3 homilies: On The forty Martys, The Third sunday of Lent, and “Before Thy Cross”:

March 24th, 2014

What is “life”? You cannot understand the cross unless you understand life.

We cannot understand the cross, and the way of the cross unless we understand life. What is life? Most people do not know the answer to this simple question or understand why the way of the cross is the only way to have life, or understand what is meant when we are told to “lose our life”, or that everything in our life is an exchange – with life or death.

Sunday of the Cross. Mark 8:34-9:1. 2014-03-23

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-03_2014-03-23+what-is-life+everything-is-an-exchange_mark8-34-9-1.mp3

What should we feel when we prostate during “Before Thy Cross…”

We must learn how to feel the troparion “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship” as we are prostrating before the cross. this is a moment in the church year that we cannot miss, when our body and soul pray as one, and the mystery of life is explained to us in words that cannot be uttered.

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-03_2014-03-22+before-thy-cross-we-bow-down-in-worship.mp3

The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are a fantastic example of patience. This year, their feast was on the 3rd Saturday of Great Lent, which has an epistle the says in part “For ye have need of patience.” Such simple words, and so true for each of us! Let us see how their martyrdom exemplifies patience. Depending on God with patience will always turn out well. We also explain why the Gospel of the workers of the vineyard is read for their feast.

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-saints-03-09_2014-03-22+forty-martyrs-of-sebaste+for-ye-have-need-of-patience_matthew20-1-16-hebrews10-32-38.mp3

WHY do we fast? Always do the things you CAN do The Holy Fathers on Fasting.

August 12th, 2013

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.]

 

Dear Brothers:

 

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

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2013-08-12+why-do-we-fast+always-do-the-things-you-can-do+prison-ministry-letter.doc

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2013-08-12+why-do-we-fast+always-do-the-things-you-can-do+prison-ministry-letter.html

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

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All things work to the good Crown them with glory and honor! Humble Pie

July 22nd, 2013

All things work to the good

Crown them with glory and honor!

Humble Pie

July 9/22 2013

 

 

Crowning of Mychael and Anastasia (Gloria) Enright. http://www.orthodox.net/photos/parish/2013-07-21-crowning-mychael-anastasia-enright-01.jpgI am full of joy for Mykael and Anastasia (Gloria), who were crowned (married) yesterday (Sunday afternoon, after having received communion[1]). I am profoundly disappointed that I could not be the celebrant, because of my Shingles outbreak and probability that I was contagious with the Chicken Pox virus (and Myke has never had Chicken Pox!). Thank God that Fr Gregory was available to serve the liturgy and the wedding. His kindness made all of this possible, and allowed me to keep my promise to Myke that he would be wed on this date, no matter what.

 

Certainly, our God works in mysterious ways. I baptized Myke many years ago, and catechized Anastasia and baptized her recently. She has been an apt and willing pupil, and I believe that she is fully into the process of having Orthodoxy completely in her heart (as we all should be!). I wanted to see this thing through to the end (which of course, as all our Sacraments are, is really another beginning), but God had other plans for me and my little flock.

 

Truly, in my absence, our  little parish stepped up to the plate for this wedding. Fr Nicholas catechized them over many sessions regarding Orthodox marriage, and I sat in a few times and learned some things! Deborah as usual devotedly worked on flowers for the wedding. Reader David and Gabrielle were the witnesses and sponsors (the so -called "best man" and "maid of honor"). Fr Gregory willingly served when I could not. Jenny and Natalie sang in the choir, a long day. Many provided food. I am thrilled that it all came together, and despite some of my health challenges, "All things work(ed) to the good"[2].

 

By the way, I did my part as best I could. I say the following in the hope of setting an example.

 

I did not eat or drink Sunday until after Liturgy would have likely been over (at noon). I also was very aware of the time, and prayed continuously to the best of my meager abilities, from 10am till noon. I tried to observe the resurrection, even though I was at home. You should do the same thing also, if you are home for an honorable reason (or, I suppose, a bad reason too) on a Sunday morning. We are all part of the church, and because our church is Catholic, the whole church is present with us when we liturgize. I joined myself to that great assembly by praying during the liturgy. I prayed simply – just the Jesus prayer, with a rope for one person and then another, or for my whole flock, or even for the whole world, and of course, several times for the bridal couple.

 

Kettlebells and chalk http://www.orthodox.net/photos/2013-07-22-kettlebells-and-chalk.jpgMy health is improving. I saw my ophthalmologist today regarding my left eye, which has been affected by the Shingles outbreak (it affected my Trigeminal nerve on the left side, which enervates the eyes). All my sores are crusted over now, and I was certified as non-infectious today. This will allow me to serve again, and also get back to work. My first episode of Shingles was relatively mild by Shingles standards. I have had some manageable pain, and itchiness, but mostly, my concern has been blurry vision in my left eye. My eye is almost back to normal. It may be weeks or months before everything is as it was. but I should not be limited in what I can do  (depending, of course on me not being an idiot). I even was able to work out today, and it felt real good!

 

My short illnesses have been very instructive to me. It is good to really feel one's mortality. I do not particularly like this lesson, even though I often seek to have it, because my soul needs to be reminded. It is pretty easy to seek a lesson theoretically, but quite another to experience it in actual life.  My illnesses started with pneumonia, which to my foolish mind seemed to be a Non Sequitur – how can a healthy guy like me, who does so much stuff get sick with pneumonia? This does not fit with my image of myself, which my heart knows is an unrealistic image, but my vanity fights against it. In theory, I know that I am a weak and insignificant sinner, and can do nothing without Christ.

 

I preach about human weakness and mortality all the time (since, as I have told my flock many times, my homilies are those of a sinner trying to help other sinners not to sin – they are from the heart and according to my own experience, and are basically autobiographical in spirit), and cultivate this feeling with the prayer and reading I do. I will continue to preach about this, because if we do not fully acknowledge our weaknesses, we will not fully reach out to God for help with them.

 

Theory is not practice however. I do not like to ask for help. I do not like to be unable to do something because my body will not let me. I do not like to actually feel weak, even though I readily admit that I am weak! These are not good things about my character – they are passions. In theory, it is easy to acknowledge these faults, but when reality shows me unmistakably that I am weak and need help, the lesson is truly learned. Humble pie is good for the soul.

 

Many people have told me that "stress" must have caused my illnesses. A pastor's life is filled with stress because, even if he is a sinner, as long as he is trying and praying for his flock, he feels the sadness and weakness and failures of many. I do not believe that any of this "stress" causes illness. It seems to me that self-reliance and lack of faith, when combined with "stress" can cause illness. I think by God's providence, my body was pleased to give me a strident lesson. Although I did not feel particularly "stressed", my body told me otherwise. I think if I prayed much more than I worried, there would be no debilitating stress.

 

During my illness, I have slept much more than usual, and allowed myself to waken naturally, instead of getting up early every day. I have read a lot of Scripture, and prayed a lot of the prayer (the Jesus prayer), and it seems to me that there is more clarity in my mind now. It is good to know that we are weak, and without Christ we can do nothing, and it is better to feel this viscerally, with one's entire heart. This feeling, if it was "100%", would ALWAYS lead us to deep prayer to God, and as  our spirit worked, our body would rest. I am not sure what my percentage is, but, thank God, it is a little higher now, than it was a scant 2 weeks before, when I could basically physically do anything I wanted to do.

 

My prayer for my flock is that you learn to depend on God completely, and not trust yourself in any way, and in so doing, to begin to be fully perfected in the Lord. This is a difficult thing to learn; let's learn together.

 

If you are not reading the Scripture daily, with expectation, you will never master this lesson.

If you are not praying regularly, and especially with attention and quiet, you will never master this lesson.

If you are no subjugating your body by fasting, you will never learn this lesson.

If the services are basically optional to you and attendance at them gets "bumped" for almost any reason, you will never learn this lesson.

Perhaps, for most of us, if we are not shown graphic evidence through sickness or the events of life  that we are weak and have no control over anything (except whether of not we turn to God for help in all things), we will never master this lesson.

 

 Many years to the newly crowned Mykael and Anastasia!

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2013-07-22+all-things-work-to-the-good+humble-pie.html

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2013-07-22+all-things-work-to-the-good+humble-pie.doc

 

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[1] God being my helper, I will NEVER serve a wedding on that "sacred" wedding night for Americans and American Orthodox who do not know their faith, which is Saturday night. It is ridiculous for the couple to eschew the Vigil service, placing all emphasis on the worldly matters of "getting ready for the wedding", and then to skip the celebration of the Resurrection and the partaking of the Eucharist the following morning. This is a terrible trade of earthly things instead of heavenly things. This is a terrible way to ask God to bless a union, which is NOT primarily sexual, but is an image of the love of the church. The purpose of marriage is so that two people can become one, and mutually labor for the salvation of their souls. Sleeping in on Sunday, after a night of carnal relations, which would be blessed if they did not substitute for preparation for the Holy Mysteries, is not a good beginning.

[2] Romans 8:28  And we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

Monophysitism, an Orthodox explanation. Why is this stuff important? Enduring wrongs. Why? How? Sharia law and injustice. A letter to prisoners, June 26/ July 9, Apostles Fast 2013

July 9th, 2013


I am sorry, fellows, I chose not to come this Wednesday, 07/10/13. I am recovering from pneumonia, and feel pretty good, but I tire easily. Getting up at 3am and having a very long day, plus being in the hot 8 building may be too much. I have a lot of people warning me to take it easy, and, since I am a stubborn Irishman, I have ignored some of their advice, but truth to tell, the last couple nights I have been pretty exhausted. My antibiotics are almost finished, and I have not had fevers or anything since late Thursday, but at the beginning of last week I was pretty sick, with constant fever and night (and even day) chills. Barring any setback, and if I do not act too stupid, I should be good to go next week, and will see you in 2 weeks.

 

I will try to write about stuff we talked about (in both prisons). I think it is good to review stuff and maybe flesh things out a little. I will make no claim to being organized here, and some of this stuff may seem to be random (welcome to my brain!), but it is stuff that we talked about recently.

 

Monophysite – a heresy, which posits that Jesus Christ has ONE nature (Greek "monos" – only or single and "physis" – nature). Generally, adherents to this heresy would say that this one nature is divine, and would believe that the human nature of Christ was assumed into the His Divine Nature. The heresy as a whole is called "Monophysitism". To this day, there are still people who subscribe to this heresy, such as the Coptic Church. These brave people are being martyred for their faith in Christ, and we should revere them and pray for them, but this does not mean that we should gloss over their inaccurate understanding of our Savior, Jesus Christ. May God save them and count them as martyrs for their great struggles, which includes property destruction and theft, torture, murder and the extremely common raping of their women.

 

Sharia Law.

 

By the way, did you know that in order for a woman to prove she was raped in a Moslem country under Sharia law, she must have FOUR Moslem men (not women, and all other faiths are considered to be infidels, and not reliable witnesses), which testify that they have absolute proof that the rape occurred? This basically means that they saw it, and of course, this is an impossibly high standard of proof. If a women makes such an accusation, and does not have these witnesses, she will be convicted of fornication (since, by the twisted logic of the demonically inspired Sharia law, she will have "confessed" to having intercourse with someone other than her husband!) and be punished, sometimes very severely, or even executed, even though she was raped!

 

We as Christians must learn something from this. On the one hand, justice and truth must be in our hearts, and we should not depend on the world to hold to these Godly virtues. All things will be revealed in the last judgment, and until that time, there will be many depravities which are not exposed. There will come a time when all things will be revealed. This is a promise straight out of Scripture, and I hope you recognize it.

 

We should both weep and exalt because of this. We should weep because many will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (this latter phrase from the scripture is an indication that they will be sorry and ashamed, but have no opportunity to repent), and it is a terrible thing for a person who has been made in the image of God, to fail to obtain His likeness, and perish. We should exalt, with cries of great joy, because all those who have endured terrible things, and kept their faith in God, will be filled with joy forevermore, and like the mother who has just given birth, no longer remembers the pain they endured in this life.

 

Please remind yourself everyday that you have put your hand to the plow, and am approaching the Heavenly Jerusalem  in everything good that you do. Prison is a place where there are many petty and great annoyances and even times of great injustice. Most of those things cannot be changed, and none of it will matter in the next life if you have not allowed any of it to make you bitter or angry. You were made for eternity, and everything good you do brings you closer to it. Nobody can take that away from you.

 

Back to the Monophysite heresy.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is eternal. We confess Him as "Light of God, true God of true God". He is uncreated, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created all things. Before He was man, before there was anything, He was. He was the one who told Moses His name: "I AM", meaning, that as God, He exists – He is the only one Who has always existed, and all things have come into being through Him, and nothing has existence without Him. He is unchanging and perfect, and shares all knowledge and all "Godliness" with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

 

Because of man's terrible predicament – sin, He, of his own perfectly free will, and by His power, became man, without in anyway changing that He is God. Simple understanding of the Godhead proves the Monophysite heresy to be false. God does not change. Nothing can be added or taken away from the God nature, which we also call His essence. If Jesus Christ, who was God before becoming man, and therefore had a nature which was God, in becoming man, mixed His newly acquired human nature with his God nature, His God nature would change. This is a complete impossibility. We confess that Jesus Christ is God and man, with two distinct natures in one person, Divine and human, in complete cooperation and sharing the same purpose, but not commingled or joined in any way.

 

Why is this important? Because "God is the Lord and hath revealed Himself to us, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord". God has revealed Himself to us as He is, and we would be impudent and stupid, as the created, to make pronouncements which contradict the word of the Creator about Himself.

 

This is the main reason to reject Monophysitism. There are logical reasons too. The purpose of the incarnation was to heal human nature. We have a saying from the Holy Fathers: "What is not assumed is not healed." Jesus Christ took on our nature, and healed it. If Jesus did not posses our human nature, but His nature was some strange mix of human and divine – neither human nor Divine, He could not have healed our human nature.

 

How do we *really*, *fully* learn this stuff? Perhaps it seems like a war of words with you, having has little practical meaning. If we understand why we were created, and by Whom, and therefore how we will be completely healed and obtain our inheritance, we will understand why how we view God and the Son of God is important.

 

God is love, and created us because of love. All things can be understood by love, but only by the same love that God has for Himself, which is an eternal love, according the His knowledge of Who He is. God revealed Himself to us and continues to reveal Himself because of love. We grow in knowledge of Him and union with Him because of love. Love is always according to knowledge of the truth. Love without truth is not love (much of the heresies of our day, especially the sexual heresies, are based upon a false idea of love which rejects truth). All our problems, all of our sins, are because we love poorly; we do not love as God loves. All that we do must be to learn to love as God loves, and in so doing, we will become like God, and know God. It is unthinkable to love God as He is not; we must love Him as He is, and He has revealed certain things about Himself that we must therefore believe. Without perfect love, these things cannot be understood perfectly, or even poorly, but as love grows, so always does knowledge grow, and wisdom and understanding.

 

The best option in every case is to love. May God help us to love as He loved Himself, and loves us.

 

There are other heresies related to Monophysitism. All of them have the same basic misunderstanding – they reject that Jesus Christ is perfectly God and perfectly man, without either nature joining with the other.

 

"Monothelism" teaches that Jesus Christ has one will, even though He has two distinct natures. It is numberswiki.com

basically an attempt to "compromise" the Monophysite heresy with the Orthodox dogma. It perhaps is a bit closer to the truth, but we do not treat the truth as something to be approached, like throwing a horseshoe or a hand grenade! This is not possible if He has two unmixed natures, since every nature has as one of its attributes, will.

 

The Divine will is infinitely stronger than any human will, although a perfect human will agrees with the Divine will perfectly in all things. Jesus became man to heal our will, and make it stronger. His incarnation healed the three attributes of human nature: the attributes of knowledge, desire (or appetite), and will (or irascibility). The Divine will is perfect and unchanging and in perfect cooperation at all times with the Divine knowledge and desire.  Our will must be brought into complete cooperation with our knowledge and desire – we must know the truth, desire to follow the truth, and have the ability by our will to live according to our knowledge and desire. At its perfection, this is theosis – union with God.

 

There are other terms related to the Monophysite heresy.  "Miaphytism" believes that in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one "nature" ("physis"), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration. This pretty much sounds like Monophysitism to me. Eutychianism holds that the human and divine natures of Christ were fused into one new single nature: His human nature was "dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monophysitism). It is so named for one of the chief protagonists of this heresy at the fourth ecumenical council (of Chalcedon). Eutyches is considered to be a saint by many who hold to the Monophysite heresy.

 

The important thing to remember is not the long and very technical Greek words. It is important to know that in the fullness of time, the uncreated Logos, Jesus Christ,

 

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  (7)  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  (8)  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  (9)  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:  (10)  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  (11)  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " (Philippians 2:6-11)

 

He took on our nature, which was in every way like our nature except for sin ("For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15)), and He purified it, strengthened it and healed it, so that, after the waters of baptism have flowed over us, we can be new creatures, and have all of our attributes completely united with one-another and with God.

 

You would all make me very happy if you marked in your bible some passages that illustrate Jesus' divine Nature and His human Nature. There are many of each, and you can find some in His own words, especially in the Gospel of John. I will bring a few next time. Hint – look around my favorite verse!

 

“All of our striving is concerned with acquiring the love commanded of us by Christ. When this spirit of Christ-like love enters within us our souls thirsts for the salvation of all people. We are appalled that by no means everyone wishes for himself what we ask for all in our prayers. Worse, we often meet with refusal, even hostility. How can people be saved when there is such perversion? We live in an age, the events of which make the tragedy of our fall more and more evident. To take my own life: for over half a century I have prayed, sometimes weeping bitter tears, sometimes in wild despair, for the peace of the whole world and the salvation, if it be possible, of all. And what do you suppose? To this hour, in my old age, I see every evil increasing in its dynamics. The close of mankind’s earthly history is scientifically thinkable and may become technically realizable tomorrow. We are nonplussed by the utterly irrational character of the happenings of our time. So what are we to do? Despair and reject the everlasting Gospel? And if we decide on rejection what else in the whole world is there to satisfy us? Positively nothing could separate us from Him, however bitter the trials that we must suffer. He has opened our eyes to infinity, and now we cannot close them and prefer the blindness of new-born puppies. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,’ said the Lord. And now we stand before the Living Absolute- which is exactly what, and only what, we are seeking.”  (Elder Sophrony of Essex, "We Shall See Him as He Is")

 

A Guardian Angel is given to each person at the moment of his baptism.  How should one guard the union of the soul with its Guardian Angel?  He carries out his activity through the conscience and the heart.  When a person cares for the salvation of his soul, guards his conscience, and avoids all manner of sin, then he senses his Guardian Angel.  The Guardian Angel instructs him in every good thing, sends him good thoughts, and warns him against evil.   We will see our Guardian Angel on the day of our departure from this life.  But what kind of meeting this will be will depend upon us and our deeds.  Will our Guardian Angel rejoice or will he sorrow at our careless life? …. Let us be attentive towards our Guardian Angel, let us prayerfully beg his help in all good deeds and for deliverance from every sin.  Let us entreat him to lead us persistently to the Lord, and let us not disgrace him by our actions.  (Elder Sebastian of Optina, "On Guardian Angels", Selections from the Sermons of Elder Sebastian, in Tatiana V. Torstensen,  Elder Sebastian of Optina, David Koubek (tr), Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1999, pp. 378-379.)

 

Truly the penitent is not one who laments over the evil he has committed, but one who laments over all the evil that he is capable of committing. A wise landowner not only cuts the thorn bush that has pricked him, but every thorn bush on the field that is waiting to prick him. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956) in "Prayers by the Lake")

 

"The greater the love, the greater the sufferings of the soul. The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God. The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer. The more perfect the love, the holier the life." (St. Silouan)

 

Orthodoxy is neither a culture nor a political system, because it is concerned with our personal salvation ,with the salvation of our souls. … Orthodoxy is not even a religion. Orthodoxy is not a religion like all the other religions. … Orthodoxy is a therapeutic course of treatment that heals the human personality.

 

A genuine doctor concerns himself with the treatment of anyone who is sick, without exception and without discrimination. … [He] only notices whether or not the people who come to him are sick. And if they are sick, he … tries to treat them and heal their infirmities. In Orthodox tradition we have something similar to this, but even more so. … [If we wish to be healed] we must go to the Church … to competent people who … possess the curative method of the Orthodox tradition, then we must be obedient to them in order to find healing. (Protopresbyter John Romanides)

 

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2103     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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John 17:11 No unity with God without unity with our neighbor

June 5th, 2013

"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

 
The reality of the Trinity, in which the persons of God live in perfect oneness, is not a dry, dogmatic fact. Here Christ ***defines salvation***; to be one with each other and God, even as God is one with Himself. 
This should put loving our neighbor, and being peacemakers, not judging etc – anything that promotes unity with our neighbor – in an important perspective. 
 
There is a profound external difference between the unity of God with Himself and our unity with our neighbor, but it is unimportant. God is in perfect unity with Himself; each person gives and receives love exactly identically. It is not like this in human relations, even among those who love each other, because of our lamentable and individually variable tendency to prise, vanity, and self-centeredness. 
 
God loves the good and the evil equally, and herein is the key to perfect unity with Him. 
 
Let us keep in mind that the Golden rule is to act towards our neighbor as we would *want* to be treated, not *AS* we are treated! 
 
Every interaction with our neighbor leads us into deeper unity with God (the only purpose of our life!) or estranges us from Him. This is a stark reality that we rarely acknowledge, but those who are holy know well. May God heal us of our preoccupation with ourselves and help us to love our brother, having only one expectation: to be one with God, even as He is. 

And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Eternal life, perfect freedom and joy explained – John16:22-24

June 4th, 2013

6th Tuesday of Pascha, May 22/June 4 2013

 

"And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.  (23)  And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.  (24)  Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John16:22-24)

 

How are you doing on your reading of John? We are finishing the 16th chapter today. We are headed to the end, on the leave-taking of Pascha (the day before Ascension, next week). I am not concerned if you are reading at a slower pace, but as your pastor I am very concerned of you are not reading at all or very haphazardly! We must read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Psalter, and ponder them. They are the words of eternal life.

 

The Last supper, after which Jesus instructed His Disciples (John 16) http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/last-supper-01.jpgIn the 16th chapter of John, Christ is preparing His disciples for is upcoming passion, on the very night of His arrest. Judas the betrayer of Christ did not hear these words. There is a great and deep well of theology here, a Christological treasure trove. It must be understood, and this happens over time and with repetition – of reading the Scripture texts and living the Christian life.

 

There is something else in this chapter that is too beautiful to talk about properly. It is so wondrous that we cannot explain it, because it promises things that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard"[1]. Our Lord describes our*end* state, the fruit of our labors. This is the entire and only goal of life – perfection in Christ.

 

In the next chapter, Our Lord will pray his high priestly prayer and give His definition of eternal life "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). I have quoted this verse more than any other, because it is a succinct summary of our only purpose in life, and the answer to that question that I ask so often (and re-ask myself often) – "What is the purpose of your life?"

 

In the selection above, Jesus describes our state of being in eternal life. The perfect man has no need to seek for anything, since he wants in nothing. Therefore, he has no need to pray to the Lord. Here we understand prayer in a narrow sense – to ask the Lord for things we need. Of course, perfect prayer actually leads to a state of no prayer – just the state of perfectly being in the presence of the Perfect One.

 

In this world, we are commanded to ask. The Scriptures are replete with these commands. We ask because we need. When we no longer need anything, we will have no reason to ask! therefore the Lord promises us that "in that day ye shall ask me nothing".

 

I yearn for that day. It seems impossible to my feeble mind that I can be totally perfect, without any lingering passions. There are many things in my life that I have conquered, in the sense that I do not do them, and am not even attracted to them, but I cannot say that I still am never tempted by them.

 

Jesus is describing the full restoration of the human will to the Edenic state. We are made in the image of God, and simplistically, that means that we are given the gift of free will. This is the ability to do what is good , always, and without labor (it is NOT the ability to do anything, good or bad, because doing bad destroys free will). We poor ones have learned to do good, but most of the time, it is with labor, and sometimes great and bitter labor. 

 

Never forget what you are laboring for! You are laboring to have joy that cannot be taken away from you; you are laboring to be free from labor. This is the only perfect freedom. Nothing else that man calls freedom is freedom.

 

In this world, we cannot have perfect joy, but we can labor for it, and God will give it to us, because He has promised. He will fully heal our suffering souls, and repair our will so that it is perfectly free, as His is. This is the outstanding promise of Christianity, and I never grow tired of talking about it or meditating on it. This is the reason I became an Orthodox Christian. For a time (a little over a year), I was someone who believed, in a typical sort of "Protestant Evangelical" way, but I never heard these things from my eager and honest peers, nor from any literature. I remember how excited I was when I understood that Christ promises perfection and not just forgiveness. As I have grown in the faith all these years, I have learned that the whole of our ascetical theology focuses on this reality.

 

It is notable that the Lord promises this perfect freedom and joy to His disciples (and to us), when they were experiencing great pain, sorrow and confusion. The next hours would bring about great sins within them, and their weak wills would crumble. So it is with us. We labor and work, and still our wills are weak and we fall, but as we progress in the Christian life, there are glimpses of the freedom and joy that Christ promises to us, and we are encouraged in our labors.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

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[1] "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

 

 

A feastday for all us Samaritans. Do you hear the conversation? Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, John 4:5-42

June 3rd, 2013

the Woman at the Well

Synopsis: The conversation and conversion of the Samaritan woman by the well, recorded only in John, is the conversation of Christ with the soul. This is good news for us, as the future Equal to the Apostles Photini (Svetlana) was not a good woman – she had many sins – and we are not good either, however, she listened to the Lord, even as He sternly corrected her false beliefs and immoral lifestyle. The same conversation is happening to us, every day. Are you listening? Do you know how to listen? St Photini teaches us.

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More homilies on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman are HERE

John 4:5-42 5 Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. 7 There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. 8 (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) 9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. 11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? 13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. 15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. 19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. 25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. 27 And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? 28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, 29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 30 Then they went out of the city, and came unto him. 31 In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. 32 But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. 33 Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? 34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. 35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. 37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. 38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours. 39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. 40 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his own word; 42 And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.


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Keep Holy things from becoming common!

June 1st, 2013

 

"Lord,  Thou hast accounted me worthy today,  but cast me not away  from Thy sight in that great and notable day when Thou wilt come again."

 

The Last supper http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/lastsupper-01.jpgThis prayer is a synthesis of the first and fourth prayers of Thanksgiving  after Holy Communion.

 

From the first:

"I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast vouchsafed me to be a communicant of Thy holy Things".

 From the fourth (the entire, short prayer):

"O Lord Jesus Christ our God, may Thy Holy Body, be unto me for life eternal, and Thy Precious Blood for the remission of sins; And may this Eucharist be to me for joy, health, and gladness. And at Thy dread Second Coming, vouchsafe me, a sinner, to stand at the right hand of Thy glory, through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother and of all Thy Saints".

 

Fr Zacharias[1] recommends that we say this prayer after liturgy to keep it from becoming common to us. This is a wonderful idea.  When I read it, I loved it, but to my shame, did not recognize  it as a synthesis of two prayers that I have said over three thousand times(!) (a footnote enlightened me).

 

We truly miss so much in everything we do because if our lack of attention. Every day,  the way we live is a travesty and tragedy. We are living out the life of the people if the Gergesenes[2], and the people of Chorazin! and Bethsaida[3], who saw the Lord and did not recognize Him.

 

I think about these things often. How many times do we do holy things in a common way? How many times do we zip through the Trisagion prayers, or Psalm 50? How many times does the Lord visit us, and we do not recognize Him, or treat Him as common?

 

I suffer from two maladies, one of which is because of my physical nature, and one because of my spiritual decadence.

 

The physical infirmity is not so important, and even though it is irksome, it will not condemn me[4]. I am easily disturbed and confused by noise and commotion, and therefore, the environment in which the prayers are read is not conducive to my mind processing what my ears hear. Added to that problem is that because I am a pastor, I must greet people as they kiss the cross, and the prayers become a drone in the background, especially is someone is saying them softly.

 

The other problem is much more significant and I have no excuses. I do not always pay complete attention. Even when I am focusing my attention on the prayers, my mind can drift in and out, like a weak radio signal.

 

Years ago, I would go home and say the Prayers of Thanksgiving after Communion alone, even though I had heard them read in church. This was in a different time, when I was a layman or deacon, and did not have so many responsibilities. Those were wonderful moments, and they helped to keep the miracle of the liturgy more appreciated. This practice was a kind of compensation for my maladies. We must creatively find ways to compensate for our spiritual depravity, and find ways to focus on the "holy things for the holy".

 

God help us! We treat as common that which is precious. We must prefer the common over the precious. We must do everything in our power to fight this deadly tendency. this seems impossible, but the Lord has promised us success with impossible things!



 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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[1] The Enlargement  of the Heart,  Archimandrite  Zacharias,  pg 93.

[2] The people of the Gergesenes kept swine and the Lord exorcized two demoniacs and allowed to the demons to enter the swine, and the swine went mad and ran down a cliff and were drowned in the sea below. the people went out to the Lord and asked Him to leave them; they should have been repenting and thanking Him for His visitation. They were blinded by their passions, as are wee. See Matthew 8:28-34

[3] Matthew 11:20-21  Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:  (21)  Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

[4] After all, if I cannot process the audible prayers, nobody except my poor sinful self is preventing me from inner silent prayer! I do this often when things are too chaotic for my sensitive ears, but not often enough!

By this all will know that you are My disciples…

May 30th, 2013

   

"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!

    

Distance Education in Orthodox Theology

May 30th, 2013

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.

http://orthodoxtheologicalschool.org/.

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.

http://hts.edu/seminary/front/en/academics.html#6.

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. 

http://www.sforthodoxinstitute.org/