Sunday, February 26, 2023

Do you have difficulty hearing God’s voice? — Our Conscience


Can you hear the voice of God, and if you can are you sure it is really His voice? If you have this difficulty you are not alone. Most Christians have difficulty  distinguishing between soul and Spirit. This makes it easy to confuse the voice of God with your imagination, feelings and emotions and become easily deluded, falsely thinking you hear His voice. When His voice is not clear you are acting only out of your pride filled will. Because your aim is to be united with God and do His will, you need to hear His voice and be sure it is the authentic voice of God guiding you. You cannot allow your will to be misdirected. It is easy to become accustomed to relying on your emotions, feelings or thoughts from your imagination instead of God’s authentic voice. 

God speaks to us through our conscience. This is the key to hearing God’s true voice,

Saint Dorotheus of Gaza tells us:

When God created man, He breathed into him something divine…which showed him the difference between right and wrong. This is called the conscience which is the law of nature.

Saint Theophan the Recluse tells us, 

The conscience has a voice of God that tells us what is right and wrong, what pleases or displeases God, what we should or should not do. It’s the legislator, judge and executor, the voice of God. Conscience is how God attempts to rule the soul through the Holy Spirit.…Conscience is a great thing. It is the voice of an omnipresent God in the soul. He who is in the world with conscience is also in the world with God.

Hearing the voice of God speaking in our conscience is a high virtue. His voice is always there, but we don’t always hear it. When we ignore conscience for a period of time it becomes silent. This discernment is difficult due to our fallen nature where our soul is consumed with worldly worries and duties. We are not aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We live immersed is a society lacking reference to Spirit. We are oriented toward worldly things, not spiritual ones. Our soul is working on its own, self-directing the actions of our body.

Saint Theophan the Recluse describes the soul like this:

The soul is

entirely directed towards the ordering of our worldly existence, our earthly one…the soul’s knowledge is built only on the basis of that which is gained through experience from life around us. The activity of the soul is directed towards the fulfillment of the demands of temporal life.

Since the soul’s work is ordering our worldly existence, when it acts separated from God this is serious. Without higher spiritual direction we are not capable of following what God intends for us. It”s important that we hear His voice clearly and accurately. God created the soul so He could work through us to do His will. It needs direction from above, from God, so we will to do His will. Without recognizing God’s voice we are only fulfilling our own desires.


Since our aim is to become united with God, we must listen to His voice. We also need a pure will to follow what we hear. We cannot be confused by our feelings and emotions or thoughts from our imagination. This is a struggle all Christians face.

We need to engage in spiritual exercises like Saint Paul so our conscience is clear: 

“And in this do I always exercise myself, to have a conscience clear of offense towards God and toward men.” (Acts 24:16)

These exercises are all part of what we call an Orthodox way of life. This involves daily prayer, fasting, regular participation in worship services and sacraments, reading Scripture and the lives of saints daily. As you engage in these practices as recommended by the Church, you will naturally find the voice of your conscience getting louder and louder. You will will also become stronger.

In one way it’s simple. For example, when we feel God calling us to confession, don’t procrastinate. Just do it! Exercise your will congruent with that inner voice. When you follow the voice of God you will only discover joy and true freedom.

Note of caution: If you ever think God is telling you to do something that is not consistent with what you have learned through the Scriptures, be sure to first discuss this with your spiritual father. Do the same if it will involve a major change in your life. He can help you discern if what you experience is the authentic voice of God.


The Spiritual Life, p 277 St Theophan the Recluse

Homily on the Conscience by St Dorotheus of Gaza

Booklet: Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Saturday, February 18, 2023

What is Real - Lessons from Narnia

Why does it seem so difficult to accept all we are told about our Orthodox faith? The difficulty lies in our understanding of the nature of reality. What is real? To embrace the realm of the divine we need clarity on this question. Is God a thing? Or, is God something formed in each persons mind? Is heaven a part of imagination? For Christians none of these are appropriate. God is not part of things of this world. He is other. God is not subjective based on a personal view, He is absolute. He is as Scripture says, the foundation of reality, the Creator of what we commonly think of reality. Heaven is real, not imaginary. Reality is much larger than what we normally experience. 

Living and being brought up in this world we have developed an idea about what is real versus what is imaginary. We know our home and our feelings are real and that fairytales are not real. These fixed notions about what is real lead to thinking that blocks our ability to see the larger reality. We remain stuck trying to understand God based on the physical, psychological and philosophical realties grounded in this world. God is in another world so to speak, beyond what we see as the world. But His is as real as everything of this world. He is the Creator of all things. His kingdom includes our world but also the heavenly realm. 


C. S. Lewis a twentieth century writer and Christian apologist has penned many stories in an attempt to help us see this bigger reality. He is the author on the well known Narnia Chronicles. This is a fictional story about children who mystically enter into another world. In the second book of the Narnia Chronicles, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy, the youngest, had an experience of entering into Narnia, another world. She had many encounters that could not be easily explained by our worldly thinking (She is analogous to the enlightened saints like Saint Paul who were taken up to heaven or the Apostles who bore witness to the life of Christ). When she returned from Narnia, the others would not believe her story which included such unknown things like witches and talking animals. To them it sounded like pure fantasy, make believe. They thought she was making this up, lying or had simply gone mad.

Think of her experience as analogous to a Gospel writer who has seen Christ, witnessed His miracles, his death and resurrection. They were told that He was both man and God, born of a virgin whom they also knew. How were others going to understand what they witnessed?  Can you see the underlying point C S Lewis is making in his story about Narnia? The Apostles, like Lucy, had an experience of a reality greater than one’s normal view and they were called to share it with the whole world. How would others accept it?

Lewis helps us see a way to overcome the issue the children were having with Lucy’s tale that is applicable for those who have a similar issue with the story recorded by the Apostles. Like the Apostles, Lucy’s story did not fit the experience of the other three children and she was seen to be either mad or lying. Respecting Lucy, but not believing her, they took their situation to an old professor for guidance (He may be seen like a spiritual father in our Orthodox life.). The professor engages with them about Lucy’s story. Being detached and using logic he points out that Lucy must be either lying, mad, or telling the truth. They all agree that she is not a lier by nature, nor is she mad. Therefore the professor concludes, she must be telling the truth. Seeing that Lucy must be telling the truth about her experience in another world, the other three children have their minds opened to the possibility that there may be a greater reality of things unseen or unheard of by them. For many of us this is what we must do as well, open our mind to a reality larger than what we have experienced.

This is the main aim of the stories C S Lewis presents to us. Through fiction he wants to open our minds to the possibility of a greater realty. The life of Christ is a story, a lived story. It is filled with events that cannot be explained by the normal occurrences in our daily lives. Through His Apostles we learn about a heavenly realm that is beyond understanding of a worldly person.  In Lewis’ Chronicles we see the main characters living in the worldly reality as students. They then enter mystically into another world of Narnia where reality is quite different, even the nature of time. They encounter a Christ like figure in a lion named Aslan and then return back to their worldly reality with minds now expanded.

When you read his fiction your imaginative mind is expanded. He wants you to learn to consider the reality something greater than things observed in this world. In reading a story of fantasy our minds are not examining it in a critical thinking way. We accept the story as presented. Like the children in Lewis’ fantasy, the Apostles were witnesses to a story that doesn’t fit the normal way things are seen to behave. They experienced a man who is also God. Existing from before time He was born as man of a virgin, both fully God and man. He performs miraculous acts of healing. He demonstrates a virtuous way of life. He is unjustly convicted and crucified by those who could not believe who He was. He then comes back to life with a spiritualized body. Then, after teaching these select men, He bodily ascends into heaven. Shortly thereafter sends to them the Holy Spirit transforming them sending them out to establish communities where anyone can come to experience a greater divine realty.

Like the tales of Narnia were to the children, the story about Jesus Christ is hard for many to believe in full. To believe we must follow the guidance of the old philosopher and ask: Were the Apostles the kind of people who lied and made up such tales, or, were they known to be mentally unstable? We know that these Gospel writers had no motivation to lie and fabricate such a story, nor were they mad men. They must have been telling the truth about what they had seen in the best way they could. 

Once we accept that the Gospels are truth then we can read their stories with a mind open to greater possibilities, embracing realms greater than what we may have observed. In this way we can discover the full truth of our own reality. Lewis says this Christian story is similar to the mythical stories of ancient gods. The difference is that this one is true. It is a lived story told to us by eyewitnesses.

The dilemma many face in the Gospel story is much like that of the four children in the story posed by C S Lewis. He is showing us that the biggest challenge in our spiritual quest to be united with God is one of expanding our understanding of reality. We may be freed from the limits we have created in our minds.

Saint Theophan emphasizes the importance of this in his book, Path to Salvation. As a key part of our spiritual path he directs us to develop a spiritual vision. A vision that includes a higher kingdom where God our creator sits on the high throne surrounded by angels. This is a realm where we’re are destined to live an eternal life.

He writes:

The entire structure of the spiritual, invisible, mental, but nonetheless real world can be briefly expressed this way: “God is One, worshipped 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 the Holy Spirit, active in the Holy Church, which, having perfected the faithful, transports them to another world. This 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 of all (cf. 1Cor. 15:28).

“Strive to enter the temple within yourself, and you will see the heavenly temple,” says St, Isaac the Syrian. And truly, whoever goes within himself sees a certain other world similar to the temple that is uncircumscribable, invisible and indescribable.

The path to paradise begins when we believe, when we embrace this vision of a greater world. This accepting the Gospel story as truth will lead one to receiving God’s grace. This experience will give you unwavering faith.


C. S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” 

Saint Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Thirsting for God - Lesson from Psalm 62 (63)

How intense is our desire to be with God? Consider King David. When he was alone he cried out that his soul thirsted for God like one who was dying of thirst where there is no apparent way to satisfy this thirst. He struggled in prayer to God and meditated on Him day and night. He had a strong faith, believing that his strength and being came from God. It was Him only that could help and shelter him. We too must struggle in prayer when we feel separated from God.

1 A psalm by David, when he was in the desert of Judea. 

2 O God, my God, I rise early to be with You;

My soul thirsts for You.

How often my flesh thirsts for You

In a desolate, impassable, and waterless land.

So, what did he do? He affirmed his faith. He recognized that in the temple he was able to see His power and glory. He then praised Him. He never gave up. Instead he offered praise of God who had seemed to abandon him in this situation. This is why it is so important to attend the liturgy each Sunday and participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the sacraments we are united with God.

3 So in the holy place I appear before You,

To see Your power and Your glory.

4 Because Your mercy is better than life,

My lips shall praise You.

5 Thus I will bless You in my life;

I will lift up my hands in Your name.

6 May my soul be filled, as if with marrow and fatness,

And my mouth shall sing praise to You with lips filled with rejoicing.

7 If I remembered You on my bed,

I meditated on You at daybreak;

8 For You are my helper,

And in the shelter of Your wings I will greatly rejoice.

9 My soul follows close behind You;

Your right hand takes hold of me.

David did not waver in his faith, even when threatened with forces or circumstances that appeared to take his soul. For us these forces can be experienced in the norms of or current society. They can draw us away from God’s teachings. Social pressures and the rewards promised creat strong forces. We are tempted to give in, giving up the health of out soul, just to fit in, to be successful in the terms of our worldly standards. It is in this way that we can easily find ourselves separated from God.

10 But they seek for my soul in vain;

They shall go into the lowest parts of the earth.

11 They shall be given over to the edge of the sword;

They shall be a portion for foxes.

In David’s resolute faith he is able to overcome these forces that threaten to separate him from God. He teaches us to stand firm in our faith, to always struggle against the forces that will lead us to follow standards that are less than those God gives us. By Keeping God always in the forefront of our mind, praising Him, thanking Him for everything, these voices we constantly hear from friends, relatives, co-workers and teachers can and will be overcome

12 But the king shall be glad in God;

All who swear by Him shall be praised,

For the mouth that speaks unrighteous things is stopped.

W must be ever aware of our need to be valued by others, our self-centeredness, our need to be loved by others. This self-focus leads us to pretend to be someone we are not. It’s like we put on a mask, create a false persona, thinking our true self is ugly, less worthy. Only when we allow our soul to shine forth, to discard any mask we may have created for ourselves, we find a unity with God. This is how we can overcome our feeling of separateness from Him. This is how our “thirst in a dry land” can be satisfied.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Hopeful Attentiveness - Lesson from Psalm 61 (62)

Spiritually seek the condition where your soul is ever attentive to the will of God, aware of His love for us, and with the aim to be perfected in His image.  In Psalm 61 (62) David prays that his soul be submissive to God, because he knows that this necessary for our salvation. He recognizes God as his savior and protector. He realizes that with his firm faith all the trials and tribulations he faces will be overcome. This is what we too are to seek. We need a soul that is attentive to the will of God if we have the hope of following Him and being united with Him in eternal life.

1 For the End, for Jeduthun; a psalm by David.
2 Shall not my soul be submissive to God?
For from Him is my salvation.
3 For He is my God and my savior,
My protector; I shall be shaken no more.
David also wonders how long he will have to struggle. For us this struggle is an everyday issue. We must resist the norms of our current worldly society. Following worldly advice we can damage and even kill the soul in us. We will be praised for accomplishments that have nothing to do with our salvation. We may begin to think these achievements are what is most important, forgetting the commandments that God has laid down for us. This attack will continue throughout our life. We must learn to be attentive.
4 How long will you attack a man?
All of you murder him;
You attack him as you would a leaning wall and a broken hedge.
5 They also planned to remove my honor;
They ran with a lie;
They blessed with their mouth, and they cursed with their heart. (Pause)
David begs that his soul be submissive to God. What God can give us is patient endurance. This can come through prayer, participation in the sacraments, understanding God’s teaching and following the guidelines of His Church. In this way we will receive grace to necessary to endure the many misleading forces we encounter. 
6 However, be submissive to God, O my soul,
For my patient endurance is from Him.
This begins by recognizing the Truth that it is God who can save us. It is through His power that we can resist the worldly temptations, and become able to resist norms that go against what God desires. With unwavering faith we can protect our soul. God in His love can protect us and give us the necessary strength to overcome all the temptations of this worldly life.
7 For He is my God and my savior,
My protector; I shall never be moved.
8 In God is my salvation and my glory;
He is the God of my help, and my hope is in God.
9 Hope in Him, all you congregation of people;
Pour out your hearts before Him;
God is our helper. (Pause)
Beware of those who do not share your faith. Beware of what others tell you is important for your success. Beware of self-help programs devoid of faith. Beware of all forces that try to get you to conform to the wiles of this world.
10 But the sons of men are useless;
The sons of men are liars with the yokes of wrongdoing;
They are altogether useless.
11 Do not hope in wrongdoing,
And do not hunger for booty;
If riches flow in,
Do not set your heart on them.
Remember always that God is unconditional love and all merciful. No matter how many times we fall because of the numerous temptations we will face in this life, he is waiting for our repentance with open arms, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son. From the time of our baptism God is in us. His power is ours if we are willing to seek it. In the end we will be judged based on how well we have used our free will, how well we were able to follow what He created us to be and do. Draw on His strength to follow Him alone! In this way you will be saved.
12 God spoke once;
I heard these two things:
13 That power is of God, and to You, O Lord, is mercy;
For You will repay every man according to his works.
It is necessary for us to stay on a path where we are ever searching for God’s direction. We must be patient and careful waiting for Him to act within us. If we continually are looking for salvation, for eternal life united with Him, we will find the peace we seek, a peace that cannot be found following worldly wisdom. Human power and wealth have no significance unless it is united with the will of God.

Because of our weakness, our need for affirmation of others, our self centeredness, the path we must endure is very difficult. The key is to continually struggle, improving bit by bit, and calling on the Holy Spirt to help us in all things. Develop a regular prayer lie, participate regularly in the sacraments of the Church, read a little Scripture everyday along with the writings of the Church fathers, seek fellowship among those who share your faith, and avoid others who have little regard for Scriptural teachings. 

Following a way of life prescribed by our Orthodox Church your soul will be continually nurtured. You will grow spiritually. This is the path toward salvation that God has blessed us with. Follow it!