Archive for February, 2011

Sunday of Zacchaeus Homilies

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

If we are saved by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8), why is an effort of our will required? Our works do not save us, but we cannot be saved without works.

This is a paradox to many, who feel the need to deny the truth of one statement or the other. A full understanding of this mystery comes only with spiritual discernment, but the teachings of the saints can help us attain some measure of understanding.

The following teachings of St. Maximus the Confessor, from his Four Hundred Chapters on Love, provide some help to us.

What anyone loves he surely holds on to, and looks down on everything that hinders his way to it so as not to be deprived of it. And the one who loves God cultivates pure prayer and throws off from himself every passion which hinders him.

The one who sees a trace of hatred in his own heart through any fault at all toward any man whoever he may be makes himself completely foreign to the love of God, because love for God in no way admits to hatred for man.

The one who loves me,' says the Lord, 'will keep my commandments,' and 'this is my commandment, that you love one another.' Therefore the one who does not love his neighbor is not keeping the commandment, and the one who does not keep the commandment is not able to love the Lord.

These texts make it clear than none of us loves God as we ought, as the Lord commands us to. What, then are we to do?

The purpose of the commandments is to make simple the thoughts of things; the purpose of reading and contemplation is to render the mind clear of any matter or form; from this ensues undistracted prayer.

The commandments are given us in order to free us from the need to figure things out ourselves, and to teach us to trust God. Reading and contemplation are given us in order to redirect our mind away from earthly things and toward God. This explains  why the best reading is Holy Scripture — the Word of God — and the works of the Holy Fathers are a close second, but worldly writings (even those about religious topics) can even be harmful.

And so works help us grow in the love of God:

"Do not say that 'mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.' For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works. For in what concerns mere believing, 'even the devils believe and tremble.'

But at the same time, it is a grave error to think that these works save us:

"The one who has not yet obtained divine knowledge activated by love makes a lot of the religious works he performs. But the one who has been deemed worthy to obtain this says with conviction the words which the patriarch Abraham spoke when he was graced with the divine appearance, 'I am but earth and ashes.'"

Works are important as a means of developing in ourselves that love – a practical, all-encompassing love that encompasses our entire being – mind, heart, and will. Works do not save us, but they are necessary because our fallen will fights against accepting that salvation, preferring the love of transitory, earthly things to that of God.

St. Maximus is one of the best known opponents of the Monothelite heresy. This was an imperially sponsored heresy, a "compromise" designed to unite the Christians in the empire in the face of attacks from external enemies.

The monophysite heresy, which was formally rejected at the 4th Ecumenical council in the year 431, stated that Jesus Christ had only nature. His Divine Nature, according to this view, completely assimilated the human nature that He assumed at the Incarnation. The fathers rejected this view. If Christ did not have a complete human nature, they explained, then our human nature has not been saved.

Many people continued to hold on to the monophysite viewpoint during the 5th-6th centuries, so the Byzantine Emperor tried to re-unite the two parties by proposing that Christ had two natures (Divine and human) but only one (Divine) will. This is the monothelite position.

St. Maximus and the Orthodox fathers following him insisted in the importance of Christ's human will — and the active participation of our human will — in the matter of our salvation. We are gifted with free will and must freely choose to love God rather than ourselves, our passions, or the things of this world. Christ fully submitted his human will to the Divine will, as a free choice — and so must we.

Murphy’s law and molebens. Logismoi. How to think about personal intercessory prayer.

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

We all know about “Murphy’s Law” – “If anything can go wrong, it will”.  It has many corollaries, and is sometimes funny in context. But it is not funny when applied to real life – and by this I mean our inner life, in which we gain our salvation.

There is an “occupational hazard” in the pastoral life, which, I believe afflicts all but the truly humble and perfected. It consists of “Murphy’s law type of thinking – “logismoi” – negative thoughts.

I have these thoughts, and they are like mosquitoes – very hard to get rid of – and the best way to deal with them is to ignore them and just keep doing the right thing.

My parish needs the weekly Moleben [1] (and the weekday liturgy). During these, all parish members, and a good deal of others (who visit sometimes/often/hardly at all/are friendly to our community/have asked for prayer) are commemorated by name, three times. I have recently become aware that people I have been praying for with intensity for the people on my daily dyptichs for quite some time have had marvelous things happen in their lives. I would never say what, because I keep so many secrets that I may not even tell you if it is raining outside if you asked me – and it is not like angels have started singing in heaven, but I have seen real things happen that have comforted me.


How to think about personal intercessory prayer.


I have a “code” when I think about my intercessory prayer for others.


1. I MUST do it, because I am a Christian, and the defining characteristic of a Christian is love. Those who love think of those they love, and try to help them. Prayer should be the first, the middle and the last thing we do for those we love, and if it is mixed with other things because of contact with them, so much the better, but we should think ourselves totally deficient in loving others if we do not pray for them. I do not think anyone should consider themselves a Christian if they do not regularly pray for others.


2. I have dyptichs [2] which I keep on the computer, and print off using “Clickbook [3]”: software in 4 pages to a piece of standard printer paper, so I can cut it up and have it in my pocket at all times. The list includes all parishioners, “sort of” parishioners, friends of the parish, etc. It also includes our public prayer list, which is at: The goal is to pray for each of these people by name at least once a day. Since it is with me, I can pray in the car, or when at work (or in a train, or in a plane , or in a bus, or here or there, or anywhere!) this list is also used in the Monday Moleben, and the Thursday morning liturgy. With a list, I have a concrete thing to help me remember people. I recommend that everyone would make one.


2. I believe in “KISS”, that is I keep it real simple. I just pray that the Lord would have mercy on those I love and care for. I use the Jesus prayer, since it is so powerful – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on _____” [4].  It does not matter if they are sick, going through a divorce, Orthodox, or not Orthodox, it does not matter about anything in a person’s life – we all need God’s help, and nobody knows with exactitude what we need. In praying only for mercy (the Orthodox Christian understanding of it, by the way), the prayer is short, focused, intense (well, to tell the truth, it can be intense, but sometimes it wavers) and non judgmental.


3. Just as I do not know what people really need, except in general terms, I cannot know if “my” prayer was answered. I also do not care. If I thought my prayers were extremely “effective”, I would get proud. I just pray, and rejoice if something happens to the good in a person’s life.


4. Even though I resolutely do not “take any credit” for anything I pray about, I am open to the possibility that God has heard my prayer, and especially my prayer in behalf of my people before the altar as a priest of God. Therefore, I am encouraged to pray more.


Back to the logismoi – negative thoughts. Here is an example. The Moleben is not attended by a lot of people. I sometimes pray alone. I have it after a long 14 hour day of work and travel, and sometimes I have a bit of a war negative thoughts when I am going to this service, tired and maybe a little crabby. I have found that I am never sorry I have served the Moleben, and believe with all my heart that the regular serving of it is crucial to our parish’s inner life.


There is one part to “Murphy’s Law” that does apply to Molebens and weekly prayer services. If I am late, people are waiting. If I am early, nobody is there, and sometimes I serve alone.


This past Monday, I forgot about the service three times, and almost did not go, but God reminded me. I was offered a chance to go to feed the horses with my son Tim, and I will always do this if I can. I said I would be there at 8 pm after work, totally forgetting about my obligation to serve at the church. Later in the day, Tim cancelled, since someone else in his family had already fed them. I was asked to pick up my son Dan at about 7:30 PM from a practice for a play he was in, because my wife was delayed at work. I was ready to do this, and texted him, but he replied that one of my daughters would do it. I was blissfully unaware that these two obstacles to serving the Moleben had been removed, and when I got in my truck to drive home after a long day at work, I somehow forgot completely about the Moleben (it was formerly on Tuesday evening, but my work schedule changed), and I only remembered after ten minutes on the highway. The negative thoughts set in for a short while, but they are just mosquitoes – swat them away and go do what I gotta do.  


I arrived at church (a little bit late, and despite Mr. Murphy, nobody was waiting) and served alone, and there was a marvelous peacefulness and intensity to the prayer. I also got to say the list of names “mentally” since nobody was there to hear me. I prefer to pray “in my head” most of the time, since I am “this close” to being autistic when it comes to sound. I thought about “Murphy’s law” before I served and how I almost forgot to even come to the church, and in this case, nobody would have cared. I decided that “Murphy’s Law” doe not apply in any way to Molebens or any prayer or anything in our Christian life, and decided to write a little something about it (which due to Mr. Murphy, I was unable to finish until this glorious and rare (in Texas) snowed in Wednesday)


Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] “Moleben” means “Prayer service” and is from the Russian word “molitva” – prayer. It is a short, multi-purpose service which is like a severely shortened matins service, with intercessory prayers inserted. We serve it once a week, with an Akathist, almost always to the Theotokos, inserted.

[2] “Dyptichs” means “list”. All priests have personal dyptichs, and all Christians should have them, and USE them. The word also has a serious theological implication. The head bishops of the local Orthodox churches in the world (such as the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kyrill, etc) have an official dyptichs which names the heads of all the local Orthodox churches. If a bishop is not on it, there is something seriously amiss in the canonical relationship of the two churches, or the other church is not even Orthodox. For example, the Pope of Rome is not on any Orthodox Church’s official dyptichs.

[3] “Clickbook” ( is not expensive, and it is awesome. I have no relationship with the company, except that I have used their product to print zillions of booklets, cards and other stuff, especially for the church, for many years.

As many have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. An explanation by Saint Gregory Palamas

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

As many have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.

Galatians 3:27

An explanation by Saint Gregory Palamas


Water is a means of cleaning, but not for souls. It can remove dirt from those being baptized, but not the grime which comes from sin.


For that reason, the Healer of souls, the Father of Spirits (Heb 12:9), Christ, Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), enters into the water before us to be baptized, as we celebrate today in advance.


He draws the grace of the All-Holy Spirit from above to dwell in the water with Him, so that later when those being baptized as He was enter the water, He is there, clothing them ineffably with His Spirit, attaching Himself to them, and filling them with the grace that purifies and illumines reasonable [1] spirits.


And this is what the divine Paul is referring to: “As many have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) (“On Baptism and Repentance”,  Homily Fifty Nine in “St Gregory Palamas, the Homilies”, Mount Thabor  Publishing, page 487)


Newly unearthed baptismal font at Hagia Sophia to open in spring Is it too undignified to say “WOW!”?


This passage from St Gregory’s incredible sermon explains the reason why Christ was baptized and provides a marvelous word picture. We go into the font and are immersed in Christ, and when we emerge, we have Him on as a garment, just as we are wearing a sheet of water.


This homily is full of this kind of inspired teaching, and also serves as a detailed catechesis of the baptism ceremony. It is still VERY close to what St Gregory describes.


We just exited the Theophany period, although we are still blessing homes, and my parishioners have basically hear what St Gregory says, many times, although without the beauty and elegance that only a holy one can provide.


I have a good friend to thank for this quote, since I was recently gifted the book of St Gregory’s homilies. There will likely be more quotes, as soon as my stubby little fingers can type them.


Get this book.


The photos is a newly unearthed baptismal font at Hagia Sophia



Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


This article is at:


New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG:


Journal Archive:


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[1] “Reasonable spirits” – i.e., spirits who can reason, who have intelligence – us.