting of one parish.  
8) Yes, the Orthodox are “Bible believing” Christians.  Almost everything within Orthodox worship comes directly from the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  There is probably more Bible read on a single Sunday Morning in Orthodox Worship than in an entire year in most other churches.  
9) Orthodox Christianity is not an exotic form of Roman Catholicism.  While both Churches have organized worship, the life, practice and doctrine of the Roman Catholics and The Orthodox are quite different.  The Orthodox view the Pope as the bishop of Rome, not a supreme leader of the entire Church.  And, because, in the eyes of the Orthodox, the Pope has stated that his authority is over the entire Church, The Orthodox arenot currently in communion with Rome.  Roman Catholic doctrinal principles such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Papal Infallibility, Transubstantiation of Holy Communion, and Original Sin are absent from the Orthodox Church.  These perspectives took root in the Roman Catholic Church after East and West went their separate ways.
10) Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is the head of the Orthodox Church: not Luther, not Calvin, not Wesley.  The Orthodox Church can trace the lineage of the ordinations of its clergy all the way back to Christ Himself with unbroken continuity.  Orthodox Christianity has remained faithful to Christ not only doctrinally but also historically.  

With these things said, The Orthodox are not trying to convert you.  We believe in tolerance of other faiths, and this has been written so that those of you who may come from other backgrounds might be more tolerant of us.  Please don’t write us off.  Learn what we really think, do and believe before deciding without sufficient knowledge.  We’re believers.  We don’t preach false doctrine.  We accept the Bible as the Word of God.  Simply put, we struggle within the boundaries of the church to always be as good of an expression of the Kingdom of God on earth as possible.  This is because Christ created one Church and prayed that It would remain one.  We believe it is our sacred duty to preserve this oneness.  We are not allowed to whimsically create a new church whenever we are upset.  If we don’t like what’s happening in our Church, we don’t leave.  We risk persecution, even to death, to protect the faith because that’s what Christ did when He created The Church. 

by Daniel Miles 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Way of Love

"Treat well those who are good," said the Ancient Sage
"Also treat well those who are not good;
Thus is goodness attained.
Be sincere to those who are sincere,
Also be sincere to those who are not sincere;
Thus is sincerity attained."
And the Way, when He became flesh, said:
"If you love those who love you, what thanks do you have?
For sinners also love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks do you have?
For sinners also do the same.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks do your have?
For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again."

On account of these five reasons do people love one another;
For the sake of the Way, as when the virtuous person lovers everyone;
Or for natural reasons, as parents love their children and children love their parents;
Or out of vainglory, as the one who is honored loves the one who honors him;
Or for avarice, as the one who loves a rich person for what he can get;
Or for pleasure, as the one who is enslaved to his fleshly desires.

The first of these is praise worthy,
the second neutral,
And the the rest belong to the passions.
From Christ the Eternal Tao, pp 170-171

The Orthodox Way leads us along a path of repentance where we learn, with the help of His grace, to control our passions, so we become capable of true love.  How does one do this?  Look here for the ten basic principles of the Orthodox Way of life

Monday, February 3, 2014

True Love

Love is central to the Orthodox Way of Life. But to love, we must first have what the Fathers call dispassion. This is where we have been freed from control by the passions. With dispassion our response to the sensual inputs we receive from our senses no longer determines our response to them.  We are able to receive them without having any particular desire, but instead we can act with self-control based on the virtues brought to us by God. As long as our actions are controlled by our bodily instincts we cannot surrender to God and convey His love. Why? Because we are still egocentric in our way of being and a slave to our bodily and worldly passions.

Diadochos writes,
He who loves himself, cannot love God. But he who doesn't love himself because of overwhelming richness of the love of God, loves God, for such a person never seeks his own glory, but that of God. Because he who loves himself seeks his own glory, but he who loves God, loves glory of Him who made him.  Since it is proper to the sensitive soul to always seek first the glory of God in all the commandments which he is carrying out, and secondly to enjoy himself in his humility.
What is love?  For Orthodox Christians, love is an uncreated energy of God that is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. It is a divine and deifying energy that is a genuine participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.  Saint John says, "Love comes from God." (1John 4:7)

This divine love of necessity comes only after one has gained a victory over the passions and one has the power of concentration to focus his soul on God in prayer. When we feel this love of God in our hearts, it is then that we become capable of loving our neighbor with a spiritual feeling.  This capability to love others is a fruit of the love of God.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says,
He who loves God, cant help but love every person as himself, even though he is displeased by the passions of those who are yet uncleansed."
On the other side, he who has any trace of hatred in his heart will not be able to have this love for others.

Saint Maximus the Confessor writes,
"If a person sees a trace of hate in his heart, for any fault whatsoever in anyone at all, he is completely alienated from the love of God."
See how important it is to reconcile yourself with everyone?  Even one trace of hatred will block you from God's love.  To love truly requires a pure heart.  We need to examine ourselves and all our relationships to see where we are holding any grudges that defies our love.  Even though it may not be easy to reconcile, we must do so if we want to be joined with God in His love.

Saint Isaac the Syrian describes the nature of God's true love.
And love, having God as its cause, is like a spring bubbling up whose stream never stops and He alone is the cause of love and its material is inexhaustible... for this material which brings him to the remembrance of God is always available to him, so that even in sleep he speaks with God.
Seek after this unending source of love. Prepare yourself with dispassion. Reconcile all your relationships. Let none be swept under the carpet. Practice the Orthodox way of life. It will lead you to this pure love.

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Resource: Orthodox Spirituality by Dumitru Staniloae, pp 303-309