Category Archives: Orthodoxy

The Key to the Kingdom

“Offer a pure repentance to the Lord God Who is powerful to cleanse us of our sins; for there is no sin which conquers God’s love of mankind. Wherefore, brethren, let us fall down before Him often with tears and confess to Him our sins, and He will save us with eternal salvation. For repentance is the way and the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, without which no one can enter into it. Let us keep to this path, O brethren; for the path now in this short life is narrow and sorrowful, but later in that endless future life there shall be abundant and unutterable rewards.” -St. Alexander of Svir

(via Salt of the Earth)

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Shielding the Glowing Heart

“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.” -St. Seraphim of Sarov

God knows how I fail to be gentle and kind. My wife and friends and family know too. I realize more and more how much I swim in judgment, and at best lift my head above its surface on occasion. More often, I’m about as aware of the condemnation welling up in my heart as a fish is conscious of water.

I keep coming back to this quote to remind myself of the high calling we have in making the Truth incarnate through our lives. That it’s better to give than to receive. To remind myself of the great blessing of kindling joy in another through truth spoken in love, and love shown by actions.

I don’t think being gentle and kind means being a pushover or turning a blind eye to wrongs committed. Neither do I think St. Seraphim means that we should never speak up, but rather that we should do so with a right heart—one heavy with the Spirit’s blessed fruit. How else will those who don’t know Him taste and see that the Lord is good?

I have so far to go.

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.
Amen.

-A prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Re: American Christians are Wusses

This post is in response to an article published on Steve’s blog. I started to write in the comments section and ended up writing too much, so I’ve brought the comment here.

There’s a lot of really good stuff in this article—some great ‘meat’ that’s unfortunately compromised by gristle and bone. I’m sure the author’s intentions were good, and I agree with a lot of his assessment. But the assumptions made here are only caricatures of American Christianity, and seem more like a strange exercise in pious objectification. I think he’s been a bit reckless with the word “we.”

The very notion of “American Christianity” or “American Christians” is a vague abstraction, and is incapable of representing the particular nature of real life and particular real people, each of these being complex and varied. I don’t find it very helpful to reduce millions of very diverse people to a stereotype that represents only the loudest of the bunch, and even then only comprehends a slice of our many-nuanced situation. It’s a good exercise to compare ourselves to other cultures, but it’s important to remember that such comparisons can only go so far. There are very real differences between us that make some things important to address here that aren’t there (whatever they might be). Moreover, while humans are basically the same everywhere on a basic level, we are each fashioned by our society and wind up very, very different. And just as each human has his own sins, each culture has its own weaknesses. It doesn’t seem wise to compare the merits of one against the other.

Just because the American religious climate is drastically less oppressive or violent doesn’t make it any simpler or sillier–just different. What we deal with has an insidious character all its own. Now, there are no excuses that can (or should) be made for not feeding the poor, not evangelizing, not loving enemies, and the various other sins mentioned in this article (which, by the way, all happen in other countries). But saying that we are “wusses” simply because we are fortunate enough to have different issues to address, to me, smacks of the sort of anti-American rhetoric that makes so many people think the Orthodox Church is irrelevant, isolationistic, and contemptuous. Calling such people names—those who are navigating the cultural milieu they’ve inherited best they know how—is itself a distraction from the work of the gospel and the sort of preaching that is most effective in changing lives, and awakening the sleepers.

Yes, some American believers get up in arms about pointless minutiae. But not all. And it’s worth noting that sometimes today’s minutiae are the first grains of tomorrow’s landslide. I’m not saying everything some American Christians fight for is necessary or helpful. What I am saying is that it’s not always so easy to tell what is and isn’t important. It’s rather a human problem to be weak and limited in understanding, don’t you think? My feeling is that our default position should be compassion—the truth spoken in love. But for me, this post misses the mark in that regard. The way it is written, ironically, sounds a bit like the bully attitude the writer protests, and not enough like the rebuke of a friend that yields repentance.

Are we meant to be passive victims at the secular world’s hands? As much as I’d like to think that’s how all the saints and martyrs actually handled themselves, the Synaxarion begs to differ. Just for instance–didn’t the martyr Paul file a lawsuit based upon his rights as a Roman citizen? Haven’t there been other saints and martyrs who didn’t behave like sweet little lambs, docilely accepting maltreatment? I don’t have time to drudge up a bunch of examples at the moment (though there were some recent ones from the Synaxarion readings—Bassa of Edessa destroying the idol of Zeus comes to mind). But they’re there. Sometimes standing up for the truth looks a lot more like turning over tables and fashioning a whip than serenely taking one on the chin. Though it’s not always easy to know what exactly that means. Life is complex. Following God in this complex life isn’t any easier.

I’m glad that the writer addressed these issues. I just wish his timbre and approach had been different. I think we need to be very careful to not sound like the man who came to my university campus every year with his giant placards pointing out everyone else’s sin, calling names and stirring up anger. If he loved us, it wasn’t obvious. I think it should be.

Help Me to See

Lord, I do not know what to ask of You. You know better than me what my needs are. You love more than I know how to love. Help me to see clearly my real needs which I do not see. I open my heart to You. Examine and reveal to me my faults and sins. I put all trust in You. I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach me how to pray. Pray in me. Amen.

At the Fragrance of Humility

“My children, desire to purify your hearts from envy and from anger with each other, lest death should overcome you, and you will be counted among the murderers. For whosoever hates his brother, kills a soul.”
-Abba Anthony the Great.

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“One must by every means strive to preserve peace of soul and not be disturbed by offenses from others; for this one must in every way strive to restrain anger and by means of attentiveness to keep the mind and heart from improper feelings. And therefore we must bear offenses from others with equanimity and accustom ourselves to such a disposition of spirit that these offenses seem to concern not us, but others. Such a practice can give quietness to the human heart and make it as a dwelling for God Himself.”
-St. Seraphim of Sarov

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As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.
-St. John Climacus

Christ Is Not a Text

“No one profits by the Gospels unless he is first in love with Christ.  For Christ is not a text but a living Person, and He abides in His Body, the Church.” 
-Fr. Georges Florovsky

(via Fr. Ted’s Blog)

With the Fire Divine

Aflame in thy heart, O Laurence, with the fire divine, thou burntest
away the fire of passions utterly, O firm staff of athletes, O thou
God-bearing Martyr; and thou in truth while contesting didst cry with faith:
Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.