Sunday, July 31, 2022

Avoiding Temptations - Saint Isaac the Syrian

Saint Isaac the Syrian advises beware of idleness:

Idleness allows us to fall into the hands of demons

Do not neglect spiritual disciplines. This overcomes idleness

Remember that God’s negative judgment comes because we allow evil forces to tempt us causing us to fail in our duty or incorrectly use our resources

Necessary disciplines

“Love your neighbor, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, be kind, be content with what you have, be generous to others, don’t judge, weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Remember the goal

The goal is to love our neighbor as Christ while we live in this world.

What is required:

Active pursuit of spiritual life, Repentance and Prayer

What is most important: 

Learning to love the unlovely, seeking opportunities to be generous, 

rejecting judgmental thoughts, practicing loving kindness and mercy even when you don’t feel like it.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Divine Liturgy - Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift.

The Divine Liturgy is the greatest of all gifts the Lord has given us. That is not to minimize all the other gifts we have received. It is He who has given us life. Also it is He who has given us the wonder and beauty of the earthly world He created for our sustenance and enjoyment. What beauty we find in the flowers, the streams, the forests, the mountains, oceans, lakes and deserts. In addition, the Earth is alive with so many amazing creatures. Beyond these gifts is His Incarnation where He came to transform human life so we could be untied with Him, His divinity. Through Him humanity is united with the divine. Also, He gave up His life voluntarily on the Cross for our salvation showing us the path to eternal life with Him by His Resurrection and Ascension. But, the greatest gift is what He has left for us, His Body and Blood that we partake in the Divine Liturgy. In this, even though Jesus is not physically with us, we are united with Him, in full communion with Him. We are filled with His love and His divine energies. This empowers us to continue to do His work, to be a temple of His spirit, and able to shine with a divine radiance His love to others. What a beautiful gift!

Never refuse this gift!

We should not refuse this gift ever. When we come to the Church each Sunday we should seek forgiveness for all our sins and prepare ourself out of our Love of Him by offering our thanks for His sacrifice and all He has provided for us. We should come with the purpose to partake of this gift. To ignore it and to sit by idly observing, we are in a real way refusing communion with God.

A grand mystical happening.

The Divine Liturgy is a coming together of the heavenly church and the earthly church. We are joined with the angels and the saints. We amplify the angelic voices when we offer hymns glorifying Him. We have icons reminding us of the presence power of the saints who also join us.

The Church is more than an Organization

It is too easy to think of the church as another organization or institution. Yes, we do have a council and a president and legal charter. We do need to support the maintenance of the church through our contributions, but all these activities are subordinate to what the Church is. It, with its members, is the Body of Christ. In the Liturgy we all are joined as one body as we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is in this way we express our love and receive the strength do do His will.

God wants Union.

Remember that our God wants to be united with us out of His love. The Divine Liturgy is a gift that surpasses all things. We cannot afford to turn our heads at the time His gifts are presented and we are called to come and partake. When we ignore this call it is like we are shutting the door in His face. Instead, we must recognize our unworthiness and come forward to receive this gift out of our love and desire to be united with Him. Through our participation we are consecrating our whole being to be united with Him and to do His work

Saint Nicodemus says,

"Ask God, in Whom you believe and Whom you love that in you He increase love, a desire for unity with Him, and fervor of love for Him. 

"As you partake of this holy gift remember how powerful it is.  Allow it to nurture in you meekness, giving you greater patience in you daily work and a greater love of God."

“Through Divine Communion Christ implants in us the seeds of immortality, as He Himself said, ‘Whosoever eats My flesh and drinks my Blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).”

Inspired by Saint Nicodemus. What has God Done for Our Salvation, "The Greatness of the Divine Eucharist," pp 6-10

Friday, July 29, 2022

Jesus Prayer - Elder Aimilianos

What is Jesus Prayer

It is so short! It is a repetition of these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

What happens when we repeat it

We acquire a spiritual dynamism that does not come from us, but from God Himself.

It is comprehensive

It comprises the divinity. It includes Christ Himself, Who immediately enters into communion with our hearts.

It’s habit forming

This invocation helps us to acquire a habit, so that the remembrance of Christ within us becomes unceasing. So everything around us and inside our hearts becomes filled with God.

Not magical formula or mechanical work or psycho-somatic exercise

…about which one might think that it has access to a kind of gnostic or syncretic knowledge… or that this exercise would bring spiritual results… or that through this formula, man can tend towards infinity or to a faceless god. The repetition is just an intensification, and a focusing, and a rooting of the Name of Christ and thus of Christ Himself, in our daily lives. 

What does it do?

It creates within man the power to unceasingly invoke God, and therefore, the human participation, offers him a state of joy and spiritual happiness, and other charisms. 
And then, when man reaches this primary stage, well, he understands that Holy Spirit mediates between his personality and the Personal God!

It is, I would say, the only prayer which, clearly creates our preconditions to be able to find God daily, and also, easily, to find Him and rejoice in God. 
Through this prayer, the One Who is unseen becomes visible in our lives.

What is its purpose?

It is what is being worked by God in you.
What God works in our inner being… What He works is an experience. But it is not only the experience of God! It is also a revelation of the way He comes, of how the coming of God happens. The Personal God within the human personality… And of course, He comes in Light!
 And one still feels and understands at the end of his or her ascent, the union which is performed…
And with this union, the purification comes, the spiritual advancement comes, the growth of the little baby which is being born into man.

The purpose of Prayer, in a word, we could say, is a perfect mystery of the unseen God, the One now felt, and the visible person… a mystery performed by God. This mystery has been revealed to us by the Fathers of the Church. We also know from experience, always, how to become a recipient of God. Not through reasoning and meditation, but in a way that God penetrates the human person, and transforms it entirely. And so, he or she becomes a person who can taste, understand and comprehend this mystery.

It is a continuous climb

It is an ever-rising communion, perfect, unchanging. I mean, no person changes, neither one, nor the other. There is a divine vision and a communion with the unseen. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

St. Luke of Simferopol on how to pray

When I talk about prayer, they often answer me: "I don't know how to pray. Teach me how to pray." What do I answer?

I answer first of all that prayer is the greatest and most difficult of all human works. We know that no difficult task is learned easily. A long study is needed in all matters, in every art. If long study is needed in the affairs of mankind, then so much the more so in this greatest of all affairs. Study, study, study endlessly - and it will be given to you.

How to start learning? 

Here's how: there are many prayers compiled and written by great saints of God, great saints, great saints and martyrs. …Do not invent your own prayers, pray those that the Holy Church teaches you. But as you read these prayers, delve into every word of them, catch yourself in every distraction, in every distraction from the words of the prayer. If you pray like this, then the holy prayers of the great saints of God will sanctify your souls.

The Jesus Prayer

But there is one more prayer - the Jesus Prayer - it is considered the most important and necessary for all monks.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

This prayer truly works miracles, and therefore it is considered extremely important, if not the most important of all. Learn this prayer, start with it. Learn it this way: lock the door of your room, stand if you like; even sit on a chair if you like, kneel if you like.


With your head bowed low, first of all, look into your heart, meditating and remembering which of the great multitude of sins torments your heart the most, which is the most repugnant to God.

…Standing, sitting, on your knees, find your most serious sin, lower your head low and beg the Lord Jesus, first of all, for the forgiveness of this sin of yours ... Pray the Jesus Prayer, best of all with the prayer rope and say: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." And at this time, think about this your most serious sin. Repeat this prayer at least a hundred times, always focusing your thoughts on your most serious and disgusting sin. Starting with this, get used to remembering other sins.

Seek forgiveness.

Praying the Jesus Prayer, you will keep all sins in your mind and ask the Lord for forgiveness not only in the most difficult, but also in all your sins. This prayer will work a miracle in your souls. You will be ashamed; when you begin to confess your gravest sin before God, you will feel an insistent desire to be freed, to be freed from this vile sin without fail.

Way to freedom.

By praying like this day by day, you will be freed more and more from your main sin and from all your other sins, and your soul will be transformed. You yourself will begin to notice how your attitude towards your neighbors will change: you yourself will notice that you are becoming more and more gentle, patient, meek, humble. You will treat people with great care, you will make sure that you do not hurt or offend anyone and anything. And the Jesus Prayer will transform your heart and produce this miracle - the invisible miracle of God's grace in your heart.

Here is what I wanted to tell you about prayer.

And if you want to purify your heart, if you want to fearlessly stand before the Terrible Judge Christ, then follow what I advise you. Pray, pray the Jesus Prayer, and above all, repent and repent.


Prayer of repentance should be your most important and constant prayer. But as it cleanses your heart, you will learn to pray not only for yourself, but also for those near and far, for the whole human race, and the most holy, most pleasing to God prayer for those who hate and offend you will come.

Highest form of Prayer.

Earlier I advised you not to imitate the sectarians in composing your own prayers, but now I will say that there is the highest form of prayer - prayer without words, the cry of the soul to God, opening the heavens and bringing us into the most living communion with God.

May the Lord vouchsafe us all to acquire such a prayer! But it will come only when we become true temples of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Homily on the Prayer of the Prophet Elijah

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Death and Afterlife: 18 - Where will we be after the Ordeal as we crossover from earthly life?

Our experience of this crossover is different for each of us.

The experience of Crossing over from an earthly life to one after the soul has separated from the body and now exists in a spiritual realm, is different for different people. For some it may be swift and this struggle between good and evil is felt rather than seen. What is for s=certain we will end up in either Paradise or Hades as a result.

There is no reality to Purgatory for Orthodox Christians

Purgatory is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church where the soul is in a intermediate place where it will face punishment for it sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030).  For Orthodox there is no second chance for purification. When we enter this crossover state our soul is what it was when we physically died and will endure an ordeal based on how we lived our life. We will be pulled by both good and evil forces at this time. Hopefully we will have a soul pure enough, a faith strong enough, and a sound relationship with God to know who to follow and willing to be guided by our guardian angel through this ordeal. 

This state is a mystery.

This state we enter is mainly a mystery, so we need to be careful about earthly descriptions. Saint Paul says, I know a man “who was caught up to the third heaven” “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know.” Saint Athanasios says, the mystery of death “is strange and dreadful and hidden from mankind.”

We are led to either Paradise or Hades.

At some point during this ordeal we cannot avoid, we will come to an end, and  arrive at our chosen destination. Some of us will be carried by angels to Paradise and others who are unworthy and easily tempted by the demons will be led to Hades.

Here is how Christian Hippolytus of Rome (c. AD 170-235) puts it. “The unrighteous are dragged ... by angels who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. “

We read in Scripture from Paul, “In this waiting, let us make every effort to be found blameless and without reproach in peace” [cf. 1 Cor 1: 7–8]. 

We will exist in a temporary state.

Our souls will exist in a temporary state of anticipation awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. Saint Athanasios the Great tells us the the righteous will experience “a partial enjoyment.” While sinners will experience a “partial punishment.” At this stage what we experience is a temporary judgment as seen in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man.

This of our destination as a state of being. 

We should think of Heaven and Hell not as places, but as states of being. The interim place while awaiting the final judgment is called Paradise of Hades. Here we will be awaiting the Final Judgment, living in anticipation of what clearly is to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

How does grace operate in people of prayer?

“Grace begins to operate in people during prayer in different ways, for, as the apostle says, the Spirit distributes Himself as He will in a variety of modes, and is perceived and known correspondingly (Heb. 2:4). Elijah the Tishbite serves here as an example for us (Kings 19:11-12). In some the Spirit appears as a whirlwind of awe, dissolving the mountains of the passions and shattering the rocks of our hardened hearts, so that our worldly self is transpierced and mortified. In others the Spirit appears as an earthquake, that is to say as a sense of inward jubilation or what the fathers more clearly define as a sense of exultation. In others He is manifested inwardly as a fire that is non-material yet real; for what is unreal and imaginary is also non-existent.

Finally, in others – particularly in those well advanced in prayer – God produces a gentle and serene flow of light. This is when Christ comes to dwell in the heart, as St. Paul says (Eph 3:17), mystically disclosing Himself through the Holy Spirit. That is why God said to Elijah on Mount Horeb that the Lord was not in this or in that – not in the particular actions He manifests Himself in to beginners – but in the gentle flow of light; for it is in this that He attest the perfection of our prayer. 

St Gregory of Sinai (The Philokalia Vol 4, pp 285-286)

Monday, July 25, 2022

How to deal with increasing atheism

Why is Orthodox the best kept secret?

One of the beautiful things about Orthodoxy is that it is in many ways a secret from the whole of the world, but not because we are keeping it from the world, but because oftentimes we failed to share our Orthodoxy. 

Many today are proclaimed atheists

I read recently a poll that was taken at different countries around the world and the huge number of people who are now claiming to be atheists - they don't believe. The worst country of all of course was China, but Scandinavian countries, Central America places, European nations, the 70% of the people claiming to be atheists. 

When talking at college campuses I am looking at young adults who have never been to church.

When they see someone standing in front of them like me with my robes and my beard and my cross around my neck, I could just see in their eyes that there's like,  "oh, here we go... what's this going to be about? I'm an atheist, I don't care what this guy has to say".

What happens when I share the nature of Orthodoxy?

This beautiful deep spirituality that is Orthodoxy - and it's sort of like a light bulb goes on in their head. You can see in their eyes that they're seeing Christianity for the very first time. I remember once an Orthodox bishop friend of mine told me that he felt that this atheism that has become the prominent religion of western civilization is based on a turning away from Calvinism and that angry Calvinist god image, and people just don't buy it. They don't want anything to do with it, so they walk away.

People are hungry for faith.

In this day when we have so many young men becoming Orthodox, I'm not surprised because I saw in these college campuses the same thing happening with young people - because people are hungry for faith, they're hungry for God and most of the time they don't even know it, because they've never been taught about God, except maybe this big papa in the sky and they don't believe it, they don't accept it... well, I don't either. 

There is a misguided view of the nature of God as an angry God.

I said: "Well, I guess if we're going to define what you just said as atheism, I guess I must be an atheist, because I don't believe in that God either." And then I talked about the God that I do believe, in the God that reveals Himself in the heart.

How is quantum physics related to our knowledge about God?

I asked him if he believed that quantum physics was of true science and he said, "Well, of course", and I said: " Well, are you aware that in quantum physics a quantum physicist discovers that about 80 percent of what they ultimately accept as truth is intuitively discovered? It's not a science it's not the kind of science like, say, biology - that is grounded in this world and in the physical nature - and I said that's what Orthodoxy is: it is a science of the soul. It is a science that is revealed to us in the news that the eye of the soul. And I said there's no one here that could convince me that what I have in the heart - that I believe is true - is wrong. There's no one that could convince me of that, just as there's no one that could convince any quantum physicist that might be among you that his science is false.

Evanglizing is not about standing and preaching on the street corner.

One of the beautiful things about Orthodoxy is that we, when we evangelize, if we're true to our faith, it's not about going out and tagging people on the street with the pamphlet, it's not about knocking on doors, it's not about putting pressure on your family or friends. Lots of times I have young people who are recent converts and they have family members that are sort of irritated with the fact that, "Oh, you're a church goer now", and they are against it, and they try to dissuade them of it, and at the same time these young people want to share the faith with those in their family and among their friends that don't have any faith. "How", they ask, "do we do that?"

How are we to evangelize?

Well, I remember what I did with my own parents when my mother especially was very upset when I all of a sudden was Orthodox and a monk. She could no longer be proud of me if, as she put it, because I'm now dressing funny and looked kind of funny and smell of incense. She saw that as kind of like a return to being a hippie. So what I did is, I prayed to God to help me be the very best son that I could be to my parents and I say that to all of you: pray that God help you be the very best friend, the very best son, the very best citizen, not being judgmental, not pointing fingers, not getting in everybody's face about the truth of Orthodoxy.

The truth of Orthodoxy can only be imparted from the heart. 

It's not you who's going to convert anyone, it is the Holy Spirit. And oftentimes we get in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit. So if we are to be true to our faith, we live it and we let everyone see the light of Christ in us on a daily basis, by being loving, by being forgiving, even when you have someone that's just insulting you for your beliefs. You don't lash out. It's not about winning the debate, it's about letting the light of Christ shine through you!

Abbot Tryphon, Abbot of the Monastery of the All-Merciful Saviour

Saturday, July 23, 2022

What makes Christianity different from other religions?

Other religions are of the world.

Religions like Buddhism and many others are made up in the minds of men. They may begin with a self-induced trance or an ancient myth. They usually refer to an undefined “divine.” Then they are then systematized.

It seems like they have not yet gained the full understanding of what the "divine" is. This is why we say in Christianity we have the whole truth. Some religions include worship of inanimate objects like the old Greek gods. Others 

Archimandrite Athanasios writes: 

“These other religions “start” from man and “end” to man. A cycle “from man to man.” They do not talk about salvation, but even if they did it would be nothing other than the well-known saying: “when I want to raise myself by pulling my head…” It’s impossible to raise myself. If I weigh 100kg, I can lift a sack with wheat.However, I cannot lift myself when I weigh 100 kg. Why is that? Who knows why, physics gives us the answer: “The forces are a closed system.” That’s what we say in physics, and it is impossible to lift myself. The powers have come from outside. Thus, I cannot save myself, regardless of how much I want it, [using] what I come up with, whatever construct I build…”

For salvation an outside force is required.

“Thus, a force from the outside has to come. Whatis this force? For all other religions, this outside force does not exist.”

Christianity is based on revelation of an outside force, a creator, sustainer and savior.

“What is Christianity? Christianity is a revelation. When [something] is revealed, it means that it is not made up. What does revelation mean? [When] something that is hidden, I remove what conceals it and I reveal it. Christianity exists and the salvation of man is revealed! Thus, what is Christianity? A revelation!”

Christianity is based on facts and history of revelation 

“Christianity is facts and history. Christ indeed became a man, indeed died, indeed was resurrected, indeed ascended. These are facts! Indeed He will return. As Pascal says, if 10 prophecies were said and nine of them have been realized, it remains for the tenth to be realized. All these happened in the face of Christ as facts, as history. What remains now? The Second Coming. In conclusion, this is the difference, a terrifying one we might say, with the invented religions—that Christianity is a revelation, history, facts. Our salvation is a fact and is born out of facts.”

In Christianity we see the reality of this outside force at work in the virgin birth of Jesus. It is further seen in the many miracles He performed. And then in His death we see His Resurrection and then Ascension, followed by His sending of the Holy Spirt, empowering His disciples to also heal and then establish churches for the healing and salvation of everyone. All this is documented by witnesses and historical Roman and Jewish commentators. Christianity's based on revelation.

Based on a talk given by Archimandrite Athanasios Mytilinaios (1927-2006)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Do you fill you idle time with media with secular content? Why?

Why do I consume so much non-Christian media, media created by those who don’t live by Christ, those who don’t glorify Him, or who may not even believe in God? 

If you are like me, out of habit you will immediately go to your phone when you are bored, or when you need to fill in an idle moment. I find that I will scan sites and read posts by people who don't share my beliefs, and even some who choose a totally different lifestyle based on non-Christian values. Some even espouse hatred, bigotry, and other non-Christian behaviors. Also, much media is designed to stimulate sexual desire and the desire for material goods.
How about the music we listen to? What are the lyrics teaching us? Does the music bring a peaceful mind. I don't often listen to music, but I know many of you listen to music all day long. 
I have begun to think about how this casual absorption of secular media of all kinds shapes my brain, my way of thinking, and eventually my behavior. I ask myself, why am I doing this? Maybe there is an alternative.

Do I allow non-Christian content because I think it is more “intelligent" and will help me?

Much of the content of what I consume in such idle moments isn't even true. It's definitely not Christian. When I analyze it I can see that the values being presented are antithetical to Orthodox teaching. Why don't I organize my phone so I will choose content that will encourage an Orthodox lifestyle? Why don't I insist on media that will call me to a moment of prayer, that will remind me of about what Christ has taught me in order to live a righteous life? Do I think this type of content is somehow less “intelligent”? Why do I choose it? I know the stuff I allow to enter my mind is created by people who don’t worship God. The god worshiped by most these days is one based on self-satisfaction, on worldly things. It's not teaching love or designed to bring peace of mind. It's not helping me to learn to better discern how to deal with all life's challenges in a way that helps me grow in Christ. I need to remember at all times what my life is all about, what is the purpose God has created for me and placed on this path we call life? I know well that this purpose is to perfect myself with His help to grow in His image and prepare for eternal life in His kingdom. I need to ask myself, "Do I really need the 'wisdom' of someone who is firmly attached to the material world and has no interest in my spiritual development?"

Are we treating Orthodoxy as an add on to our life?

If I persist in allowing social media to shape my lifestyle, to program my mind, I will find it ever more difficult to live a life in union with Him. I will be acting as if my faith is simply an add on to my life. This is not what I want. Orthodox Christianity is not something we simply add-on to the norms that make up the common lifestyle today. Orthodoxy teaches an alternative way of life based on a truth called “the way” by early Christians. If I and you are interested in our spiritual growth in Christ, we must be concerned about everything we allow to enter our minds, especially that which conflicts with His teachings. Most media today has become hostile to Christianity and is distracting souls away from Christ. I, along with you, need to find a way to minimize this mindless practice, this way we fill our idle time, this habit, and seek alternatives that will aid in the salvation of our souls.

How can we replace this distracting secular media content? 

What am I going to do? Much of what I am about to say I have done in the past before this addiction to social media and instantaneous news was so easily available. But I have been lazy in not disciplining my use of this new media world of today. I plan to  consciously make changes to spend more time reading Orthodox books. I have a Kindle app on my phone and have in it many unread books by saints who teach about the Orthodox way of life. It's easy to select one of these books and pick up where you left off previously. I don't often listen to music and prefer silence. But for those who need music to mask their noisy surroundings you can easily program apps like Apple Music or Spotify to select Orthodox hymns and Classical music made by composers who were not shy about their faith in God. Ancient Faith Radio (AFR) has an app with Orthodox music 24/7 as does the OCN network. There are also innumerable Orthodox podcasts available of AFR and OCN as well as many Orthodox YouTube channels.  There are some I now follow and others I can eliminate. There are also freely available audio versions of the Bible, numerous video series like the Bible Project with short lessons, and apps that include reading plans with commentary. I know there is more than enough content available to help you and me replace what has become a distraction for our spiritual growth. 

Now the hard part, to change my behavior. 

May the Lord have mercy and help me.

Inspired by an article by Roosh Valizadeh

Thursday, July 21, 2022

What is heresy?

"Heresies are a deviation from the truth of Christianity. Once again, heresy is the logical interpretation of [Christian] dogma. When I attempt to understand a mystery, a revelation, in a logical way, I fall into heresy. For example, I am trying to realize how God is three persons, but still one. There is no chemical, mechanic, logical or any other analogue/comparison to realize this. I simply accept it. In case, however, I say: “There can’t be three persons, so I reject the two and keep one [of them], because I am finding [it] difficult to understand it… This is called heresy. 

Archimandrite Athanasios Mytilinaios (1927-2006)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Death and Afterlife 17 - What is issue with Toll Houses?

Have you heard about the idea of toll houses? What are they? 

This concept is promoted by some Orthodox teachers and denied by others. So we cannot say it is a Orthodox doctrine. There is no agreement. The idea is that there are demons who man stations, like toll houses. There is a series of these that we must pass through on the way to Paradise. These booths  are there to expose our sins and block our entry. This idea was developed in Russia during the period of Roman Catholic influence. It is very legalistic and based on worldly images.

Some reasons that many do not agree with this idea. 

First, it violates the idea of an immediate transition. Also Scripture is clear that we are judged only by Christ, not demons.

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22 

It also close to the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory that Orthodox do reject. There are no Biblical reference for this. Further it is based on a story told by a monk who had a vision 1000 years ago. It violates the idea that the soul can't be judged separate from the body. It is also very legalistic and does not consider God’s mercy and love.

Some documents are thought to be forgeries.

Saint Cyrl is quoted teaching this theory, but this part of his work is thought by some to be a forgery.

There will be a struggle between good and evil

As we discussed in the previous section, there are demons who want to discredit our faith and temp us to j one with them. We also know that there is some kind of judgment where everything in our life is exposed for all to see. This is not arbitrary, but based on the choices we have made. It’s also known that we will be supported by angels who will lead us to Paradise unless we are enticed by one of the demons. There may be sinful tendencies that we still have we are not willing to let go and therefore follow the demon promising these.

Toll houses are a way of thinking about the informal judgment often referred to as the particular judgement. Remember our soul will retain its character that it had at the time of death. The Final Judgment will come after the General Resurrection when we are rejoined with our spiritualized bodies. This occurs after the Second Coming of Christ.

We are destined to either Hades or Paradise.

Archimandrite Tikhon from Russia who writes in his book, Everyday Saints and Other Stories:

"Regardless of the situation a person may face, a decision will still have to be made. All who neglected to enjoy a life within the loving embrace of Christ, whose life indicated an affinity for works of darkness, will find themselves in Hades. Those who know and love Christ, have followed His commandments, and are righteous will enter into Paradise."

Sant Paul says:

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life." (Gal 6: 7–8)

Saint Justin the martyr writes:

"Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions.”

Confession and Holy Communion do purify

There are many in the Orthodox Church who believe that those who partook of the Body and Blood of the Lord immediately before death will be granted a direct transition to Paradise. When the book of life is opened there will no longer be any entries. In a less legalistic view there will not be lingering passions that the demons can use to tempt us to flow them.

Our path is personal and unique

The experience one has in passing into the crossover realm and onto his final destination will differ for different people. Those who live pious lives with total faith and have confessed their sins will have an easy transition as there will not be much of a struggle in the transition. The angels will be able to clear a path without much difficulty. We will be oriented by our pure nature to flow the angels and ignore the pleas of the demons who will be tempting us. What is clear is what we have done in our lives will be visible for all to see, including ourselves. Based on our life, this transition will lead us either to Paradise or to Hades.

Be prepared

Now is the time to prepare by purifying our soul through confession and virtuous living drawing on the help of the Holy Spirit.

How to develop true faith in others?

Experience of Faith is most important

I have been involved with the catechizing of adults for almost 20 years. In my experience there is only one way one becomes a true Orthodox Christian. It is by experience. There are seekers who long for the original historic Church, who want to gain the proper understanding of doctrine, or only are rebelling against a leader like the pope in the Catholic Church. Also, there are those who have married into an Orthodox family. Their interest is primarily to learn the traditions, both religious and cultural, of their spouse, to fit in, to support their spouse, and to become a dutiful mate. In none of these cases will one readily adopt the Orthodox way of life. To become a true believer requires an experience of God, an inner realization of our higher purpose and destiny. This may be aided and nurtured with a study of church history and church doctrine, but that is not sufficient.

Why do Children fall away when they become adults?

Likewise Orthodox parents frequently see their children fall away from the Orthodox way of life. This happens even though they have been brought up in the faith, attended Sunday school regularly and required to take communion each Sunday. Something changes when then become adults and begin to make choices based on their own will, they often do not continue in the way of life they were taught once they feel liberated from parental control.

So How can we bring one to a faith based on the love of God and a sincere desire to perfect oneself in their ability to live by everything Jesus has taught us?

Can we just explain it in clear and simple terms?

No! Faith is something that must be experienced and rooted in the heart. It is not something that can be grasped by the mind. Can you have a conversation about your sincere faith with someone who is not practicing the Orthodox way of life or not yet familiar with the way of the Church? What have you experienced as a result? 

I always thought it was important for a person to understand the underlying idea behind any situation. So why is it that we can't explain our faith using simple language, why we go to church and what for, and why we need to have Holy Communion and Holy Confession? How successful have you been even with close friends and relatives?

We can't nurture a feeling of love of God with threats of fearful images?

We should not threaten them with stories about hell and eternal damnation or separation from God. They don't now fear being separated from God. They are immersed in their own belief in the superiority of their own will. They don't experience the need for God.

One needs to have a proper fear of God? 

This is a feeling of awe, not being afraid. It includes a feeling of respect and of love. To have this proper fear requires a feeling of the presence of God in our life. This is different than the fear we feel when facing difficulties in life. This is often when one calls out to God for help, but how long does this last? What have you observed? When we face a dangerous or difficult situation we naturally think of God, but his is not necessarily the proper fear of God. It's more self-centered.

The only way we can develop the appropriate fear of God is through a personal reconciliation with the eventuality of death. When we seriously reflect on our death, we become uncomfortable about what happens after death. This discomfort cannot be eliminated until we experience His presence, His love and the hope of eternal life He promises those who choose to follow Him. It is to no avail to try and scare someone telling them they will go to hell if that don’t do….

What is needed is this feeling of awe. 

Awe is when we acquire a realization of God’s ever presence, when we experience His love. This only comes through a personal experience.

This is the basis of our problem in trying to bring others into the true faith for their salvation. 

We can provide the context for this experience through the teaching of the Gospel, the understanding of proper doctrine, and the knowledge of the ascetic practices that open and cleanse our hearts of sin. The Church services when conducted in a mystical fashion, the hymnology when sung with angelic like voices, and the communal activities provided can all help. They alone still are not sufficient. We can pray that God will at some point awaken those we love to experience His presence. Once they have this personal experience of His presence and love all the teaching and practices will take on meaning. Then there will then be a motivation out of love to follow the way of life taught by the church.

Inspired by Archpriest Maxim Pervozvansky

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Prayer of Saint Makrina on her death bed

Saint Makrina wrote: 


you have taken the fear of death away from us.  The end of our life here you have made the beginning of true life.  For a little while you will let our bodies rest in sleep, and then with the last trumpet you will wake them from their sleep.

You give to the Earth to keep for you this earth of ours, which you shaped with your own hands; and you will take it back again, and from a mortal, formless lump transform it into a thing of immortal beauty.

To free us from sin and from the curse laid upon us, you took both sin and the curse upon yourself.

You crushed the head of the dragon that had seized men by the throat and thrust it into the gulf prepared for the disobedient.

When you shattered the gates of hell and trampled the devil, death’s lord, beneath your feet, you cleared the way for our resurrection.

To us who fear you, you gave a sign, the sign of your holy cross, to destroy the enemy and infuse new vigor into our lives.

O eternal God, you have been my refuge since I left my mother’s womb; I love you with all my inmost strength; I have devoted myself, body and soul, to you from my childhood onwards.

Set now an angel of light beside me and bid him take my hand and lead me to the resting-place where there is water for refreshment, beside the dwellings of the holy fathers.

The flaming sword you snapped in two; the man who hung upon the cross with you and implored your great mercy you restored to paradise.  Remember me, too, now that you are back in your kingdom, since I also have hung upon the cross with you and the nails have pierced my flesh; for I have always feared your judgment.  May the dread gulf not divide me from your elect or the Slanderer stand in my way; may your eyes not rest on my sins.

If out of the weakness of human nature I have fallen and sinned in word or deed or thought, forgive it me; for you have power to forgive sins on Earth.  When I am divested of my body, may I stand before you with my soul unspotted; receive it, blameless and faultless, with your own hands.


Death and Afterlife -16: The Struggle


We will face an ordeal, a struggle, when we crossover after death.

As we transition there is some sort of struggle that most will experience. It is like a struggle between lightness and darkness, evil and good. This ordeal is based on the choices we have made. This is more than our choice to believe in Jesus Christ. It includes all the choices we have made. Did they follow the commandments He taught or were they based on your own desires? It is about whether you have lived a pure life in accordance with you belief in Jesus.

Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure[1 Jn 3: 3], for “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” [1 Jn 3: 10].

Reference to this struggle is also found in the church’s prayers for the parting of the soul.

As I depart from earth, vouchsafe me to pass unhindered by the prince of the air, the persecutor, the tormenter, he who stands on the frightful paths and is their unjust interrogator.

Another reads:

Translate me, O Sovereign Lady, into the sacred and precious hands of the holy angels, that being covered by their wings, I may not see the shameless and foul and dark form of the demons.

Saint Athanasios the Great of Alexandria writes in recording the life of another great saint, Anthony the Great:

Once, when he was about to eat and stood up to pray, he felt himself carried off in spirit, as he stood he saw himself, outside himself and as though guided aloft by certain beings [i.e., angels]. Then he also saw loathsome and terrible beings standing in the air and bent on preventing him from passing through.

As his [angel] guides offered resistance, the others [i.e., evil spirits] demanded to know on what plea he was not accountable to them as they [i.e., the evil spirits] brought accusations but could not prove them, the way opened up to him free and unhindered; he was astonished to see against how many we battle and what labors a person has to pass through the air;

Abba Serapis, an early desert father who, lived in Egypt writes:

Looking up, I beheld the soul of the saint already being delivered from the bonds of the body. It was covered by angelic hands with a bright white garment and raised up by them to heaven. I beheld the aerial path to heaven and the opened heavens. Then I saw the hordes of demons standing on this path and heard an angelic voice addressed to the demons: “Sons of darkness! Flee and hide yourselves from the face of the light of righteousness!”

In the Bible we are also warned of this struggle. 

Paul teaches us ti stand firmly against the evil forces we may encounter

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.... Quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph 6: 13, 16). 

Peter too says:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Pet 5: 8–9).

The apostle James also warns us:

Submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Jas 4: 7).

So even after death we are confronted with this struggle between angels and the demons. After death they take on a terrifying visible spectacle. This quite disturbing to us because we realize our sinfulness while alive and realize all, our choices will impact the outcome of this disturbance.

Here is how Saint John Chrysostom views it:

[The soul] often rises and sinks down again toward the abyss, and trembles with fear.... For the awareness of our sins always pricks us, especially at that time when we are about to be led away to the examination of accounts in that terrible court. Then, if anyone has been guilty of ... any ... wrong, the whole swarm of sins is revived and stands before our eyes to sting our conscience.

Saint Boniface an eight-century Anglo-Saxon apostle to the Germans tells us 

HE describes the story of a monk from a monastery at Wenlock who died and came back to life after a few hours. He described a crowd of evil spirits along with a glorious chorus of angels. He saw them involved in a violent dispute concerning the souls that had just separated from their bodies. The demons were bringing charges against them and the angels were trying to discount their charges and making excuses. The monk heard all his sins. Nothing was hidden. Everything from his youth up to his death that he had failed to confess, had forgotten or not recognized as a sin. They were accusing him vigorously. The demons were yelling out naming the vices giving specific times and places. They were offering proof of all his misdeeds. His virtues seemed small in defense . The ages continually in their love defended and supported him. They were even exaggerating his virtues it seemed,

We also have Mr U’s experience:

Suddenly there was heard at first an indistinct noise. And following this, having emerged from somewhere, with shrieks and rowdy laughter, a throng of some hideous beings began rapidly to approach us. 

“Evil spirits!”—I suddenly comprehended and appraised with unusual rapidity that resulted from the horror I experienced at that time, a horror of a special kind and until then never before experienced by me. Evil spirits!

Having surrounded  us…the evil spirits demanded that I be given over to them; they tried somehow to seize and tear me away from the angels, but evidently did not dare to do this.

I had to justify myself, to defend myself from the accusation that was directed against me, and in such a manner the New Testament statement was verified in practice: we really shall have to give an account for all our idle words, if not by the will of God, who sees the secrets of man’s heart, then by the anger of the enemy of salvation.

I recalled a prayer and began praying, appealing for help to those holy ones [i.e., the saints] whose names I knew and whose names came to mind. But this did not frighten my enemies. A sad ignorant Christian only in name [It was that only then] ... it seems, almost for the first time in my life, [I] remembered her who is called the intercessor for Christians.

Hardly had I remembered and pronounced her name, when about us there suddenly appeared a kind of white mist, which soon began to enfold within itself the ugly throng of evil spirits. It concealed them from my eyes before they could withdraw from us. Their bellowing and cackling was still heard for a long while, but according to how it gradually weakened in intensity and became more dull, I was able to judge that the terrible pursuit was gradually being left behind.

Based on these testimonies we cannot assume that we immediately enter into a place of serenity and beauty. 

We must be prepared to defend an account for all the time we missed the mark according to what we learned from Jesus.

Reflect on this struggle you will face. Will you be able to offer a good defense?

Monday, July 18, 2022

Death and Afterlife 15 - A Transition - A Crossover

After death the soul enters a new stage.

What we have learned so far about death is that at the moment of our death there is a struggle that takes place as the soul separates from the body. The soul is ever conscious and retains its character it had before death. As it separates from the body it now encounters a new condition. It crosses over to into a new realm. This means our soul will be entering an unknown territory.

We will need a guide?

This is all new so won’t we need a guide? Who will be there to guide us? if we have been faithful we will be guided by our guardian angel. It will give us support in this difficult transition and help us adjust to the spiritual realm. Our angel will lead us if we are willing to follow.

Do you know your guardian angel?

How do we know if it’s true that we have such an angel? Saint Gregory of Nyssa recorded that this reality has “credence from the Church fathers.’ They are “appointed by [God] to assist in everyone’s life. We read in Psalms, “The angels of the Lord encamp all around those who fear Him and delivers them” (Ps 34:7). And Paul’s speaks, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14)

Why do we need a guide?  

Saint John Chrysostom writes: “If we need a guide when moving from one city to another, much more the soul which has burst out of the flesh and is moving toward the life to come will need guides to lead it.  

Entering an unknown realm.

In this transition we are entering into a realm we do not know. So it’s only reasonable to assume a guide would be not just helpful but essential. We must remember our guardian angel every day.

Do you know your guardian angel?

A daily prayer included in the evening compline service: 

O Angel of Christ, my holy guardian and protector of my soul and body, forgive me all wherein I have sinned this day, and deliver me from all opposing evil of mine enemy, lest I anger my God by any sin. Pray for me, a sinful and unworthy servant, that thou mayest show me forth worthy of the kindness and mercy of the All-holy Trinity, and of the Mother of my Lord Jesus Christ, and of all the saints. Amen.


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Can we be trapped by our feeling of being religious?

What is the nature of Christian faith?

The Christian faith is a ‘path of life’. It’s a way that continues as long as people live, with no stops and no delays. It’s continual movement, parallel to our daily life and activities. Along this road we encounter an open world, full of changes and transformations, rife with surprises and unforeseen circumstances. This is why our sights should always be open, our range of view broad, and our field of vision wide. We almost never know what will befall us. We can never know what will happen to us when we take the next step. A new danger is always lurking and some change is always a possibility.

Why is this path filled with difficulties?

But this continuous march ...keeps Christians on the alert and ready for anything new; always prepared to meet the unexpected, the unforeseen. This is in keeping with human nature, which changes all the time. It’s also in keeping with things which constantly involve new situations. So the ‘path of life’ is human life itself, but as shown to the world by Christ with his presence among us.


Why can this be seen as a burden and become discouraging?

Life in the form of constant progress towards perfection fills them with fear, discourages them, makes them feel to be wayfarers and strangers. This truth has, in itself, become a weight for many people today, though it made the apostles and the faithful in the early centuries ready for every danger and persecution. They prefer the security of an earthly city to the expectation of the celestial one. 

Not those not on path

We’re not talking about those who are lost on the ocean of materialism. They’ve never known the beauty of the open sky, because they sank into the mire early on. 

It is those who have been trying to be religious.

We’re speaking of those who made a start and gave up somewhere along the way. 

The trap of relying on religious practices alone. 

…By observing external forms, they’ve changed the ‘path of life’ itself into a form, the sole aim of which is to protect their transitory life from changes dangerous to their fragile internal balance. In this way, faith becomes a means rather than our final end. Ultimately, this distorted faith, which is enveloped in a cloak of religiosity, is a snare which holds us fast and renders us unable to continue our march towards ‘Jerusalem above’.

We find this in the example of the Pharisees.

…where the ‘path of life’ of the true disciples of Christ is contrasted to the external religiosity of the Pharisees. The Lord cites three examples which show clearly the trap of religiosity, the transformation of progression into stagnation.

The first is how people pray, how they seek God’s mercy. 

Christ taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, the ‘Our Father’. It’s a short, comprehensive text which consciously avoids the long-windedness which was the norm at that time. It’s not only short, but new, as regards its content. Essentially, Christians are to ask God for two things: that his kingdom come and that their sins be forgiven. These are the two requests which are summed up in the short prayer ‘Lord have mercy’, which is a summary of the Patristic tradition.

Prayer is proper and effective only when it’s accompanied by forgiveness of those who’ve wronged us. This is something that seems simple and easy to apply, but in practice it isn’t, unless it is part of our everyday actions. Our prayer frequently consists of submitting to God a series of requests, from the reasonable to the most outrageous and absurd. Often it’s also a time of spiritual euphoria, a flight from the world and the bitterness that fills us. Prayer is a time and place where other people can’t bother us. This is how we usually handle it. And this is precisely where the trap lies: in transforming our prayer into something impractical, utopian, outside the daily changes in our life and, in particular, outside our relationships with others. 

The danger is the transformation of our living communion with God within our everyday reality into a religious practice cut off  from life. 

How to avoid this?

…by seeking forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, from those we’ve distressed, from those we’ve cut off from communion with us because of our hostility. Communion with God is proper and effective only after we’ve restored communion with other people, without asking whether they’re the ones to blame. Otherwise our prayer is just a Pharisaical, religious form…

The second example is fasting. 

By its nature, fasting is a practice that lends itself to the external satisfaction of human egotism and to a false sense of superiority over those who don’t fast. At the time of Christ, the Pharisees were distinguished from the other Jews precisely by the observation of the fasts. Not only did they fail to hide it, but they trumpeted it in order to underscore their superiority over others, their religious supremacy. Christ condemns this transformation of fasting from an instrument of vigilance to an end in itself, to self-promotion of the pious person and the bolstering of their individualism. 

What is proper fasting?

Fasting is a means of exercising self-control... But human vainglory altered it into a mere form and a means of self-aggrandizement and self-justification. Those who fall into the trap of religiosity transform fasting into promotion of the self, into an intervening wall separating their own piety from the impiety of the many. The history of the Church shows that it’s well aware of this danger. As early as the apostolic age, Saint Paul faced it, using words which are a continuation of those of Christ: ‘Those who fast should refrain from judging those who don’t; and those who don’t fast shouldn’t judge those who do’.

The third example is how easily we’re fooled and turn steady progress into stagnation and inactivity thinking we have received the treasure. . 

The question is: where is our treasure? This is where it becomes clear whether our Christianity is deeply-rooted. Because, as the Lord says, our heart is where our treasure is.

…The treasure is whatever we think is of value, whatever we ask God to give us, whatever we pursue with might and main. And often this isn’t the kingdom of God and its righteousness, but some purely secular benefit. …

What is the central issue of religiosity?

…In practice, people will do anything to prevent their treasure being affected. So they’ve developed theories about the usefulness of money, about the kudos of good Christians who have earthly goods, about Christian management of these goods and so on. And all of this so that they don’t lose their earthly treasure, that which they’ve substituted for God. They do everything possible to forge a link between their pure faith and their idolatry. They’re satisfied with artificial and pallid religiosity, provided their treasure’s safe.

These examples show how easy we can forget that we are on a continual journey.

How easily people forget the journey and instead dwell in a false and transitory present, thinking that, in this way, they’ll achieve security. But at the same time they show that, in the depths of their soul, they feel the need to keep in touch with God. Their inner dichotomy is expressed through the creation of a shallow religiosity which not only fails to solve the problem but actually intensifies it. It’s a pointless and futile effort to serve two masters at the same time, despite the Lord’s assertion that such a thing isn’t possible. False religiosity prevents them from seeing things clearly and binds them to a corner where they feel safe. But then, with the passage of time, they fall further and further behind the people of God who are on the move. They remain by themselves in the wilderness, weak and insecure.

Why must we never rest in our sincere effort to become united with God?

Christ says that if someone sets a hand to the plough and looks back, they won’t be accepted into the Kingdom of God. The meaning of this is simple. If you hear the call of God, you have to stop flirting with other things. You’re duty bound to continue moving forward with the Church, without hesitation and without becoming detached from the others. Otherwise you’ll soon find yourself outside the people of God and far removed from God himself. And you can’t stop; because if you do, you’ll be left behind and will become easy prey to enemies and egotism: you’ll submit to the passions, the vanity of material treasures and fake religiosity. And this artificial religiosity not only fails to save, but actually takes us away from salvation.

The trap of religiosity is that it observes the formalities and is self-centered

It’s perched above us at every moment, ready to tear us apart spiritually. This is why the Church calls us to constant vigilance. To spiritual watchfulness which keeps the spirit alert and the heart ready to react in a timely manner.

Vasileios Stoyiannos, Professor A.U.Th. and Civil Governor of Mount Athos