“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.

In considering that Sunday marked the anniversary of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which reaffirmed the Faith of the Fathers of the previous six councils of the Church, and returned the holy icons to the churches against the heresy of iconoclasm, I’ve been thinking about the wider implications for the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Church teaches that we humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and that our sole reason for existence is to grow in that image and likeness, becoming more and more like what He is (in his Energies, as we can never comprehend the unknowable Essence of God).  This is a high calling, and one that is completely impossible for mankind after the Fall; this is why we need the redemptive saving of Christ, to restore for us the way of communion with God, through the denial of our selves and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, imparted to us by the Mysteries of the Church.  It should be pointed out here that the Greek word for image is ikon–we are called to be icons of God.   It only makes sense, then, that our temples should be adorned with the icons of those who have succeed  in this task–those in whom the Triumph of Orthodoxy has been written on their hearts, lived out in their flesh.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for any Saint of the Church, for those we know and those we have forgotten.  Primarily, this is because I cannot foresee this process of sanctification, the achievement of theosis, ever becoming a reality in me.  I am the weakest willed, most sinful, most hypocritical ‘Christian’ of which I know.  So, while I proclaim the triumph of the return of the holy icons, I lament that Orthodoxy has not yet flowered to triumph in my soul.  I can only blame myself, as I, the burdened sinner always flee from the Good.

May the prayers of our Holy Fathers, especially of St. Anthony the Great, lead us into the richness of the kingdom, and help us to restore in our souls the image of the indescribable God.

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!

Prayer.

March 5, 2008

Oh that I was ever worth the suffering on the Cross…

The diadem of wicked thorns pressed wickedly into the head of the Son of man, the bitter sponge of which He tasted, the piercing spear, the mockery of those who looked upon the Christ as though He deserved to be crucified amongst thieves…

The spit upon His gentle face, the agony of hanging between life and death for hours, spikes driven into His hands and feet. O Son of God, betrayed insidiously with a betrayer’s kiss and sold for a slaves wages, how long will Your patience endure? With longsuffering You found the very ones who hung You on a cross worthy of salvation. By Your blood You see us not according to our iniquities, but according to Your infinite goodness. By our death and burial in the watery grave are we resurrected in Your likeness, leaving the world behind us, and the Cross before us.

You have given us a cross, grant O Lord that we may bear it as You did. You have shown us the path before us, grant O Lord that we may walk it with repentance. You have given us life, grant O Lord that it isn’t wasted in vain pursuits but according to Your glory. You have given us the eyes of faith, grant O Lord that we may never cheapen our vision with earthly things. You have given us our hearts, grant O Lord that they may become contrite and humble. You have given us a sound mind, grant O Lord that they’re not enticed by the delusions of the adversary. You have given us a new day, grant O Lord that we remember You always. You have given us truth, grant O Lord that our discernment is spiritual.

Teach me to hope, to believe, to pray, to forgive, to suffer, to learn. Open my eyes to wisdom, but not of that which is worldly knowing that it is foolishness of God, but to that which is profitable unto my soul. Open my heart to humility and patience, that like rain the virtues may nourish my spirit and provide fruits in abundance for the Kingdom. Grant, O Lord, that there is less of myself, and more of You.

Set my feet on the path before me and do not suffer me to fall into the snares of the devil. Grant, O Lord, that I may have patience and endurance for all which lies ahead of me, and when I sin, that my repentance may be sincere, heartfelt, and with tears — For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

On self-crucifixion…

March 4, 2008

“Let us not, who would be Christians, expect anything else from it than to be crucified. For to be a Christian is to be crucified, in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. His life is the example–and warning–to us all. We must be crucified personally, mystically; for through crucifixion is the only path to resurrection. If we would rise with Christ, we must first be humbled with Him–even to the ultimate humiliation, being devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world.

“And we must be crucified outwardly, in the eyes of the world; for Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, and the world cannot bear it, even in a single representation of it, even for a single moment. The world can only accept Antichrist, now or at anytime.

“No wonder, then, that it is so hard to be Christian–it is not hard it is impossible. No one can knowingly accept a way of life which, the more truly it is lived, leads more surely to one’s own destruction. And that is way we constantly rebel, try to make life easier, try to be half-Christian, try to make the best of both worlds. We must ultimately choose–our felicity lies in one world or the other, not in both.

“God give is the strength to pursue the path of crucifixion; there is not other way to be Christian.”

— Blessed Father Seraphim Rose of Platina, Heiromonk

Father Seraphim, our voice ringing harmoniously with the earliest Fathers, provides a blatant and soul-striking glimpse into what Christianity truly is. In these ecumenist, modern days of faithless and weakened Christianity, we have a voice from the spiritual desert calling us, still, to dying to the world. Blessed Father Seraphim Rose exhorts us to crucify ourselves and our passions, be humble, even to the point of ridicule, in the eyes of the world, and in accord with his Patron Saint Seraphim of Sarov, he teaches that holiness isn’t in doing good deeds, holiness isn’t in almsgiving, holiness isn’t in ‘being a good person’, holiness is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which leads to all good things. And how, one may ask, is the Spirit acquired? Putting on Christ. In death to yourself and to the world, in the watery, mystical burial, in the resurrection and the life, followed by holy chrismation, and walking the ever-so-narrow path of the wearied, God-pleasing Saints before us. We have been spoonfed by self-appointed teachers from modern and dead theological academies that Christianity is believing in Jesus. Your get out of hell free card lies in spending a couple of hours in church, reading your Bible a bit, having a little faith, saying a sinners prayer at an ‘altar’, which nowadays is the equivalent of a stage.

When asking, “How does one follow Christ?” You again get taken back to doing good deeds and having trust in God, but this is nothing. We so eagerly ignore the words of the Christ, God the Son, when He says “follow Me”. We add our own interpretation. His interpretation, Scripturally, is “Pick up your own cross, deny yourself, and follow Me.” How willing are we to deny ourselves? How heavy are our crosses? How strong is our faith? How often do we seek esteem from modern society, run by television, money and music? What is it if a man gains the entire world and loses his own soul? What is a little over half a century on earth denying yourself for the sake of Christ in comparison with an eternity in the presence of our glorious and exalted God?

As it is written… when Christ returns, will there be faith left in the world? As it is written… the hearts of many have grown cold. And many are being deceived. Let us expect nothing more out of Christianity than to be crucified, therein is life. Flee from the health and wealth gospel, this life has been given to you for repentance. Paradise is within our reach, but how far will we stretch our arms? Let us look to the example of the outstretched arms of Christ, the King of Glory, as He painfully, and shamefully endured the Passion.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us… and as Father Seraphim says, may God give us the strength to endure the path of crucifixion. Amen.

Desert Calling

March 4, 2008

We are plagued by incessant ramblings, abyssal doctrines spewed forth unbeknownst from impressionable carnal minds, swimming, spiraling downward, into the delusion of egotism and self-exaltation. Where is refuge? We ponder, stoic in expression yet aflame within, effort poured into the taming of our passions — nomads, in a world abased. Today’s “great minds”, armchair theologians from vain academies, self-help modern gurus, new-age deluded garbage spewers, ecumenist spineless death-speakers, they sell vanity and infernal whispers with the veneer of wisdom, a faux-intelligence traced in death, all coming to nothing.The blind lead the blind. Mega-churches sell health and prosperity to itching ears, leaving all to seek what’s fleeting and exterior to flee the Kingdom within. Men chase religion as opposed to true spirituality, and self-ordained spiritualists fall into the clutches of the powers of the air. Our voices from the desert, rarely permeating the spirit of this age of hedonism, fall onto ears deafened by virtue’s decay, heart’s left cold and dead in the clutches of dehumanization.

The ineffable Godhead, spoken of casually; God the Father made to be a tyrant, God the Logos into a prophet alone, God the Holy Spirit into an expression of ecumenist spirituality, our God blasphemed in too many ways…

The Lion of Judah thought of as an equal…

Will there be faith left in the world?

My soul, my soul, look East — you will find refuge there. Israel is still within God’s mighty hand. A cloud of witnesses is with us still, the desert remembers our names. Hold your peace, bridle your tongue, partake of that mystery of the world to come, in silence, in which God is still exalted, even on the wings of a dove, even by the wind in the tree, even by the steady flow of the stream. Watch and pray, as our fathers prayed, as our fathers pray for us still, that you be delivered from the seductions of this age. Turn away from the temptations of Sodom and Gomorrah, rebuke the infants of Babylon, bear your cross for glory, bear martyrdom for a crown…

Not all who say “Lord, Lord” shall enter into the Kingdom.

If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own. But you have been called to leave the world behind.

For the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

Desert Calling: Know humility. Love silence. Die daily.