Category Archives: Wisdom of the Saints

Starving the Ego

They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.

Currently I am employed in a call center trouble-shooting the point of sale equipment of various customers. One of the major factors which determines how we are evaluated is our solve rate; the ratio of calls that we are able to resolve over the phone to those which we must dispatch field technicians.

The result of this however is that there are people who will do whatever they can in order to solve a call out, even if it means cheating, lying or any other of a number of shady actions.

Now I am not perfect, and on occasion I deviate from the straight and narrow in order to ensure my numbers remain reasonable, but the blatant abuse of some here really irks me. I catch myself increasingly often engaging in conversations with others and talking about these blatant abuses and those who are doing them.

As I continue to grow in Orthodoxy, these conversations become visible to myself;  they  become the “beam in my own eye” and I realize that it’s not my place to judge these people; it’s not my place to talk bad about what they might be doing here when I myself have so many faults that at times I wonder why God would even listen to my cries to Him.

This is something in our fallen nature that plagues almost everyone: the tendency to feel slighted by others, to want to talk bad about people we perceive to be doing wrong, and the desire to feed our ego with a self-righteous attitude through the faults of others.

This is one of the passions which I’ve decided to focus on bringing under control and I recently came across the above saying by Abba Macarius to help me remember this. I wanted to share it with you all in the hopes that you might receive some edification from it as well.

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He that is idle shall not eat.

Our works in this life are the sowing, and the future life is the harvest of what we have sown. Whatever one sows here, that is what he shall reap there. If one hastens to cultivate the field of his heart, to fertilize it and to sow in it the seeds of immortal grain, he can confidently expect to see a corresponding harvest unto eternal rest and delight. He that sows with tears of repentance shall reap with rejoicing and “shall be filled,” says the Prophet, for sweet rest follows upon the labors of piety. Bust rest and refreshment are denied to him who has not labored in the work of piety –he that is idle should not eat; it is said.  – Elder Moses of Optina

A big misconception that many Protestants have towards Christian “organized religion” such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox is that we believe our works can grant us salvation. This is a major stumbling block for them because it violates one of the “Solas” that they hold, Sola fide, or the belief that salvation comes through faith alone and they are partly correct. Salvation does not come through good words, it is given only as a gift to those who choose to reunite their will with that of God and to leave as He intends us to.

However, we cannot truly be living in this manner unless we are doing good works. It’s like a music lover who hears their favorite song: as the notes sweep over them they cannot help but to dance or sing along. So it with the Christian: as the love and awe of the Holy Trinity sweeps over us we should not be able to help but to do good works to benefit those around us, and in so doing  to prove our faith.

I recently received my B.A. in Philosophy, and there’s a quote about philosophy by Ludwig Wittgenstein which rings so very true: “A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.” How much more so is this sentiment true for the Christian? We could say in a similar manner, “A Christian who is not acting on his faith is like a pilot who never flies; they both seek the heights of what is humanly possible, but neither will reach it.”

Tomorrow is the Nativity of Christ, the moment when God became incarnate so that he might show us the way back to perfection and to rescue us from death. He did not just talk about doing so — He acted. Let those of us who seek to imitate Christ also not just sit around idly, but take action.

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NI | KA


Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer.

Men that seem worthy of confidence, yet teach strange doctrines, must not upset you. Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer. It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight. For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us. Increase your zeal. Read the signs of the times. Look for Him Who is above all time – the Timeless, the Invisible, Who for our sake became visible, the Impassible,  Who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything. -St. Ignatius of Antioch

An icon of St. Ignatius being martyred.

It’s amazing how little can change over 2,000 years. St. Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch, likely the second, who was martyred by wild beasts in Rome somewhere between 90 and 110 A.D.  Even so, his words, his call to vigilance, is just as acute and just as relevant today.

The Christian of today, at least here in America, does not have to worry about taking physical blows. Our martyrdom occurs in the intellectual sphere. Our aggressors attack not with boiling oil, red hot furnaces, or packs of starving animals. Our aggressors attack with scientific theories, which sociological explanations, and with charges of draconian and outdated thinking.

My priest pointed something out this past Sunday that is relevant here; especially around the holy days of Christmas and Easter, we presented with an increase in these attacks from our television. It is during these times that specials on the “real Jesus” are presented to us, shows that attempt to describe what life was like in the Middle East during the time of Christ and what sociological factors might have led to the formation of the religion which sprung up around him.

As Orthodox Christians we know that Jesus was more than just a mere mortal man. We know that the real story of Christmas is nothing less than a miracle, the joining of the divine with mortal, of God Himself submitting to be born, to grow up as a human child, to experience the world as we experience it, and ultimately to once again show us the road to perfection, heal our souls and to destroy the hold which death has over us.  We know that the “real Jesus” was born incarnate miraculously from a virgin but that He has existed from the beginning of time, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We know that while he was born in the flesh and did indeed have a human nature, he also remained fully God and had a divine nature as well.

Every year Christmas comes earlier and earlier; more time for those fueled by their passions of materiality and greed to make money, more time for those who have been brainwashed to feel like they must give things to show their gratitude and love for others, and more and more time for our faith to be undermined, marginalized, and attacked from numerous angles.

Stand firm, fellow Christians, like an anvil under the hammer. If anything, history has proven that the Christian can be placed under fire for his or her belief, that the Christian can be pounded by other world-views and ideologies, but that all this serves to do is refine, shape and strengthen us.

The anvil is not us, but God, and on it we are crafted to be the swords of truth.

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NI | KA


The best way to earn forgiveness:

How often does someone do something to you that gets you all riled up? As human beings without control over our passions it doesn’t take much for us to feel slighted, to feel like someone has done us wrong. And often times when we feel this way we hang on to it. “I can’t believe that that driver this morning cut me off like that… and then drove five miles per hour UNDER the speed limit!” “I’m so mad at Brian! I can’t believe that he had the nerve to question my work competence!” and so forth and so on.

And then, even though we hold on to these small offenses and wallow in them, we expect other people to forgive us should we make a mistake, or accidentally offend someone. And even more, we expect God to forgive us when we commit an offense against Him. St. John Climacus, the author of the well known Ladder of Divine Ascent has this to say:

Some labor and struggle hard to earn forgiveness, but better than these is the man who forgets the wrongs done to him. Forgive quickly and you will be abundantly forgiven. To forget wrongs is to prove oneself truly repentant, but to brood on them and at the same time to imagine one is practicing repetance is to act like the man who is convinced he is running when in fact he is fast asleep. (emphasis mine)

I think that this is a lesson that every single one of us should take to heart. If we expect forgiveness then we should first forgive, and not just in certain situations, but in every situation. I often tell people that I think that the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) is the most dangerous prayer that we can pray, and mostly because of the line “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In this prayer we are asking God to show mercy on us only to the same extent that we show mercy to others!

Anyways, I don’t really have much else to add to this thought, I just wanted to present it and let anyone who might read this think about it.

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NI | KA


Against “Sola Fide”

St. Augustine

Reject those who say we need only our own free will and not prayer to help us keep from sin. Even the Pharisee wasn’t blinded by such darkness. For, although he mistakenly thought he only needed his own righteousness (and believed he was saturated with it), nevertheless, he thanked God that he wasn’t “like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers…” Yet it isn’t a question of prayers alone, as if we don’t need to include our willful efforts. For although God is “our Helper,” we cannot be helped if we don’t make some effort of our own. God doesn’t work out salvation in us as if we are dull stones or creatures without reason or will.

-St. Augustine of Hippo (emphasis mine)

Sola Fide, or “faith alone” is a protestant doctrine that human beings need only have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Those who ascribe to this view see man’s relationship with God as very judicial; we human beings are “criminals” by virtue of our fallen nature and soley by believing in Christ, God gives us a judicial pardon (justification) and decides to save us. We play absolutely no part in this salvation outside of merely believing in God. I (as well as both branches of ancient historical Christianity) have a problem with this, and my personal reasons are three fold: (1) It is irreconcilable with normal human behavior and is essentially a “get out of hell free” card, (2) the idea of a judicial pardon is irreconcilable with the idea of an all powerful God, and (3) it is demeaning to the creations of God and ignores the gifts which He has given us.

(1) Get out of hell free: I say that the doctrine of sola fide is likened to the Monopoly game’s get out of jail free card because if all that is needed for salvation is belief, then it ignores how we act. Now, I will agree that faith is the jumping off point, the essential beginning step for salvation, but it is not enough to retain that salvation. If all I need to get to heaven is to believe in Christ (and what exactly is it that we’re supposed to ‘believe’ in order to gain the salvation?) then as long as I have that faith, can I go out and do anything I want? Can I continue to live in the world, valueing money, gratifying my body and the desires of my passions etc. and still get to heaven as long as I “believe” in Christ? This just doesn’t make sense!

In Orthodox Christianity (as well as Roman Catholicism) salvation is a dynamic process. We do not say that we “are saved,” rather we say that “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.” You have to work to keep your salvation! This isn’t to say that salvation comes about by human effort, not at all! Salvation can only be granted by God. But if we truley believe that Jesus Christ was God. If we truley believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, if we truley believe in everything that God has revealed to the world from the time of Noah down to the time of Christ, then we will be active in our faith. We will strive to conquer our will, we will fight to overcome our passions, we will learn the tacticts of the demons and the subversive logismoi and learn to fight against them, trying as hard as we can to live like Christ and how God wants us to. It is not enough to say “I love you Jesus!” and then think that we are automatically granted entry into the Kingdom.

(2) We must be reconciled, not God: This reason I have against the idea of sola fide actually has its roots in the whole western conception of original sin and salvation. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) tends to view original sin as some sort of stain on the soul which each of us inherits at birth. Because of this view, the Western idea of salvation tends to be that we must appease the wrath of God and ask for forgiveness for this sin on our souls. It is seen much like a court process: God is the stern judge, and we are the defendants. We must plead our case before God and then hope that he chooses to forgive us. But let me ask this, if God is truley just, then why does He hold us responsible for a sin which we did not commit?

Eastern Christianity has never seen salvation like this. We are only responsible for the sins which we ourselves commit. We do not inherit some stain on the soul. Rather, what we inherit are the results of the original sin; death and subjugation to the passions. If you view salvation in the manner that the Western Churches do then in effect what you say is that we have to reconcile God to us; we have to make God change His mind and they way that He views us. Again, this view is mistaken! It is us who would be changing, not God. It is us who should change the way that we live and us who have to work to live how God wants us. If you believe in sola fide then you unequivocally buy into this idea that God must change to justify us, rathern we changing in orther that we be justified.

(3) We are not cattle: My last major objection to sola fide comes from the complete helplessness that it leaves the human race. Sola fide assumes that human beings are completely depraved and absolutely helpless to do anything to change the situation. How demeaning is this! We are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. To say that we are such base creatures as to not be able to do anything under our own power but wallow in sin rejects this truth. No, we human beings, while not having the power to actually achieve salvation on our own, do have the ability to work towards it, to prove to God that we are trying to live how He wants. We are not dumb animals, walking around in the dark praying for someone to turn the lights on for us. We are icons of God.

The truth that the Eastern Orthodox Church has proclaimed for nearly 2,0oo years—since the time of the Apostles—is this: Adam and Eve, acting as representatives of all of humanity, were created in the image and the likeness of God. At the time of creation our will was perfectly in tune with God and because of this there was no corruption in our bodies, we could see and talk to God easily. The fall from this state of grace was the result of going against the will of God. The result of this was that it because increasingly harder to do the will of God and so we left the state of grace which we lived in. No longer partakers of the divine grace corruption entered our bodies, meaning that we don’t have easy control over our will and passions, and eventually the material body corrupts tot he point to where it cannot sustain life or the soul (death). God didn’t abandon us though, and chose the Israelites to teach how to enter back into that state of grace. To make it easier for us to overcome our will and to realign it with God’s, He gave the Israelites commandments and laws. These served as a way to deny the things that we want, and to eventually overcome those wants.

Over time however the Israelites looked to those rules and laws and ends in themselves. They saw them as the way of achieving salvation, rather than as a jumping point. So, God became incarnate in the flesh and came down Himself to teach us a new way. He became a rolemodel for us, showing us how to live, how to love, and teaching still that we must deny ourselves and look to God on how to live. By dying on the Cross, the immortal destroyed the power of death, and opened up the gates of Heaven so that now when the body fails, the soul has the opportunity to go straight to Heaven and be with its Creator.

In order to this we must acknowledge God as the only true God, and Christ as God Himself. We must acknowledge that we often live for ourselves, gratifying our passions and seeking after our own will. Futher, we must deny this and work to conquer this will and instead do the will of God. We must have faith that by doing this we can reach the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and then once in that state we can strive to grow in God, and to learn more and more about Him. We cannot reach God through our own power, but neither are we powerless in our struggle. Salvation is a two way process: God has set up the right conditions and waits for us with open arms, while it is up to us to see those conditions and to run willingly into those arms.

May God bless you during this period while we eagerly await the celebration of His ressurection!

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NI | KA


…for your heart has become a throne of God.

Something I believe that we Christians raised in the West (and especially those raised in the Protestant West) are not taught to be aware of value to be found in having a 2,000 year old history behind our faith.  If we were to pay more attention to this history then we would find that everything we struggle with has already been struggled over, every question we have has already been answered, and the narrow path we are trying to walk has been walked by numerous holy men and woman before us, some who’s names have been lost to history but some who the Church has recognized as exemplifying the holy life and dedication to God. We can learn so much from these holy saints if only we listen. One piece of advice comes from a recent saint who died in the early 1900s:

Photograph of St. Nektarios

Seek God daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God. But in order to find God, become humble as dust before the Lord, for the Lord abhors the broud; whereas He vists those that are humble in heart, wherefore He says: ‘To whom will I look, but to the one who is meek and humble in heart?’

Eastern Orthodoxy is not an intellectual faith, though the Orthodox Church has nurtured some of the greatest theologians that Christianity has ever known; Orthodoxy is an experiential faith, a faith that you <i>live</i>.  You have to actively seek God out yourself; He’s not going to come to you, but waits eagerly for you to find Him. The Saints, like St. Nektarios, show us <i>how</i> to find God. St. Nektarios is telling us here that the most important step to take when seeking out God is to humble ourselves. To recognize that even though here on earth we have (God given) dominion over all the plants and animals, before God we are as specks of dust.

When we restrict our pride, when we push it out of our heart, we make room to receive the grace of God. As Christians we claim to have faith that Christ made right the Ancient Curse and that God exists and loves us. Instead of merely saying that though, if we really truley believe it, then we change our selves and how we live. We will change ourselves to conform to the will of God. We will get rid of our evil desires and learn to control our passions so that when God chooses to make Himself known to us He will find us undistracted and able to feel His touch and hear His voice. When you feel the touch of God and receive the Holy Spirit and are filled with Grace, then you will know you have found God and just like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged and many eyed, you can stand before the throne of God, singing the victory hymn, crying out and saying: Holy, holy, holy are you our God!

St. Nektarios

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Neomartyr Anthony the Athenian

Anthony and his Christian parents lived in poverty. Unable to bear his parents’ suffereing, Anthony hired himself out to an Albanian Turk and gave all his earnings to his parents. Later, he was sold into slavery six times to progressively crueler masters, each one attempting to convert Anthony to the Moslem faith. Finally, Anthony was sold at a great price to an Orthodox Christian who took him to live in Constantinople where he gratefully served him. One day, Anthony had a dream that a beautiful woman promised to help and strengthen him, telling not to fear and she covered him with her veil.  He awoke and concluded that martyrdom awaited him. That day, his former Moslem master slandered Anthony saying that he had escaped his service and abandoned the Moslem faith. Anthony was beaten by the crowd and taken to court, but the judge believed Anthony. Hoping to save him from the angry mobs, the judge imprisoned him for a time. The Muslims eventually paid for Anthony’s release and gave him the ultimatum to accep their belief or lose his head. Remembering the words of Jesus not to deny Him before men, Anthony ran to his execution with a joyous countenance and commended his spirit to the Lord.

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May God grant us the courage to live for Him, to not deny Him even when the whole world around us seems to have. And may God have mercy on the soul of Neomartyr Anthony and reserve a place for him beside His glorious throne!


Rules of the Pious Life

We live today in a culture that teaches a philosophy of (1) utilitarianism and (2) relativism. I posit however that this culture is one of the most nihilistic, most dangerous outlooks for our spiritual formation.

(1) Utilitarianism, in its most basic form as espoused by John Stuart Mill, states that if some thing brings pleasure, then it is good. If it brings pain, then it is bad.  Put another way, an act is good if produces more pleasure than it does pain, and bad if it produces more pain than it does pleasure.

I’m not going to go into too many details since that’s not the point of this post, but would you deny that, especially in America, this is the philosophy driving the general population?

(2) For the sake of being ‘politically correct’ (how I hate that term!) society today is very careful not to step on anyone’s toes or offend them. People are afraid to speak their minds for fear that someone else might complain, and if someone does complain then they are seen as victims and things are changed to go their way. All ways of life are equal and good, all religions are valid and profitable, and your way is equally right as mine; these are things that our relativism says to us.

But both of these extremely popular ideas are lies. When it comes to matters of truth there are only two options, there can be no fallacy of the excluded middle here; either something is true, or it is false. A half-truth is still wholly false and only the whole truth can be the truth. That is why it is so very important, as Christians, that we live our life a certain away. Platon, Bishop of Kostroma gives some very edifying and practical rules for living a pious life:

Force yourself to get up early and at a definite time. Do not sleep for more than seven hours, unless you have a special reason. As soon as you wake up, direct your thoughts to God and piously cross yourself, thinking of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.

Get up from your bed at once, get dressed and do not pamper yourself. While dressing remember that you are in the presence of the Lord and your Guardian Angel, think of the fall of Adam who, because of sin, deprived himself of the covering of innocence, and beg Lord Jesus Christ for the blessing of being adopted by Him. Then start immediately your morning prayers, kneeling, pray carefully with reverence and deepest humility, as ought to be done under the watchful regard of the Almighty; and ask Him for Faith, Hope, Love and a blessing for the coming day; and also for strength to humbly accept His will and bear all burdens, difficulties, misfortunes, disasters, sorrows and illnesses of body and mind, because of our love for Jesus Christ. Make a firm resolution to do everything for the Lord, to receive everything from His Fatherly Hand, and make a special resolution to do some particular good, and to avoid some particular evil. Every morning spend at least quarter of an hour on a brief meditation on the truths of faith, meditating especially on the incomprehensible mystery of Christ’s assumption of our flesh, and on His awesome second coming, and on Hell and Paradise. Meditate in this way: maybe this is the last day of my life, then do everything the way you would — if you were preparing to come before the justice of God. Thank the Lord for protecting you during the night and thank Him that you are still alive, not having died in your sins. How many people in the past have come before the justice of God! And also thank God that you still have time of Grace and Mercy and means of repentance and attaining heaven. Every morning think about yourself, realize that only now you are beginning and want to be a Christian, and the past was wasted.

After the prayers and meditations, if time permits, read some spiritual book, for example: St. Dimitry’s Spiritual Alphabet, or Bishop Tikhon Zadonsky’s Spiritual Treasure Gathered from the World, and read until your heart is made humble. After you have meditated sufficiently on a certain part, read further and listen carefully to what the Lord says to your heart. After that, start doing your work, and let your deeds and actions be for the glory of God. Remember that God sees you everywhere, sees all your actions, doings, feelings, thoughts and desires, and will generously reward you for all your good deeds. Do not begin anything without praying to God, because the things we do or say without prayer, later prove to be either sinful or harmful and display us through our deeds in a way unknown to us. Our Lord Himself said: “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Amid your labors be not downcast, and entrust their success to God’s Grace. Fulfill all that is difficult for you as though it were a penance for your sins —in the spirit of obedience and humbleness; while working repeat brief prayers, especially the Prayer of Jesus, and think of Jesus, Who by the sweat of His brow, ate bread, laboring with Joseph. If your work is being accomplished with success, as your heart desires—thank the Lord: if without success—then remember that this, too, God allows, and He works everything for good.

At dinner picture to yourself the image of Our Heavenly Father opening His hand, in order to feed you; never omit your prayer before you eat; and leave some of your food for the poor. After dinner consider yourself one of the five thousand who were miraculously fed by Jesus Christ; thank Him from your heart and pray that He not leave you without heavenly food—His word and His most precious Body and Blood. If you wish for spiritually peaceful life, give yourself to God. You will not find any spiritual peace until you are satisfied with God alone, loving Him only. Always and in everything think of God and His holy love for us sinners. In everything try to fulfill God’s will and to please God alone; do and suffer everything for God. Do not care to be respected and loved by people in their sins. Keep a vigilant watch over your feelings, thoughts, motions of your heart and your passions; give consideration to nothing trivial where your personal salvation is concerned.

When you think of God multiply your prayers, so that God will remember you when you forget Him. In everything may your teacher be Our Lord Jesus Christ, looking upon Him with the eye of your mind ask yourself more often: in this case what would Jesus Christ have thought, said, or done? Be meek, quiet, humble, be silent and endure by the example of Jesus. He will not lay a cross upon you, which you are not able to carry. He Himself will help you carry your cross. Do not expect to acquire any one virtue without any sorrow and pains of the soul.

Beg God to give you grace to fulfill in the best way possible His holiest commandments—even though they may seem difficult for you. When you have fulfilled any one of God’s commandments, await temptation, for love for Christ is tested by our conquering the obstacles. Do not dwell in idleness even for a short time, but always remain in labor and be occupied, because he who does not labor does not deserve the name of man. Isolate yourself, by the example of Jesus, Who, drawing Himself away from others, prayed to the Heavenly Father. In the midst of spiritual heaviness or coldness towards prayer and to all religious exercises do not give up acts of piety, it was that Jesus thrice prayed when His soul was sorrowful, even unto death. Do everything in the name of Jesus Christ and in this way all your actions will be deeds of piety. Flee even the smallest of sins, because one who does not leave the smallest, certainly will fall into great and deep ones. If you do not want to be bothered by evil thoughts, then humbly receive all disparagements of soul and bodily suffering, not at some expected time, but at any time, any place, and under any circumstances. Every thought, which withdraws you further away from God, especially filthy thoughts of the flesh, banish from your heart, as quickly as possible, as you would cast from your clothes a spark of fire that fell burning on them. When such a thought appears, pray hard: God forgive me, God do not leave me, deliver me from temptations, or the like. But amidst temptations do not be troubled. He who gives you the circumstance of a battle, will also give you strength for victory. Let your spirit be at rest, trust in God; if God is for you, then who is against you? Pray to God that He take from you everything that feeds your self-love, even though it may be very bitter for you. Wish to live and die for God alone, and to belong to Him entirely. When you suffer some dishonor from others, then realize that this was sent to you by God for your glory, thus being in dishonor you will be without sadness and confusion, and in glory. If you have food and clothing, be content with it by the example of Jesus Who became impoverished for our sake. Never argue and do not defend or excuse yourself too much, do not say anything against superiors or your neighbors without need or obligation. Be sincere and simple in heart, with love accept directions, admonitions, and being exposed by others, even though you may be wise.

Do not detest or be envious or exceedingly stern in word and deeds. What you do not wish for yourself do not do unto others, and what you wish others to do to you, do it first unto them. If someone visits you, elevate your heart to God and pray that He give you spirit of meekness, humbleness, and concentration; be gentle, modest, careful, wise, blind and deaf. according to the situation. Remember that Jesus is present among those with whom you are and among those with whom you speak. Say nothing without thought. Bear it firmly in mind, that time is short and that man must give an account of every [word uttered.] Listen more than speak, [for] in verbosity you will not escape sin. Beg God to give you [the] blessing to be silent and to speak at the right time. Do not be curious about news, [for] it diverts the spirit. If by words you are helpful to someone, acknowledge it in God’s grace. When you are alone, examine yourself whether you have become worse than before, whether you have committed any sins which you did not do before. If you did sin, immediately beg God’s forgiveness with humbleness and a contrite heart, and trust His Mercy, hastening to repent before your spiritual father: because every sin left without repentance is a sin unto death. And if you do not repent with a contrite heart the sin you have committed, you will fall into that sin again. Try to do good to everyone, any kind of good and at any time you can, not thinking whether it will be appreciated, with gratitude or without. And rejoice, not when you do good to someone, but when without spite [you] bear insults from others, especially from those to whom you were good. If one does not obey you the first time, do not force him through debate; make use of the good yourself, which he has lost, because meekness will bring you great profit. But when harm caused by one spreads to many others, then do not tolerate it, looking not for your own benefit but that of others. The general welfare is more important than personal considerations.

During supper remember the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, begging Him to honor you with heavenly food. Before going to sleep, examine your conscience, pray to be given light to recognize your sins: think of them, beg for forgiveness and promise to reform, determining clearly and precisely in what matter and how you intend to improve yourself. Then give yourself up to God, as though tonight you will have to appear before Him, entrust yourself to the Mother of God, your guardian angel, the Saint whose name you bear. Picture your bed as your coffin and your blanket as your shroud. Cross yourself and kissing the cross you wear, fall asleep under the protection of [the] Shepherd of Israel! He will not nod or fall asleep. If you cannot sleep or are keeping vigil at night, like Jesus Who prayed to His Father until His body sweat was bloody—pray for those who at night are severely ill or fatally ill, for the suffering and the dead, and pray God, that the night’s darkness not cover you. In the middle of the night get up from your bed and pray, as much as you can.

During an illness first of all entrust yourself to God in order to strengthen your spirit in the midst of your misery. Often remember and think of the suffering and the death of Jesus Christ. Ceaselessly say all the prayers you know and can; beg God to forgive you your sins and to give you patience while ill. In all ways possible abstain from complaining and irritation which are common when ill. Our Lord Jesus Christ underwent, for the sake of our salvation, the most painful illness and sufferings, and what have we done or suffered for the sake of our salvation?

Go to the services in church as often as possible; try especially to be present often at the Liturgy. Sundays and holidays without fail do deeds of piety; always remember that you are in the presence of God, the Angels and the Saints; the remaining time devote to pious reading and other acts of piety and love. Devote your birthday and Saint’s Day especially to pious deeds. Every year and every month examine your conscience rigorously. Go to confession and receive the Holy Sacraments as often as possible. Receive Holy Communion always with sincere hunger and real thirst of your soul, with a contrite heart, with reverence, humbleness, faith, trust and love. Think of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ as often as possible, begging Him to veil your sins and receive you into His Kingdom. May the name of Jesus always be on your lips, in your soul and your heart. As often as possible meditate on God’s great love to you, glorified and worshipped in the Trinity so that you yourself may love Him with all your heart, all your soul and with all your thoughts. Doing so, you will lead a peaceful life on this earth and a blessed one in heaven forever. The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Amen.

May our Eternal King and Righteous Father, along with Son and the life-giving Holy Spirit have mercy on us all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


The things that come from within are what defile.

In my opinion the entire Orthodox doctrine of warfare against the passions finds an excellent jusification in the words of Christ Himself when he was speaking to the Pharisees. In Mark 7:14-15  we can read:

He [Jesus] summoned the crowed again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Now, in context here Christ is speaking against the Pharisees’ strict legalistic and external practices, and in the verses above He is referencing the idea of unclean foods. He is telling the Pharisees that external sources, such as food as they believed, are not what make a person unclean in the eyes of God. Rather, it is what comes from within the person; how they act, what they say, what they prioritize, their feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions.

This is why the Orthodox Christian is called to a life of struggle and deprivation. We are called to struggle in this lifetime and deprive our passions the excesses they desire so that we can purify ourselves for the life to come. In Russian the word for a spiritual struggle as such is ‘podvig,’ in Greek it is ‘askesis.’

Metropolitan Anthony of the ROCOR put it thus:

Christianity is an ascetic religion, Christianity is a teaching about the gradual extirpation of the passions, about the means and conditions of the gradual acquisition of virtues; these conditions are internal, consisting of podvig, and given from without, consisting of our dogmatic beliefs and grace-giving sacraments which have only one purpose: to heal human sinfulness and lead us to perfection.

So, let’s strive to throw off our passions, to heal our souls, to take up our cross and struggle for Christ. Let us fight for what we want instead of naively thinking that the prize will just be handed to us.  Let us stop blaming outside sources for our failings and recognize that before we can live for our Almighty King in the manner which He requests, we must die to ourselves.


“You are not Christians, you are not even human beings.”

St Arsenius of Paros

I read a story(*) today that blew me away. It is about a certain monk, named St. Arsenius of Paros (+1877) who relatively recently was glorified by the Orthodox Chruch. Today is the day that we commemorate him and the following story illustrates this pious and holy man’s wisdom and commitment to Christ. I think it is very relevant for the attitude of some Christians towards others today:

A certain girl from Syros came to the Convent of the Transfiguration to visit her sister, who was a nun. The nun had previously been informed that her sister had fallen into a serious sin. When she learned that the girl was outside the doors of the convent, the nun screamed at her, “Go far away from here. Since you are defiled, you will defile the convent and the nuns.” Instead of feeling pity for her sister, and trying to lead her to repentance, the nun and some of the other nuns struck the poor girl and told her to go away.

The wretched girl cried, “I have made a mistake. Forgive me!”

The nun shrieked, “Go away, or I will kill you to wash away the shame you have brought to our family.”

“Have you no pity, my sister, don’t you share my pain?”

“No,” the nun shouted, “you are not my sister, you are a foul harlot.”

“Where shall I go?” she sobbed.

“Go and drown yourself,” was the heartless reply.

The poor girl fled from the convent, bleeding and wounded, intending to kill herself. At that very moment, St Arsenius was on his way to visit the convent. Seeing the girl in such a state, he asked her what was wrong. She explained that she had been led astray by corrupt men and women. Realizing her sin, she went to the convent to ask her sister for help

“See what they have done to me, Elder. What do you advise me to do? Shall I drown myself, or leap off a cliff?”

“I do not advise you to do either, my child. If you wish, I shall take you with me and heal the wounds of your soul and body,” he said gently.

“Where will you take me?” the miserable girl asked.

“To the convent, my child.”

“I beg you not to take me there, Elder. My sister and the other nuns said they would kill me if I came back.”

The saint replied, “Do not be afraid. They will not kill you, because I shall entrust you to Christ, and no one will be able to harm you.”

“Very well,” she said, “If you entrust me to Christ I will not be afraid of them, for Christ is more powerful than they.”

St Arsenius led her to the convent, consoling her and encouraging her to repentance and confession. After hearing her confession, he made her a nun. Then he called all the nuns into the church and severely rebuked those who wounded the girl. He reminded them of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and of how Christ had come to save sinners. He often associated with sinners, showing them great love and mercy.

“You, however, have done the opposite. Though you knew that her soul had been wounded by the devil, you did not feel sorry for her. You did not embrace her and try to save her from further sin, but you attacked her and beat her. Then you urged her to kill herself. Now I, your Spiritual Father, tell you that you are not nuns, you are not Christians, you are not even human beings. You are devoid of compassion, affection, and sympathy. You are murderesses! Therefore, I forbid you to receive Holy Communion for three years, unless you recognize your sin. Repent and confess, weep and ask forgiveness from God and from me, your Spiritual Father, and from the other nuns who did not participate in your sinful behavior.”

The nuns began to weep bitterly and they repented. Thus, he lessened their penance and forgave them. He gave the girl’s sister the penance of not receiving Holy Communion for a whole year. Because the other nuns had shared in this sin, he would not permit them to receive Communion for six months.

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(*) The story was taken from the Orthodox Chruch of America’s website. They have a excellent page with gives the Lives of many of the saints commemorated each day. It can be found right here.