Tag Archives: Orthodoxy

Is the body evil?

Is the body evil?

The body has been seen as a source of evil and sin at different times all throughout Man’s history. The philosophical phrase for the struggle between the sensual body and the mind, or soul, is dualism. While there are many different types of dualism, the type that has been often associated with Christianity is the belief that the body, with its receptiveness of the senses, is in direct conflict with the mind or soul and its ability to feel and communicate with God.

Fornication, gluttony and violence, for example, are all sins related to the body. It is the indulgence of, and giving in to, the physical pleasures of the body in a sexual way which leads to things like adultery, pornography and masturbation. Seeking to please the body through good food can lead to gluttony. Violence, rather than trying to please the body through its senses, attempts to punish or harm another person through their bodily senses.

Statue of the "Starving Buddha"

The examples above serve to show why the body can and has been seen as the greatest source of evil, as perhaps the biggest thing standing between God and us. This dualistic view has led many of various faiths and ideologies to deny and punish the body as a way of showing their devotion to what it is that they believe in. From the self-flagellation of medieval Roman Catholic monks and modern Shi’a  Muslims, to the extreme fasting of Siddhartha and Hindu gurus, it has been thought throughout history that the body must be subdued and overcome in order grow closer to the divine.

This is the incorrect view to have however. While it is true that it is through the body that we commit many of our sins, it is not because of the body. Sexual pleasure is not a sin in of itself; when shared with a spouse it can be an expression of the love shared between the two, a way of growing closer to the other, and the means of bringing new life into the world. Good food is not a sin; it can be used by the chef to express their affection for those they are cooking for, a desire to share something they enjoy with others, and, for those eating good food, it can be a way of spending time with others and enjoying the pleasures which God has given to us.

I find it telling that these things, when shared with other people, can often be considered “good,” yet it is when they are used to satisfy the individual only that they become “bad.”  To use sex and food again as an example, when a person seeks after sexual pleasure solely for themselves and for no other reason than to make themselves feel good, or if food is frequently sought out not to satisfy hunger but to satisfy and indulge in the desire of good tastes, it is then that these things cause us to stop focusing on others and God and to instead of focus on ourselves. This after all, the focus and reliance on the ego  and self in place of God, is what caused humanity to fall in the first place and what continues to separate us from Him.

In Greek, the word used for sin is αμαρτία (amartia). This translates literally as “missing the mark.” A good image to conjure is an arrow on the outer rings of a target. The arrow has missed the mark  which it is intended for, the bulls eye. With this understanding, an action is considered a sin if it causes us to “miss the mark” of glorifying and growing closer to God.

God created us with a soul and a body as a harmonious whole. He created us as sensory creatures, made to enjoy the things around us, and in doing so to thank and glorify Him for these things. We believe that at the final resurrection it is not only our souls, but our bodies as well that will be brought back to life. In Orthodox worship our body is a key tool used to help us connect to God: we smell the incense, hear the chanting and bells, make prostrations, see the beautiful icons and vestments and taste the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

The body is not evil, and holding such a dualistic view is not compatible with Orthodox theology. We do need to be mindful of our body and its senses though, and to make sure that we do not let the desire to indulge them alter our aim and cause us to miss the mark.

We should always be mindful of God and watchful over our passions, and when these two things are kept, then we can enjoy the body and its senses that God has given us, and as He intended. Glory to you, our God!

IC | XC
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NI | KA

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With fear and trembling…

With spring now here I’ve started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I leave for Holy Cross in only about four more months. This is much more than just another move to a new apartment, this means a trip from the bottom of the US to the top, and to add to the mix, with a (will be then) eleven month old baby.

This in itself is pretty scary. I am uprooting my family from the relative comfortableness of our current life and trusting that everything will work out once we’re there. But ah! Once we’re there!

It is here that my thinking usually shifts to the reason I am going to the school in the first place; I seek to dedicate my life to God and His people as one of His priests. The closer the time comes to officially start down this path, the more nervous I get. This is even scarier than moving my family across the country.

When I think about being a priest, my mind immediately recalls how unworthy of such a duty I am. Growing up, I always viewed preachers and priests as almost “other” than myself. They were holy men who prayed frequently, effortlessly dispensed advice and seemed destined to do what they were doing. With my own journey however I’ve come to see priests differently, as real people, just like myself, with their own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  Again, just like myself, with my own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  I live far from what I would consider a holy life; I pray far more infrequently than I should, I’m often confused myself as to the best course of action, and I still have a lot to work on in taming the various passions which sometimes drive me.

All of this is possible, and the first step is always the same: we must recognize and then acknowledge our failings. I thank God that I have found myself in a position where I have to do this starting now, where there is no more time to “get to it later.”  The fact that I am scared at the thought of the responsibility I seek to take on drives me to examine and seek to better myself, to do what I can to try and prove myself worthy of that responsibility.

You don’t have to take such a drastic step to awaken your own self to this however. We all have responsibilities, whether or our spouse, kids, co-workers or what have you. Strive to be a good example to who ever it is that depends on you or who you really care about. Live your life in such a way that those around you honestly want to know what it is that you have that they seem not to. In our times it is no longer expected that someone is a Christian. It is much more common to be agnostic, or unconcerned, or even lukewarm to the point of being insincere. The upright Christian is becoming rarer to find and hence more valuable.

We are all called to the priesthood in our lives, to tell the World of the Good News and to teach, guide and help each other. It is my prayer that God, seeing us striving to overcome ourselves and reaching out to Him, in fear and trembling, will grant us grace and mercy and draw us closer to Him. Amen.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Not Everything Happens For a Reason

“…or, God is Not Playing a Game of Cosmic Chess”


Forty-five days ago what should have been one of the happiest moments in the lives of my wife and I turned into one of the worst; she went into labor.

The problem was that she was 5 weeks early. This wasn’t the main problem in of itself however; the doctor said that at that stage the baby was nearly full-term and should have the same survival rate as a full-term child. The main problem was that when we went into the doctor’s office and she performed a sonogram, we couldn’t hear a heartbeat. The visual ultrasound confirmed the worst,  and the following words, directed towards my wife, will forever be ingrained in my memory: “Your baby has no heartbeat, it is dead, but either way, you’re giving birth today.”

For eight months we had dreamed how our precious Anastasia Noel would look, what she would be interested in, what foods she would like and what kind of person she would be. We tried to prepare for how our lives would be changed, how we would need to give up this or that, how this Christmas would be the most special Christmas ever and how our parents were going to be transformed into grandparents and we children would now become the parents.

All of this came to sudden halt. We were devastated, and understandably so, but the reality of the situation didn’t kick in immediately. It took some time for us to completely shift our way of thinking, just like it took time after we discovered she was pregnant.

That day, for me at least, was an alternation between a powerful sadness and dispassionate shock. My wife’s mother and grandmother drove five hours to be with us, arriving an hour or two before the delivery and not too long after my own parents and sister, who themselves drove two hours. My wife’s sister and friend were there, as were our friends from church and Anastasia’s planned godparents, Theodore and Stacey (who, coincidentally, was also named after St. Anastasia).

One of the most common phrases I heard directed towards us that day, and in the weeks after, was “Everything happens for a reason, I’m sure God has something special planned for you.” This phrase became for me something absolutely repulsive, although I appreciate the sentiment of those who mentioned it.

I don’t believe that everything does happen for a reason, that God is playing something like a game of cosmic chess. In chess you play tactically; you make a move based on a hoped-for chain of events: “If I move this pawn, then it puts his queen in danger and he will have to move his bishop to protect it, opening up his rook for attack.”

The reason I don’t believe this is twofold: God is love, and because of this love there is free will in humanity, and freedom in all of creation. If God did have a hand in every single event that happened, if He made sure that nothing happened without a specific reason, then it would negate this freedom. This isn’t to say that I am a deist and believe in the great “Watchmaker God” who set the world in motion and then moved on, but I do believe that God created a system around himself, and lets that system play out according to the laws it was designed by.

Our baby did not die for some overarching reason. God did not “want her before her time” (as one person told me) and so take her away from us. I don’t believe this because God is love, and to actively take something away from us which is both an expression of the love shared between my wife and myself, as well as His love for humanity by allowing us to continue on, is not an act of love. Our baby died because something went wrong during her development which caused the placenta to not form as it should, and so not be able to supply Anastasia with what was needed in order to sustain her.

No, not everything happens for some specific reason. Not every action undertaken by nature or by humanity is directed by God. Not every tragedy happens in order to allow some good. Some things just happen as a result of the system which God created, such as natural and extraterrestrial disasters. Other things happen because God loved us enough to give us freedom of the will and not make us automatons.

Not everything happens for a reason, but this doesn’t mean that nothing does, nor does it limit the possibility that once something does happen, it might open up the possibility of something else. Now that my wife and I don’t have to worry about how we are going to be able to afford rent, all our bills, -and- support a child, we might have the opportunity to do something to continue better our situation and our relationship that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, such as going back to school or being drawn even closer together by what we’ve been through.

I said some words at the funeral for our stillborn daughter, and while at the time I fumbled it up due to my emotions, the following is what I meant to say:

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, and I don’t believe that God took our daughter away from us. Our daughter died because something went wrong in her development. I do, however, believe that He welcomed her with open arms when she arrived in His Kingdom. I have no fear for my daughter; she is now where I am fighting tooth and nail to be, standing before the throne of God. My prayers are for my wife and I and our family, that we will have the strength to grieve and to carry on. I do hope for one thing though, that even though we never got to get to know our daughter, she knows us and knows how much we love her still. Glory to you God, glory to you.

IC | XC
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NI | KA

 

Memory eternal, my sweet Anastasia. You got to skip all the hard stuff, and are now another bright star in heaven, and a special intercessor for us before the almighty Pantokrator. Please pray for us, that God will have mercy on us.

I love you.


Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Short Prayers for the iPhone

I’ve added for your downloading convenience, a .zip file containing .pdf compilations of morning prayers, evening prayers, and then a few miscellaneous prayers. I’ve also included the original .doc files for you to customize them to your liking.  The .pdf files are made to be added to iTunes for use in the new iBooks app.  Great for using when on the go, or away from home!

Click the picture below to download:


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.


Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now.

Almighty King of heaven and earth! Who made You enter my unworthy heart, when I am accursed, and poor, and blind, and naked? No one, of course, but Your immeasurable love for me. O uncreated love! O love most sweet! What do You want of me, beggar that I am? Nothing, as I see and understand, except my love for You; nothing, except that no other fire should burn on the altar of my heart but the fire of my love for You, which would consume all love and all desire other than that of bringing myself to You as a burnt offering and fragrant incense. Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now. So hear now, O Lord, the vows of my heart! See, I combine my desire with Your desire; and as You have given the whole of Yourself to me, so I give the whole of myself to You, to be wholly in You. I know, O Lord, that this cannot be, unless I renounce myself wholly; it cannot be if any trace of self-love remains in me, if I harbor some sympathy or disposition towards a will of my own, thoughts of my own, or some self-pandering habits of my own. Therefore I desire and I strive from now onwards to oppose myself in all that is not acceptable to You,  even if everything in me and outside me should rebel against it. By myself, I have not strength enough to succeed in this. But since from now on You are with me, I daringly trust that You Yourself will accomplish in me all that is needed. I seek and strive that my heart may be as one with Your heart; and I trust that Your grace will grant me this. I seek and strive to see nothing and to hear nothing, to think of nothing and have sympathy with nothing, except that which Your will, determined by Your commandments, leads me to and shows, and I trust that it will be granted me by Your power working in me. I strive and I seek not to let attention stray from the heart, where You dwell, there to gaze at You unceasingly and be warmed by the rays of light issuing from You; and I trust that this will be given me by the touch and embrace of Your hands. I strive and seek for You alone to be henceforth my light, strength and joy; and I trust to be given this by Your saving action on my inner man. It is of this that I pray and shall always continue to pray. O merciful Lord, grant me this, grant me this.

This is prayer which the authors of Unseen Warfare recommend to be prayed after receiving Holy Communion, and what a powerful prayer it is!

In it we have the humble confession of the person praying it, acknowledging that they themselves have done nothing worthy of God entering into their very being.

In it we see just what it is that God wants us from us; He doesn’t demand anything outlandish, anything that would stoke the pride – He wants only our love, in return for the divine love which He is so eager to pour out on us.

In it we have a firm resolution to conform ourselves to God’s will and to do what it is that He wants from us, while acknowledging that in order to do so we must deny ourselves and not give any room to self-pandering.

In it we have a confession that this is not something we can do on our own, that it not something that we can do without help. In confessing this we we simultaneously deny the original sin of Adam and Even which was just this: the belief that we, as human beings, can make our own way without God and do not need to rely on Him.

And finally, in it we have a firm statement of faith and trust in God. This is perhaps the hardest part; to relinquish the control which we try to have over ourselves and our lives, and to trust that once we do so, and invite God’s eager help, that He will indeed provide for and take care of us.

This, in my opinion, is a very amazing prayer which can be said at any time. I hope that I – and whoever else might come across this prayer – can take it to heart, and once it’s there, pray it from the heart with all sincerity and surety of the love of God.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


A Short, Printable Booklet of Morning Prayers

Click the image above to download a short prayer booklet I compiled. I don’t have a lot of time to say my morning prayers during the morning, so I thought I would it be helpful to put together a small collection of the the ones I use regularly. In order to print it correctly, set your printer to print duplex (both sides), in landscape, and with the duplex along the short edge. Cut or tear along the solid black line to put it down to size!


How to Tie an Orthodox Prayer Rope

Click the image above to download a guide I made on how to tie an Orthodox prayer rope. This guide can also be found in the Downloads section of this blog.


The Septuagint Psalter

Click the image above to download a psalter I put together. It is in both English and Greek. It can also be found in the Downloads section of this blog.