Archive for March, 2009

5th Week of Great Lent – Tuesday. Counting our blessings.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


Better is an entertainment of herbs with friendliness and kindness, than a feast of calves, with enmity. (Proverbs 15:17, from the selection Prov 15:7-19, Vespers, 5th Tuesday of Great Lent)



The Scriptures should be very personal to us and evoke deep emotions when we read them. Everything in the scriptures is about us, whether directly or indirectly. The human condition, good and bad, how to live morally in almost any conceivable situation – it’s all in there.


One of the most personal aspects of Scripture is how it gently (and otherwise!) reminds us of things we should be mindful of, whether by example of direct instruction.


This proverb from today is particularly timely for me, as I participate in or Diocesan Assembly in Des Plaines. IL. It reminds me of the one thing needful and gently rebukes me concerning the things I grumble about.


We are a very small and poor diocese. Likewise our parish is small and poor, and yet both are rich, and I am constantly enriched by them. There is a profound peace in our Assembly. There is complete freedom to express our opinions, but all has been done with “friendliness and kindness”.  


Perhaps many do not know this, but there is serious unrest, malfeasance, distrust and fear in many quarters in the Orthodox world at this time, and especially in our own “backyard” in North America, but in our small diocese, and likewise, our small parish, there is calm.


We have man good and kind (and energetic and creative) priests, and a bishop who listens and does not rule us with a stick. This does not mean that we are “democratic” – but we are conciliar, and it is joy “for brothers to dwell together in unity”.


It is good to “count our blessings”. I have a wonderful parish, at peace, and am part of a wonderful diocese that is ruled in peace. There are many things to be done, and with God’s help we are doing them at the parish and diocesan level. I will try, despite the fact that I have always been a poor historian, to report on these things when I get back, however, the most important thing is that in our church, our dioceses, with our bishop and my fellow clergy, there is “friendliness and kindness”.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas great-lent-week-05-tuesday_2009-03-31+counting-our-blessings.html great-lent-week-05-tuesday_2009-03-31+counting-our-blessings.doc


New commentaries are posted on our BLOG: http://www/


Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings:


Compendium of materials about Great Lent:


Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!


The Fourth Sunday Of Great Lent. The Healing of the Boy with a dumb and deaf spirit

Sunday, March 29th, 2009


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Great Lent and on this day we read about the healing, at the request of his father, of the boy who is possessed of a demon. There are many things to understand about this scripture, but we can only touch on a few of them now. For now I want you to consider what it was that this demon did to the boy. The father comes to Christ and describes his plight, a pitiable plight. This boy is cast into the fire and into the water by this demon, this deaf and dumb demon. According to the fathers, deaf because he would not allow the boy to hear the word of God, and dumb because the boy could not speak out in praise of God.

And what is the fire? It’s not just material fire as it was for this boy, but also the fire of anger, lust, those hot sins in which we seem to have so much pleasure partaking, and that seem to have such a hold on us. That is fire. Jealousy, hatred, rage. Those kind of things are fire.

And what is the water? Well, the water is equally pernicious to the soul. It is to be thrust into worldly cares – as blessed Theophylact says, "the crushing waves and billows of worldly care." That’s what the water is. There’s not a sin that you can think of that is neither fire nor water. Nothing.

Now this boy was completely possessed. He was incapable of free thought. He was incapable of free action because this demon controlled him. It took him where it wanted, it made him fall down where it wanted, it threw him towards the water or towards the fire, and the boy’s father could only with great difficulty save him from being burned or being drowned. It’s not too much different, really, for us. We unfortunately addict ourselves to sins — fire and water. Our plight is also a terrible one. We’re addicted, we must admit this. We must admit that we need help. We must see ourselves for who we truly are and then we can come to Christ for healing.

Christ says to the man who wants his son to be healed, "All things are possible to him that believeth." This is true. We understand this. We accept this. We’re Christians. We say, " Absolutely, God can do everything. God can heal any man, God can raise a corpse from the dead, make the lame to walk and the blind to see." Ah, but then we lose our faith when it comes to fire and water, as this man did as well. Because when we look at ourselves , we doubt. We doubt that God can heal us . He can heal somebody else, and He can certainly do physical things. We believe that. We read the lives of the saints, we read the scripture, we believe that when Tabitha was raised from the dead she really was. We believe that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, God had brought the breath of life back into him. We believe.

But do we believe that God can deliver us from our sins, from our passions, from things that we have been doing "of a child"? Most of our sins are from childhood. They’re built from childhood. We’re built into little sinning-machines when we’re little, and it’s very, very hard to extricate ourselves from our passions and our difficulties later. This boy was of a child being thrown into the fire and into the water, and it’s the same with us. Now do we believe that God can deliver us from our passions? Do we really believe? The evidence that I have as a pastor is to the contrary. Most of us struggle mightily with this disbelief. And because of that, we don’t make the progress we should. We must believe.

We have the examples of the lives of the saints to show that God has taken people who have sinned sometimes much worse even than we, and made them great, made them perfect and holy. We have the example of St. Mary, which, unfortunately, so many of you will not hear this coming week. (Note: The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, with the life of St Mary of Egypt, is chanted on Wednesday evening, the fifth week of Great Lent, which follows the Sunday of St John Climacus, the Sunday on which this sermon was preached. At St Nicholas, this service is at 6:30 PM , year after year, and too many miss this service, and have despondency over their sins, and continue to have weak faith, year, after year) Because … I don’t know why you won’t. But many of you will not be present on Wednesday night to listen to an example of how God can completely heal a person. Mary didn’t doubt. This was a woman who’d been a prostitute, and worse than a prostitute. She’d had thousands of lovers. Every impurity possible that can be imagined and many that, I’m sure, we could not even imagine, she had partaken of and defiled herself over and over. And what did she do when she came to repentance? She believed that God could change her. She believed that God could deliver her from fire. She didn’t have too much trouble with water; for her it was the hot passions that were going to destroy her and burn her up. But she believed.

Now we must believe. These words are difficult words because it’s difficult for us to believe, to really think we can change. Over and over we doubt ourselves. Over and over we doubt that God can remove from us a certain sin. Or sometimes, to be perfectly frank about the matter, sometimes there is a sin that we like and that we don’t really want to let go of. And when we do that, there’s this guilt in us that pushes us away from holy things and then causes disbelief.

Now these are hard words, and our Lord knows this. So because of that, the words of this man are recorded. Mark these words well, because they give hope. "Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." What is that – a riddle? No, this is what God does to the soul. He takes our unbelief, and if there’s the merest, slightest seed of belief in us, he makes it grow. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, He explains after the healing that if your faith is as a mustard seed, God will do anything. A mustard seed is tiny; you can barely see it. It’s like a celery seed – very, very small. But it’s very pungent and it seasons the whole dish, and it grows into a great, great tree, from a very small beginning. So if you have unbelief, beg God to help you believe. Now you must also do the other things as well. There’s an important example of the Christian life, really in microcosm the entire importance of the incarnation, at the end of the healing of this boy. Be careful now with Scripture! It often teaches an incredible depth of knowledge in two or three words. Very laconic. Not like me; it takes very little space to say great things!

What happened to the boy after he was healed? The father had a small amount of belief, and God said, "I will heal him. I charge thee, deaf and dumb spirit, come out of him, and don’t ever come back." Very important. We’ll talk about that another time. But the boy falls to the ground. It’s like he’s dead. The people think he’s dead. But Christ takes him by the hand and raises him up. God becoming man raises us up. God takes on our infirmities and makes us able to live. This you must understand. This is the implication of the incarnation. This is why we can be saved. God has made our flesh able to live – He lifts us up. The whole meaning of the incarnation – it makes us able to live!

Then what happened when the boy was lifted? It says, "he arose." The boy stood up, he was helped and then he stood up. And this is our work in the Christian life. This is our labor in response to God’s help. Now if you do not labor you will have troubles with disbelief , because belief, or purity and belief, are tied perfectly together with labor. This is why when the man came to him with the boy, our Lord said, "Oh faithless and perverse generation." He says that in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Faithless and perverse. From perversity, acting unnaturally – sin is perversity by the way – comes disbelief and faithlessness. From purity comes faithfulness . They’re in a circle, either in the vicious circle, the spiral ever downwards because of lack of purity and faithfulness, or in this blessed circle, where God, when He sees our desire to stand up, helps us and fills us more with knowledge. And our faith is increased, and our knowledge is increased. And we are so thankful when we have God revealed to us that we become better. And we become more pure. And as we become more pure, God, who reveals Himself to the pure, further reveals Himself to us.

You must understand this mechanism of salvation if you are to be saved. You must believe, and you must act upon your belief. God will raise you up, but then you must stand. Now I can only exhort you to stand – I cannot make you stand. God will help you to stand, but He will not make you. It is an act of your will that you must stand, and you must work, and you must walk in the Christian life. Now if you have trouble with belief, you can look into yourself and see the core of this disbelief. You will see, if you look carefully, it is because you are not living the Christian life. Not effectively, not as much as you should. It’s a lot of laziness, a lot of inactivity as far as fulfilling the commandments. This is why you’re having trouble with belief.

Now, maybe you have trouble with some passions and you desire to change. All right, God has an answer for you. The man said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief." We all doubt. It is unfortunately part of our human nature. We see so much that’s wrong with us, and it’s hard for us to believe we can be changed. To me, this is the sweetest thing about Christianity. God will change us. We won’t be like this in the other life. We’ll change. There will not be suffering. There won’t be problems with anger, with lust. There won’t be sadness. There won’t be dysfunction. God will change us. We must believe this.

If we do not believe, we’re not really Christians, and God won’t change us if we don’t believe. Or at least, if we don’t have that small mustard seed of belief. Cultivate it well, brothers and sisters. Cultivate this seed. Feed it with activity, with fasting, with prayer, with desire, with forcing yourself to pray when you don’t want to, to come to church when you don’t want to, to make time for confession when it’s too easy to be, shall we say, drowned in the water, in worldly cares. Cultivate this seed of belief. Then God will hear your prayer. When you say, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief," He will hear it. And He will strengthen your belief. And then when you feel His hand in yours, stand. Amen.


Original post at

Mark 9:17-31 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; {18} And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. {19} He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. {20} And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. {21} And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. {22} And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. {23} Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. {24} And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. {25} When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. {26} And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. {27} But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. {28} And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? {29} And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. {30} And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. {31} For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.

Old Testament references to the Cross. 4th Week of Great Lent – Friday Matins

Friday, March 27th, 2009

During the entire fourth week of Great Lent, the precious cross is a constant subject of the services.


This is typical of the way we celebrate our feasts. It is not “one and done”, like so many people, in (lamentably) and out of the church tend to mark Christian holidays: there is always a period after a commemoration where we continue to ruminate on its implications in our services.


For instance, we consider the time of Pascha to not only include the Sunday of Pascha, but the entire week following (“Bright Week”), through Saturday, is considered to be as one day – for us “Pascha” is a week long feast. Since Pascha is the greatest of feasts, we continue to refer to it and use Paschal hymns all the way until the Ascension – a full forty days. In like manner, although not for as long a period, there are “after feast’ periods for all the great feasts the church celebrates.


This week is the period after the celebration of the precious cross on the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent. Our hymnology this week is particularly filled with OT references to the cross, some of which may seem obscure to those who are not well versed in the Orthodox understanding of the scriptures and our services.


Perhaps some would wonder how we know these OT scriptures refer to the cross, Christ, and other New Testament things. After all, some references are not immediately obvious, and there is no place in NT scripture that refers to them.  The reason is simply because all that is to be known about God and the scriptures is not in scripture! Even Protestants tacitly recognize this, because they believe interpretations of OT prophesies that are not discussed in the NT, because, after, all,


“… There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one … even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)

The Scripture itself tells us that there are many truths that Christ explained to the Apostles after the resurrection:


“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)


Not all of them were written down in the Gospels or Epistles.  These were all passed down orally, and many made their way into our highly complex, theological, and beautiful services texts.[1]


In the following examples, a hymn for the services of today is quoted, followed by the scriptures it references.



Today the words of the prophet are fulfilled; for see, we worship at the place where Thy feet have stood, O Lord; and, tasting from the tree of salvation, we have been delivered from our sinful passions at the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Thou Who lovest mankind (Sessional Hymn, Friday matins in the 4th week, Tone 6)


Let us enter into his tabernacles: let us worship at the place where his feet stood. Psalm 132:7  (131:7)


Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. Psalm 99:5  (98:5)


I always think of this prophesy when I prostrate before the cross. There are two kinds of prostrations: penitential, and adoration. Most of the time we are making a prostration in a penitential manner. We are remembering that we are sinners, and the physical act of getting on the ground and then back up is a non verbal prayer, whose basic content can be summed up as “Lord have mercy”.


A prostration before the cross is different. We are “worshipping at His footstool”, with profound gratefulness and awareness of the resurrection. In this context, going down reminds us of death, and getting back up is a physical proclamation of the resurrection. Things will not always be as they are; we will someday get up and stay up, and all this is possible because of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Many Protestant commentators totally miss the Messianic context of these Psalms. They are smart people, and very learned, and no doubt many are sincere believers, but they have learned things outside of the eternal wisdom of the church. We in the church have understood these Psalm verses to be a reference to the cross over two millennia!



In the middle of the fast we see exalted in our midst the precious cross, on which Thou wast lifted up by Thine own choice in the middle of the earth, O Lord supreme in goodness and love. Through its veneration the world is sanctified and the hosts of demons put to flight. (Matins Canon, Ode 4, 4th Friday of Great Lent)


But God is our King of old; he has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. Psalm 74:12  (73:12)


When our Lord was put upon the cross, it was thrust into the “midst of the earth” in order to stand upright. The Psalms are full of obscure references to Christ and the cross like this one. This reference is not “intuitively obvious” to the casual observer, but it is a theme that is repeated many times in our services throughout the year.


We must read the scriptures; this book should not gather any dust in your house! We also must also read the scriptures with understanding. One a few are scholars and have the time, temperament, education and resources to search out the Holy Fathers for scripture commentary. We all have the time to stand in prayer in the holy services, and listen and learn. It’s all there, in our services, for those who will stand still, like Elias, and have ears to hear the wonderful story of our salvation, recounted in many different ways.



Thou was crucified, O Son of God, on the pine, the cedar and the cypress; Sanctify us all, and count us worthy to look upon Thy life-giving passion (Matins canon, Ode 4, 4th Friday of Great Lent)


And the glory of Lebanon shall come to thee, with the cypress, and pine, and cedar together, to glorify my holy place. Isaiah 60:13 


Here is one of the most obscure references to the cross in all of scripture, and here also is another “name” we have for our Lord Jesus Christ: “the glory of Lebanon”.


The Hebrew version of the scriptures makes this prophesy even more exact, by adding the words “I will make the place of my feet glorious”. I am not sure why there is this textual difference between the Septuagint (which is quoted above and used in our services) and the Masoretic text (the Hebrew text translated into “typical”  English bibles, such as the King James, Revised Standard, etc). This does not really matter; I have the holy services to guide me and teach me about the holy scriptures. Maybe after I get a doctorate in Hebrew and Greek I will look into this textual question!




Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


New commentaries are posted on our BLOG: http://www/


Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings:


Compendium of materials about Great Lent:


Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!


[1] Thank you to Deborah, whose comment when this article was originally posted on the blog Redeeming the Time inspired much of this short discussion of Scripture and Tradition. It is wonderful when excellent comments cause these articles to be modified!

4th Week of Great Lent – Thursday Vespers. The Tower of Babel.

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


Once when He descended and confounded the tongues…


Today we read in Genesis the story of the tower of Babel. In this story, we learn how the human race was scattered over the face of the earth because, in our pride, we wished to build a tall tower reaching unto heaven. Thus, the confusion of our language was a great mercy of God, as it kept us from banding together for evil, so that, scattered abroad, we could learn humility and return to God.

On Wednesday, Father Seraphim mentioned how a Christian cannot think of the expulsion from paradise without thinking of the remedy – the holy Cross. Likewise, we should not think of the confusion of tongues without thinking of the remedy – the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. While the division caused by the confusion of tongues was for our benefit, it was not in line with God’s plan for us. Made in His image, we are made to be united to Him and to one another, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one within the Godhead.

And thus, the Holy Spirit comes down on the day of Pentecost to unite us to Christ and to one another in the Church. Moreover, we each received this very same gift on the day of our baptism, being united to Christ’s Body in the Church, and we renew this union each time we partake of the Holy Mysteries.

Father Tom Soroka, speaking of this in his daily scriptural commentary (, quotes in particular the following hymn from the Pentecost service:


"Of old the tongues were confounded / because of the audacity in the building of the tower, / but now the tongues are made wise / because of the glory of Divine knowledge. / There God condemned the impious because of their offense, / and here Christ hath enlightened the fishermen by the Spirit. / At that time the confusion of tongues was wrought for punishment, / but now the concord of tongues hath been inaugurated // for the salvation of our souls" (Aposticha for Pentecost).


Let us give thanks to God for His great mercies! And let us strive to come together, through prayer and repentance uniting ourselves to the Holy Church, and thereby to each other, that we may see fulfilled Christ’s last with for us: "that they may be one, as we [the Holy Trinity] are" (John 17).





Gen 10:32 – 11:9


These are the tribes of the sons of Noe, according to their generations, according to their nations: of them were the islands of the Gentiles scattered over the earth after the flood. 1. And all the earth was one lip, and there was one language to all. 2. And it came to pass as they moved from the east, they found a plain in the land of Senaar, and they dwelt there. 3. And a man said to his neighbor, Come, let us make bricks and bake them with fire. And the brick was to them for stone, and their mortar was bitumen. 4. And they said, Come, let us build to ourselves a city and tower, whose top shall be to heaven, and let us make to ourselves a name, before we are scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth. 5. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men built. 6. And the Lord said, Behold, There is one race, and one lip of all, and they have begun to do this and now nothing shall fail from them of all that they may have undertaken to do. 7. Come, and having gone down let us there confound their tongue, that they may not understand each the voice of his neighbor. 8. And the Lord scattered them thence over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city and the tower. 9. On this account its name was called Confusion, because there the Lord confounded the languages of all the earth, and thence the Lord scattered them upon the face of all the earth.





Reader Nivholas Park 2008.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas



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Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings:


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4th Week of Great Lent – Thursday. Proverbs 13:21

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Your time is gonna come!


Evil shall pursue sinners; but good shall overtake the righteous.

(Proverbs  13:21, from the selection Prov 13:19 – 14:6, Vespers, 4th Thursday of Great Lent)


The Proverbs are good to read every day. They are good reminders; they help keep us on track. I suppose that they are read during all weekdays in Great Lent precisely because inculcating their wisdom into our daily life enables us to realize the power of the resurrection, which we are pointing to the entire fast.  The resurrection is powerful, life changing, but it does not affect everyone. Only those who attempt to change will be affected by it. Many of the changes we must make are elucidated in the Proverbs.


This proverb is an excellent word picture of the entire life of the righteous, and by this is meant the sinner who, with God’s grace helping, aspires to love the law of God and follow it, and become righteous. 


There are four pursuits described here. Sinners pursue evil; those who wish to be righteous pursue the following of all the commandments. Evil pursues sinners, and will surely overtake them (read the Psalms and Proverbs especially, you will find dozens of examples), and God pursues the righteous, and surely His good and mercy will ultimately prevail.


The Proverb does not tell us when these things shall happen, but we know – the absolute end of these pursuits is at the end of all things, when the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead.


We are not without consolation until this time; in various ways, we slowly change, and good “overtakes” us. We are commanded to pursue God, but we do this poorly. What a great consolation it is that He is always pursuing us!


Many times in confession I remind someone of the progress they have made – this is very important! We cannot go on very long in any pursuit without consolation.


Perhaps you formerly cursed a great deal, now you do not curse, or do so rarely when overtaken with anger.


Perhaps you formerly had many unclean thoughts and actions and now control yourself much more than in the past.


Perhaps you have finally excised the worm of bitterness that formerly overtook you with the memory of someone who hurt you deeply.


All these things are consolations; they are examples of good overtaking us.


God is with us, even when we do not feel Him. Evil is with sinners, even if they do not feel it.


It is a great consolation to know that are we run the race, and often stumble, and even go in the wrong direction for a time, God is with us, running with us, pursing us. What we see in the world now will not always be. The evil will be punished, the good will be rewarded. Which will we be?



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas great-lent-week-04-thursday_2009-03-26+vespers+evil-shall-pursue-sinners-but-good-shall-overtake-the-righteous.html great-lent-week-04-thursday_2009-03-26+vespers+evil-shall-pursue-sinners-but-good-shall-overtake-the-righteous.doc



New commentaries are posted on our BLOG: http://www/


Daily Lenten Meditations on the service texts and scripture readings:


Compendium of materials about Great Lent:


Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!


The Connection between abstinence and understanding. 4th Week of Great Lent – TUESDAY

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Illumined in our souls through abstinence, let us venerate the saving cross upon which Christ was nailed, and let us cry aloud to it: Hail the delight and sure help of those that fast; Hail, destroyer of the passions, adversary of the devils; Hail blessed wood! (Matins Sessional Hymn, Tone 8, from the Triodion, Tuesday in the 4th week of Great Lent)


Why do we fast? If a person fasts because it is a rule, he does not understand, is not “illumined”. We fast precisely because of the human condition, which needs fasting in order to be “illumined”. This is a biological/spiritual “law”, as binding upon the human body and soul as, for instance, the law that if one drinks a liter of alcohol they will not be able to reason well, or if more calories are ingested than are used in activity, a person will become fat.


There is a connection between the body and soul; each affects the other. We do not understand how this interaction occurs, but we know from experience various ways that each affects the other.


Our Lord told us that “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Mat 17:21). He was using the occasion of the exorcism He had just performed to compare our passions to demons and teach us a principle weapon we must use to expel them. This understanding has been present in the church from the beginning but one will not find it understood well outside of Orthodoxy, or even by most in the church.


Since fasting for too many is a “rule”, and they do not understand its purpose, like most rules that are not understood, it is not well followed and loses its power to effect change. People foolishly argue whether strict fasting is for monks or not, and all kinds of minutia, when they should be pursuing abstinence in order to gain understanding.


Adam and Eve fell from understanding because they were not abstinent. All kinds of gluttony – for food, drink, pleasure, power, prestige, money, entertainments and everything else – darkens our understanding. The things we desire are not (usually) forbidden in principle, but our desiring them in excess measure is a type of impurity, and only the pure can know God, because they have become like him.


“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Beatitudes)


Why do you fast? If it is for any other reason than to illumine the dark parts of your soul, you fast weakly, without power and proper purpose.


If you do not understand this connection between fasting and understanding, you must explore it first with faith, and you will learn. “Come and see” said Philip to Nathaniel, and this advice applies equally well to all spiritual and ascetic endeavors.


Half hearted measures are unlikely to help you. Neither is sometimes fasting and sometimes not, or making up your own rules about fasting. Do not do this alone. Your confessor should know about your fasting. If your confessor does not fast[1], or belittles fasting, then find a new confessor! A confessor will help a person to fast according to their abilities. A person who does not follow the letter of the fasting “rules” but tries to follow them in spirit will spiritually ascend.


Abstinence is hard. It is directly opposed to our self-centeredness, our wayward desires. This is precisely why it is so powerful and so necessary.


Some time ago I read an article that made me very sad. A person who was new to Orthodox had trouble with fasting. particularly irritability and an obsession with and confusion about the rules. Not receiving sound counsel, this person, in the darkness of his understanding reasoned that “over emphasizing” fasting was the cause of his problems, and finding a church that was more “relaxed” (his words) about fasting. he thought he found a better way. The only thing that we ALWAYS “over-emphasize” is our own desires, and this ALWAYS darkens our understanding.


The only solution for indulgence is abstinence, with proper measure and resolute purpose. In so doing, with God’s great help, we will be “Illumined in our souls through abstinence.”



Post Script.


This simple hymn, sung only ONE day in the entire church year, is illustrative of the vast wealth that is on our services. If one listens carefully, all of our theology, and with it, our practices and the reason for them, are fully explained. Theology is beautiful, precise and pristine. When it is sung, it penetrates the soul. It is good to read service texts, but even better to stand in long services and listen to them. Even if in a three hour service there is only enough attention and lucidity to understand, even for a brief moment, one of our hymns, the time is well spent. Attempting to stand in the services and pray is a kind of abstinence too, and it bestows rich rewards upon the expectant hearer. As in all things, spiritual, this must be experienced to be understood.






The most important reference on fasting for an Orthodox Christian is a confessor who fasts.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Of course, there are proper reasons to eat “non-fasting” food during a fast season, but they only involve the needs of the body, and should not involve the gluttony of the soul. A person may eat non-fasting food for medical reasons, but in every case, the “spirit of the fast” can be followed, and the person is then “fasting”. A confessor who does not understand and practice fasting is incompetent and spiritually dangerous.

3rd Week of Great Lent – FRIDAY Vespers.”A deceitful balance” – Proverbs 10:31-11:12

Friday, March 20th, 2009

A deceitful balance is an abomination before the Lord: and a just weight is his will.  Great Lent, the Third Week, Friday, Vespers – Proverbs 11:1, from the selection: Proverbs 10:31-11:12


The Proverbs are excellent texts for checking ourselves. We must read the scriptures with the intent of finding personal correction and guidance.


 When we observe good or bad behavior, do we resemble it? When there is a rebuke, would we deserve the same? When a prayer is uttered or a promise made, would we be truth tellers or liars if we said the same thing?


Here we are told something about honesty. In old times, product was weighed on a balance, and sold by weight. An unscrupulous merchant could add weight to the side on which he weighed the product, so that a small amount would seem heavier, or he could label the weights that he added to the other side incorrectly, by overstating their weight. In either case, the result was (for instance) that a customer would think he was buying a pound, but in reality the weight would only be twelve ounces.


The way we judge things, and present ourselves to others may be considered a “balance”.


Our balance is deceitful, if we prefer one person over another because of their wealth, or position or notoriety, as the Holy Brother of the Lord tells us:


My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (2) For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (3) And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: (4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4 KJV)


We have a deceitful balance if we speak ill of another behind their back.


Our balance is false if we are more likely to talk or listen to someone if they are pretty, or interesting.


Is not our balance deceitful, when we promise to do something, and do not do it?


 Anytime that we hide dark thoughts in our hearts regarding our brethren, regardless of whether we think that we act upon them, we carry within us a deceitful balance.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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3rd Week of Great Lent. Thursday. “The Ensign of the people…” Sixth Hour, Isaiah 11:10-12:2

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious. Great Lent, the Third Week, Thursday, The Sixth Hour, Isaiah 11:10, from the selection: Isaiah 11:10-12:2




The root of Jesseis none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who came from the line of Jesse.




“Ensign” can also be rendered “standard”, and this is a foreshadowing of the precious cross. The cross is our ensign; we venerate it because of our Lord’s accomplishments upon it, and we look to it to teach us the “way of the cross”, that is, imitating the moral life of our Savior.




“His sepulchre shall be glorious” is a prophesy regarding our Lords tomb – it indeed would be glorious when He rose from the dead in it.








Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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3rd Week of Great Lent – Wednesday. “Joyful celebration of the fast”

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

“As we continue in the joyful celebration of the fast, we cry aloud: keep us all in peace, O Lord, deliver us from every snare of the enemy, and in Thy surpassing love count us worthy to venerate with love Thy precious cross, through which thou grantest to the inhabited world Thy mercy, O Thou who alone art most merciful.” Great Lent, the Third Week, Wednesday, The Sixth Hour, Sessional Hymn, Tone Two (by Theodore)


 The services are enthusiastic! I love to hear their enthusiasm about the living of the spiritual life, and their frequent enraptured meditation on the truths and dogmas of our faith. I hope you do too.


 This hymn is one of many during the Great Fast that count this “tithe”[1] of the year as great blessing, and joy.


This attitude is a different perspective for some of us. For some, Great Lent is a time to “give up” things, and deal with inconvenience and difficulty in planning meals.


The reason for these feelings is a serious misunderstanding of the Fast, and also the main reason for the Fast, the following of the commandments.


The Fast is not IMPOSED upon us, nor are any of the sweet commandments of the Lord imposed upon us. We follow the commandments because they are the only way of life, and because we will be changed and perfected.


Does anybody want to stay the same way they are right now? Do you still want to have bouts of laziness, depression, shame because of your behavior, intrusive thoughts that make you feel dark and cold? If you like this state, you may have it forever, and you need not do anything to achieve it!


If a person wants to change, the Fast is a joyful time, because it facilitates change. We will not always be in our current, wretched condition; we will be changed.


The joyful faster always has that “blessed hope”[2] within him when he fasts. The fast may truly have great difficulties and sorrows for us, but the Christian is joyful, even in his sorrow, because he knows that he is getting better. Most of the time, we cannot “feel” that we are getting better; we will believe this only as we continue to struggle and God sends us ineffable consolation.


To those who consider the phrase “joyful fast” and oxymoron, the church hymns constantly invite: “Come and see!”


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas,-joyful-celebration.html,-joyful-celebration.doc


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[1] Great Lent and Holy Week, including Holy Saturday is 36 days, and therefore encompasses almost exactly a tenth of the days of the year, and many spiritual writers have commented on this.


Here is the math:


  • Great Lent is 6 weeks long, and Saturday and Sunday are not rigorous fasting days. Counting only weekdays, this gives us 6 weeks of 5 days each = 30 days.
  • Holy Week is also a week of fasting, so this adds another 5 days. We are now at 35 days.
  • Since Holy Saturday is considered to be a fast day (we can have wine, but not oil), we add another day, giving us 36 days.
  • 36/365 = 9.8 percent, or, rounded up, 10%, a tithe of the year.






[2]  “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, (12) Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (13) Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; (14) Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:11-14 KJV







3rd Week of Great Lent – TUESDAY. Vespers. Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars.

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars. 2. She has killed her beasts; she has mingled her wine in a bowl, and prepared her table. 3. She has sent forth her servants, calling with a loud proclamation to the feast, saying, 4. Who so is foolish, let him turn aside to me: and to them that want understanding she says, 5. Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you. 6. Leave folly, that ye may reign for ever; and seek wisdom, and improve understanding by knowledge. Tuesday in the Third Week of Great Lent- At Vespers – Proverbs 9:1-6, from the selection Prov 8:32 – 9:11


Christ, he means, the wisdom and power of God the Father, hath builded His house, i.e., His nature in the flesh derived from the Virgin, even as he(John) hath said beforetime, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." As likewise the wise prophet testifies: Wisdom that was before the world, and is the source of life, the infinite "Wisdom of God, hath builded her house" by a mother who knew no man, — to wit, as He assumed the temple of the body.


"And hath raised her seven pillars;" that is, the fragrant grace of the all-holy Spirit, as Isaiah says: "And the seven spirits of God shall rest upon Him," But others say that the seven pillars are the seven divine orders which sustain the creation by His holy and inspired teaching; to wit, me prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the hierarchs, the hermits, the saints, and the righteous.


And the phrase, "She hath killed her beasts," denotes the prophets and martyrs who in every city and country are slain like sheep every day by the unbelieving, in behalf of the truth, and cry aloud, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we were counted as sheep for the slaughter."


And again, "She hath mingled her wine" in the bowl, by which is meant, that the Savior, uniting his Godhead, like pure wine, with the flesh in the Virgin, was born of her at once God and man without confusion of the one in the other.

"And she hath furnished her table:" that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper.


And again, "She hath sent forth her servants:" Wisdom, that is to say, has done so– Christ, to wit — summoning them with lofty announcement.


"Whoso is simple, Let him turn to me," she says, alluding manifestly to the holy apostles, who traversed the whole world, and called the nations to the knowledge of Him in truth, with their lofty and divine preaching.


And again, "And to those that want understanding she said"– that is, to those who have not yet obtained the power of the Holy Ghost — "Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you;" by which is meant, that He gave His divine flesh and honored blood to us, to eat and to drink it for the remission of sins.


St Hippolytus of Rome, On Proverbs


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

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