Saturday, July 24, 2021

Letters to My Children - Final Letter

In these twelve Letters, I have tried to give you the benefit of what I have learned about life and the glory of our Triune God. It took me many years to understand what was the real purpose of this worldly life that seems to come to an abrupt and unfair end in death, but in fact is one the is eternal. As I told you earlier, my faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church developed over many years. What I have shared does not come from some ideological belief or philosophy, but from a faith in the Gospels and on experience clarified by the teachings of the Church over the last 2000 years.

I know these letters may not have been of much interest to you now, because the worldly life in these days is devoid of true spirituality and filled with so many temptations that pull all of us away from a God fearing life. I am confident that there will come a time when you will want to go back and read these letters because you received an awakening through a spiritual experience of some kind. God is always present, and, when the time is right, He will poke you in a way you cannot forget. Then you will have a desire to live an true Orthodox life and you will want to learn more than is contained in these letters and want to share them with others. Here is the link to all of them:
Shortly I will prepare a small booklet containing them to send to you to keep in a place that you will remember when this awakening comes.

I love you dearly and pray for your awakening always.
Dad

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 12: Death and Afterlife


In today’s world we try to avoid talking about death. To often, when someone dies there isn’t even a funeral. The body is quickly disposed by burning and grinding up the bones in a process called cremation. Then sometime later the family and friends come together in what is called a celebration of life. This gathering usually involves speeches like in a retirement party and may not have a paster present.

Death is treated much differently in the Orthodox Church as you have already experienced with the death of mom’s mother and  father. Death for Orthodox Christians is a most important event. It is a transition from a worldly life to an eternal one. It is when the soul separates from the body. The soul immediately goes to a place awaiting the Second Coming of Christ to be reunited to a new spiritualized body, and then face the final judgement. The body is treated as something sacred as it was the temple of God. It is buried and there is a beautiful funeral service in the church with an open casket. 

When the soul separates there is what is called a particular judgment. Everything that was done in the earthly life is exposed for all to see. Nothing is hidden. The souls of those who lived a God seeking life will find great joy, anticipating the future life in heaven. Those who have not been seeking God will be separated from God and will be tormented living in anticipation of their life to come separated from God. After death there is no possibility of repentance. The character we die with is the character of the soul after death. When Christ comes again the process of transition is completed and we are given a renewed immortal body. Then, we face the final judgment by Christ. This is not an arbitrary judgment but based on how we lived our earthly life. Because all has already been exposed to you and others there will be no surprise at this judgment.

The important thing to remember is that death and this coming transition is what determines the purpose of our earthly life. Our current life is intended to be a process of perfection, to develop a love of God, and to learn to become like Him. Christ came, God incarnate, to show us the way to full union with Him with eternal life in His kingdom. How we live our life will determine what takes place in this transition after death.

While the Church always places the emphasis on God’s mercy and supports the faithful to live a life of repentance, we must not forget that in our death there are consequences based on how we have lived and the nature of the relationship we have developed with God. Because of this, there should be an element of fear of God. This is why in the liturgy when the communion cup is presented the priest or the deacon exclaims, “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.”

My advice to you is to never forget that your aim in this life is your death and resurrection. Your true purpose is to live in a way to become united with Him and to do His will. Being close to God will enable you overcome the fear of death, knowing there is a future life in Paradise. Once you have mastered the fear of death you life will be filled with love and joy of God’s presence.

With Love,
Dad

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 11: Confession


My dear children, I hope you have kept up with me on these letters. I know there will come a time, as it did for me, when you will have an intense desire to know God and to have communion with Him.  Then, you will surely find these letters useful. This letter is about confession.

Let’s start with the idea of sin. This was a word that I did not want to hear for many years because it had a negative connotation. I saw sin as something to be punished for. But this is an error in thinking. Sin is when we have failed to live up to the teaching and example of Christ. Christ loves us and only wants us to love Him. He is not in the business of handing out punishments to hurt us. The word “sin’’ literally means in Greek missing the mark. In this sense it is a positive thing, because when you discover sin in your life, you have recognized an event or pattern of action that does not conform with your faith and separates you from God. When you know your sin, you can improve and come closer to God. Beware if you think you are not a sinner. Everyone is a sinner and the closer you come to being united with God the more sinful actions you will recognize.

Confession is a process of overcoming our sinful nature. You begin by asking God for his forgiveness, make a commitment to make changes in how you think and act, and seek the help of the Holy Spirt to do so.

Every night in your prayers you should review what happened during the day and acknowledge where you missed the mark. Then ask God for forgiveness and for His help to change how you act in the future. In addition to this daily activity there is a sacramental act that Christ has given us to totally cleanse our soul and conscience and erase any heavenly record of your errant actions. I
t is the sacrament of Confession. It is like the renewal of our baptism. The Greek Orthodox Church teaches that you should participate in this sacrament whenever you feel burdened by your sinfulness and at least once or twice each year.

The sacrament is normally done in the church or a chapel of the church with a priest who has been given the office of confessor by the bishop. When the time appointed comes to do this with a priest, you will meet with him in the church and stand in front of an icon of Christ, often on the solea facing the iconostasis and in front of the icon of Christ to the right of the royal doors. The priest is by your side as your witness and it is with joy that he hears your confession. He knows how important this is for your spiritual progress. He is not there to punish you, reprimand you or judge you. He is there to help you become reconciled with God. He will ask you, while facing the icon of Christ, to say out loud looking while at the icon of Christ, 
"what is the sin you have committed that you want to eliminate from your life." Then, after you have made a sincere confession, if moved by the Holy Spirit, the priest will ask you to kneel, place his stole over your head, and read the prayer of absolution. Afterwards he may give you some guidance to help you overcome this type of sin. Remember he is doing this with love, all for your benefit. 

When you are finished he will remind you that God has forgiven you these sins and will help you in your efforts to change. You must then be sure to forgive yourself. If you don’t, you are making another error, because you are taking upon yourself the role of God. If you brought a paper with notes to assist you, he will ask you to respectfully burn it. Walking out of the Church, you are at that moment sinless. But you must remember that you still harbor passions and desires that give you the tendency to miss the mark again. Remembering this will help you to stay focused on the work you need to do with God’s help.

Repentance through confession is central for life as an Orthodox Christian. When the time comes for us to leave this world you may not be perfect, but if you have sincerely and continually sought through repentance and confession to become more like Christ, you will be embraced by a merciful and loving God. This process must be more than a ritual or obligation. It must be done out of your love of God and combined with a dedicated effort to follow everything He has taught.

If it’s been a while since you have participated in this sacrament, talk with your priest or spiritual father and arrange for a time to do this. You will be surprised how it will benefit you.

With much love,

Your Father 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 10: Learning to Follow Fasting Guidelines

I hope you are benefiting from these letters. There is another practice that you should begin if you become serious in developing an Orthodox mind in order to come closer to a union with God. This is fasting. I can imagine that you are thinking, “Oh no! Not fasting! Nobody does this anymore.” The reason you and many others resist this practice is precisely why it is so important. Remember, this is not something new, but a tradition that precedes the time of Christ. This is a practice aimed at controlling your self-will. When you understand the nature of your salvation and what is required, you realize that it is essential to become obedient to a God’s will. Therefore it is essential, mandatory, to learn to control the passions that seem to drive your current life style. This requires a disciplined will. The passion of hunger is one of the most basic passion you have. Being able to deny your desire to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, helps you learn to exert your will in a way that leads you to developing the ability to control all your passions. Eventually you must learn to merge your will with God’s will. Don’t we all now we live mostly only according to our own will? Discover this and you will find a path to life in Christ.

I know when you were growing up as children, I am ashamed to say, that we did not fast as a family. For me this was a practice I only accepted after I chose to focus on becoming united with Christ. When I began a regular practice of fasting, I struggled. I wanted to make up my own rules and allow many exceptions. But very quickly I realized that for the path I had chosen I needed to commit to the the way taught by the ancient church. I then sought out the official guidelines on fasting. (They are called guidelines because a rule orientation is not part of the Orthodox way). I chose to stop making up my own plan and to make the Church guidelines my rule. I have pretty much followed this since then. It’s really not difficult. In the beginning you will discover that you may have some pretty intense desires attached to food. You may have some preconceived ideas what is necessary for your body. 


As Mom and I began this regular practice, all of our church related activities became more regular. Because we were required to struggle with our desire for certain kinds of food during a fast, our inability to live up to the commandments also became clearer. It was an important step in our spiritual growth.


Fasting is a disciple to help you master all of the passions, not eliminate them, but to bring them under control. This involves more than controlling excessive eating. It aims at helping to control things like lust, anger, selfishness, and many others. One of our most basic desires is our desire to eat. This is both good and bad. We need to eat to nourish the body, but over eating or eating the wrong things destroys the body. Often our desire is for what we like. We may even spend excessive amounts to get the food we like. Or, we may make a fuss when the food is not what we want causing stress and extra work on those who are preparing the food for us. So it’s not just about choosing what is nutritious. As we limit our choice in foods during the fast it is also like making a sacrifice. We become more conscious of the blessing of good food and life given us by God.


To become like Christ it is essential that we learn to use our will to control our passions. When they take over we are totally self-centered and unable to think of God or the needs of others. It’s all about ME. So fasting is considered essential if we are going to be able to live a Christ centered life. We we give effort to this, Christ will help us through His grace. 


Fasting is not intended to harm your body. This discipline will actually lead you to a healthier diet. It’s not proper to do it for this reason, but many will resist because they fear it will harm their health. There is flexibility for adjustments to the guidelines if you have an underlying health condition like diabetes or are on some kind of medicine that requires you to eat something special. To make these deviations we should not make these choices on our own, but should discuss them with our spiritual father first, and then chose to deviate.

Here are the fundamental guidelines. We fast every Wednesday and Friday, and also during specific periods in the liturgical calendar, like Great Lent when we focus on repentance and our preparation to celebrate the Ressurection of our Lord and savior.


When Wednesday or Friday comes along how are we to fast? The guidelines say we do not eat any meat or dairy products and avoid the use of olive oil and any alcoholic drink. There is an exception for boneless bottom feeding sea creatures like shrimp. The church calendar has on the specific guidelines for each day. Also the daily email I suggested earlier that you can receive from the Archdiocese will tell you the guideline for that day. I found that once I chose to follow these guidelines, I was drawn closer to following a life in Christ. My desire and ability to control other passions increased. It’s not really a burden, but it can be difficult in this age where we are so used to demanding my will be done now. As you discover this conflict you will begin to discover one of the greatest things that separates us from God, our self-will.

Some spiritual fathers will suggest you start slowly, like only avoid meat in the beginning. I am not sure about this approach. The discipline necessary to control a passion is only learned when you choose to be obedient to the guideline and struggle with your food desires. You may not be totally successful in the beginning, but this struggle has much benefit. 

Remember Christ’s burden is light. He lis loving and merciful. If you try but make mistakes he will understand. He will appreciate what you are trying to master.


Begin now. You will be amazed at what you will learn and how you will benefit. 


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 9 - The Divine Liturgy


Hopefully you have seen your priest by this time and have found a way to begin a disciplined activity of daily prayer and are reading a little Scripture each day. These are not difficult things and don’t take a lot of time, but they can have an significant impact on your daily life. All that is necessary is a desire to be united with Christ. As I mentioned earlier, the awareness of these simple steps I am sharing with you did not come to me until I was almost fifty. It’s never to late to begin this search for the true God which you all have within you since your baptism. 

The next basic activity I want to share is not difficult either, but is also essential. This is making a commitment to attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. This is one of the Ten Commandments, but it’s best to do this out of your love for Christ and your desire to commune with Him. Being able to participate in the divine liturgy is a real blessing.

An Orthodox mind understands that the Church is the body of Christ on earth.

It is much more than a building. It’s a sacred space. When we all gather together for worship, we are uniting with the angels and saints in our prayers to worship and glorify God. It is a union of heaven and earth. When I enter the church  and look up at the dome and see the face of Christ, and then I see all the images on the iconostasis and smell the lingering scent of incense, I know that I have entered a divine space, it feels like this is heaven. The physical church is meant to lift our heart and soul to heaven. It’s a space quite different from any other I experience during the week.

When I enter the church I feel humbled, being so insignificant and yet seeking to be with Christ. I do so knowing that I am not worthy of this, but I enter with a strong yearning, with zeal, to receive Him. I enter with the knowledge that through the sacraments, His teachings, and the practices of the Church, I will grow spiritually. I enter with my mind and heart wide open to the mysteries of the spiritual realm. I am in awe of this space and filled with joyful anticipation of what is about to take place.

When I enter I have to stop and pause in the narthex to remind myself that this is God’s house I am entering. Realizing that this is a sacred space where we commune with Him, I along with most Orthodox Christians feel it’s important to light a candle before entering the naive and offer a little prayer as I do so. This helps me make the transition from a busy and hectic secular world to a peaceful and sacred one, one where the Holy Spirit dwells with strength. It’s a place where the sacraments take place to nurture and heal my soul. I enter  even in my unworthiness knowing than soon I will participate in a mystical union with Christ when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ into my own body. Afterwards I feel renewed, cleansed, energized, and stronger to take on the trials and tribulations of the coming week’s activities.

The Orthodox church is a space totally different from the Methodist church I experienced in my youth. After embracing an Orthodox mind it is difficult for me to go back to the church of my youth. There it feels more like a lecture or concert hall. In the Orthodox church when the service begins I feel it’s mystical nature while at the Methodist church feel like the mystical nature has been stripped away.

I encourage you to come every Sunday to enter into this sacred space and participate in the Mystical supper. When you do come to the church make sure you enter before the service starts. You don’t want to feel rushed entering. Make this time on Sunday from your awakening your arrival at the church a more peaceful time than you experience on a work or school day. Make it a special day dedicated to glorifying God. I have noticed that many parishioners have a habit of coming late. Don’t be like them. Show your commitment and love for God, and your desire to commune with Him by coming at the beginning or earlier when there is a service called Orthros or Matins taking place. Show God your respect honor and your love and desire to be close to Him. You would not think of coming to work or school late. Honor God with your discipline, your love to be there with Him. Come seeking to bring peace to your soul. Once there, set aside all your worries. Listen to the beautiful hymns. Keep an open mind to be instructed by the Scripture. Follow the prayers in the pew book provided or one of your own you bring with you, trying to understand their meaning. It’s a commitment of less than two hours, no more than a full length movie. Come to hear the first words the priest who exclaims, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Participate by singing the responses and the hymns you know along with the chanters or choir.

While we may find social benefits of joining a church, this social activity is not the purpose of the Orthodox Church. It is better described as a spiritual hospital where we come as individual members of a special community of believers in Jesus Christ, who are all in need of spiritual healing. For a long time I was not able to see that I am a sinner nor recognize my need for help or to be healed to become more capable of living with love by the example of Christ. By joining the assembly of Orthodox believers in Jesus Christ, I discovered this healing and was shown a step by step process whereby I could receive God’s help to come closer in union with Him. I found regular attendance inspired and offered spiritual nourishment for my soul, much more than anything I experienced in my years of meditation.

The Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church and provides spiritual nourishment through the sacraments of the Church. I discovered how important it is to come prepared to participate each Sunday in Holy Communion. Previously I would only take communion several times a year and did not feel a commitment to be there every Sunday. (This is a misguided habit that too many follow due the past times in Greece where regular worship was difficult because of the occupation of the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years.) I realized I was lost and turned away from the church, failing to seek help from my local priest. I sought other ways to nourish my inner craving for the divine. This led to a regular practice of meditation. I eventually learned that these so called “new age” approaches only reinforced my ego centeredness. I feel I wasted many years. I don’t want you to do the same. The gift to do differently is in your hands. I am showing you the simple but true path to inner peace.

Knowing the benefits of regular attendance and participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion from experience, I encourage you to make a special effort to set aside Sunday as a day to commune with God by participating with other Orthodox Christians in this most beautiful, heavenly and mystical Divine Liturgy.

Here is an except from a sermon by one of my favorite elders, Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simeopetra.

Each time we come, let it be in order to take hold of Christ, and pull Him mystically and invisibly within ourselves. And when we leave, let it be with souls rejoicing, and let us “entrust our souls, and deliver our life to Him.” Let us entrust our souls to Christ, whom we have seen, and let us dedicate our life to Him, and “let us se our hearts ablaze with the fire of His love,” Let us e set our hearts on fire with the flame of His love, with a fire which burns up within us everything that is rotten, and which will cleanse us in preparation for eternal life. 
From The Church at Prayer

I would feel I have accomplished my mission in writing these letters if you did no more than have a talk with you priest asking for his help, to say a short prayer each day and attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. I know from experience that your soul will be nurtured in this way and your love of Jesus Christ will grow. However, there are still two more topics I want to cover before I end these letters: confession and fasting.



Saturday, April 10, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 8: Reading Scripture Everyday

I am continuing with the discussion about how to develop an Orthodox mind where we pursue a union with God with the desire to be made worthy to enter His kingdom with eternal life. There are a few things that can easily be integrated into your daily life that will be of great help based my lived experience and the teaching fo the Church.

In addition to a short prayer every day, reading a little bit of Scripture each day will also help you develop your spiritual life. Don't think of this as a time-consuming lengthy task. There is a very useful tool that I have shared with you before that makes this task easy. Each day you can have sent to your email address the Scripture lesson that is being read in Church services on this day.  All you need to do is to go to  https://www.goarch.org/chapel. You will find a place to sign up for this daily email in the lower right corner of this web page. You don’t need to have a specific time to read this email. You can fit it in when you have the tendency to go to Facebook or Instagram, or surf the internet, or when you are catching up on your emails. Just remember to read it every day. The lessons read in the Church all contain a complete message. In addition to an Epistle and Gospel lesson you will find a short write-up on the saints being celebrated on this day.

It is important read Scripture prayerfully. Don’t try to be analytical or make up your own interpretation. Scripture is to be absorbed in the heart and only interpreted through the Church. Remember the story of Philip coming in contact with the Ethiopian reading the Bible in his chariot? Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I unless someone guides me”. This is the same attitude you should have. Scripture is not always self-explanatory. When you are at different stages of your spiritual growth, passages will take on different significance and often have a deeper meaning. 

When I started to read Scripture each day I made two mistakes. I would read it like I was reading a novel, trying to read an entire chapter or more, often skimming as you do when reading novels. The second is I would try to pick out what was seemed true to me and discount the rest. This is an understandable mistake as there is so much in Scripture that is hard to understand with our normal rational mind. At times I would try to analyze bits and pieces by seeking online commentaries. Just keep in mind that Scripture is the word of God and it is meant to speak to your heart. As you grow spiritually, the Bible has more and more to teach you. It is best to not try to judge it or analyze it. When you read the Bible let your understanding be illuminated by the Holy Spirit. That is why we are advised read prayerfully. If you don’t understand what you have read, assume that you are not yet ready for this passage. It is still speaking to your heart and in time the meaning will become clear.

If you have questions or opinions, submit them to your spiritual father for clarification. I recommend using the Orthodox Study Bible because it contains commentary from the Church Fathers that can at times be helpful. Using this source you can have the confidence that the comments provided are consistent with the Holy Tradition of the Church. Just be careful about being overly analytical. Read prayerfully.

You should also read the Bible for a personal application. Saint Mark the monk (5th-6th century) says, “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” Do not ask, “What does this mean?” But, instead ask “What does this mean for me?” When reading the Bible, first bring to mind that Scripture is a sacred history of the world from the time of Creation through the formation of the early Church. Then observe the particularity of this history where we find God intervening at specific times and places and entering into dialogue with specific individuals. After reliving this spiritual history, apply it to yourself. You need to bring these distant places and times into your own place and time and see that these stories include you. The Orthodox mind is integral and encompasses all time, heaven and earth, and what is visible and invisible.


Just read a little every day. It will teach you.


Orthodox Study Bible: 

Hard cover or Kindle 

App Store 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 7: Daily Prayer



Once you contact a spiritual father he will guide you. There are some simple basics that I will continue to give you based on my experience that can help you along the path toward an Orthodox mind and coming closer to God.

The first priority should be to set aside some time for prayer and spiritual reading. I have tried to do this every day. 

You can start with only a short period. Make it one that you know you can keep every day. I found this is easiest to do in the morning. Just arrange to get up a few minutes earlier, of course this means you need to go to bed a few minutes earlier too.

First, establish a regular time and a private place. You should have a specific rule for both morning and evening. Don’t try to “wing it.” This is not a relaxation exercise, but a path of communion with your God. You will benefit from having a specific set of guidelines that you follow each time with no excuses for shortcutting them. Use prayer books and written prayers, the ones included as s sample prayer rule in the booklet, Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life. The Orthodox prayer books are filled with prayers that have been well-tested and used for hundreds of years. Prayer does not need to be a creative activity. Above all, you need to be sincere.

I learned the proper way to pray from Saint Theophan the Recluse (see link below). He tells us that before you start your prayers, take time to quiet yourself and to concentrate your energies in your heart. Christ says, “Enter into thy closet and ... shut thy door” (Mt 6:6). Remove all activities that could disrupt your inner descent. Set aside, to the best of your ability, all of your problems of the day and your worries for tomorrow. This is not a time for thinking or worrying. When you are preparing to pray, stand, sit or walk a few minutes and steady your mind to concentrate on God. Reflect on who it is that you will be addressing. Remember, it is God Himself, the Creator of All, with whom you are about to talk. Try to hold in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe. If you are able, make some prostrations before you begin. As you can see, all these things are easier to do after you first get up in the morning.

As you begin to pray, read the prayers and enter into every word of the prayer. Bring the meaning of the words down into your heart. Do not rush through the prayers like you are in a hurry to finish them. Let the words of the prayer slowly drop into the depths of your heart with humility and awe of God. You need to slow your mind down so you can concentrate solely on your prayer. It’s somewhat like driving a car. When you are going 90 miles per hour down the highway, you may feel exhilarated, powerful and in control. But, at high speeds things can go wrong quickly. But, when you slow down and drive at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour, the car handles easily and if someone makes a dangerous maneuver you can easily avoid it. The mind works the same way. You want to train it to slow down so it will not cause you an unneeded accident and you can open your heart to God’s presence. So, in prayer say the words slowly so you can gain the full meaning of them and allow them to penetrate your consciousness and to bring to your heart feelings of love and reverence for God. 

Beware of the tendency to rush to complete them hurriedly. When this happens you have turned your prayer into an obligation, another task to complete, and it is no longer true prayer. Don’t worry if you catch yourself doing this. It is normal at first. Just stop, slow down, and then continue after asking God’s forgiveness and help. You will eventually find the right pace for yourself. 

Also, study the prayers before you use them so you know the meaning of each word. Eventually you will want to memorize them.

After you begin to recite your prayers, you will find that your mind will want to wander. I still struggle with this tendency. Work constantly to improve your ability to concentrate your attention on God and your prayer. God will allways be distant until you can learn to focus your concentration in prayer. When your mind does wander, be gentle with yourself. Think of God and how He loves you and go back to recite again what you said while your mind was elsewhere. Bring yourself back to concentrate on God and the words of the prayer. Sometimes it helps to say your prayers out loud for a while to help you concentrate. The mind is quite skilled at trying to do more than one thing at a time. But in reality, you only concentrate on one thing at a time. You can easily be deceived by the mind as it leaves prayer to focus on other matters. These wanderings of the mind show you the dimensions of your busy life and where you need to find ways to make it quieter so you can be always mindful of God. Prayer is NOT the time to focus on these worldly activities, because this will only further distract you from prayer. Work to concentrate your attention more and more each time you pray. Each day you will gain in your attentiveness during prayer.

When you finish your prayers, stand for a few moments. Consider to what your prayer life commits you. Try to hold in your heart what has been given to you. Treasure it for a few moments.

It is important to make your prayer life one that is a firm rule, a desired habit, and not something that is done occasionally, sporadically or casually. Pray each and every morning and evening for fifteen minutes at a minimum. Your prayer rule should include specific prayers. Commit to doing your rule each and every day, just like you are committed to daily personal hygiene tasks such as brushing your teeth. You don’t forget to do them each day. You need to make prayer a similar habit, one that you never forget. Just like brushing our teeth is essential for the health of our gums and teeth, prayer is essential for the health of our soul. Persistence and patience in prayer will prepare you for God’s grace to work within you.

This is a very simple thing you can do. All that is needed is your desire to become closer to God and choosing to alter your daily routine by a few minutes.


Saint Theophan’s guidance on prayer.  https://orthodoxprayer.org/Theophan-Homily1.html

A sample beginning prayer rule. https://orthodoxprayer.org/Prayer%20Rule.html

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life https://stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/tenpointprogram/ To request free booklet email c joiner @ mac . com

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 6: Seek a Spiritual Father


I will now focus more on how you can develop an Orthodox phronema or mind. To begin, just think of it as acquiring the mind of Christ. If you are like me most likely you currently have a secular way of thinking. Everything is in reference to the life on earth. Heaven is distant and rarely influences your thoughts.

Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us we need to learn to walk by the Spirit instead of the flesh. He says, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on things of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:5). To have the mind of Christ is to live by the Spirit. To keep your mind focused on the Spirit. If this seems impossible, don’t worry, this all takes time once you surrender to the way of the Church and you allow grace to heal your soul.

What do I do, I hope you ask. I can tell you what I did. Although I was chrismated as Orthodox when we were married, it wasn’t until many years latter that I chose to surrender to the way of the Church.

On of the first things I can remember was reading a book by Saint Theophan the Recluse titled, The Path to Salvation. So your journey may or may not begin like mine by the reading of a book written by a Saint of Church Father. I had earlier developed a passage meditation practice where I would meditate for 30 minutes every morning. I don’t recommend this as it’s hard to overcome some of the pitfalls os this approach. But is gave me a way to discipline my mind as well as establishing a time each day for spiritual nourishment. But on reading Saint Theophan’s, book I learned about daily prayer using the Jesus Prayer. It seemed similar to passage meditation but soon I was to learn it was quite different. As a result I began to pray everyday for the first time in my life. This began to open my heart to something greater. I had been a big time doubter. I refused to accept the miracles performed by Christ. I saw Him as a “good” person and not as a God and man. One day I had a vision after praying where Christ came to me and said, “Charlie, why do you doubt me?” This was a wake up. This is often called an awakening.

I knew I had to do something to bring me closer to God. I began to search for  someone to help me. We were living at Natures Spirit at the time and attended Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral In Greenville periodically. After contacting several monasteries for help, I concluded that I needed to go and talk with  at Saint George, my local parish. I was anxious about arranging to have this discussion with him. When I first met with him he new how difficult this was for me. He then arranged to meet with me regularly to teach me about the Orthodox way.

I think I will end this here and suggest that, when you feel the desire to get closer to God, you humble yourself and make an appointment to see an Orthodox priest. I would choose one who is mature. Most likely he will embrace you like the father embraced the Prodigal son on his return (Luke: 11–32). Just tell him you want to come closer to God and to commit to the way of the church, but that you need instruction and help.

 

Questions:

Ask yourself if you are ready to seek help? If not what are the questions that you need to have answered?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 5: Importance of Holy Tradition and The Nature of Sin



Let’s continue with the topic of Orthodox phronema. As I began to onvercome my attitude of “I am supposed to,” regarding the practices of the Church, I began to understand the idea and importance of Tradtion and appreciate how the Orthox Church has struggled to protect Tradtion. In the Orthodox Church all theological discussions reach back to ancient sources for guidance. It’s rare to find an innovation that comes out of a philosophical approach. We have modern commentators to help us relate Tradition to our times, but they all draw on ancient sources. 

You can have confidence in this unchanging nature of the Church grounded on unchanging Tradition. There is no deeper truth to be discovered than what has already been revealed. The fullness of our faith was revealed at the time of Pentecost where the Apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. They had the full knowledge. They experienced the resurrected Christ, were taught by Him, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Based on this they established the Church on earth. This is why the Tradition they established is so important. You can have confidence when you surrender to the way of the Church that it is unchanging and consistent with what the Apostles taught.

An example is found in a central theme of the Orthodox way of life, repentance. Repentance is about seeking God’s forgiveness and His help for you to change you mind, or inner orientation that makes it difficult for you to live up to the ideal of His love. It is important to understand the nature of sin and the need for repentance in the Orthodox view. I initially had a wrong idea about sin, being influenced by the common teaching in Western churches. I had thought sin was about violating a rule for which you would be punished by God if anyone found out. Like being caught in a crime. Consequently, I was resistant to admit any sinfulness. Sin was a bad word. I felt I was a “good” person. But, eventually I learned that my way of thinking was wrong and not consistent with Holy Tradition.

In the Orthodox Church sin is like missing the mark, not living up to what we are capable of. This is the root meaning of the Greek word “μαρτία “, translated as sin. We are called to live a life like Christ, but Christ being fully human, in His Church He knows this is difficult to do. Our nature is filled with passions that affect our soul. We all miss the mark from the ideal of our creation.  We are therefore all sinners. We inherit this condition from Adam and Eve who ignored God’s direction and were cast out of Paradise to struggle with a mortal life. We are not responsible for their sin but we inherit the human passions that lead us to sinful actions. The Church is a place we go for the nurturing and healing of our soul. It is like a spiritual hospital. The Church is filled with God’s love. He only wants us to grow spiritually, to become closer to Him, to become evermore like Him, so we can become worthy to be united with Him eternally. God does not want to punish us for our errors, for all the ways we miss the mark, but wants to help us improve, to develop a healthy soul capable living His love. Sin is not a bad word but a beautiful one. As we discover the nature of our sinfulness we grow spiritually and find we become closer to God.

I learned quickly that you grow spiritually when you confess and seek help in the Church. Initially this takes courage and an understanding that our God is a loving God who knows our weaknesses and wants to help us, not punish us. We learn that He made us all in His image so we all have the potential to become like Him. He desires that we return in love to be one with Him.

The primary way we do this is called repentance, a change of mind. This is where we uncover our weakness in the eyes of God and out of our love for Him and our desire to overcome them. There are many ways the Church can help us in this never ending process. There is the sacrament of confession that is very powerful. This is where we confess our shortcoming in the church, facing the icon of Christ, and ask for forgiveness and healing. The priest stands at our side as our witness, and, if moved by the Holy Spirit and by the powers given him in his ordination, he transmits God’s acceptance of our confession and as he recites the parader and makes the sigh of the cross over our head as we knell, lifting all burdens of sorrow or any guilt you may feel. Through this sacrament in God’s loving eyes you are unconditionally forgiven. The priest may offer suggestions to help you. These suggestions are called penances. They are not a form of punishment, but aids to help you overcome whatever you confessed. The priest acts like a medical doctor giving you what will be helpful for your healing. Remember always that God is love and that you are created in His image.

This is all a part of Holy Tradition and an example of how Christ in His Church helps you once you surrender to her way. All the sacraments and how they are performed come under the category of Holy Tradition as are all the ascetic practices that help,us grow spiritually. There is nothing that is in violation of Holy Scripture. Holy Tradition helps actualize what Christ teaches in Holy Scripture.

Accepting Holy Tradition with out question or hesitation is part of the Orthodox mind or phronema.


Ask yourself if you think holy Tradition is important? Have thought properly about the idea of being sinful or do you have misconceptions like I did? Have you ever been to confession? Why is it so difficult? Can you see how we can have a mistaken view of sin?  Why is it throughout our services we are constantly say, “Lord have Mercy”?

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 4: Your Relationship With God


Continuing our discussion of the Orthodox mind, or phronema, we accept that this is a very difficult subject to grasp, but a very important one. I have learned that it is an essential one if you want to have a loving relationship with God. As I gradually understood it, I found that I began to know myself more deeply. As I increasingly grasped the nature of a loving relationship with God, I could see more clearly my limitations as one of His creatures. I began to understand that I am created and cannot ever fully understand the nature of this awesome Creator. I accepted that I am  like the pot that can never know fully the potter who formed it. As I explored sincerely my faith with this developing Orthodox mind, I  began to open myself to my limited nature and accept the unlimited nature of God our creator. I now understand this to be the true meaning of humility. As you make this exploration and open yourself to this limitless mystery, you too will begin to know yourselves in a new way.


A key concept in our faith is Theosis, or our union with God. As an Orthodox Christian you learn how it is possible to be united with God and to become always aware of His presence, His loving nature and unlimited power. As this way of thinking began to develop in me, I found I was no longer stressed by feeling that  I had to figure out everything intellectually. I found comfort in the awareness that my intellect is limited and is incapable of clarifying what is impossible to resolve with logic. As I realized this,  I was led to a greater understanding, became aware of my soul, and was opened to new experiences.  Trying to understand mysteries like the Holy Trinity, a virgin birth, Christ as both god and man or the resurrection, did not distract me, because I realized that I can’t fully grasp these mysteries through my rational mind. As this new mind developed in me, I began to evolve a personal relationship with Christ, experiencing His love, a new kind of freedom, and an inner peace in all situations. This is a never ending process. Christ continues to  lead me to discover more deeply my weaknesses and errant thinking. 


What is Orthodox mind, this “phronema “? This is a word that is found in the Bible and used in differing ways. It is often translated as “understanding.” For example in Proverbs it reads, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by phronema (understanding) he established the heavens (Proverbs 3:18 LXX). in Isaiah 40:28 we read that “His understanding is unsearchable.” Saint Paul often asks Christians to acquire correct phronema. He says it is associated with the idea of “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16). The early Christians were exhorted  develop a way of thinking tied to their way of living. They were instructed in the need for correct phronema. We can see this also in the writing of the Church Fathers in later centuries. This was my challenge and I hope I can help you see that this is the important challenge for you too, so you can experience a close relationship with God.


I can assure you this is not primarily a intellectual task. We may be helped along by reading of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, but not through an analytical or critical way of study. You must read with a natural, humble mind, accepting what does not make sense as something you are not yet ready to understand. The same with the Sacraments. You will also begin to see the icons not as simple pictures, but as windows to heaven. 


I began developing this new mind through the total immersion, a surrender, to the way of life taught by the Orthodox Church. I was willing to place my trust in the Church and to avoid the temptation to substitute its teachings and practices with my own ideas or opinions. 


This Orthodox mind does not accept legalistic thinking. It does not rely on rules or penalties for breaking them. You cannot use the ideas of our legal system to develop a loving relationship with God. Get rid of the idea of sin as breaking a law for which you will be punished. This mind is based on love. The way of the Church is love. It wants only to help you you to grow closer to Him. This relationship with God is similar to our relationship with our best friends and spouses. 


Free up a rigid mind with limiting assumptions. Orthodoxy an ideology. It does not require definitions or rules, even though at the beginning they may be useful guides as a starting point. Acquiring this right thinking takes time and a commitment based on your belief in the Trinitarian God and your unconditional love for Him. As you participate regularly with attention and an open mind in the divine services and sacraments, as you read Scripture and the Church Fathers, you will begin to develop an organic inner devotion that overcomes the notion of “I am supposed to,” as you engage in the practices of the Orthodox way of life. You will have ever growing experiences that will lift you beyond the limits of your rational mind, bringing you inner peace, and into a personal relationship with God. I have found that it is through the spiritual practices taught by the Church that this new mind develops, that the greater truth becomes visible and real and you begin to experience God. A love grows, not just for the Church but for God himself. This love then permeates your whole way of life. You find peace in all things. You will discover how essential Tradition preserved by the Church is in this process. Just accept that it is the Church that has preserved the fullness of Tradition that has been passed on through the Apostles as they were taught by Christ Himself. Surrender to it and become nurtured by His love.


Some questions to consider:

How close do you feel to God? How do you personally experience Him? Think about the issues that come to you in thinking about surrendering to the practices of the Church? Will they conflict with your current life? Are there some practices that you do not think you can accept?


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 3: The Orthodox Mind

 

Next, I want to share with you what I learned about the nature of the Orthodox mind and how it differs from our normal western way of thinking. It is this Orthodox mind that will allow you to know God and become united with Him. Being brought up Orthodox you already have elements of this. But being immersed in a western society you have mostly another way of thinking.


For me it took a long time to begin to develop an Orthodox mind. I am still working on it. I was not brought up in this way of thinking.  My parents were not Orthodox, but they took me to the United Methodist Church as a child regularity, about like you attended the Orthodox Church in your childhood. The church building was totally different from an Orthodox Church. It was devoid of decoration. The focal point was the pulpit and the sermon was the main event. It was like a large lecture hall. Communion was only offered periodically and was only symbolic where a tray of small glasses of grape juice was passed around just like a collection plate. As I look back, it was assumed that our highest power was our rational mind and it was through our intellect that we came to know God. There was no emphasis on the active role of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the emphasis was on the pulpit and the Sunday sermon. There was also an emphasis on social projects for the poor and disadvantaged. This communicated that if you did good works like this God would favor you. It wasn’t until I became Orthodx through marriage that I had even an inkling what might be an Orthodox way of thought. My first experiences were mind blowing. I didn’t know what to think the first time I sat through a Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox Church. It was so different. I remember when Kathy would go with me to church at “my” church when we were dating, she would say, “I don’t feel like I have been to church.” At that time I didn’t understand what she was saying.


Our Western outlook emphasizes rational thought and questions things that can’t be explained. By the use of this self-endowed power of intellect we believe we can become become independent, self-sufficient, successful in a career, a good parent and Christian all by our own efforts. Independence and self-sufficiency were emphasized when I was growing up. God was rarely mentioned. I learned that my opinions are as valid as any others and I was the determiner of what was true. Truth in matters of faith was relative. Because of this, I had difficulty accepting the idea of a higher truth, an absolute Truth. By thinking truth was relative then my idea of faith was as valid as another’s idea of faith. I was taught by my Methodist pastor, that all religions lead to a common goal. It didn’t make ant difference, only that some paths may be shorter. I was also taught that we can’t know God except through Scripture. It was mostly up to me individually to make my own interpretation of Scripture. This reliance on self-direction through my intellectual powers I know now is a falsehood. I have learned by experience that what we can know through our intellect is only part of reality. My rational mind is important but it is not the highest power that I have. I have a soul and a higher mind.  When I was conceived I was given a soul. In a sacramental Orthodox baptism we become a holy temple and God lives within us. For Orthodox, baptism is the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s mystical and transformative. For many Christians, like Baptist, it’s only an ordinance. They seem to ignore the transforming role of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, to become truly Orthodox I had to learn a new way of thinking.


The Greek word for this idea of a way of thinking is “phronema”. Some call it a world view. We will uncover what is the Orthodox “phronema” and eventually learn how one develops it. Remember, that for me, this took a long time and I am still working on it.


When discussing Christianity, the Western churches use much the same terminology as the Orthodox Church, but their meaning is often quite different. (Like the difference in Holy Communion or baptism mentioned earlier.) We will get one meaning with the normal rational outlook and another with a more mystical or spiritual one. It is not rational to think that the Holy Spirit can change bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. But this is an absolute truth for a true Orthodox Christian.


Roman Catholics have the most in common with Orthodox Christians, but they think they understand Orthodox thinking and practice when they really don’t. Why? Because they have a different way of thinking, a different “phronema”. For Orthodox, logical definitions and arguments are not important to understanding things about God, while they are essential to a Western Christian mind. For Catholics almost everything is given an explanation. Like it was for me, it is difficult for them to “think Orthodox.” I will try to help you understand how to “think Orthodox.”


The Orthodox faith involves an integration of faith, thought, and the way of life that the Apostles learned from Jesus. They were simple fishermen who learned from their direct relationship with Christ. They were not philosophers. They did not have a book to study about nature of Christ. Of course they knew the Psalms and stories from the Old Testament with its many miracles and divine interventions. Remember, Jesus did not use logical arguments or written guides to teach them. He told them stories, parables, and performed miracles and showed them by how he lived in unity with His divine will. Even they had difficulty understanding what He was teaching them until after His Resurrection. They witnessed Him crucified and resurrected and then appearing to them after His death when He could teach them the deep mysteries. Some of them recorded what they observed which has become what we call the New Testament Gospels. What they were taught, and how they worshiped and lived has been passed on in the Orthodox Church unchanged over generations, in different languages and cultures. You will not find all of this written in the New Testament. This way of life involves being always aware of the heavenly kingdom where Christ is king, the multitudes of angels, and saints who have been taken up to heaven to serve Him and glorify Him. With this vision of divine reality we are moved by love to follow the way of life Christ taught. It embraces miracles based on the reality of higher powers, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church. We accept that God is everywhere, in all things and all places, supporting the created world. It accepts the reality of a Creator that established the natural order we have gradually begun to understand in part through scientific study. It views God’s  powers as unlimited. It sees God as three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but yet one God.


My view of God changed as I developed this Orthodox phronema. Our way of thinking does determine how we view God. For Orthodox there is room for ambiguity, uncertainty, paradox and mystery. We are asked to seek a knowledge greater than that available to us through our intellectual powers. Orthodox resist and avoid definitions, reject legalistic thinking, or any way of thinking that seems to box in God with earthly terms. There is aways something more than what we experience through our senses that we can only access though our soul and it’s higher powers. 


We cannot limit our understanding to what is written in Scripture as I was taught in the Methodist Church to analyze intellectually. In addition to the mysteries hidden in the words, there is much more that the Apostles were taught than what they could write down. This is what is known as Holy Tradition. This is another dimension of the Orthodox mind.


Everything is interconnected. We cannot discuss Scripture without referring to Tradition, the writings of the fathers, and the practices that have passed down through the Church unchanged. We are taught to suspend our intellectual study and let the words speak to our heart. What we don't understand we don't critique, but hope for a future reading when the meaning will be revealed to us. Our liturgical life is filled with ancient hymns that point us to truth. There are many ways available to point us to this greater reality. To understand Scripture we need to make sure our view is consistent with Tradition and what the early Church fathers taught, not just our own clever thoughts. When there appears to be more than one truth it’s not which one is correct but that they all are true. The conflict is held as a mystery. To fully understand, we need to be lifted to a higher state. The Church fathers were holy men who had a direct experience of God. Because of this they have a deep understanding of the meaning of Scripture. It is therefore important to listen to what they teach. In understanding Scripture we also need to include the whole, everything that is written, not just a selected piece. 


In this Orthodox mind we need to embrace Heaven as real. We need to see the Holy Spirit as God in action. We need to value the sacramental life in the church, because the  sacraments all involve the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Part of this Orthodox mind accepts ambiguity, uncertainty and above all mystery. In thinking about God we must learn to be humble and accept that we are limited in nature. We must hold a vision of another spiritual world and hold this entire structure in our consciousness. 


When I was in the process of becoming truly Orthodox, I was led by the writings of Saint Theophan the Recluse in  the book, The Path to Salvation. There was a section that I came back to over and over again because it was hard for me to understand this expanded view. He summarized it this way:

“God is One worshiped in Trinity. The Creator and Upholder of all things, or as the Apostle says, the Head of all things (cf. Eph. 1:10) in our Lord Jesus Christ through te Holy Spirit, active in the Holy Church, which, having perfected the faithful, transports them to another world. This world will continue until the fullness of time, or the end of time, when, at the resurrection and judgment all will receive according to their deeds—some will descend into hell, while others will dwell in paradise, and God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28).”

With humility we can be lifted to a state where we understand these mysteries. I remind you again, this does not happen for most of us overnight or even in a year. Once we accept that there is a higher way of thinking then we will want to strive to develop it in ourselves.


I leave you with a question. Can you see any differences in the Orthodox way of thinking from your normal way of thinking? What is the kind of thinking you are taught in our schools and how does it differ from this “Orthodox mind’? How do you deal with paradox and ambiguity in matters of faith? How do you understand miracles?


We will continue our discussion of the Orthodox phronema and how to gain it in the next letter.


More reading; Eugenia Constantinos, PhD is the author of a book titled Orthodox Thinking; understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 2: Belief


The first step in a healing spiritual life in the Church is a clear understanding of the truths revealed to us in the Gospels. We address this by examining the Creed. I learned the Creed early on, even memorized it. I later discovered that the way I was reciting it was mostly of an act of obligation and was done without any deep feeling or much understanding. It was something everyone did in Church. 

Why does it deserve deeper attention? In it we find the essence of the nature of God and our purpose in life as recorded in Holy Scripture. It is a document created by the whole Church and affirmed in the first two ecumenical councils in the 4th century where it was agreed to never allow it to be changed. For Orthodox Christians it has never changed, but some ambiguities have been clarified in later councils. The creed sets the boundaries about what we must believe about God to be a Christian without taking away any of the mystery of the spiritual realm. Now it’s time for you to examine it.


In essence it tells us that God is the creator of all. Out of love and His desire for us to be reconciled with Him, He sent his Son who took on flesh from the Virgin Mary. The Christ did not come to write a book or give us a set of rules, but to show us a way of life so we could become united with Him in eternal life. In it we see His love and His humility, all key attributes for eternal life. He was fully Human while remaining fully God so He could transform our human nature to become divine, to become like Him. Not only do we have His miraculous birth from a virgin, God becoming man, but His unjust and voluntary suffering and Crucifixion, followed by His Resurrection and then His assenting into heaven. This shows us our path to Paradise. By following Him we too can be resurrected and have the hope for eternal life in Paradise, His Kingdom. All this is not just philosophical or made up story, but a historical reality. He revealed Himself to us and the Gospel writers recorded what they experienced.


As you study the Creed, it’s important to identify areas where you have doubts about the nature of God. Having doubts is normal as the events of His incarnate life, Crucifixion, His Resurrection and Ascension, all defy rational explanation. I had many doubts for many years. To develop a true faith these doubts it was important to expose them, bring them to my awareness, and chose to seek an understanding. Exposing them and discussing them you will in time be able to overcome them. It’s all a process of building a true faith. We all have doubts. We must realize that we have inherited many assumptions from our parents and the society that we have been brought up in that are often counter to our faith. As these assumptions are uncovered, you will be able to chose to change them, rather than having them hidden and secretly blocking you from knowing God.


Here is the Creed. Examine it carefully and identify issues that arise for you and share them with me.


The Creed

I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.

In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.

Amen.



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 1: Introduction and a Confession.

 

Letter for my children - Letter 1

Introduction and a Confession.

This is the first of a series of letters I am planning to send you about our faith. I send these with love. I hope you will engage with me in a dialog.


I begin with a confession.

When I was much younger God was not central in my life. I was Orthodox in name only. I did not go to church regularly, I did not fast nor have periodic confession with a priest. I did always have a sense that there was some higher power but it was one that remained a distant mystery. At time I wondered if there was a God and if there was a way to know Him. I was brought up in the United Methodist church where the emphasis was on social activities. I don’t remember having any serious spiritual guidance. My pastor only told me there were many paths without explaining any of them. I did search for spiritual knowledge. I investigated Buddhism and various form of Hinduism. I learned passage meditation from and Indian guru. All the while I kept my minimal contact with the Orthodox Church. 

 

I did not realize the answer to me seeking was right under my nose in the Orthodox Church. I Orthodoxy inherited by marriage. Mom’s family had a faith that was a solid foundation for how they lived. For them Church and life activities were all integrated. At the time of marriage I had the idea that there were many paths and it really didn’t matter. So becoming Orthodox was not a major choice. At that time, the idea of needing God to guide me was suppressed.  I felt self-sufficient and assumed I would live forever. As a result my faith was weak. Because of this low spiritual condition, I now do not feel I  was capable of fulfilling my duty as a father to give my children the right instruction and encouragement for their faith development. 


It wasn’t until I was about 50 years old that the reality of being mortal raised questions about the purpose of life. Going to church periodically I was subconsciously being influenced by the Orthodox way of thinking. About 50 most people begin pondering on the purpose of life. They begin to realize the this life will not last forever. Those who are fortunate learn that this life is only a preparation for the eternal life to come. It was at this time that I learned by experience that God was truly Jesus Christ and it was by surrender to the way of life taught by the Church one could come to know Him. I learned that this idea that you can know God and be united with him is a central truth held by the Orthodox faith. Is fundamental in the Orthodox way of thinking. One is awakened to this reality and then with faith, coupled with a detachment fro self-centered passions that guide our worldly life, one discovers the true path to be united with God. I discovered I had a sick soul that required healing. To my joy I discovered that this was the purpose of the Church Christ established, the Orthodox Church. How lucky I was brought into through marriage.


The moment I realized that the Church was God’s way to know and be united with Him, I sought out spiritual guidance through a priest and began to follow the way of life given to us by Christ through the Church. This was not an intellectual process of knowing the right doctrine but a gradual development of a way of thinking where the mystical nature of our being came to the forefront. It did not require giving up my worldly duties, but allowed something greater than my worldly mind to work on my soul in a loving way. I began to know my soul as distinct from my brain. 


Studying the history of the Church, I found that the Orthodox Church has preserved this wholistic, mystical, and integral way of thinking that passed on through the Apostles unchanged. You can feel it even when you enter an Orthodox Church. All the icons communicate a heavenly message. The smell of incense, the singing of the hymns and intoning of the prayers lift you up from the normal daily experience. You sense that there is something sacred that lives here. 


The Orthodox mind is one that is quite different from the dominate way of thinking of our modern western society. It was totally different from the religion taught in the Methodist Church. It’s very difficult to explain, but i discovered that as you begin to follow the way of the Church you begin to discover it and are gradually transformed. The difference become unmistakably clear. We do begin with a similar belief in the truth found in the Gospels and summarized in the Creed we recite in our services.


In these letters I want to start a dialog. I know you are good children and grandchildren and have good values. You have the seeds of an Orthodox mind even though it may not yet be fully developed. I am very proud of all of you. I want you to know what I have learned.


Developing this higher way of thinking, knowing we can know God, and accepting that the Church is the place where we will be developed and healed spiritually is the aim of these series of letters. They describe a way that is more than becoming a good person, but is about a life centered on Christ coupled with a desire to be united with Him with love, now and after our earthly life ends. We call this Theosis.

I only wish I was able to share this with you earlier, but as the Lord tells us, it’s never too late.


Please reply to this email to ask questions or offer comments. I will respond to all your comments. In another week I will send another letter and the dialog will continue. Please remember my own deviant path and don’t let me make you feel feel defensive. I only wish I had discovered what I know now earlier as I would have been a better person to deal with all the trails and tribulations of this life and be closer to God and more hopeful of eternal life with Him. 


Accept this dialog with the love of a proud father and grandfather.


I look forward to seeing your questions. I know you will have some.