Come to Jesus Meeting

August 4, 2010

Where I’m from, we call uncomfortable confrontations a ‘Come to Jesus Meeting.’ I supposed this post will be in the spirit of that.

For the last year or year and a half, the Desert Calling webforum community has been mostly inactive and has, at last, shut down. I must admit that I was somewhat responsible for not keeping up with things in the community and did not help when I could have, and let hurt feelings get in the way of Christian brotherhood and community spirit. For my friends and acquaintances from DC, I want to offer a heartfelt apology: Forgive me, for I am a wretched sinner.  In addition to this, the blog site here never really “came together” or coalesced around an idea or direction. The group of contributors had great and grand ideas and, initially, a shared vision and purose; that is, to share the depths of the Orthodox Christian faith with others, to encourage those who had found themselves at the doorstep of the Church, and to share how our own lives had been changed by the Church.

The problem is, we were all newbies. When we started the blog we were two enthusiastic catechumens and one overly-zealous convert on whom the Holy Chrism was not yet dry. We knew in our heads all about the Church, and, true enough, that changed our perceptions of the world pretty vastly. But we, each one of us, was not truly changed as much as we thought. We discovered where our hearts were, and–quite understandably, given the exile from the heart which characterizes our society–stupidly believed we had been (past tense) changed. We failed to realize that the depths we were discovering were not even really the depths, but just the edges of the beach where the tides occasionally washed over our still very dry feet.

So while the idea may have been started with the best of intentions, while the goals were good and the purpose fine, the truth is we lacked what was necessary to finish the task we had set for ourselves and to make a good report of it.  And in many ways it hurt us spiritually (at least, it did me) to continue to work on something that 1) I was not qualified to do and 2) was getting tired of doing. As time wore on and we sought more “help” (from more newbies) things just got worse; there was a lack of unity, a lack of true brotherly feeling (which had so characterized the formation of DC and was the initial inspiration for this blog), and differences in approach and philosophy that could not be reconciled because so many of us (read: Justinian) were convinced that our approach and our philosophy were correct. Instead of acting to compliment one another, we acted to try to prove our “side.” This is not Orthodox, and it shames me to say that I have acted this way. Again, I ask forgiveness from all those whom I wronged whether intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly.

That being said, the question is what to do with the Desert Calling Blog. I have considered just letting it die; either deleting it or just abandoning it. After considering that I’ve decided that is probably not a great option. So what I propose to do is to keep the existing posts and simply change what the blog’s main focus will be. Many of the most popular posts here have been on reflections from the Desert Fathers…so future posts will be along those lines. A story or saying of the Desert Fathers and then some small, quick reflection or devotion about it. If you liked these sorts of posts here in the past, please let me know. If this is of no use to anyone, you can feel free to tell me that as well.

God be with all of you. Blessed fast!

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As someone who fancies himself an intellectual (which shows my own pride more than anything else), I recognize a jarring trend in what we might call the “convert expereince” in Eastern Orthodoxy. It seems that, Fr. Seraphim of Platina’s wishes aside, those coming to Holy Orthodoxy, by and large, are still the well-educated, thinking individuals that in a bygone era of American life would have been considered white-collar folk. Nevertheless, these persons, whatever their work-status, tend to be by current standards well educated. That is, they have been exposed to certain vistas of history, philosophy, psychology, etc, even if they do not possess a great understanding of them. So many of these people were raised in nominally ‘Christian’ households, have at some point had their beliefs challenged, and then, instead of giving up on faith, to their credit, they plunge into the history of Christendom and discover the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church and seek entry into her communion.

At this time in North America, there is serious debate going on (if not openly, then at least quietly in parish hall coffee hours and on internet discussion boards) about the nature and character of the Church as it exists on this continent. What is her role to be in the larger Orthodox world? In what language should her liturgy be served? Should there be a union of the jurisdictions belonging to SCOBA? These are serious questions, and demand a great deal of thought, energy, and, most importantly, prayer. But it is in this climate of self-examination which many of our intellectual converts are coming to the Church, carrying with them the (post-?) modern expectation that individual feelings, intuitions, and ideas are of value and worth. In this time of questions, these people come to the Church, having read numerous reports of financial misdeeds, clergy misconduct, etc, and they imagine that they “know how to deal with all this.” Of course, this is nothing but fallacious pride that would set the judgment of the individual mind over and above the 2000 year wisdom of the Mind of the Church, and, as such, is totally unacceptable.

This time of questioning in North America has bred something of a “perfect storm” scenario in this regard. Potential converts are arriving that have been raised in an ideological climate of entitlement, where their parents and society at large have put mirrors into their hands and taught them to worship the image seen therein. They cannot be wholly blamed for believing that they alone can refound and reshape the world; after all, they’ve been brought up on pithy quotes from major figures in history, and raised to believe that each and every one of us can be changers of history–one thinks of the self-esteem movements in public school education in the last 25 years that taught us, “You can be anything you want to be.” Of course this is a ridiculous lie; you cannot be anything you want to be–you can only be what God wants you to be. This is why each of us is given talents and abilities unique to our personhood; to deny that is to deny personhood, to deny the operative work of God in our lives, and, ultimately, to pursue the satanic course toward the rule of the self-will, rather than the rule of the divine will. All the same, these folks are showing up at the doors of the Church, just when the Church in this continent is having a mild identity crisis. No strangers to identity crises, these potential converts come to the Church “knowing” what she needs to do to solve her problems. They have many and inventive solutions; but the fact that few of them seem to agree ought to be proof enough that the Holy Spirit, which is always one of unity and love, is not at work in these imaginative cogitations.

At the same time, there seems to be a lack of understanding about what the catechetical process is supposed to do. While it does serve to provide people with basic theological knowledge about the Faith, that is not its primary purpose. The purpose of catechism is to kill off the “old” man, so that the new one may be reborn in the Church. A person who comes to the Church with a lifetime of ego-centric selfishness, especially one that continues to imagine that there is value in in their own self-worth, cannot be catechized and receive into the Church in anything less than a year. Acquiring the phronema, the Mind of the Church, takes a while. It is foreign to our selfishness and pride; being people so inured to selfishness and pride, we are quite resistant to the process of acquiring the Mind of the Church, and as such, it is my belief that many people are being received into the Church who are merely fascinated with some aspect of the idea of Orthodox Christianity, but are not truly doing the work to become Orthodox in the heart. What, then, can be done?

First, we have to stress to people who are coming to the doors of the Church seeking entry that catechism is not just a confirmation process. It isn’t a stamp of approval on you that says “you believe the right things about Christ our God, so you can now commune with His Church.” A merely psychological assent to certain doctrinal positions is not enough. To enter the Church, you have to come to her in humility–you have to admit that everything you were before you came to her was wrong. Even the things in your past that you previously thought of as right or good; it has to be understood that there was nothing good in your past, because it was outside the perfecting ability of the Holy Spirit working on you as a member of Christ’s own Body. Anything less is holding on to the passion of pride, and will just cause more grievous harm to the person once they are received into the Church.

Second, people coming to the Church have to want it, more than anything. They have to desperately want it–to the point that they are willing to throw everything in their lives, as they are, away for the Truth. I believe this to have much scriptural support in the Gospels, from the lips of Our Lord himself. You have to have the humility to learn from the Church what is correct; coming to her seeking entry, you should never presume to judge her. It is the Church of the Lord which will be a judgment on the world (and the angels as well, according to St. Paul). No matter what is happening at any time within her life, the Holy Spirit guides and directs her. She has survived more and deeper crises than this. Remember that once, long ago, the world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian. The Nicene Faith eventually won out, and Orthodoxy was preserved. So will it always be, if we are to believe the words of the Lord, “for the Gates of Hell shall never prevail against [my Church].” Talk of ecumenism, the calendar, styles of music, and the language of worship does nothing but advance the position that the gates of Hell are prevailing against the Truth of the Church. Inquirers and Catechumens must not, in any situation, give in to the temptation of discussing these matters–and many of us who are already in the Church should refrain from discussing them so freely.

In conclusion, the only way to come to the Church, and, indeed, the only way to find Orthodoxy in the heart, is to come to her admitting that we know nothing. That is how we must smash the mirrors of our narcissism and pride, and come to her in all Truth. All that there is in the world lust of the flesh and the pride of life, according to St. John. It is all vanity and vexation of the spirit. If you would come into communion with the True Church, the visible, living, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith, you must come to her in perfect submission and in all humility. For it takes nothing less than that to be willing to be taught by imperfect persons about a perfect thing. Those of us in the Church may not be shining examples of the Faith; we, too, are sinners working out our salvation in fear and trembling. No doubt, some of us will hear “Depart, I knew ye not” at the dread judgment of the Lord. But it is only here, inside Holy Orthodoxy, that you will find uncorrupt (and incorruptible) the faith unfeigned and a love unashamed.

Pax vobiscum+

What I’m “About”.

April 21, 2008

On our Myspace, someone requested our friendship and simply said: “Hey man, what are you about? Sounds intriguing.”

Let me tell you first what I’m not about.

I’m not about the modern expression of Christianity, little more than self-help seminars, visions of health, wealth and prosperity, and hedonism, all wrapped up in pretty walls and powerpoint presentations with a cacophony of modern music with a veneer — an idea — of what Christianity should be to the self-taught, undisciplined, prideful man.

I’m not about the idea of the Church being a place where you go simply to feel good on Sundays. I’m not about the idea of foolishly assuming that all we have to do is “believe” and we are eternally secure in salvation. I’m not about the idea of debasing the Christ, the Eternal Logos, ineffable in might and glory, to some “buddy” — I shudder at the thought.

I’m not about to think that God’s plan of salvation for man is entirely evident in what modern day Pastor Bob or Brother Jim has to say, nor do I think it can be found within our own biases, ideas, or assumptions. I’m not about asking “What is true to me”, I am about “what is true.”

To date, there are literally tens of thousands of ‘denominations’ expressing entirely contradictory views of Christianity. I’m not about to believe they are all true, as Christ says “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and the Apostle Paul said “let there be no divisions amongst you” to the Corinthians.

It began with One Church, it will end with One Church.

I’m not about to say that God is not going to save anyone outside of His Church, for God’s love is as an infinite ocean, and our sins are as a handful of dust in comparison — however both Biblical and secular history point towards One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church.

In Acts we find that the Church began at the feast of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, where God the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples according to His Divine Providence around 33 A.D. From the point, after Christ gave the world what the West knows as “The Great Commission”, these disciples went into the world, building the Church, Baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Three Persons, One God.

In a nutshell, as years passed the Church grew into larger proportions. The Apostles had formed Apostolic ‘Sees’, in 5 major places: Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople(modern Turkey) and Jerusalem. In 1054 AD in a tragic event known today as the Great Schism, the Roman Patriarchate broke away from the other Four, thus forming the Roman Catholic Church. This Schism is where things tragically began to go downhill…

After Rome split, they started the Crusades in 1095. In 1517, the Protestant Reformation began, and by this time of course the Roman Catholic Monk, Martin Luther, had started his church, then came the Church of England, so on and so forth. All these years later, so many churches exist, and given the state of this world everyone is free to open a building, name it what they wish, and preach whatever gospel people want to hear.

No matter what one may believe today, there is a church to fit their specific idea, when in truth they only worship themselves, their own egos, their own ideals and mentalities.

What I’m about, is in opposition to all off this. It is the established, recorded, faith which lacks nothing. It is the Church of the Apostles, of the Creed, of the Councils, the Faith which established the universe.

Orthodoxy.

The Faith undistorted, unchanging, unmoving, and unwavering.

It is the answer to the void we seek to fill with carnality, hedonism, materialism, money, pride, adornment of self and self-gain. It is the path trodden by the Saints and Apostles, as paved by the Cross, as watered by the blood of the radiant and victorious Martyrs. It is what we were all born to find, it is among the hardest things you will ever do, yet beyond compare more free and liberating than anything this world can offer.

It is the descent into one’s own heart, and the ascent into the Kingdom. It is the renewal of the Fall of Adam, communion with God, growing in Christ. It is dying to the world and death to the self, forsaking the “do what thou wilt” philosophy of our nihilistic age and embracing the call to “Take up your own cross, and follow Me” as we read of in the Scriptures.

It is forgetting what WE are about. It is saying, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives within me.”

It is the ancient way, the straight and narrow way, which few shall find and fewer shall walk. It is the careful and strong preservation of Spirit-given knowledge, which none can know, unless he is in the Spirit.

And what I’m about, is infinitely nothing in comparison. I am a sinner, and I am seeking to walk the Way.

… Whether or not this explanation was to the liking or disliking of this person, I cannot say. All I can hope is that I at least partially represented what Orthodoxy has come to mean to me personally.

A Lenten Prayer

April 15, 2008

O Lord, who am I that Thou shouldst feed me

On Thy precious and life-giving body,

Or give me to drink from Thine own holy veins?

I, deadened and hardened by the mire of my sins,

I, who have no repentance, nor still less any humility,

Even I, O Lord, Thou hast willed to be saved,

Through Thy life-creating passion, by Thy perfect humility.

Despise me not, Thou only Lover of Mankind, despise me not,

Though in my unworthiness I am but as the beast of the field,

Driven to and fro, hither and thither, by the ebbs and flows

Of the tides of lust and the winds of my haughty corruption.

Turn not away from me, My Savior and Redeemer, though I am afflicted

With such leprous spiritual disease! Save me, O Savior!

Humble me with the love of Thine own Holy Spirit,

And make known unto me the wisdom of Thy ways!

Forgive me, who am in no wise worthy of Thy forgiveness.

By the prayers of Thy most pure mother,

The Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,

May I be delivered from the pains of my many transgressions;

May the prayers of her who gave birth to Thee beyond mortal understanding

Deliver me from the dark damnation of Hell;

O Thou, Christ Jesus, Lord and master of all,

Have mercy on me, Thy unworthy servant, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

“Why do you fast?”

March 18, 2008

A boy once approached his father, ‘Old man, why do you fast?’

The father stood silent, bringing heart and mind together, and then:

‘Beloved boy, I fast to know what it is I lack.

For day by day I sit in abundance, and

all is well before me;

I want not, I suffer not, and I

lack but that for which I invent a need.

But my heart is empty of true joy,

filled, yet overflowing with dry waters.

There is no room left for love.

I have no needs, and so my needs are never met,

no longings, and so my desires are never fulfilled.

Where all the fruits of the earth could dwell, I have

filled the house with dust and clouds;

It is full, so I am content—

But it is empty, and so I weep.

 

‘Thus I fast, beloved, to know the

dust in which I dwell.

I take not from that which I might take,

for in its absence I am left empty,

and what is empty stands ready to be

filled.

I turn from what I love, for my love is barren,

and by it I curse the earth.

I turn from what I love, that I may purify my loving,

and move from curse to blessing.

 

‘From my abundance I turn to want,

as the soldier leaves the comfort of home,

of family and love,

to know the barrenness of war.

For it is only amongst the fight, in the

torture of loss, in the fire of battle,

that lies are lost and the blind man

clearly sees.

In hunger of body and mind, I see

the vanity of food,

for I have loved food as food,

and have never been fed.

In weary, waking vigil I see

the vanity of sleep,

for I have embraced sleep as desire,

and have never found rest.

In sorrow, with eyes of tears I see

the vanity of pleasure,

for I have treasured happiness above all,

and have never known joy.

 

‘I fast, beloved child, to crush the wall

that is my self;

For I am not who I am, just as these passions

are not treasures of gold but of clay.

I fast to die, for it is not the living who are

raised, but the dead.

I fast to crucify my desires, for He who was

crucified was He who lived,

and He who conquered,

and He who lives forever.’

 — Desert Fathers.

What we have…

March 17, 2008

Consider this…

Moses, who spoke with God through the burning bush, who removed his sandals on the ever-holy ground… who led the captives out of Egypt, who ascended the Mount and saw what can only be described in our frail human terminology and way of thought as the ‘back side’ of God… then descended with the Commandments… Moses, who by the power of God, parted the sea and freed the captives from Pharaoh.He did not have what we have.David, the Prophet, the King, who wrote most of the Psalter from which we chant and sing, who understood repentance and was considered the apple of God’s eye — David who slew Goliath, being exalted from a young shepherd boy, to Israel’s greatest King…

He did not have what we have.

King Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, who built the temple which held the Ark of the Covenant, who wrote the powerful Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes…

He did not have what we have.

John, the Baptist of the Lord, known to be the holiest man who walked the earth… who in shambles dared to touch the untouchable, in fear that he may be consumed as wheat to fire in touching God the Son! John who preached from the desert, sustaining himself only on honey on locusts, clothed in animal skins and very much dead to the world, who many believed to be the promised Messiah…

He did not have what we have.

Isaiah, the Fifth Evangelist, who saw the Lord seated high and lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died… Isaiah who felt contrition in a vision of the Lord, though he had seen the coming of divine worship, he still knew himself to be unclean. Isaiah, who was visited by the Seraphim with the burning coal, that glorious foreshadowing of the Divine Eucharist — the first to have heard “Behold, this has touched your lips…”

He did not have what we have.

Though these were undeniably holier than we, stop and consider — we have seen the fulfillment of the Promise. What Isaiah saw a foreshadowing of we have access to! Where Moses had to ascend in fear and trembling our God now descends! The path in which John preached to walk is manifest!

… How we must grieve the Lord, that we take our faith so casually.

How we must grieve Him that in the Old Testament, the days of waiting and expectation, there were those holy enough to look upon the Chalice with true, undeniable piety… reverence… Godly fear… and tears. How often we approach the Chalice with indifference, and hardened hearts, and mindlessly attend the Divine Liturgy which so many righteous died waiting for, without even knowing of it’s future revelation.

How would these Saints and righteous ones have approached the Chalice? How would they have stood within the beauty of the New Israel, God’s Church? In fear, in awe, in extreme piety and devotion, in ways that we would possibly never even come to understand… these Saints who lived before the God-man, before the Promise of Salvation had been completely made manifest, even as a Child to a Virgin. I must stop for a moment and consider Moses, how would he respond to that call, “with faith and with love come forward”? Would he be able to move at all? Would he tremble in fear, rejoice in tears and thanksgiving? That we can’t say for sure…

… but consider, if he and the others were to watch us in our stoicism, in our inattentiveness, and our hardness of heart, as we check our watches and shift our weight and worry for comfort… they would rend their garments, and sprinkle ashes on themselves. How easily we take it all for granted! We stand within the Church of Acts, of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Church of Pentecost, of the radiant and victorious martyrs! The faith which established the universe is ours!

How much do we give, how much do we strive, how much do we hurt, how much do we show that we want it? Do you know the difference between a man and a Saint? Effort. God has revealed to us the Church and the Sacraments, and the power in which His grace can turn us from men into angels… we have so much more than the Old Testament Saints. We stand on holier ground, we are beyond compare richer, we have the complete fulfillment of prophecy and vision…

… but we simply, lack, the effort.

May God visit us during this time of struggle and preparation, that when the Royal Doors are once again opened, and the King of all is invisibly escorted in… we may remember our immense blessings. May we turn from Pharisaical hypocrisy, false struggle, vanity, pride, selfishness, delusion, hardness of heart, and embrace humility, patience, understanding, and the wisdom which God offers to those who seek after it. May we take it upon ourselves to break ourselves from laxity and comfort, to free ourselves from the delusion of “freedom” and become a slave in Christ, that we may finally understand what freedom truly is…

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I have lived my life wantonly on earth and have delivered my soul unto darkness. But now I implore Thee, O merciful Lord, free me from this work of the enemy and give me the knowledge to do Thy will.Who doeth such things as I do? For just as a swine lying in the mud, so do I serve sin. But do Thou, O Lord, pull me out of this vileness and give me the heart to do Thy commandments.

Rise, wretched man, to God and, remembering your sins, fall down before thy Creator, weeping and groaning, for He is merciful and will grant thee to know His will. — from the Canon of Repentance

As the Fast begins with all its intensity during Clean Week, it becomes harder and harder for me to fast from sins–sometimes feeling even harder than following the rule of xerophagy. And, for a self-professed “foodie,” that’s saying something. Nevertheless, I find myself beset by all my passionate attachments; it seems that as I exert a little extra willpower to silence the voice that says “eat eat eat,” I allow the passions of lust, pride,wrath, and sloth room to expand their influence. This, the second day of the Fast–along with the failures and setbacks already experienced yesterday evening and this morning–serves to teach me that, once again, I’m going about it the wrong way. I cannot stop myself from sinning; my own will is insufficient to the task of silencing all the passions at once. I can do nothing on my own–I can only conquer through Christ, through submission to His will. My sinful soul has desired all the things of this world: power, pleasure, dominance, leisure. If my treasure remains there, my heart cannot be in the Kingdom. I have to stop wanting, and learn to let it be Christ that liveth in me, so that I no longer live.

Can this be learned, though? Isn’t the language of “learning” the spiritual practice, the spiritual disciplines, insufficient to grasp the true meaning of theosis? And what about those conflicting desires? I want the Kingdom, but am I truly this unwilling to do the work?

The experience of the Great Fast teaches us a lot about ourselves, every year. We shine just the tiniest, most minuscule fragment of the light upon the darkness with which we have covered over our souls, and we see just how incomprehensible true being–that is, being in communion with God–really is.

O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk; ++
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. ++
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my
own transgressions and not to judge
my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. ++ Amen.

+ Pax vobiscum.

Yesterday’s epistle lectionary called for the reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, 12th chapter:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses to the faith that we have inherited from the Fathers–and these witnesses are the saints of the Church. There are so many saints that have gone before us, it is impossible to know them all. Sure, there are some that we all know, like St. George, St. Nicholas, or St. Patrick, but one of the amazing things to me are all the lesser-known saints of the Church. For example, the calendar today says that we commemorate St. Kessog. The hymnography tells us very little about him:

Troparion of St Kessog Tone 6

Thy life was resplendent with miracles, O Hierarch Kessog,
and as thou didst devote thy life to missionary labours,
teach us the way to devote our lives to the service of the Church
that Christ our God will have mercy on our souls.

Kontakion of St Kessog Tone 4

That God is not served by idleness is the message of thy life, O Wonderworker Kessog.
For thy ceaseless efforts thou art rewarded in heaven
and this day art praised by the Lord’s lazy and most unprofitable servants.

From this we learn that he was a wonder-worker and a missionary. A quick google search reveals that he was considered the patron saint of Scotland before St. Andrew. He was apparently killed in the year 520, but there are no details as to the manner of his death. And yet, even with so little known about him or his life, St. Kessog, the blessed wonder-worker and holy heirarch of Scotland, does not stop interceding for us.

This fact is an amazing blessing, that even if we, the members of the Body of Christ who are running the race toward the goal of union with Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, forget almost all about a saint, even one as holy as a wonder-worker, they still are there interceding on our behalf before the throne of God. The hymnography for St. Kessog also bears looking at as it asks him to intercede for us, the lazy and unprofitable servants–on Clean Monday.

Holy Hierarch Kessog, Wonder-worker of Scotland, pray to God for the salvation of our souls!

+Pax vobiscum

Forgive me.

March 9, 2008

In so many ways I have sinned against you all, against God, against my neighbor, against my family, my Church, my soul. Were the souls of us all laid upon my shoulders I would’ve dragged us all to hell many times over, and I apologize from the depths of my heart for the many ways I’ve fallen short. Forgive me, if not for the good of my own wretched soul, for the good of your own, that the Lord have have mercy on you and forgive you also. God forgives.

Today the Royal Doors have been closed, a reminder that through the guilt of Adam’s sin death has entered into the world and paradise has been shut… not to chastise, not to punish, but as a sign of ineffable mercy. Knowing that we have shared in Adam’s sin, knowing that we have wasted our lives as the Prodigal, knowing that we have denied Him more than Peter, and betrayed Him more than Judas… knowing that we have loved ourselves more than Him and have even at times entertained the thought that we are somehow ‘righteous’, let us enter into the great humility of the Fast that we may be found worthy of paradise, when the Doors are once again opened, as Christ has Risen. Let us endure this time of abstinence that we may be satisfied, let us be slaves in Christ that we may experience His freedom, let us strive for penitence, silence, peace as we run from sin, that we may be found rejoicing on His Resurrection rather than unmoved, unchanged, stoic and lifeless.

It’s worth it to leave the table before being satisfied. It’s worth it to turn off that TV awhile and turn away from the computer screen. It’s worth it to go for a short walk or drive if only to experience peace and silence. It’s worth it to avert your eyes from sinful entertainments, avert your ears from gossip, and avert your mouth from slander… for as St. John the Chrysostom said, is any man fasting? Let him prove it by his works… for what does it mean if we’re fasting if we devour our brother?

There is a whole. There is a completion. It’s one thing to abstain from meat and dairy… it’s one thing to run from the occasions of sin… it’s one thing to increase in spiritual readings and decrease in sensory pleasures, but consider this; he who does the least of the expectation is an abomination. Don’t try to skim by with the minimal expectation — commit violence to yourself, to your passions. Give until it hurts a little. Silently endure accusation. Attentively pray. Wholeheartedly give alms of time, patience and love. Practice humility. Bear your cross and receive the crown, and treasure the grace awaiting you… please, for the love of God and His holy Mother, treasure it. Don’t give it up so easily, as a moment in grace, a second in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, is beyond compare more precious than a lifetime of hedonism.

Let us remember the holy Martyrs who endured the horrors of pain and torture, in our efforts to abstain from bodily, sensory pleasures. Let us remember the example of the Forerunner in the desert, before we go for “just a little more on the plate.” Let us remember, above all, the Passion of Christ, God the Son, Who endured humanity for us, humility, pain beyond pain, even Crucifixion, to make us free… before we cut ourselves some slack, before we decide we’re too good for the Fast, before we give in to the passions or entertain demons…

Let this be the season where we recognize ourselves as Orthodox Christians, and let this be the season where others can see Christ within us. Show your worth. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, if you ignore the Fast you aren’t an Orthodox Christian… no matter what you think you may be.

+ Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Forgive me brothers and sisters.

The Value of Tears

March 6, 2008

Justinian recently posted a blog entitled The Value of Tears over on his blog. Here we will post the blog in its entirety:

I’ll start this post with a profound confession: I can’t remember the last time I cried.

This really troubles me, and did long before I became Orthodox. I simply don’t emote this way, and this is probably a result of childhood conditioning. My father, God bless him, didn’t believe that boys should ever be seen crying, and so anytime I did cry as a kid, I got his infamous stare of displeasure. Over the years, I suppose, I really internalized this to a new level. I emote, sometimes very strongly, but my emotions usually come pouring out in my writing. Since, however, I gave up my poetic idolatry in the last year, I’ve been even more disturbed. I half-way expected that, once my substitutionary outlet was removed, without another outlet, surely tears would come.

They have not.

I say all this with the fact that I am very mindful of the value of tears in our Orthodox tradition. Quotes abound from the Fathers about them being the fruits of genuine repentance. St. Isaac the Syrian even has this to say about weeping:

The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears. When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path which leads toward the new Age. Your spirit begins at this moment to breathe the wonderful air which is there, and it starts to shed tears, The moment of birth of the spiritual child is now at hand, and the travail of childbirth becomes intense. Grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, God’s image, bringing it forth into the light of the Age to come. And when the time for the birth has arrived, the intellect begins to sense something of the things of that other world–as a faint perfume, or as the breath of life which a new-born child receives into its bodily frame. But we are not accustomed to such an experience and, finding it hard to endure, our body is suddenly overcome by a weeping mingled with joy.

Where does this leave me? Certainly, I have felt deep sorrow over my sins; certainly I have sat in prayer, reciting the Canon of Repentance, the 50th Psalm, and praying with my own words that Christ would help me achieve this repentance–that the Theotokos would visit my ailing soul and show me the path to true metanoia.

And yet, no tears.

The Fathers say that man who cannot weep cannot be saved. This thought terrifies me, and I can’t help wondering if my inability to get beyond the merely psychological realm of belief–which is shallow, hollow, and no-where near the goal of theosis–isn’t somehow connected here.

O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.

Pax vobiscum+

Click here to visit his blog and here for his Desert Calling profile… welcome him, also, as the newest writer for DC. Many years, Justinian!