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elder-leonid-of-optinaDisciple: Is mental prayer granted to everyone?

Elder Leonid: Whomever the Lord visits with grievous trial, with sorrow or with the deprivation of a beloved neighbour: such a person will involuntarily pray with his whole heat, with all his thoughts and with all his mind. Consequently the wellspring of prayer is in everyone; but it is tapped either by gradually delving deeper into oneself in accordance with the teachings of the Fathers, or instantaneously, by God’s drill.

 

Thaisia Saint(Source) Today we also commemorate Saint Thais (or Thaisia) in Egypt, fifth century. Left an orphan after the death of her wealthy parents, she led a pious life, distributing her wealth to the poor, and she gave shelter to pilgrims on her estate. She decided that she would never marry, but would devote her life to serving Christ.

After spending all her inheritance, Thais was tempted to acquire more money by any means, and began to lead a sinful life. The Elders of Sketis near Alexandria heard of her fall, and asked Saint John the Dwarf (November 9) to go to Thais and persuade her to repent. “She was kind to us,” they said, “now perhaps we can help her. You, Father, are wise. Go and try to save her soul, and we will pray that the Lord will help you.”

The Elder went to her home, but Thais’s servant did not want to allow him into the house. Saint John said, “Tell your mistress that I have brought her something very precious.” Thais, knowing that the monks sometimes found pearls at the shore, told her servant to admit the visitor. Saint John sat down and looked her in the face, and then began to weep. Thais asked him why he was crying. “How can I not weep,” he asked, “when you have forsaken your Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are pleasing Satan by your deeds?”

The Elder’s words pierced the soul of Thais like a fiery arrow, and at once she realized how sinful her present life had become. In fear, she asked him if God would accept the repentance of a sinner like her. Saint John replied that the Savior awaited her repentance. That is why He came, to seek and to save the perishing. “He will welcome you with love,” he said, “and the angels will rejoice over you. As the Savior said Himself, one repentant sinner causes the powers of Heaven to rejoice (Luke 15:7).

A feeling of repentance enveloped her, and regarding the Elder’s words as a call from the Lord Himself to return to Him, Thais trembled and thought only of finding the path of salvation. She stood up and left her house without speaking to her servants, and without making any sort of disposition of her property, so that even Saint John was amazed.

Following Saint John into the wilderness, she hastened to return to God through penitence and prayer. Night fell, and the Elder prepared a place for Thais to lay down and sleep. He made a pillow for her from the sand, and he went off somewhat farther, and went to sleep after his evening prayers.

In the middle of the night, he was wakened by a light coming down from the heavens to the place where Thais was at rest. In the radiant light he saw holy angels bearing her soul to Paradise. When he went over to Thais, he found her dead.

Saint John prayed and asked God to reveal to him whether Thais had been saved. An angel of God appeared and told him, “Abba John, her one hour of repentance was equal to many years, because she repented with all her soul, and a compunctionate heart.”

After burying the body of the saint, Saint John returned to Sketis and told the monks what had happened. All offered thanks to God for His mercy toward Thais who, like the wise thief, repented in a single moment.

midfeastb(Source) Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.

The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

The Troparion of the Midfeast hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.

“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”

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Christ is risen! (I love that we get to say this for 40 days)

Above you see a collection of my journals ranging from 2004 to 2016. I have been writing in a journal since about Grade 8 (as we Canadians say), so that would be since I was…  counting on my fingers… thirteen years old. That means that for twenty years – 2/3 of my life – I have been recording my thoughts, feelings and experiences in notebooks.

This is all that remains of my journals. While moving out of our apartment to get ready to move to South Korea I rashly threw out all my journals from before 2004. There weren’t that many of them, and looking back I don’t feel that bad about it. They were mostly filled with the morose, self-centered thoughts of a moody teenager. Who really wants to revisit those times?

Anyway, you’re probably thinking: That’s nice, Matushka, by what’s the point of this show-and-tell about your collection of journals?

Let me explain.

First of all, as you can see from all the tabs sticking out of my journals from my time living in South Korea and Greece, recording my experiences became the foundation for writing  both The Scent of Holiness and The Sweetness of Grace. (Though in actuality the tabs you see were for The Sweetness of Grace; I wrote The Scent of Holiness so quickly in comparison I didn’t really need to dig through journals to refresh my memory).

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I started writing The Sweetness of Grace in 2014, eight years after first moving to South Korea. I had an one month break from my social work degree that summer and I drove up to a park overlooking a lake and wrote on my laptop while sitting in my car. The weather had turned rainy that August so I would write for a while and, when the showers let up, would go for walks in the woods. It took me two years to write The Sweetness of Grace. Having written down my experiences in my journal when they first occurred allowed me to feel confident the stories were as accurate as I could describe. Of course, everything is told through the lens of personal perspective and experience, but even a historian can’t help insert themselves into the story in some form I suppose.

Moving on… the real reason I’m sharing all this with you is to commend you to your own journal-writing. When I look though my old journals, though I don’t do it very often, it really helps give me a truer picture of my life, my self, my sins and my passions. The difficult times in my life, the most intimately dark and difficult experiences, suddenly become the most influential. Where once I could only taste the bitterness of gall, now they are revealed as having been mixed with sweet honey. In the new light cast by the passage of time they no longer appear simply difficult but rather as opportunities for character-building. They are the reason I can read this passage from the Pslater and fully ascent to it:

In all our days, let us be glad for the days wherein Thou didst humble us, for the years wherein we saw evils Ps. 90:16.

lined up

Writing in journals gets out all the bile and selfishness that boils in our heart all too often, going unsaid and forgotten but never repented of or properly purged.When I prepare for confession I often go back to my journal. I keep a different book where I try and record my daily thoughts and sins (though I’m very negligent in this regard). Going back to the place where I write the narratives of my life can reveal things I didn’t realize were there. It’s only helpful to write down our inner thoughts and feelings if we actually use them as ammunition in our confessions to properly accuse ourselves.

Lastly, writing in journals – especially over time – helps us see how quickly life is passing us by. Not only from a time perspective, but from a personal one. Am I the same person I was in 2004? If the answer is yes, then there’s a problem. It’s not that we will be, or even should be, aware of our progression from spiritually immature to spiritually mature. However, I hope to God that I won’t react today the way I did years before if faced with a similar trial or temptation. We need to be ever striving, ever searching to draw closer to God and further away from our “old man” and the secular, if enticing, ways of the world. Conversely, it can work the other way. When I read my journal from 2009-2011 I read some of the best experiences of my life. (This was in the middle of our life in Greece). We were living in Thessaloniki, going to monasteries and studying theology. When I read it now I ask myself, “Have I digressed?” But again, this question holds more weight when one can read the inner workings of one’s heart from better years.

As for man his days are as the grass, as a flower of the field so shall he blossom forth Ps. 103: 15

Our life is passing us by without our noticing it. Like the way the ocean tide goes out so quickly and yet almost imperceptibly. The water seems so close to shore until all of a sudden you realize it’s far away.

Don’t let life slip away like the sea slips away from the shore. Writing in a journal not only helps improve your writing skills but really helps focus you and helps you realize where your priorities lie and where your treasure is (Luke 12:34). This is important because we don’t want our heart to be where our treasure is if our treasure isn’t Christ.

Give it a try it!

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I dated my journals when compiling material for my second book. I found it easier to find passages I was looking for.

(As a side note, I grew up in a place that has the highest tides in the whole world. In just six hours low tide goes to high tide and that’s the difference of 50 feet! So, ocean similes come naturally to me.)

51k5othnmsl-_sy346_Below is a very gracious review of The Sweetness of Grace by Matushka Anna Crawford. I thank her for taking the time to write down her thoughts on my new book.

Original post can be found here.

“More than the sum of its parts,” was a phrase that came to mind when I finished The Sweetness of Grace: stories of Christian trial and victory by Matushka Constantina Palmer. However, that phrase doesn’t quite convey what I want it to. You see, it isn’t the sum of the parts that makes this book what it is, because each story carries within it  the whole: the grace of Orthodoxy as lived by faithful Orthodox Christians.

Mat. Constantina admits in the introduction that it is her skills as a storyteller, not her masters degree in theology, which bring these stories to life, but I must disagree slightly. Matushka is an exceptional storyteller, but she also has the intimate knowledge of the Holy Fathers and their writings which provides the lens through which the light of the stories shine. Much like my spiritual father who has a (to me) phenomenal and encyclopedic ability to pull out exactly the right anecdote from an elder’s life, a quotation from a saint, verse from holy scripture, or story from the Prologue, Matushka roots every story solidly in the Church’s Tradition. This in turn brings a deeper understanding of the scripture or precept.

All of this might make the book sound too exalted to read! Do not be deceived on this front; just like Matushka Constantina’s first book, The Scent of Holiness, this one is extremely approachable, easy to read, and enjoyable. I read the first third in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. After all, it is a collection of stories. The Lord himself taught us in parables, or stories, as the best way to capture our attention and instruct us. There is nothing insignificant about the humble story.

I recommend this book very highly. You will likely read it as I did, in huge gulps, but then you will return again and again to savor individual stories. Both The Sweetness of Grace and The Scent of Holiness [review here] should be in every Orthodox Christian’s library. Thank you, Matushka, for your labors in collecting and sharing these stories with us.

The Sweetness of Grace: stories of Christian trial and victory is available from Ancient Faith Publishing. I received a free copy in return for my unbiased review.

 

Christ is risen!

The following excerpt is from the second book of a two-book series on the person and spiritual children of Father Arseny. The book is called Father Arseny: Cloud of Witnesses, p. 148. In this passage Fr. Arseny speaks of his friend and fellow prisoner Fr. Seraphim, a holy hiermonk.

I saw Father Seraphim as a restorer of souls who had been covered with dirt. Yes, he was a true restorer. Carefully, just like those who restore icons by removing layers of dried oil and dirt with a scalpel, taking care not to harm the original, Father Seraphim would carefully, gently approach a man and remove layers of sin from his soul, revealing first a small window of purity and then making this window bigger and bigger, and then finally clean up his whole soul. How careful you must be, how spiritually attentive to the injured soul not to harm it in trying to direct the man to the path of light. You must not hurt his pride, you must not show him how sinful he is–you could end up pushing him away so that he might think, ‘I am such a sinner that I cannot be saved!’

I believe this image is pertinent not only for priests but for all Christians. Each of us in our own way ought to strive not only to cleanse our own souls from the dirt and mire of sin and the passions, but hopefully (through the grace of God!) serve as restorers of the purity of souls of those around us, to help direct others to the path of light.

Through the prayers of the holy God-pleasing sufferers, Fathers Arseny and Seraphim may we also treat other human beings with the spiritual care and attention an icon restorer treats holy objects!

 

(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)