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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Theology’ Category

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Christ is Risen!

Happy Pascha everyone! May we cling to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection throughout every day of our earthly life! Amen! So be it!

And check out this amazing rendition of Come Receive the Light on a Native American flute! It’s a little nod to my family’s Native heritage as well!!

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Excerpt from St. Gregory Palamas’ Homily on the Annunciation from Mary the Mother of God, pp. 56 & 58-59

Continuing as you are now with your virginity inviolate, you shall conceive a child and bear the Son of the Highest. Isaiah foresaw this many years before and prophesied, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son”, and, “I went unto the prophetess”. In what way did the Prophet go to the Prophetess? In the same way the Archangel now came to her. What the Archangel now saw, the Prophet foresaw and foretold. That the Virgin was a prophetess with the gift of prophecy, is proved to all by her hymn to God in the Gospel (Luke 1:46-55).

…Surely it is obvious to anyone that the Virgin Mother is both the burning bush and the tongs. She conceived the divine fire within her and was not burnt, and an Archangel ministered at the conception, and through her the Bearer of the sins of the world was united with the human race, purifying us thoroughly by means of this indescribable bond. The Virgin Mother, and she alone, is the frontier between created and uncreated nature. All who know God will recognize her as the one who contained Him Who cannot be contained. All who sing hymns to God will praise her next after Him. She is the cause of the benefits which preceded her, the protectress of those which came after and through her those good things which are eternal shall be received. She is the theme of the prophets, the first of the Apostles, the support of martyrs, the dais of the teachers. She is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of the whole Creation. She is the beginning, fount and root of the hope store up for us in heaven.

To which may we all obtain her prayers for us, to the glory of Him Who was begotten of the Father before all ages, and, in these last times, became incarnate of her, even Jesus Christ Our Lord. To Whom belong all glory, honour and worship, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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“God, I thank you that I am not like other people!” Lk. 18:11

When I was in Ontario giving talks at a few different venues back in November, I received a variety of questions, good questions. In fact, I was quite impressed with the questions I was asked. I think good questions demonstrate the audience’s seriousness, their desire to learn and be instructed. I tried my best to offer good answers to those good questions. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I tried.

Among all these questions there was one scribbled on a piece of paper that stood out to me because I believe it revealed an opinion many of us have our ourselves – an opinion, I would venture to say, which is misinformed and misguided.

The question went something like this: “How can we deal with the low spiritual level of others?”

I was a little taken aback by this and without a lot of thought I immediately responded: “By saying: Gee, I wish I was as spiritual as that person!” But truth be told the person asking the question was verbalizing the silent and unspoken thoughts many of us have from time to time, or at least have had in the past: that is, that we are more spiritual than others and that it is toilsome to have to “deal” with what we perceive (rightly or wrongly) as the “low” spiritual state of others.

I went on to explain that if we think we are more spiritual than anyone else then we know, right off the bat, that we aren’t spiritual because a true spiritual person doesn’t think themselves spiritual. A true spiritual person knows how carnal, how flawed, how fumbling, and how sinful he or she is, because true spirituality – and by “true” I mean Orthodox spirituality – gradually opens the eyes of the heart to see one’s sinfulness, one’s mistakes, shortcomings, and more than anything one’s attachment to this world, this body, and the passions associated with the body, the “lesser pleasures” as they’re called: food, sleep, etc. revealing us to be far more carnal, in fact, than spiritual.

A spiritual person follows the rules of fasting set down by the Church; he prays a consistent amount everyday; he bridles his tongue, has humble thoughts; thinks he hasn’t yet made a beginning; feels, sees and understands his own worth, that he is nothing without Christ. A spiritual person looks at everyone beside himself as more spiritual, more holy, more worthy of Christ’s love and mercy.

(Source) St. Anthony the Great once prayed: “Lord, reveal to me how the faithful person in the city among the noise can reach the spiritual level of the ascetic who dwells in the deep desert.”

He had not even finished this request to the All-good God when he heard a voice tell him:

“The Gospel is the same for all men, Anthony. And if you want to confirm this, how one who does the will of God is saved and sanctified wherever he is, go to Alexandria to the small cobbler’s store, which is simple and poor. It is there below the last road of the city.”

“To the cobbler’s store, Lord? And who there can help shine some light on my thought?” replied the puzzled Saint.

“The cobbler will explain to you,” replied the same voice.

“The cobbler? What does this man know about struggles and temptations? What does the poor toiler know of the heights of faith and of the truth?” He wondered.

His objections however could not be straightened [out] by the divine explanation. Because of this, at dawn he traveled to the city. As God had shown him, he stopped at the small cobbler store that he found.

Happily and reverently the simple man welcomed him in and asked him: “In what way could I be of use to you, Abba? I’m an illiterate and uncouth villager, but for the stranger, whoever he is, I will try to help, whatever the need.”

“The Lord sent me for you to teach me,” replied the ascetic humbly.

The poor worker jumped up in wonder. “Me? What could I, the illiterate one, teach your holiness? I don’t know if I have done anything good or noteworthy in my life, something which could stand unadulterated before the eyes of God.”

“Tell me what you do, how you pass your day. God knows; He weighs and judges things differently,” replied St. Anthony.

“I, Abba, have never done anything good, I only struggle to keep the holy teachings of the Gospel. And further, I try to never forget to never overlook my shortcomings and my spiritual fruitlessness. Therefore, as I work during the day I think and say to myself: O wretched man, all will be saved and only you will remain fruitless. Because of your sin, you will never be worthy to see His Holy Face.

“Thank you, O Lord,” the ascetic said raising his weeping eyes towards heaven. And as the cobbler remained puzzled at this, the ascetic embraced him with love and bid him farewell saying: “And thank you, O holy man. Thank you, for you taught me how easy it is with only a humble mind, for someone to live in the grace of Paradise.”

And as the poor cobbler continued to stare uneasily, without at all understanding this, St. Anthony took his staff and departed for the deep desert.

He walked, his only companion being the sound of his staff. He walked and his prayer burned like the the sands of the desert, rising towards heaven.

He traveled all day and prayerfully reflected on the lesson that he received that day from the poor cobbler.

“Humility! This therefore is the quickest path to the gate of Paradise,” he said in his thoughts. “Humility is the robe which God clothed himself with and came to earth as man,” the Saint said, and he struggled to perceive the greatness of this holy virtue.

He walked, praying in his nous, and he brought to mind whatever God had taught him, until immediately before him he saw thrown underfoot a countless number of traps. Traps of every sort, terrible notions, machinations never before seen.

“My God,” he exclaimed and turned the frightened eyes of his soul towards heaven. “Who could ever flee, O Lord, from such traps and ruses?

“Humility, Anthony. This can singularly deliver [one] from all of these [traps],” [the Saint] again heard the sweet, beloved voice [say] deep within his heart. And this was the response which instilled light within him and gave him courage for the new battles which he experienced within the deep desert with the eternal enemy of man. 

So, I guess the simple answer I could have given to that question back in November would have been: Humility. Humility is how we deal with the “low spiritual state” of our neighbour.

May we make an effort, as Great Lent approaches, to struggle for such God-pleasing thoughts and opinions as the holy cobbler had, both regarding our own spiritual state and that of others!

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(Source)

By their nature, angels are active spirits endowed with reason, will and knowledge; they serve God, fulfill the will of His Providence and praise Him. They are incorporeal spirits, and because they belong to the invisible world, cannot be seen by our bodily eyes. St. John of Damascus writes: “When it is the will of God that angels should appear to those who are worthy, they do not appear as they are in their essence, but, transformed, take on such an appearance as to be visible to physical eyes.” In the book of Tobit, the angel accompanying Tobit and his son says of himself: “All these days I was visible to you, but I neither ate nor drank, this only appeared to your eyes” (Tobit 12:19).

But St. John of Damascus also writes: “An angel can only be called incorporeal and non-material in comparison with us. For in comparison with God, Who alone is beyond compare, everything seems coarse and material, only the divinity is totally non-material -and incorporeal.”

mikos aggelos

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Christ Lives and Reigns[1]

Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

Translated by Fr John Palmer, PhD

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

             The Word has existed from the beginning and thus there was never a moment that the Son and Word of God – that Christ – was not.  Christ has always existed.  He is, together with the Father, without beginning; he is, together with the Father, eternal and everlasting.  This is a difficult saying to accept you will say.  It is a mystery, and a great mystery at that!  We will not deny it, however.  No! Rather we accept it in faith.

             Mysteries, for that matter, are not hidden solely in the supernatural, but we also find them in the natural order.  The world is full of mysteries.  Every branch of science has its unsolved problems.  Science simply describes: it cannot offer full explanations, nor can it penetrate the most fundamental causes of phenomena.  What, for example, is electricity?  What is magnetism? What is gravity?  Science describes these things, but it cannot claim to know precisely what they are.  Mysteries are scattered all across the natural order, even in the smallest of things.  The most basic unit of matter – the atom – is itself a microcosm of the created universe.  I will give you an example: the top scientists working on that accursed disease which plagues humanity – Cancer – gathered in Rome for an international medical conference.  Much was said and when it was over, the chair offered the following synopsis:  ‘We know,’ he said, ‘what Cancer looks like, how it develops, and what its symptoms are.  However, there is yet one thing we do not know; why it begins, why one of the millions of cells in the human body suddenly goes crazy – for this is cancer: everything else is functioning harmoniously and then this one cell ‘leaves its orbit’ – marking the diseases’ beginning. 

             There is mystery everywhere.  And thus, since scientists are left to wonder about things in the material world, how can we expect to explain the persons of the Holy Trinity?  Let them first solve those mysteries hidden in the natural world and then we will seek to solve those of the supernatural realm.  The human intellect is but a small cup; it cannot hold the ocean.

             “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  In the language of the scriptures, the Son of God is called the ‘Word’ because he is begotten of God the Father who is absolute Mind.  The Mind begets the Word, the Father begets the Son.

             In order to grasp this truth to some degree we say the following:  man is made, “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27) and thus he is called the “image of God” (1 Cor 11:7, Col 3:10).  How is man an image of God?  With regard to his body?  Certainly not!  There is nothing material in God – he has no body, no hands, no feet, no ears, as our ancient ancestors imagined that he had.  Occasionally the Holy Scriptures speak of God anthropomorphically, but only out of condescension to our weakness.  God is spirit.  Consequently, the claim that man is an image of God cannot refer to his body, but rather to his soul; it is in his soul that man is made according to God’s image.  Man is not principally that which is visible to the eyes, but rather that which is invisible.  What is seen is material, what is unseen is the soul.

            There is, then, some level of correspondence here.  As God is Trinity, so is man’s soul Trinitarian.  God the Father is absolute Mind, who begets his Son and Word, and from whom precedes the Holy Spirit.  Man by comparison has a mind, he has word – or thought, and he has spirit.

            Thought is the greatest of God’s gifts.  This is man’s glory.  It is encountered solely in man; we find it neither in the animals, nor indeed anywhere else.  O, thought!  O, the mind!  At one moment you are found here and then, as if by a rocket, you are flown to America or anywhere else.  Have you considered how man thinks, how thoughts are born?  Thought is the foundation of knowledge:  it is how we study the earth, how we touch the stars, how we feel the heavens; it is how we discover and how we create.

            First, though is something intimate – permit me to put you through a bit of a trial!  What does it mean to be ‘intimate’?  This means it is something hidden deep within man, something inconceivable.  No one is able to know what we are thinking save God alone.  May God have mercy on us if they find a way to police thought!

            In the language of the Church, thought is often referred to as ‘word’ – logic in other words.  But pay attention!  The mind begets word.  How does it beget?  Not as animals give birth.  There is another kind of birth, another begetting.  What is this?  The mind, the theologians say, begets an interior word, a thought.  And when this thought is expressed by means of the mouth, this interior word becomes spoken.  Another mystery – and I doubt there are any who question this one!  How do we speak?  Go ahead, think.  How?  Science offers no answer: it just tries to pin-point the location in the brain from which the spoken word issues.  Our mind begets the interior ‘word’ and then begets the spoken word, before finally begetting the written word.

            Here in the Gospel, however, ‘Word’ is written with a capital ‘W’.  This is because the Word is God.  “[A]nd the Word was God”.  God – the Mind – begets the Divine Word, the Father begets the Son.  In the face of this Word, man’s thought, this great thing as we called it, is small and insignificant.  Can we possible comprehend the Divine Word? 

            Christ is the Divine Word which has existed from eternity.  It is on basis of this that the Church opposed Arius and the other heretics, such as the Chilianists of today. 

            Let us approach him, beloved brothers!  At midday we will sit down and eat, we will partake of his goods.  How many of us have God in our minds?  Many of us don’t even make our cross, or make mention Christ’s name before we eat. 

             Let us give thanks to God for all his gifts and above all for the fact that we have the only true faith.  The founders of other religions (Mohammed, Confucius and others) are mortals; they lived for a span and then died.  Christ lives even today and will continue to live tomorrow, even unto the ages of ages.  There never was a time when Christ was not and through his Resurrection he has proved that he lives and reigns unto the ages of ages.

             This is what we celebrate today, beloved brothers, to the glory of the Holy Trinity.  Amen.


[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli:  Thessaloniki, 2011), 17-21.

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Despite the minor technical difficulties during the Q and A at the end, this is a great presentation on Christ’s Presentation.

For those who can’t access the above link go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRo3xldYq_o

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The world that lives far away from God hates you. It hates light and truth. The disbelieving, corrupt world never forgives you, because you say “no” to the nameless desires of this generation. You raise a lash, smite their evils, and brand their sins. If it were possible, they would crucify you in the town square! Lies, intrigue, and slander are the rewards with which Satan fills your world. And what will you do? Will you seek revenge? Rather than sacrifice one iota of Gospel law, make sharp rebukes against error and evil, but be sympathetic and forgiving to people who hate you, raise you on  a cross, and subject you to the most fearful martyrdom. Pray the Lord to give you forbearance to forgive them, so that you can repeat the words of the First-Martyr Stephen, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). This will be the loftiest sermon of your life, and it cannot possibly leave souls unmoved. There are aromatic trees which when cut bathe the ax with fragrance. Faithful servants of the Lord, aromatic trees in Christ’s Church, you also should bathe with the aroma of heavenly forgiveness the world which strikes you and crucifies you.

(An excerpt from Blessed Augoustinos Kantiotes’ Follow Me, translated by Asterios Gerosterigios, pp. 184-185)

Can you read these words and possibly doubt that they proceeded from the heart and mind of a great saint? Blessed Augustinos Kantiotes was a bishop in Florina, in Northern Greece. He reposed in 2009 and left us his life and many books as everlasting examples of a true shepherd, an apostle to this corrupt generation. May we have his blessing!

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Abbess Thaisia, Letters to a Beginner, p. 47

Commit yourself, I repeat, without defence to the will of your [spiritual] guides – give way to them, like clay to the potter, like iron to a smith; let them mold and hammer on the forge of obedience (as was expressed by St. John, author of the Ladder) your unruly and proud will, until it will be ground into the soft wax of humility, so that with understanding and discernment you may repeat the words of the Psalmist: “In our humiliation the Lord remembered us” (Ps. 135:23), or, “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes (Ps. 118:71). You see, then, the statutes of the Lord, ie. the things pleasing to the Lord, are not learned without humility and self-abasement. Ten virgins at midnight awaited the arrival of the heavenly Bridegroom, but only half of them were received into His chamber; and the others, who had no oil in their lamps, to their shame and grief were not only not admitted into the chamber; and the others, who had no oil in their lamps, to their shame and grief were not only not admitted into the chamber, but also heard the terrible words of the Bridegroom: “Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Mt. 25”12). Beware less this lack of oil be found also in you as a lack of humility and obedience, without which your lamp of faith and supposed zeal will die out.

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Today marks the two year anniversary of this blog. In some ways it’s hard to believe it’s only been two years: so many posts, so many connections and relationships with readers. Thank you for your support and prayers. May the Most Holy Lady, the Ever Virgin Mary be with us all!

To those who foolishly believe and teach, on account of Biblical criticism and other equally ridiculous theories, that the Theotokos did not enter the temple at three years of age and dwell in the Holy of Holies because the Jews never would have permitted a woman to enter the Holy of Holies, St. Gregory Palamas says:

It was because Moses foresaw that she would be the living Tabernacle who would hold God, that he erected that other Tabernacle, prepared that inmost sanctuary [the Holy of Holies] for her sake and, learning from God what would befall her, dignified it with sublimely exalted names, indicating to all in advance, by word and deed, the extraordinary, all-surpassing worthiness that would be hers from infancy… In this way she made it clear, and declared in advance to as many as have understanding, that she was to be the true shrine and resting-place of God, an incomparably better mercy-seat for Him, and the divinely beautiful treasure-house of the highest pinnacle of the Spirit’s mysteries.

(St. Gregory Palamas, “Entry into the Holy of Holies II”, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 26-27)

When the Prophet Zacharias saw the Virgin approach the Temple he aptly proclaimed: “Hearken O daughter and consider and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty,” and that is exactly what she did.

May we have her as our constant mediator and intercessor, the Most Holy Mother of God!

Also, here is a beautiful depiction of the Presentation of the Theotokos from the Holy Monastery Hamatoura in Lebanon someone reminded me of; you can watch it here.

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