“O my soul, fear the passions of the Sanhedrin! No matter how terribly criminal they are, they are not far from the weak human heheart. If you are not attentive to yourself, if you do not begin to watch over your feelings and desires, if you do not set the fear of God as a watch over your heart– you will not notice how the light of Truth grows dim in you, how the oil of sacred love for God and neighbor begins to grow scant in the vessel of your heart, and how the waves of the passions drag the boat of your life into the sea of vanity, into the abyss of sins and Hell”. St. Philaret of Chernigov, On the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 255
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As we gathered this evening in worship at the Bridegroom Matins service of Great and Holy Monday, I was struck by the first sticheron on the praises:
AS THE LORD WAS GOING TO HIS VOLUNTARY PASSION,
HE SAID TO THE 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, LET US ALSO GO WITH HIM,
PURIFIED IN MIND.
LET US BE CRUCIFIED WITH HIM AND DIE THROUGH HIM
TO THE PLEASURES OF THIS LIFE.
THEN WE SHALL LIVE WITH HIM AND HEAR HIM SAY:
I GO NO MORE TO THE EARTHLY JERUSALEM TO SUFFER,
BUT TO MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER,
TO MY GOD AND YOUR GOD.
I SHALL RAISE YOU UP TO THE JERUSALEM ON HIGH//
IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
To me, this captures the essence of Holy Week.
We are no longer in Great Lent — the “forty days that bring profit to our souls,” which came to an end last Friday. We are no longer in this period of intensified labor, of increase effort to live according to the commandments of Christ. The focus then was, to a certain extent, on ourselves, on our own transformation through the grace of God acting in cooperation with our efforts. The focus now is different.
Now, our gaze is focused solidly on Christ our Lord. Yesterday He went up to Jerusalem, and the rest of this week is the continuation of this journey, the journey to Golgotha, to His Passion and Crucifixion, undertaken for our sake, so that through His death and resurrection He might grant us newness of life.
And so we, worshiping Him with adoration, thanksgiving and love, accompany Him on His journey. We continue to fast and pray because He is fasting and praying. We purify ourselves that we might be with Him. We accompany Him because He is, really, taking this journey in order to accompany us through death into life without end.
Let us, then, say with Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16 KJV).
(thank you to Natalia Hawthorne for finding and translating this story)
St. Nicholas and the Church Keys
This story is told by nun Maustrigia.
During the Soviet persecution of churches, her monastery was closed down and all the nuns were told
to leave. Nun Maustrigia had been living in the monastery with her blind sister. Now they didn’t have
anywhere to go… So they took their only belongings – a few pieces of bread and their robes – and
decided to walk to the town of Tobolsk.
They reached the town and entered the church. There was a service going on. There was a big icon of
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the church. The nun prostrated in front of the icon and prayed with
tears, “Save us, O Holy Father Nicholas! What’s to become of us? Where are we to go?”
The service ended, and then the priest came up to her.
– You’re a nun, right?
– Yes, father.
– Would you like to stay and work with us – help with cleaning the church?
She could barely talk from the joy that overcame her.
– Yes, father!
– Excellent, so stay then. You can live in a small room under the belfry.
– But I also have my blind sister with me…
– That’s fine, you can both stay there.
Then the church warden came up to Maustrigia, showed her around and explained how to lock the church. The lock was rather tricky – you needed the key to open it, but you could lock the door without using the key.
The sisters felt grateful and blessed. They were sure that St. Nicholas interceded for them and took care of them. Now they had a roof above their heads and food to eat. Each time, after cleaning the church, nun Maustrigia would make three prostrations before the big icon of St. Nicholas and thank him for his help.
One day, the priest and the warden came to Maustrigia for the keys to the church. This time it was not
to prepare for the church service, but to get church records with the list of all the parishioners that was demanded by the local Soviet authorities. The priest looked very worried. He rushed her:
– Maustrigia, hurry up and give me the keys!
Immediately she reached for her belt where the keys were always hanging, but they were not there!
– Father, I don’t know where the keys are… They were supposed to be right here…
The priest and the warden were very upset and told her to go look everywhere she could possibly think
of and find those keys. They had to submit those papers ASAP, otherwise the whole church would be in
big trouble, people could get arrested, or worse… The nun rushed to the church and started looking everywhere around the church, on the ground, in the grass… Then through the church window she saw the icon of St. Nicholas and decided to come closer and pray to the Holy Wonderworker for help. As soon as she came closer and looked inside – she saw that the church keys were lying on the rug right under the icon of St. Nicholas! She must have dropped them there when doing her prostrations, then she locked th
e church as usual without using any keys and it never even occurred to her to double-check that she still had them. Maustrigia ran to the church front porch. The priest and the warden were pretty angry and upset by now. They figured they’d have to break the door in order to get inside. And the fancy lock would not be easy to replace either. The nun rushed to tell them the exciting news:
– Father, I have found the keys!
– Where? Where?
– Here, come and see! – and she led them to the church window. They saw that the keys were lying by
the icon inside the church. But how could that help? The warden was very annoyed:
– We don’t need this kind of janitors! How are we supposed to get the keys now? We’ll have to break
the door anyway.
So the priest and the warden went to get the tools in order to break the door and cut out the lock. In
great grief, Maustrigia went back to the window to pray to St. Nicholas. She felt suddenly so overcome
with fear that she and her sister would be cast out into the street again that she no longer knew what she was saying. She cried:
– Holy Hierarch of Christ, have pity on me and my blind sister! We are about to get thrown out into the
street. Just hand me the keys, it wouldn’t cost you any trouble! She cried and cried… Then she decided to go get her sister so they would pray together. Their room was in the basement under the belfry and the entrance was by the front porch of the church. Approaching the front porch Maustrigia cast a glance at the front door… and couldn’t believe her eyes – the keys were sticking out of the lock right there on the front door! Maustrigia remembers, “I cried at the top of my lungs, I don’t even know what. I kept thanking St. Nicholas over, and over, and over again.”
The priest and the warden showed up.
– What’s going on? What’s all this screaming?
– Take a look! Nicholas the Wonderworker gave me the keys!!
The priest and the warden saw the keys and turned quite pale, both of them. In silence, they unlocked
the church. The priest immediately put on his epitrachelion and started serving a moleben in front of
the icon of St. Nicholas.
Nun Maustrigia and her sister continued to live and work at that church, until the priest was finally
arrested and the church was closed.
Source: “To the Light”, 1992
Russian original version of the story:
Do not say, after spending a long time at prayer…
The Ladder, John Climacus, Step, 28, Prayer
29. Do not say, after spending a long time at prayer, that nothing has been gained, for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling the Lord and to persevere in unceasing union with Him?
The Ladder, John Climacus, Step, 28, Prayer
I have learned, slowly, to pray more, almost exclusively the Prayer of Jesus. There is an irrational feeling that this is not productive since I have many temporal things to do, and because of my passions and insensitivity, I do not feel God very much.
I am reminded of a phrase my friend, Fr Michael, rails against. He hates it when someone says, often apologetically, “At least I will pray for you”. This is the MOST we can do, and our actions are fruitless without prayer.
Try praying for those you are concerned about with lengthy sessions of the Jesus prayer. This is hard, but is the only work that will succeed; it gives wings to all our other work.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2014??? ?St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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“They that observe vain and false things have abandoned mercy for themselves.” Sobering and comforting at the same time.Thursday, March 27th, 2014
SYNOPSIS:The Biblical Odes are used especially during Great Lent. and during weekday matins, this verse, from ode 6, is always said: “They that observe vain and false things have abandoned mercy for themselves.” This is one of my favorite parts of the matins service, because this pithy verse describes the reason for ALL our problems, and the simple solution. It is sobering, rebuking, but also comforting. It reminds me of the oft read scripture: ” For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39) Nothing can separate the sinner from God, except if the sinner observes vain and false things without repentance.
Biblical Ode 6. Jonah 2:9
“For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. (24) Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.” Wisdom (of Solomon) 2:23-24
This is why I read this book, and you should too. This is a fine, Patristic quality explanation of why man was created and what happened in the fall, many hundreds of years before the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ. this book is mainly about Him.
Prison Ministry Letter, Mon, Jul 30/ Aug 12 2013
[This is the contents of a letter sent to the men in prison whom I visit in prison. Personal references are removed.]
I am writing on Sunday (oops, actually now Mon morning), with the hopes that this jpay letter will reach you on Tue. I am healthy now, and just as stubborn as usual. I have not after effects from the Shingles, except an autograph on my forehead. No big deal. I appreciate your prayers, and the card that some of you sent from the Hughes unit. I showed my wife the card, and she was very touched, as was I. I suppose it is good to be reminded of one's mortality. but I was never really, really sick, although the pneumonia, before it was treated, made me feel pretty puny, and the shingles, while they were active, although the discomfort was minimal (especially for shingles!), made it impossible for me to be in groups of people that could get infected (Chicken pox, from which Shingles comes, is dangerous when an adult gets it). I went to the Michael unit last week, and then kayaked, and plan to come to the Hughes unit this week (on Wed, Aug 14). May God allow it.
The Dormition Fast begins this Wednesday (Aug 1/14 until Aug 15/28 – the 1st date is the church calendar day, and the 2nd is the date on the civil calendar, the one hanging on a typical wall in America, such as in "Joe's Garage"). I will chant the supplicatory canon to the Mother of God at church every day for this 14 day fast. This canon is in your prayer books. I recommend highly that you also read it during these 14 days. In this way, we will all be praying together, and this is a very powerful thing. I will explain about Dormition and the supplicatory canon when I see you, and write about it if I am able.
I also ask you to try as best you can to fast also. If you have money for commissary, peanut butter and beans will help a lot, and if you have no other protein sources, then fast as best you can according to the spirit of the fast. I know you have few choices, but nevertheless, fasting is greatly beneficial to the soul.
The typical fasting we do on a "fast day" is to refrain from eating animal products (meat, fish, milk products, eggs), olive oil and alcoholic beverages. The latter two are no problem, I am sure, but in prison, they serve mostly things that resemble animal products! In the free world, a person has many choices – we are always allow to eat non-finned seafood (like shrimp, clams, etc), and peanut butter, nuts, beans, rice, and lentils and even Quinoa are easy to come by. The diet may be a bit monotonous, but it never killed anyone. If you have no other protein source, and cannot abstain because of health reasons, then you can make choices like not using cream in your coffee, or not using condiments on that thing (I saw it once!) they call a chicken patty. Talk to me about this too.
WHY DO WE FAST?
Why do we fast? It is because we are aware that we need healing, and fasting is something that helps us be healed of our passions. Jesus clearly expected that his disciples would fast after He ascended into heaven: "Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? (15) And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." (Mat 9:14-15)
I try to look at things simply. Jesus expected it, and even prophesied it, so I do it. Jesus established His church to guide us, and the wisdom of the church is from the mind of Christ. If the church teaches it, I do it.
If I fully understand it, that is great, but a hidden bit of wisdom that people in our world do not understand is this – understanding comes AFTER obedience. We are disobedient people – we constantly are concerned with ourselves, and rely on our own understanding. This is always a bad thing to do. We must rely on God for all things, and obeying Him regarding fasting, which His church teaches, is a superb fist and ongoing step.
"Trust in the LORD with all Thine heart; and lean not unto Thine own understanding." Pro 3:5
So, plain and simple, I fast because I am a Christian, and my Savior expects me to do it.
I suppose obedience to someone other than ourselves is the first and best reason to fast. this helps us to defeat self-reliance, which is a product of pride and vanity, which assails almost every human being on the earth.
Fasting is something that we normally do twice a week (Wed and Fri all but about 4 weeks of the year), and is something that we CAN do.
I have learned a really important bit of wisdom over the years, that has served me and those I have counseled well. It is summed up in the aphorism:
Always do the things you CAN do
"Always do the things you CAN do, so you can learn to do the things you CANNOT do". This sums up the Christian life – we should always be learning and improving.
There are many things we cannot do – control our thoughts, pray with attention, love everyone with a pure heart, etc. In each individual there are sins, passions and habits that are very hard to eradicate – these are things we CANNOT do consistently. In every individual there also things that are easier to do, that are also important in the Christian life. For me, fasting is one of those things. I hope it will also be so for you.
There are other things that a particular individual CAN do – perhaps you are consistent in reading the Scriptures, or attending the services, going to confession regularly, having communion, or saying your morning prayers, or praying for others. If this is the case, then you will make great progress in EVERYTHING if you obediently do the things that you are capable of doing.
THIS WORKS! One of my most important goals as a pastor is to get people to believe it, to "sign on" to the idea if you will. I hope you "sign on", and seek the wisdom of God to know which things you CAN consistently do, even if they take a little effort.
In my pastoral experience, the person who makes the greatest progress in the spiritual life is the one who is consistent in *something*. The one who makes very little progress is consistent in nothing, or almost nothing. Each person must find the things they CAN more info
do, and do them. Nothing is too small, if you can be consistent in doing it. Even something as small as always taking out the garbage each morning, or doing the dishes even if you have not dirtied them, if you do it consistently, and without complaining, and offer it to God as a sacrifice, will really help you in EVERYTHING.
Other reason to fast are that consistent fasting helps us remember God and our purpose. We are born to be spiritual beings, to think in spiritual ways. When speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus told him:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (12) If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" (John3:11-12).
We are earthly in our ways and habits. It takes work and practice to he "heavenly". Fasting helps focus us on heavenly things.
Fasting is in no way a repudiation of pleasure. Food is pleasurable, and it is good to enjoy it, but it is still an earthly thing.
Abstinence from certain foods teaches us self control and to think spiritually. Self control gained from fasting will extend to self-control in everything in life, especially in the most important area – our thoughts.
If we think rightly, everything is right with us. All sin starts with thought, and controlling thoughts is one of the greatest accomplishments of a Christian. We learn to control our thoughts from self-control in easier things (like fasting – no matter how hard it is for someone to fast, controlling what we eat is infinitely easier than controlling our thoughts, which is often like trying to catch the wind).
Fasting also helps greatly with the really difficult thoughts, those "hot" thoughts which are very hard to control, such as lust, anger, judgment of others, jealousy, etc.
Jesus taught that fasting is needed to get rid of "this kind" of thoughts when He said:
"… This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29)
He was answering the disciple's question about why they were unable to cast a demon out of a boy. He answered first that is was because of their lack of faith, and followed by telling them about fasting. The juxtaposition of those things (faith and fasting) is important! The church knows that fasting will increase our faith.
We also understand the Lord's words about "this kind" to also refer mystically to the passions that "possess" all of us. All of us are slaves to passions, because the nature of sin is that it always enslaves us. We were born to be free from sin, and it is clear to those who fast with effort, diligence and expectation, that fasting helps immensely in this.
We all have bad days, and sometimes bad weeks, or months. We get lazy, or depressed, or out of sorts. I have found that fasting is a kind of "anchor" for me. I may have a terrible day – I may not have prayed as I should – I may have had trouble controlling my thoughts – but I have at least fasted, and offered God something! This is not anything to be proud of, like the Pharisee, who boasted that he "fasted twice in the week", but it is something that keeps me "attached" in some way to God.
I have fasted according to the teaching of the church for over 30 years, and I am glad for it. I would not want to know myself if I had never fasted. I am not a continent man, and do not always control my thoughts, or have attentive prayer, but over the years, things have gotten much better, and fasting is like an old friend now, who supports me and helps me get through things when things are tough.
My experience as a pastor is definitely that those who fast consistently have much more self-control and a more "even" spiritual life, instead of the "ups and downs" that most people experience. I want you all to have this stability and comfort too, and that is why I encourage you to fast.
The Holy Fathers on Fasting.
What we gain by fasting is not so great as the damage done by anger; nor is the profit from spiritual reading as great as the harm done when we scorn or grieve a brother. – St. John Cassian
Prayer and reading are excellent; they stop the aimless wandering of thoughts, shackle the thought which turns on useless things and keep it close by them with profit, occupied without distraction by this excellent doing.' St. Nilus of Sinai
Do not say to me that I fasted for so many days, that I did not eat this or that, that I did not drink wine, that I endured want; but show me if thou from an angry man hast become gentle, if thou from a cruel man hast become benevolent. If thou art filled with anger, why oppress thy flesh? If hatred and avarice are within thee, of what benefit is it that thou drinkest water? Do not show forth a useless fast: for fasting alone does not ascend to heaven. – St. John Chrysostom
As a flame of fire in dry wood, so too is a body with a full belly. – St. Isaac the Syrian
Whosoever rejects the fasts, deprives himself and others of weapons against his own much-suffering flesh and against the devil, who have power over us especially as the result of our intemperance. St. John of Kronstadt
O brethren, as ye take up the spiritual fast, speak no deceit with your tongue, neither put a stumbling block in the way of your brother as an occasion for him to fall: but by repentance let us trim the lamp of our soul, that with tears we may cry unto Christ Forgive us our transgressions, since Thou art the Friend of man.
Vespers of Wednesday of the Second Week of Great Lent
Let us love that fasting of the soul which, by the cooperation of the Spirit, doth wither the grievous passions and doth strengthen us to do godly deeds, and doth uplift our mind towards Heaven, and doth obtain our sins' forgiveness, grant unto us by the compassionate God. Triodion, Monday Vespers of the Third Week
Priest Seraphim Holland 2013 St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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"Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given me, in order that they may be one, even as We." John 17:11
"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
In a well-known first century text called the "Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus", the Christians of the time are described as follows:
"But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility. In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world."
(Epistle to Diognetus, 5:4-6:1, tr. J.B. Lightfoot, online at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-lightfoot.html)
Many hate Christ because their hearts are darkened by sin, because they do not wish to come to the light. May God grant that we not be counted with that number!
At the same time, MANY at that time were converted because their hearts were open to the Lord. They were converted in part because they heard the word of Truth and saw it active in the lives of the Apostles and other Christians.
How many today whose hearts are opened never hear the word of Truth, the Good News of Christ, who has risen from the dead to save us all? And how many hear the word, but don't understand it because they don't see it active in the lives of Christians?
Brothers and sisters, where is our love? Do we differ at all from those around us? Do we give those whose hearts are open a reason to accept Jesus Christ in His Church and receive His salvation? Or does our life proclaim loudly that "there is nothing special here".
May God forgive us. Readings like this make me want to go out and spread the word, to bring others to the truth by my words and my life — but then I remember that my life is messy with sin… St. Peter was eager to follow our Lord Jesus Christ to the Cross, but Christ responded: “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times" (John 13:38). We are weak, and have offended many by our sins. Let us repent of this!
But let us also "tarry in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high". We will soon celebrate Pentecost, that marvelous descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Endued with this divine strength, St. Peter and the other Apostles then went out and converted the world.
And if we renew our spiritual efforts, studying the word of God, praying more often and receiving the Holy Mysteries with faith, we will be gradually renewed as well. And then — and only then — our light will begin to shine before men, unnoticed by us, and all men will know that we are His disciples. As St. Seraphim of Sarov used to say: "Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and thousands around you will be saved."
May God grant us this grace!
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
As Orthodox Christians, we must strive to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (c.f. Luke 10:27) — in other words, with our entire being.
The cultivation of the love of God in the mind consists in large part of studying the faith. We must immerse ourselves in the Holy Scriptures and in the teachings of the Holy Church. We must order our lives so that — if it is possible — the majority of the impressions that form our way of thinking come from our Lord's teaching, and not from the corrupt teachings of this world.
This is why it is so important to prayerfully read the Holy Scriptures under the guidance of the Church.
This is also why, for those who are academically minded, higher education in theology is valuable. This is not just for those who want to become priests; all of us can benefit from better knowing our faith. Through study we can be brought to love God more fully, and we can also be able to better answer the questions those around us who are starving for the enlightenment that only Jesus Christ can bring.
In the last 10 years, a number of distance education programs in Orthodox Theology have emerged, including three that are run by our own Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia:
1. The Pastoral School of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America is a ministry of our own diocese. It consists of online classes that include readings, discussions and examinations. There is a track for future priests and deacons and another track for those who wish simply to learn more about their faith. This year, the pastoral school is offering summer courses to all who are interested.
2. Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY offers a correspondence course leading to an accredited Certificate in Theological Studies (HEGIS 5623). Students are sent a reading list, and go to Jordanville for examinations twice each year.
3. The newly-formed St. Cyril and Athanasius Institute is a ministry of the Western American diocese. This is an innovative online program consisting of modules of study in an interactive online format.