Monday, June 23, 2014

The Impossible Dream?

I am not one who pays much attention to dreams, but the other day my wife related to me a dream she had. It is not normal that she would even share one of her dreams with me. I found it to be most profound. Here is the dream in a nutshell. She is engaged in a game that involves a series of obstacles that are impossible to overcome. No one can win the game. Those involved are continually being killed off. 

What can this mean?

For me, I immediately saw this dream as an analogy for earthly life. We are born into a world where we are faced with unending obstacles. We overcome one obstacle only to be faced by another. There is no way of winning. At the end we all die. A sobering thought.

I asked her what she did in this dream and she said, "I woke up." Isn't it also true that we say we "wake up" when we realize the true nature of our life on earth? When we realize that in the end we cannot win and we will die? When we seek for something more than the pleasures of this world and begin to seek a relationship with God?

I then asked her what she did after she woke up and she said, "I immediately began saying the Jesus prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.' This comforted me and I went back to sleep." This too is an important lesson. She called on God for mercy and was comforted. 

This is what we must all learn to do. It is only in the Kingdom to come, God's Kingdom, that we can have hope for eternal life. All the obstacles of this worldly life are only trials to prepare us for this eternal future lived in harmony with God. When we are able to call on Him as we are engaged in our worldly life's struggles we will retain hope, be comforted and led to a greater realm. But first we must realize the impossible hope of "winning" through worldly pursuits. We can only "win" by keeping focused on God no matter what obstacle we are presented with.

Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth has stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more illusive than dreams; comes one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Your countenance, the sweetness of Your beauty, to him (her) whom You have chosen grant repose, for You are the Friend of Mankind. (from funeral service)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Elder Sergei of Vanves on Prayer

Prayer should not depend upon our mood or good will. If we are in a bad state, it's because we are filled with sin. Thus we need to repent. Every day, examine your conscience and repent. Force yourself to pray regularly every day. If you don't want to do that, then you need to repent of that. You must understand how necessary this is. Know that the devil lurks and waits to destroy your soul, and that you are always in danger. Prayer alone will give your soul the strength to resist. In order to acquire spiritual muscles, you have to go to the spiritual gym.

Prayer must not become a "ritual" in the bad sense of the term. If it has become this for us, we must repent.

Prayer must be absolutely regular. Just as water falls on a rock and bit by bit cuts into the rock, prayer will penetrate into your soul.

Through the Jesus Prayer, your mind should enter into your heat. Prayer allows us to understand the things in our heart.

The Jesus Prayer without humility is a disaster 

For more on Orthodox Prayer

Reference: Elder Sergei of Vanves: Life and Teachings,  pp 149 - 150

Monday, June 9, 2014

Flying High - Love

When you ascend high into the heavens in a physical way on an airplane and gaze out of the window from 40,000 feet above the surface of the earth, you cannot help but be drawn to the awesome nature of God. Having gone through the normal hassle of boarding a crowded flight in a small island airport in Greece, I sat by the window of the plane and watched the normal sights disappear. As we took off piercing the clouds, a new dimension emerged. I could no longer see the steep inclines that moments earlier had strained my legs as I walked the narrow streets of Pyrgos, Santorini. Soon, the vast expanse of the Adriatic Sea was all I could see. Then, as we encountered an area with a vast layer of clouds, there was nothing but the endless varied formation of clouds covering the earth below. Staring out the window I could only think of God. I picked up a book I had brought and here is what I read:
While still a child I would pray for those who gave me offense. I used to pray, "O Lord, lay not sins on them because of me." But though I loved praying, I did not escape sin. Still, The Lord remembered not my sins, and gave me to love people, and my soul longs for the whole world to be saved and dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, and see the glory of The Lord, and delight in the love of God.  
I judge by my own case: if The Lord so loved me, it must mean that He loves all sinners in the same measure as He loves me. 
O love of God, no power can describe it, for it is immeasurably great and wonderful.
These are the profound words of St Silouan the Athonite. His words of love filled my heart and made me reflect on the simple truth he expresses in these few sentences. How can we have hate for our brothers and sisters of this world when we know how God loves us? Truly, God loves all His creation, each and every person, just as He loves us. 

Flying high above the earth the differences that we so great when on the ground disappear. Even the mountains are barely distinguishable. When I think of God and my own sinfulness I see that from His perspective even my own defects disappear and are forgiven out of His Love. 

This view from 40,000 feet in the air is the way we need to view our brethren. We err when we focus on their failings and are not able to see the image of God in each of us.

Let us remember always how deficient we are and how much God loves us. Like Him we need to love in the same way. This is the way to peace in the world, to peace in our city or parish, and harmony in our family.

We are about to descend into the busy airport in London. I will soon see if can hold on to this view of Love.

Reference: St Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony,  pp 270-271

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Simple Life?

Elder Paisios says,
"The more people distance themselves from natural, simple life and embrace luxury, the more they suffer from anxiety."
Sitting here on the patio of an historical home on the edge of the cauldera in Santorini Greece, I was reflecting on the many blessings I have received over the years including an abundance of luxury. I have never been forced to live in poverty and spent most of my life distanced from a simple life.  But, in my mature years, I have continually desired a life lived more simply in harmony with nature. I can relate to what Elder Paisios is saying.

At one point I was part of a small group that decided to change our way of life, to live simply and purposefully in harmony with nature and spirit. The idea was to live off the land, self-sufficiently and sustainably. We created an organic garden, used solar panels for our power, used wood to heat our homes, and made minimal use of power equipment. We did not have a tractor and did all the gardening by hand. We built our homes using the lumber cut from the trees on the property. It was a simple life lived close to nature.

The Elder Paisios further says,
"People try to calm themselves with tranquilizers or with the theories of yoga, and they neglect altogether the true serenity that comes when the soul is humble and God fills it with divine consolation."
I have also experienced this path to escape the anxieties of a materialistic worldly life. I was a user of tranquilizers in my early career and a participant in a meditation program that promised peace and harmony.

Neither of the above approaches satisfies the soul. When living purposefully in harmony with nature and spirit there was some relief from the anxiety of a city life but there were new forms of anxiety that replaced the old ones. Our attempt to live the purposeful life lasted only five years before it was abandoned as idealistic and an impractical way to live in our modern culture. It too was a worldly approach to life.

Elder Paisios says,
"When we see a person who has everything be stressed, anxious and sad, we must know that God is missing from his life. In the end, even wealth will make people suffer, because the material goods cannot really satisfy them. Theirs is a double affliction."
The anxiety we seek to be relieved from is caused by a spiritual sickness. We are separated from our creator, God. Our soul mourns and seeks to become reunited with God. We seek meaning from material things and worldly activities but they cannot satisfy what is lacking.

Joy and peace come from a realized relationship with a God, a personal relationship, one based on mutual love. How do we realize this? This is what I have found to be the Orthodox Christian way of life as taught but our Church Fathers based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and His disciples.

This is the aim of the Church, Christ's Body here on earth in this moment. While living at the intentional community designed to live in harmony with nature and spirit, I was given the insight to give up my own solutions to the angst I felt, and instead, surrender to Christ and His Church. I then had to seek and learn what the Church taught. Saint Theophan the Recluse in his book, Path to Salvation, provided the needed direction. I also had the silent guidance of my guardian angel encouraging me not to rationalize or debate what the saints of the Church taught, but to strive to understand what I could not yet fully understand. This was a new way of life for me as I had always thought that I had to figure it out for myself. I found I was my own judge of truth. This idea of surrender was not natural for me. At times it felt as if I was going back to the Middle Ages. But, I always felt a sense of comfort knowing this path was an ancient Tradition founded on the life and teaching of the only son of God, who was both fully God and fully Man.

The foundation of my path was the practice of the Jesus Prayer. I had learned passage meditation  much earlier, but I experienced the Jesus Prayer as much more beneficial because it was based on a personal relationship with God, in His name. It also led one to many of the benefits claimed by passage meditation. In an important way the Jesus Prayer was more.

The Church Fathers provide us with clear direction to live a life free from anxiety, taking each step in companionship with God. This does not promise a life free from struggle or difficulty, but one where all the trials and tribulations can be accompanied with the comfort of God at your side.

The ten principles of the Orthodox way of life provide all the fundamentals you need. This path begins with faith, a belief in the truth of the Gospel teachings, and Baptism and Chrismation. Follow this link  to explore these ten principles.