“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.

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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.