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(Soure) Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

We greet you all in the joy of Christ’s glorious resurrection, in His victory over the tyranny of death. During the celebration of this Feast of feasts, we hear the words of consolation which consistently arouse in us the joyful spirit, a surge of spiritual strength and a bright hope in a better future which awaits us.

Despite the times in which we live, with its difficulties and fears, we find comfort in our holy Faith because, in it we find hope which brings peace to our hearts. Through Christ’s glorious resurrection the death to which He was condemned because of falsehood is vanquished. This is why our Paschal hymns are so joyous and festive and this brightness accompanies us during the whole paschal season.

Saint Justin Popovich tells us: “Man sentenced God to death; by His resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gave an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when they crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.”

Let us now continue to live this Feast of the Resurrection all the days of our lives. Together with the Holy Apostles and the Myrrh-bearing Women who were blessed to witness the great mystery of the salvation of the world, we too, must also be witnesses and participants in it to share in the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim for all to hear CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

Archbishop IRÉNÉE

Archdiocese of Canada (OCA)

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5On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh before His Passion. In honour of this great and beautiful display of repentance I am posting a wonderful article my sister-in-law wrote for a Lenten e-mail group a few years ago.

May we be granted such bold repentance as that of the sinful woman!

Repentance. I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes.  There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’  That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up.  I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance.  Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation.  I am not good enough.  With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.  In themselves they are nothing, since even these can be done out of pride.  Didn’t I learn from the Publican and the Pharisee? Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee! And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!  Certainly these great acts done by Christ’s Saints truly spring from repentant hearts, but even these God-pleasing, pure, deeds are not the repentance – an expression of it, yes, but not the repentance itself.  It’s not the knees pounding into the floor that pleases Christ, but the repentant heart inspiring such a bodily response. I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart?  Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.

Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees.  Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide.  The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “ A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’”(Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do!  That’s what we see his Holy Ones do!  And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).

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It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming.  St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.  Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed.  The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble.  By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled.  And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness.  Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not!  It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this.  It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart.  Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7).

When we hear the cry of the Baptist and Forerunner: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” let us not be overwhelmed – let us not freeze!  Repentance is not heavy, but light! It is freedom – perhaps disguised to those of us lacking this sweet experience – but it is there for the taking.  There are no prerequisites. No divine ladder which must first be climbed.

Let us be like the thief on the cross and repent, so that Christ can also say to us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43).

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by THE VERY REV. ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

(Source)

These [first] three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End ; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. So often Holy Week is considered one of the “beautiful traditions” or “customs,” a self-evident “part” of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have “observed” since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life. But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when “Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy… and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death,” when He died on the Cross, “normal life” came to its end and is no longer possible. For there were “normal” men who shouted “Crucify Him” who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly “normal” world which preferred darkness and death to light and life…. By the death of Jesus the “normal” world, and “normal” life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. “Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away…” (I Cor. 7:31).

“When the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion,
He said to His Apostles on the way:
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem,
And the Son of Man shall be delivered up
As it is written of Him.
Come, therefore, and let us accompany Him,
With minds purified from the pleasures of this life,
And let us be crucified and die with Him,
That we may live with Him,
And that we may hear Him say to us:
I go now, not to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer,
But unto My Father and your Father
And My God and your God,
And I will gather you up into the heavenly Jerusalem,
Into the Kingdom of Heaven….”
(Monday Matins)

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This is a recording of a discussion I hosted over Skype with a group of Canadian Orthodox Christian women spread out across several Canadian provinces during Great Lent of 2015.

I encourage you to have a listen not because of what I, the donkey, say, rather because I read so much from the hymns themselves. It’s a really nice refresher of all the wonderful themes we’re about to participate in in the Holy Week services.

*CORRECTION: You will notice that I continually refer to St. Joseph the All-Comely (the son of Patriarch Jacob) as St. Joseph the Betrothed (who was espoused to the Theotokos). Please forgive my mistake; I didn’t realize this until I heard the recording.

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Here is a very informative lecture on the council held in Crete in 2016 and its influence on the new emerging ecclesiology that is foreign to Orthodox Tradition and to previous conciliatory Councils.  A written version is available here.

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Ladies, this post is for you. Men, you may also be Marthas, but mostly it’s us women running around the kitchen while the Saviour sits in the living room with the men and the Marys.

I think it’s common that when we think and speak of “being a Martha” what we mean is, “I do things; I don’t have the time or luxury of just standing in the icon corner praying. I have responsibilities that necessitate being a Martha.” I think most of us feel far too much like Martha than we’d like.

If you visit an Orthodox monastery you’ll quickly realize how busy the monastics are, how much they work, and how seemingly little time remains for private prayers after so much work. So how can they be said to “choose what is better”, how can they be said to focus on “the one thing needed”? Similarly, for us living in the world, with our work schedules, various activities, volunteer obligations, and endless to do lists, how can we possibly find the time to focus on the one thing needed?

Let’s take a moment and really consider what it means to be a Martha and what it means to be a Mary.

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

When the Lord rebuked Martha for complaining about her sister’s choice to sit on the floor rather than help her, he wasn’t condemning her work. He wasn’t saying what she was doing was unnecessary, unimportant or even superfluous. He spoke instead of Martha’s internal state, not her external works. What He was highlighting and disapproving of was not what she was doing but how she was feeling. He expressed His disapproval of her worry, her anxiety, her upset state of being. When he said Mary chose what is better, it was not to necessarily approve of her not working, but rather to highlight that her heart and mind were focused on Him, the one thing needed.

This is how we too can be Marys when we need to be Marthas, by calling our attention back to Christ in all we do. Are we rushing to our next appointment feeling anxious we won’t be on time? We need to say the Jesus Prayer. Are we doing the third load of laundry only to realize we shrunk a favourite sweater? We need to implore the Mother of God to keep us from becoming upset. Are we washing the dishes while also cooking supper and starting to feel flustered? We need to verbally glorify God.

This is what monastics are doing too. They’re being Marys while running around like Marthas. It’s not that they don’t set aside appropriate time for prayer, they do. But they also work like busy bees all the while struggling to be watchful, to guard their nous and heart from harmful thoughts, and to keep their focus on Christ through prayer.

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“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me,” “Most Holy Theotokos save me,” “Glory to God for all things,” these, and many more, are simple prayers that make being a Martha much more like being a Mary.

Christ reminds us,

“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Externally we can be Marthas but internally we must be Marys. We must be praying and glorifying God and constantly reminding ourselves that all our running around is in fact spiritually detrimental if we allow our minds to be so distracted that we “forget our first love”.  Conversely, we can find our lives very busy and still choose the one thing needed if only we push ourselves to cry out to Christ to sanctify our every activity, so long as in our heart we have the peace of soul to “sit” at the Saviours’ feet. Only we know the balance between being busy and being anxious/ upset about many things; each of us must find a way to become a Mary even when life necessitates we be Marthas.

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Judgment, Censure, and Condemnation

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?”

–Romans 14:4.

A mother, beloved brothers and sisters, when she sees her child running towards an open flame cries out, ‘Don’t!  Get away!’  And likewise the Church, our sweet mother who loves us even more than she who gave birth to us naturally, cries out to us through the voice of the Apostle, ‘Get away from the fire!’  What fire?  Sin, vice, unsavoury parties, frenzied dances, drunkenness, fornication, and so on.  In addition to these, however, the Apostle cries out, ‘Get away!’ from yet another sin, one we consider innocent despite its being very serious.  This is the sin of condemnation.  “Who art thou,” he says, “who judgest another man’s servant?”[2]  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  Permit me, then, to say a few words about condemnation.

Now so that we do not confuse them I would like to show you that judgement is one thing and condemnation another.  Judgement is a human privilege.  Man alone, with the mind given to him by God, judges, makes distinctions, differentiates.  He examines, he draws conclusions, he decides.  He sifts things and distinguishes between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, love and hate, Christ and the devil.  Judgement is a human faculty.  Sadly, however, it does not always function properly.  Just as it is possible for the sun to be covered over by clouds and its rays kept from shining through, so human judgement may be influenced and darkened by the passions, kept from being able to discern things clearly.  When judgement falls under the influence of the passions it makes mistakes.  Passionate judgement is not permitted; dispassionate, just judgement is permitted.

Consequently, then, judgement is not condemnation, nor is censure condemnation.  What do we mean by censure?  Censure is a criticism, a chastisement, a reprimand which love requires us to visit upon a brother.  What does Christ say?  ‘Do you see someone doing something wrong?  If you love him, go up to him and show him how he has erred.  If he listens to you, you have saved him; if he does not listen to you, it is too bad for him.’[3]

Are you a father?  God help you if you are indifferent.  Some parents, their child comes home at midnight, and they are soundly asleep!  This is wrong!  You need to pay attention to your child, to where he is, to what he does, to who he spends time with, to whether he is staying up all night.  I know parents who chase after their children, who go out and find them, who call out to them, who scold them, who cry over them.  Parents are obliged to censure appropriately and with love.  Are you a teacher?  Do not be indifferent when it comes to the progress of your students.  When I was a child we used to see our teacher, our professor, our principal, get up at night and go check to make sure that all the students had returned and that they were in bed, and then to censure those who had not come back on time the next day.  It is the teacher’s duty to censure.  Are you a judge or a lawyer?  It is your mission to censure transgressions, offences, injustices, and crimes.  Are you a reporter?  You are obliged to censure with your pen.  May God help us if such censuring vanishes from public life!  It is a corrupt society where no censure is to be found!  Heroics are needed; he who censures might even face death for his actions. It is for this reason that journalists often avoid censuring.  Are you a priest or a bishop?  O, then you must be vigilant with respect to your flock.  If someone sins publicly you must censure him; if you don’t your fault is great.  Even if everyone hates you for it, even if they give you poison hemlock to drink, even if they crucify you, you must speak the truth, you must call a spade a spade.

But what is condemnation?  Condemnation is not judgement, it is not censure, what is it?  It is a vice.  Why is it a vice?  Because when someone meets up with his friend, despite the fact that there are many other things to talk about, he goes straight to the manure, the failings of others.  ‘Do you know what his wife, his child, his daughter did?’  And then the spreading and raking begins; they pass sentence–and not just about real failings and shortcomings, but also about imagined ones.

It is unjust.

When you condemn, you stage a trial which sentences heartlessly and without hearing the defense.  This is unjust.  You harm your neighbour, not financially, but morally, with respect to the most precious thing he has:  his good name.  “Honour (τιμή) is without price (τιμή),” and, “Though the tongue does not have bones, it breaks bones.”

It is hypocrisy.

You who condemn, what are you?  A prophet?  A patriarch?  A bishop?  An angel?  You are a man!  Your neighbor has failings and you don’t?  Your neighbor is all black, but you make yourself out to be as white as a dove?

Finally, it is ignorance.

If you think that you are without failings, then you do not know yourself.  Instead of searching out the faults of others, study yourself!  There you will find enough material to keep yourself occupied for months.  He who does not know himself considers the tiny faults of his neighbor to be great and considers his own major faults to be of no consequence.

Beloved brothers and sisters, whoever condemns is out of his mind.  The Lord says, “…why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”[4]  Such a one becomes a laughingstock.  Aesop’s saying, “…the donkey said to the rooster,” applies to him.[5]  Such a one even ignores his own good, for the Lord said, “…whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”[6]  Do you want someone to condemn you?  No!  So be careful not to condemn anyone else!

The day will come when Christ will bring about a universal trial and he will judge us.  Then we will beseech him, pleading, ‘Lord, have mercy!’  And even now he tells us, “Judge not, that ye be not judged, and with what measure ye use, it shall be measured back to you.”[7]  He who condemns becomes the prosecutor of his neighbor and his own defense attorney.  However, the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, “I know but one evil in the world, myself; and I regard everyone else as angels,” and whenever he encountered anyone he called them, “My joy!”  Therefore, become your own prosecutor, but the defender of others.

To fast from food is easy; it is difficult to set aside condemnation, gossip–which is more so a woman’s passion.  All of you, then, keep the holy fast: remain far from condemnation!  Only in this way will we find mercy on that day, through the prayers of the All-Holy Theotokos and all the saints.  Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli:  Thessaloniki, 2011), 141-145.  Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               Romans 14:4.

[3]               A paraphrase of Matthew 18: 15-17.

[4]               Matthew 7:3.

[5]               This is Aesop’s version of, ‘The pot calling the kettle black’.

[6]               Matthew 7:12.

[7]               Matthew 7:1-2.

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