Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Faith: What Kind of Faith Is Necessary?

Discusses the deeper faith that results in knowing God by grace, leaving us with the zeal to perfect ourselves and becoming through the cooperation of our will with grace to live according to the commandments of God. This is a faith that is more than an understanding or a declaration of, “I believe”. It’s a deep faith based on an experience of God that comes from the uncreated energies of God, His grace, the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Path to Perfection - Saint John Cassian

Jesus came to save us. From what? Eternal damnation, separation from God, showing us the path to victory over death, eternal life in Paradise. The ultimate aim is to love God, finding unity in His embrace.

These two element of salvation point to the starting point for our spiritual journey to theosis. Saint John Cassian points out the following:
There are three things that restrain people from vice—namely, the fear of Gehenna or of present laws; or hope and desire for the kingdom of heaven; or a disposition for the good itself and a love of virtue. (411)
Vice, or sin, not living up to the ideal way of life that Christ showed us is eventually tamed with God's help. To take heed of His advice we begin our walk with Christ having a fear of the possibility of having our life end in death, nothing beyond, or even worse in eternal punishment as is described in Scripture.

Saint John points out that there is this three step process. He says further,
For the first two belong properly to those who are tending toward perfection and have not yet acquired a love of virtue, but the third particularity belongs to God and to those who have received in themselves the image and likeness of God. (412)
The beginning, he points out, is fear. We tend to promote the idea of love, but for those who have not embraced the seriousness of the meaning of life, love of God does not have a deep meaning as this can only come from an intimate relationship. Emphasizing the fear of God is most useful for those who may have been baptized as children, who have been brought up in the church, but have a shallow faith based more on family or cultural traditions, and who participate more out of obedience. Reminding them about the reality of death and the judgement that takes place may help them awaken to the seriousness about the way they live their life and the true reason fo Jesus coming for our salvation.

Fear is only the beginning and this will not be sufficient for continued growth or for those already awake in faith. In this fist phase we are like servants following the direction of our master. The next phase is to be freed as slave and become a hired hand. At this next stage is the emphasis on the reward, our the payment we receive, a place in Heaven, eternal life with bliss. 
Here is how Saint Cassian describes it.
If a person is tending to perfection, then, he will mount from that first degree of fear—which we have properly designated as servile and about which it is said: “When you have done everything say: We are useless slaves.” —to the higher level of hope, progressing by degree. Here the comparison is not with a slave but with a hireling, because now the person looks forward to the payment of a wage and as it were untroubled by the absolution of his sins and fear of punishment and is conscious of his own good works. (412)
The next level is when we reach toward perfection, the love of virtue and a disposition toward the good. This requires the grace of God. With His grace and our ascesis we can rid ourselves, motivated by the first to levels of understanding, of all evil or sinful tendencies, our passions.
We shall, then, be unable to mount to that pure perfection unless, just as he first loved us for no other reason than our salvation, we also love him for no other reason than sheer love of him. Hence we must strive to mount, in perfect ardor of mind, from this fear to hope and from hope to the love of God and the love of virtue itself, so we may attain to a disposition for the good itself and, to the extent possible to human nature, hold firmly to what is good. (413)
We are challenged by the Lord to go from the heights to still higher places in such a way that the one who is blessed and perfect in the fear of God and who proceeds, as it is written, “from strength to strength,“ (Ps 84:7) and from one perfection to another—that is, who mounts with eager mind from fear to hope—is invited again to a more blessed state, which is love, and the one who was a “faithful and prudent servant” (Mt 45:25) passes over to the intimacy of friendship and to adopted sonship. (418-419)
Eventually we come to the realization that love in the final aim. Motivated by the fear of the judgement and the promised reward in heave, we begin to experience Gods grace in a real way. We come to know his love. Not the the intellectual understanding that God sent His only Son to us out of love but an experience of this unbounded love that comes from his grace penetrating our soul. This love grows so strong that there is nothing we would not change in our way of life to become united with our lover forever.

Saint Cassian says,
It is in this sense, then, that our words should be understood—not that we declare that an awareness of everlasting punishment or of the blessed reward which is promised to the holy ones is of no importance. These things are helpful and introduce those who reflect on them to the beginning of blessedness. But, love, in which there is a fuller confidence and already enduring joy, takes them from a servile fear and hireling’s hope, brings them to the love of God and to adopted sonship, and, from being perfect, makes then somehow more perfect. (419)

Apostle Paul call this love the best of gifts
But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift ofprophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1Cor 12:31-13:3)

Reference: The Conferences of John Cassian, trans, Boniface Ramsey, OP, Paulist Press.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Purpose of a Christian Life

A video on the purpose of a Christian life. The first session in our series on the Path to Salvation.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Do we know our sinfulness?

King David committed horrible sins, adultery and murder (2Sam 11:2-27), but was not aware of how sinful he was until the profit Nathan came to him and told him a story that paralleled David’s life.  When Nathan told David a story of a supposed subject in his kingdom, that was actually a disguised story of David’s life, David severely condemned this person seeking to punish him. He asked Nathan for his name. Then when Nathan told him that he, David, was this person, he was awakened, he then condemned himself and sought God to help him repent (2Sam 15). This why the theme of many of his psalms are about repentance.

Are we like David, blind to our sinfulness? Who’s is your Nathan? How well do you know your sinfulness? Are you denying that you too are a sinner? 

Knowing our sinfulness is knowing ourselves. Not knowing our sinfulness is a common spiritual ailment. I have experienced this many times. Before I was a practicing Orthodox I was into various contemplative practices  I was also busy with my career and family, thinking every success was the result of my own efforts. There was no room for God. My contemplative efforts were simply to relieve stress.  At some point I discovered the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” It fit the passage meditation practice I had learned from an Indian teacher. But I made one change, I dropped the phrase, “I am a sinner.” Why? Because I did not know myself. I was like David, asleep, unaware about the nature of my separation from God even though I would attend Church regularly. I saw myself as a good person.

It took a number of years to break this shield and to see the depth of my sinful nature. It was after I began to learn about the Orthodox way of life. At first Confession was like going to the judge and pleading to have my case dismissed. But eventually, after experiencing the receptiveness of my confessions, I began to see the patterns controlling my inner being. To break this control I first had to learn more about the nature of God. I had to learn that God was love and he was merciful to those who recognized the nature of their condition and desired to change basic patterns of behavior in their life. I needed to learn that He was not a God seeking to punish me, but a God who had open arms to embrace me and to help me become more like Him. That He was all powerful and someone who could help me, like a loving father with his child.

At first I dealt with specific issues like judging others and anger. There would be cycles in this uncovering of sin. Recognition of one sin and it’s recurring pattern would lead to efforts to make changes in my life. Then there would follow periods where I was again blind to my sinfulness. Then I would beg God to help me see myself again as a sinner and eventually a new pattern would emerge. As this continued I came closer and closer to my basic issue, self-centeredness, my pride. When this became clear I was devastated because I was able to see the way I had lived my whole life in sin. Confession became more and more powerful.  The more I understood myself, the more God helped me.

We know that Christ came to save not the righteous but sinners (1Tim 1:15). He shows us that when we repent, sinners, publicans, and harlots easily enter into paradise (Mt 21:31), like David the adulterer and murderer. The main issue we face is pride. It underlies all sin. It, along with superficial piety, blocks us from seeing our sinfulness.

Seeing our sinfulness is more than acknowledging a particular sin, but is seeing that every aspect of our life is entangled with sin.
Archimandrite Aimilianos says: What does it mean to be a sinner? It doesn’t mean simply that I’ve committed a particular sin, but that my entire being, every aspect of my self, is entangled in sin, for in sins did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:7). From the very moment of my conception, long before I was born, before I ever had an opportunity to commit any kind of particular sin, I existed in a mode of fallen nature, in the fallen Adam, and as such I opened my eyes on a world adrift in evil and wickedness (1 Jn 5:19).
To become united with God, to become a true son of His, we need to know ourselves and know the loving nature of God. Then we will want to run to Confession, to follow the ascetic disciplines of the church, daily prayer and fasting, and go to Liturgy early to hear the prayers at Orthros and to receive Him in Communion by partaking His Body and Blood offered in the Divine Liturgy. 

When awake to our sinful nature we will no longer go to confession for relief, but to be rescued from this sinful condition, to be liberated, so God can lead us to paradise.

References: Psalm 37 (38), Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 191-260

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Humility! The basis of all the virtues and the fundamental requirement for spiritual fruition. Do you have humility? You have God, You have everything! You don’t have humility? You lose everything! So retain the feeling of humility in your heart. Our natural and normal relationship with God requires a heart which is impassioned, contrite and entirely devoted to Him, a heart which cries mystically at every moment: ‘Lord, You know all things; save me!’ If we surrender ourselves into His hands, He’ll do with and for us whatever’s best for our salvation, according to His wise and holy will. Saint Theophan the Recluse 

The soul that has acquired humility is always mindful of God, and thinks to herself: 'God has created me. He suffered for me. He forgives me my sins and comforts me. He feeds me and cares for me. Why then should I take thought for myself, and what is there to fear, even if death threaten me?' The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God, for He said: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.   Saint Silouan the Athonite

Monday, January 13, 2020


Pride first manifests itself in the human heart. We can tell how deeply we are possessed by this sin by examining our own thoughts. To contrast humility and pride, here we juxtapose the two:

• A proud heart loves only itself. A humble heart loves everyone.
• A proud heart always promotes its own ego. A humble heart never talks about itself.
• A proud one is filled with envy. A humble one is filled with love.
• Pride exposes its gifts. Humility hides them. Pride boasts about its deeds. Humility never mentions them.
• Pride loves and is flattered by praise.
Humility avoids and is embarrassed by such.
• Pride remembers the evil done against it. Humility remembers only the good.
• Pride talks of vengeance. Humility speaks of love.
• Pride has a high opinion of itself. Humility remembers that all good things are a gift from God.
• A proud heart considers itself righteous. A humble one acknowledges its sinfulness.
• Pride seeks vengeance, hates others and finds joy in their misfortunes.
Humility forgives, loves and is happy when others succeed.
• A proud heart is self-confident. A humble one is filled with trust in God.
Pride seeks to be number one, does not tolerate superiority and if it meets such, it responds with envy.
• Humility seeks the last seat for itself and rejoices when others prosper and excel.
• Pride desires to be a king. Humility desires to be a servant.
• A proud heart is a well from which all bad things come forth.
A humble heart is a spring from which all good things flow.
• Pride destroys us spiritually. Humility saves us.
• If we ask pride: "What do you tell the hearts that give you refuge?" it will answer: "I tell them: Learn and show your virtues, quality and value and the whole world will bow to you and admire you. Then you
will be content." If we ask humility the same question, it will answer: "I tell them: Consider yourself nothing and you will have peace in God."
• Pride brings darkness to our hearts, humility brings light. In a heart that harbors pride there is no room for humility, since light and darkness cannot coexist in the same place. The brighter the day becomes in the morning, the further it pushes darkness away. The same happens in our inner lives —as our hearts fill with humility even the vestige of pride disappears.

Metropolitan Hilario Dorostolski

Sunday, January 5, 2020

On Pride

Pride is a sin I wrestle with. It’s a serious sin because it is known to be the root cause of other sins and separates us from God. Below are some thoughts on pride by Church fathers and others to help us understand this common sinful tendency.

Saint John Climacus says pride is:
“the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy.”... It involves “the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out.” “The proud man wants to be in charge of things.” “A proud man despises the meek.” “Pride makes us forget our sins...” “Pride leads to unholy thoughts.” “It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.” “I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glŠ¾rifying themselves.” “Blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride.”
Saint John of Kronstadt says,
When we hear anything bad said of anyone, then, inwardly comparing him with ourselves, we say in our heart: "I am not such; I am perfection in comparison to him," and thinking thus of ourselves and inwardly judging others, we are delighted at our superiority over others. This is the pride of Satan; this is the stench of the carnal, sinful man. May such thoughts flee from the soul! Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honor and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us...Spiritual pride also manifests itself by insensibility to our sins, by the Pharisee's self-justification and self-praise, by insensibility to God's mercies, by ingratitude to God for all that is good, by not feeling the need of praising God's greatness. Spiritual pride also manifests itself in boastfulness, in the proud man's pretended knowledge of everything, whilst in reality he knows very little or his spiritual eyes are entirely blind. "That is not worth reading," he says; " it is all well known; these sermons are not worth reading; they contain the one same thing which I already know.'' 
Saint Tikhon writes:
A proud man seeks honor, glory and praise by every means. He complains, he is displeased, he curses when deprived of honor and leadership. He begins labors that are beyond his strength which he is not able to manage. Out of self-will he interferes in the affairs of others. He desires to direct everyone...He boasts of himself shamelessly and exalts himself. He looks down on and humiliates other people. He does not submit, he does not obey his authorities and his parents. The goods they have they ascribe to themselves, to their own efforts and labors, and not to God. He greatly dislikes reproach and admonition. He is impatient, is displeased, complains and even curses when in destruction, in contempt, in misfortunes and calamities. He displays haughtiness and is somewhat pompous, etc. in word and deed.
So what is pride? Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. Is this love of ourselves pride? Prof. Paul Sands wrote an excellent article on this topic. He points out that the word “pride” has many different meanings. We often confuse it with “self-respect.” While pride that is to be avoided includes a feeling of superiority, self-respect does not. This is what Jesus meant when he says “as we love ourselves.” He means the proper regard for oneself as a human being. Self-esteem is another good concept that differs from the kind of pride we are to avoid. Self-esteem involves the proper judgement of our capabilities that Paul labels “sober judgement” (Rom 12:3). Neither should pride be confused with “feeling proud” of others when they do good. When we feel  proud of our children’s accomplishments this is an expression of our love. But in feeling proud of our own accomplishment can involve the dangerous notion of superiority. To avoid the sin of pride we must alway recognize God’s action in our lives. Remembering that we are His creation, made from the earth. In His eyes we are all equal, but He gives us differing gifts. We are expected to use them for the benefit of all, to do His will. When we lose this connection for our accomplishments and think everything is achieved only by our own will we are guilty of pride. If we attribute our achievements to the work of the Holy Spirit then we avoid the sin of pride. Paul’s says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6:14) In Philippians 2:16 he says, “as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Legitimate, godly pride has nothing to do with ourselves. (Romans 15:17)

Sinful pride blocks us from loving our neighbor by comparing ourselves to them, criticizing them, and feeling better than them even in little ways. We criticize others often because it makes us feel better than the other. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector provides an example, showing how destructive it can be to relationships: 
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'" (Luke 18:11-12). 
When we are prideful in a sinful way we forget that God created us equal, in His image and likeness, and we begin to credit ourselves for our accomplishments and develop a feeing of superiority over others. 1 Corinthians 4:7 states, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” Our sinful pride tempts us to be self-sufficient rather than God reliant.

Prideful people who see themselves as superior to others are described in the following ways: “stuck up”, they “look down their noses,” we say they live in “an ivory tower,”  as acting “high and mighty,” or puffed up”, “inflated” with self-importance. The proud assert their opinions while discounting and ignoring those of others. They seek to glorify themselves, and fantasize their own greatness.

Shyness is another kind of pride. A person who seems reserved and does not speak out much may also suffer from pride. We tend to be shy because we fear that others will find out how imperfect we are. When shy we link our self-esteem with an idealized view of ourselves. We fail to see that being God’s children we are equal in His eyes, but, because we have differing gifts, we have also weaknesses, that this is normal. We shouldn’t fear having weaknesses or compare ourselves with others. When you can see you own weakness and not fear exposing them you will also praise the gifts that others have. The proud person will see their shyness as a virtue rather than a form of sinful pride that we must overcome.

Prof Paul says there are three kinds of pride. Vanity, conceit and arrogance. Vanity is a preoccupation with appearances. Conceit is having an exaggerated opinion of your good qualities and achievements. It presupposes a superiority over others so everything about one’s self tends to be exaggerated and one criticizes the abilities of others to inflate their own superiority. Arrogance is the feeling of superiority. Arrogance needs no comparison to others. It’s beyond conceit. Those who suffer from this madly of pride cause all kinds of trouble by overestimating their own abilities and knowledge. They tend to set unreasonable goals and disregard normal limits. They will make poor judgements as they pursue goals to glorify themselves without having adequate knowledge, resources or planning.

Pride is a way people compensate for low self-esteem. In such cases people will develop an imaginary, idealized and unrealistic view of themselves. They suppress weaknesses and exaggerate their skills. This can cause psychological problems like depression when they cannot live up to this ideal image. They tend to minimize their failures or blame someone else or the circumstances. It’s too painful for them to admit mistakes or failures. Any form of criticism is defended against. 

Those with pride often find themselves in the midst of self-made controversies. Wanting to be first or recognized above others can lead to quarrels, envy, and even resentment. Remember when the disciple of Jesus were quarreling? 
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mark 9:33-41)
Having wealth can also exaggerate the notion of superiority, leading to expectations of special privileges, or not having concerns about needs of others with less resources or poor. They may even blame them of being lazy. In the Parable of the Sower, it is said: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in; it chokes the Word, which becomes unfruitful" – Mark 4:19.

The most dangerous aspect of pride is that it separates us from God. A proud person sees himself as being self-sufficient, knowing even more than God. It is only their own mind that has truth. He believes only in his own skills and way of life. Everything he has or achieved is seen through his self-will. God is distant and unnecessary. The problem of God for one with pride is that God is someone who is superior. It destroys the self image of self-sufficiency. They become their own God.

Think about what Jesus has taught and how difficult His teaching is to accept for one suffering from pride. He said that we can only save our lives by losing them (Mat 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Luke 9:24), he also told his followers to “take up their cross” and “deny themselves” (Mk 8:34; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23). Jesus calls His followers to follow Him alone and to put their trust in Him and have faith in the Kingdom to come. His way of life always exemplified humility and obedience to the Father.

St. Macarius wrote about the main signs that humility or pride is present in a person: 
“Let the following be for you a sign of humility or pride: the latter blames, reproaches, and sees blackness in others, while the former sees only his own bad state and doesn’t dare to judge anyone.”
Elder Ephriam on  answering the question, “When can we realize that we have egotism?
When one of our brothers makes a comment to us or when the elder reproaches us or points out one of our faults. If you feel bothered, upset, full of turmoil, dismay, distress, and anger internally, you can gage the corresponding size, depth, and length of egoism that exists within you. When someone is humble he accepts advice, criticism, and insults....At last, we must recognize our problem, we must acknowledge that egoism exists within us, and we must take a stance and put up a fight against it. When others point out mistakes and try to correct us, we should blame ourselves, accuse ourselves, scourge ourselves internally, strike our ego, take full responsibility, justify the person who corrected us and give thanks to God for attempting to cleanse us....We must fight against egoism, this evil wickedness, armed with the Jesus Prayer. The words “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” should not stop day and night, if possible,
Here is a list of questions to evaluate the condition of pride created by Fr. William Casey
  • In your heart of hearts, do you see yourself as being better than others because of who you are, what you have, or what you know?
  • In conversation with others, do you always seem to bring the subject back to yourself?
  • Do you always seem to talk about yourself, your interests, and your affairs?
  • Are you overly concerned about what people think of you?
  • Are you always trying to make yourself look good in the sight of others?
  • Are you always ready to stretch the truth — lie, that is — if that’s what it takes to build yourself up?
  • Do you always have to be right and hate to be contradicted?
  • Do you hold on to your own opinions even when they are proven to be wrong?
  • Do you find it easy to dissent from the teaching of the Church on faith and morals?
  • Do you think that you know better than the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, the whole Church, and the whole company of the saints? (Bonus question: Are you ready to bet your immortal soul on that?)
  • Are you ultra-sensitive to criticism, and do you struggle to accept even mild fraternal correction?
  • Do you find it easy to gossip?
  • Do you take satisfaction in hearing somebody else being torn down?
  • Do you jump on every chance to point out the faults and the mistakes of others?
  • Do you find it hard to forgive even the slightest offense?
  • Do you always feel a need to get even, and are always ready to hold a grudge?
  • Do you organize your life for the sake of appearances, and do you always feel the need to be noticed?
  • Do you perform your good works in order to win the praise of others, like the Pharisees who preferred the praise of men to the glory of God?
The opposite of pride is humility. To overcome pride we need to develop this virtue. This will be our next topic.

The Deadly Sin of Pride, Family and Community ministries, by Prof. Paul Sands of Baylor University, George Truett Theological School.
The Danger of Pride and the Power of Humility, by Fr. Willian Casey,
Journey to Heaven by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk
My Life in Christ, by Saint John of Kronstadt