Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Prayer Rope-Design Bracelet or Prayer Rope?

Many of the Orthodox Christians piously wear at their hands a "bracelet" made of wool knots or wooden beads. Fewer however know its true significance. The first thing we should stress is that it is not a piece of jewelry but an actual prayer rope. Its purpose is not just as decoration or to show others we are Orthodox, as many believe, but to be used as an aid in accomplishing our daily prayers.

The use of the prayer ropes is ancient in itself, going back to the origins of Christian monasticism. The prayer rope, creation attributed to Saint Pachomius in the fourth century, was intended as an aid for monks that could not read to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations in their cells. The use of the rope made it possible to pray the Jesus Prayer unceasingly, whether inside the cell or out, in accordance with Saint Paul's injunction to "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17).
The method of tying the prayer rope also goes back to the fathers of monasticism. Saint Anthony the Great it is said to have started by tying a leather rope with a simple knot for every time he prayed Kyrie Eleison ("Lord have Mercy"), but the Devil would come and untie the knots to throw off his count. He then devised a way--inspired by a vision he had of the Theotokos--of tying the knots so that the knots themselves would constantly make the sign of the cross. This is why prayer ropes today are still tied using knots that each contain seven little crosses being tied over and over. The Devil could not untie it because the Devil is vanquished by the Sign of the Cross.
The prayer ropes are not to be confused with worry beads used as a pass-timer or calming device. The prayer ropes are to be used only in prayer. They come in various shapes and sizes but always they have a fixed number of knots or beads. This can be 33 (for the normal "bracelets") or 40, 50, 100, 200, 300, etc. for the longer ropes.

The use of the Jesus prayer with prostrations is sanctioned by our Church, which directs that one can (in cases of need) replace the common worship services with a definite number of prostrations and the Jesus Prayer (which would be difficult to carry out without the rope). Here is a guide we find at the end of some Psalter books.

Instead of the entire Psalter: 6000 Jesus Prayers
One kathisma: 300 prayers; for each stasis: 100
Midnight Service: 600
Matins: 1500
Vespers: 600
Great Compline: 700
Small Compline: 400
An Akathist to the Blessed Theotokos: 500
All those who are zealous for their salvation are invited to this unceasing remembrance of the saving name of Jesus, both laymen and monastics, for the spirit of life in Christ is one and the same for both. Many of our spiritual elders, men of prayer, ascetics and directors in faith and piety, down to the most recent time have recommended the use of the prayer rope to laymen and at times have even given them their own prayer ropes as a blessing.
For this reason we also recommend to the lay people today to properly use the prayer ropes around their hands to pray wherever they are, at home, at work, or driving, with a simple prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me the sinner" or simply "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me".

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Homily on Theophany by St. Proclus of Constantinople

Christ appeared in the world, and, bringing beauty out of disarray, gave it luster and joy. He bore the world’s sins and crushed the world’s enemy. He sanctified the fountains of waters and enlightened the minds of men. Into the fabric of miracles he interwove ever greater miracles.
For on this day land and sea share between them the grace of the Savior, and the whole world is filled with joy.
Today’s feast of the Theophany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas.
On the feast of the Savior’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.
At Christmas we saw a weak baby, giving proof of our weakness.
In today’s feast, we see a perfect man, hinting at the perfect Son who proceeds from the all-perfect Father.
At Christmas the King puts on the royal robe of his body; at Epiphany the very source enfolds and, as it were, clothes the river.
Come then and see new and astounding miracles: the Sun of righteousness washing in the Jordan, fire immersed in water, God sanctified by the ministry of man.
Today every creature shouts in resounding song:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is he who comes in every age, for this is not his first coming.
And who is he? Tell us more clearly, I beg you, blessed David:

The Lord is God and has shone upon us.
David is not alone in prophesying this; the apostle Paul adds his own witness, saying:

The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all men, and instructing us. Not for some men, but for all. To Jews and Greeks alike God bestows salvation through baptism, offering baptism as a common grace for all.
Come, consider this new and wonderful deluge, greater and more important than the flood of Noah’s day. Then the water of the flood destroyed the human race, but now the water of Baptism has recalled the dead to life by the power of the one who baptized.
In the days of the flood the dove with an olive branch in its beak foreshadowed the fragrance of the good odor of Christ the Lord; now the Holy Spirit, coming in the likeness of a dove reveals the Lord of mercy.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. ( St. Silouan the Athonite )

The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God's grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.

St. Silouan the Athonite

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Why all the Fuss about Christmas?

The nature of the “Christmas Season,” which has unfortunately has become known as “the Holiday Season,” is now mostly devoid of Jesus Christ for which this celebratory season was originally created. But wait! What are all the parties and all the gifts piled up under the Christmas tree for? Be honest. In our celebrating have we not forgotten why we celebrate? This is supposed to be the time when we celebrate the Incarnation of God. Think about what we have forgotten and why is it so important to re-remember. Ask yourself, "Why is this spiritual event so significant for our salvation? What is the 'Season' really about?"

One may say that even the incarnation of God was not sufficient for the salvation of mankind. For today we can witness the gross neglect of Him even in this most holy period. But this is precisely why God chose to come as fully man. We seek happiness with many parties and expectations of gifts like ignorant children. We are like blind men wandering aimlessly in the city square looking for a lost coin. Blinded by our limitations and separation from God we are unable to see what it is that God expects of us so we can be reunited with him in Paradise.

The Incarnation is much more than a baby in a manger, kings bringing gifts, or some supernatural star in the sky. If we are blind and unable to see what it is that God expects of us, what can God do to help us over come this blindness? He can become like one of us and show us and ask us to follow Him. This is what He did. This why we should celebrate and give thanks. This we are in need of re-remembering.

The gift of the Son of God is a most merciful gift that God has given us. With it comes not only clarity about how to live, but the establishment of the Church to aid us in overcoming our blindness––even 2000 years after the historical event of His Incarnation. The Church gives us many aids for our spiritual healing. The Sacraments of His Church bring to us the powers of the Holy Spirit. The ascetic practices help us develop the self-control with the aid of the Holy Spirit so it can work freely through us, and the Scriptures that clarify how we are to follow Him. These were all given to us through the Church to aid us in becoming one with God, for eternal life in union with Him.

Saint Athanasius tells us the following about the nature of the Incarnation in his well know treatise On the Incarnation:
Whence, naturally, willing to profit men, He sojourns here as man, taking to Himself a body like the others, and from things of earth, that is by the works of His body [He teaches them], so that they who would not know Him from His Providence and rule over all things, may even from the works done by His actual body know the Word of God which is in the body, and through Him the Father…..
For as a kind teacher who cares for His disciples, if some of them cannot profit by higher subjects, comes down to their level, and teaches them at any rate by simpler courses; so also did the Word of God. As Paul also says: “For seeing (1 Corinthians 1:21) that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the word preached to save them that believe.” For seeing that men, having rejected the contemplation of God, and with their eyes downward, as though sunk in the deep, were seeking about for God in nature and in the world of sense, feigning gods for themselves of mortal men and demons; to this end the loving and general Savior of all, the Word of God, takes to Himself a body, and as Man walks among men and meets the senses of all men half-way , to the end, I say, that they who think that God is corporeal may from what the Lord effects by His body perceive the truth, and through Him recognize the Father.
God, the Creator of all creation, became fully human in the Incarnation, then voluntarily suffered and showed us the path to eternal life if we learn to live as he showed us. Then after He left this earth, He sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and they established the Church for our healing. It was through God's arrival as fully human, while still remaining fully God, the Incarnation we are about to celebrate, that we are now able to know the way to eternal life.
Let's be joyful for the reason of the Incarnation and as the Christmas hymn proclaims:
"Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.
Today He who is without a beginning begins,
And the Word is made flesh.
The powers of Heaven rejoice,
The earth and her people are jubilant;
The Wise Men bring gifts to the Lord,
The shepherds marvel at the One who is born;
And we sing without ceasing:
"Glory to God in the Highest, And on earth peace, (God's) good will toward men".

Let’s put Christ back into Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Second Beatitude - Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted ( Law of God )

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The weeping about which the second beatitude speaks is first of all true tribulation of heart, and repentant tears for our sins, over our guilt before the merciful God (for example, the tears of the Apostle Peter after his renunciation).

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death, said the Apostle Paul (II Cor. 7:10).

Tribulation and tears coming from misfortunes which befall us can be spiritually beneficial. For example, the death of one of our close ones can result in beneficial tears, if the sorrow is permeated by faith and hope, patience and devotion to the will of God. Jesus Christ Himself wept over the death of Lazarus.

Even more so can tears and tribulation lead to blessedness when they are shed over the suffering of our unfortunate neighbor, if these sincere tears are accompanied by Christian deeds of love and mercy.

Worldly grief is grief without hope in God. It proceeds not from acknowledgment of one’s sins before God, but rather from disappointment in ambition, aspiration to power, desire for gain. Such sadness, characterized by despondency and despair, leads to spiritual death, which can also result in physical death, by suicide or simply weakness due to lack of will to live. An example of such grief is that of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ the Saviour. As a reward for mourning the Lord promises that they that mourn will be comforted. They will receive forgiveness of sins, and through this, internal peace. The mourners will receive eternal joy, eternal blessedness

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The First Beatitude ( Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven)

Blessed — joyful in the highest degree and pleasing to God; 
poor in spirit — humble, those who are conscious of their imperfections and unworthiness before God, and never think that they are better or more holy than others.

Spiritual lowliness is the conviction that our entire life and all our spiritual and physical blessings, such as life, health, strength, spiritual capability, knowledge, riches, and every good thing of life, all this is the gift of our Creator God. Without help from Heaven, it is impossible to acquire either material well-being or spiritual riches. All this is the gift of God.

Spiritual lowliness is called humility. Humility is the foundation of all Christian virtue, because it is the opposite of pride, and pride introduced all evil into the world. Due to pride the first among the angles became the Devil; the first people sinned, their descendants quarreled and went to war among themselves from pride. The first sin was pride (Ecclus. 10:15).

Without humility it is impossible to return to God. Nor are any of the other Christian virtues possible. Humility permits us to know ourselves, to correctly assess our worth and deficiencies. It acts beneficially in the fulfillment of our obligations to our neighbor, arouses arid strengthens in us faith in God, hope and love for Him. It attracts the mercy of God to us and also disposes people to us.

The Word of God says, A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise (Ps. 50:17). Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly (Prov. 3:34). Learn of me, instructs the Saviour, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt. 11:29).

Physical misery or privation can result in the acquisition of much spiritual humility if this privation or need is accepted with good will, without a murmur. But physical privation does not always result in spiritual humility, it can lead to bitterness.

Even the wealthy can be spiritually humble if they understand that visible, material wealth is decadent and transitory, fleeting, and that it is no substitute for spiritual riches. They must understand the word of the Lord, For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matt. 16:26).

But Christian humility must be strictly distinguished from self-seeking self-abasement, such as fawning and flattery, which discredit human dignity.

It is necessary to strictly reject so-called "noble self-love" or "defense against affronts to one’s honor," which reflect prejudices, pernicious superstitions which were inherited from Roman paganism hostile to Christianity. The true Christian must decisively renounce these superstitions which resulted in the anti-Christian and shameful custom of the duel and revenge.

In reward for meekness of spirit, humility, the Lord Jesus Christ promises the Kingdom of Heaven, a life of eternal blessedness. Participation in the Kingdom of God for the humble begins here and now — by means of faith and hope in God; but the ultimate reward in all of its fullness will be seen in the future life.

Law of God

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The demonic stronghold-The characteristics of pride

One of the foremost experts on the depths of the human spirit, St. Isaac the Syrian, says in his 41st homily: “The one who has come to a realization of his sin is higher than the one who raises the dead through prayer; whoever has been able to see his own self is higher than the one who has been granted the vision of angels.” It is for the purpose of self-knowledge that we will examine the matter we have stated in the title.

Pride, and egotism, and vanity, to which we can add - haughtiness, arrogance, conceit - are all different varieties of one basic manifestation - “turning towards oneself.” Out of all these words two have the most concrete meaning: vanity and pride; according to the “Ladder” they are like youth and man, seed and bread, beginning and end.

The symptoms of vanity, this initial sin: intolerance of criticism, a thirst for praise, a search for easy paths, constant orientation upon others - what will they say? how will it appear? what will they think? Vanity sees an approaching audience from afar and makes the wrathful - affectionate, the irresponsible - serious, the distracted - concentrated, gluttons - temperate, and so on - all of this while there are observers around..

The same orientation upon an audience explains the sin of self-justification, which often creeps unnoticeably even into our confession: “I am no more sinful than the rest…. only insignificant sins…. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything.”

The demon of vanity is overjoyed, says St. John of the Ladder, seeing our virtues increase: the more successes we have, the more food for vanity. “When I keep fast, I am vain; when I hide my spiritual labors - I am vain over my piety. If I dress pleasingly, I am vain, and if I put on old clothes, I become even vainer. If I begin to speak - I am consumed by vanity, if I keep silent - I become still vainer. No matter how you turn this prickly plant - it always has its thorns sticking upward.” As soon as a kind feeling or a sincere movement arises in a man’s heart, immediately there appears a vain backward look at oneself, and thus - these most precious movements of the soul disappear, melt like snow under the sun. They melt, which means they die; which means that because of vanity the best in us dies; thus we kill ourselves with vanity and we replace a real, simple and good life with phantoms.

Increasing vanity gives rise to pride.

Pride is supreme self-confidence, rejecting all that is not of itself, it is a source of rage, cruelty and malice, a refusal to accept God’s help, a “demonic stronghold.” It is an “iron curtain” between ourselves and God (Abba Pimen); it is an enmity towards God, the origin of all sin, it is present in every sin. Every sin constitutes a willing yielding of oneself to one’s vice, a conscious flouting of God’s law, an audacity against God, although “the one who is subject to pride is desperately in need of God, for no man can save such a one” (“The Ladder”).

Where does this vice came from? How does it begin? What does it feed on? Through what stages does it pass in its development? What are the characteristics by which one can recognize it?

The latter is particularly important, because a proud person usually does not see his sin. A wise elder once counseled one of his monastics to shun pride, but the latter, blinded by his intellect, replied: “Forgive me, father, but there is absolutely no pride in me.” The wise elder said to him: “There is no better proof of your pride, child, than such an answer!”

In any case, if a person finds it hard to ask forgiveness of others, if he is easily offended and mistrustful, if he is rancorous and judgmental of others, - all of these are undoubtedly signs of pride.

In the “Homily against pagans” of Saint Athanasius the Great there are the following words: “Men have fallen into self-desire, preferring to contemplate themselves rather than divinity.” This brief definition reveals the essence of pride: man, for whom until now the center and the object of desire was God, has turned away from Him, has fallen into “self-desire,” has come to love himself more than God, has preferred self-contemplation to divine contemplation.

In our life this turning towards “self-contemplation” and “self-desire” has become part of our nature and can often be seen in the mighty instinct for self-preservation, both in our earthly and our spiritual life.

Just as a cancerous growth often begins with a bruise or a continuous irritation of a certain spot, so the spiritual illness of pride often begins either with a sudden shock (for example, due to some calamity), or from a continuous massaging of one’s ego due to success, good fortune, the constant exhibition of one’s talents, etc.

Often you are dealing with a so-called “temperamental” individual, passionate, talented, easily fascinated. Such a person is like an erupting volcano, with his ceaseless activity preventing both God and men from getting near to him. He is full of himself, totally absorbed in himself, intoxicated with himself. He does not see or feel anything except his burning talent, from which he derives great enjoyment and satisfaction. One can hardly do anything with such people until they become played out, until the volcano becomes extinguished. Such is the danger of all talented and gifted people. Talent should be balanced by deep spirituality.

Otherwise, in reverse cases, in situations of great sorrow - there is the same result: the person becomes totally absorbed in his misfortune, in his eyes the surrounding world becomes dull and dark; he cannot think or speak of anything except his sorrow; he wallows in it, he finally holds onto it as the only thing left to him, as the only reason in life.

Often this turning towards oneself becomes developed in people who are quiet, submissive, taciturn, whose personal life had been suppressed from childhood, and this “suppressed subjectivity compensates itself by engendering a tendency towards egocentrism” (Jung, “Psychological types”) in the most diverse manifestations: quickness to take offence, mistrust, coquetry, seeking of attention, and even in the form of direct psychoses such as persecution mania, megalomania, etc.

Thus, a concentration upon oneself leads a person away from the world and from God; he becomes chipped off, so-to-speak, from the general tree trunk of world-outlook and turns into a shaving curled around an empty spot.

The progression of the spiritual illness

Let us try to outline the major stages of the development of pride, from slight self-satisfaction to extreme spiritual darkness and total destruction.

At first it is seen as frequent attention to oneself, almost normal, accompanied by a good mood bordering on flippancy. A person is satisfied with himself, laughs a lot, whistles, hums, snaps his fingers. He likes to appear original, to amuse others with paradox and wit; he exhibits unusual tastes, is capricious in food. He willingly gives advice and amicably interferes in the affairs of others; he unconsciously manifests his exclusive interest in himself with the following phrases (interrupting the conversation): “no, let me tell you,” or “no, I know a better story,” or “I have the habit of….,” or “I usually follow the rule of….”.

At the same time he is greatly dependent on the approval of others, depending on which he either blossoms or fades and becomes sour. In general, however, at this stage his mood remains fairly bright. This form of egocentrism is usually characteristic of youth, although it is sometimes seen in adults.

Such a person is lucky if at this stage he encounters serious concerns, especially for others (marriage, a family), a job, a project. Or if he becomes entranced with religious life and, attracted by the beauty of spiritual endeavour, realizes his spiritual poverty and becomes desirous of the aid of grace. If this does not occur, the illness progresses further.

There appears in him a sincere belief in his own superiority. Often this is expressed through irrepressible verbosity. What else is verbosity if not, on the one hand, an absence of modesty, and on the other hand - a delight in one’s own self? The egoistic nature of verbosity is not lessened by instances of discussion of serious topics; a proud person can easily prose on humility and silence, can glorify fasting, can debate on the merits of good works versus prayer.

Self-assurance quickly turns into a passion for ordering others around; such a person imposes his will upon others (but is intolerant of his own will being imposed upon), takes charge of others’ attention, time, efforts, becomes impudent and obnoxious. His affairs are important, the affairs of others are of little value. He tries to do everything, interferes in everything.

At this stage the proud person’s mood begins to spoil. In his aggressiveness he naturally meets with opposition and rebuffs; he becomes irritable, stubborn, peevish; he becomes certain that no one understands him, even his spiritual father; his conflicts with the world increase and the proud person makes a final choice: “I” against others (but not yet against God).

The soul becomes dark and cold, becomes the abode of arrogance, contempt, anger, hate. The mind becomes obscured, the differentiation between good and evil becomes muddled, becomes replaced by the differentiation between “mine” and “not mine.” He escapes from all obedience, is intolerable to all segments of society; his purpose is to propagate his own views, to vanquish and shame others; he hungrily seeks fame, even notoriety, revenging himself upon the world for its lack of acknowledgment. If he is a monk - he leaves his monastery which has become intolerable to him, and seeks his own paths. Occasionally this force of self-assertion is directed towards material acquisition, a career, social and political activity; sometimes, if there is talent, it is directed towards creativity, and in such a case, through pushiness, the proud person can even achieve some measure of success. On these same grounds schisms and heresies are created.

Finally, at the last stage, the person separates from God. If previously he sinned out of mischief and mutiny, now he allows himself everything: sin no longer bothers him but becomes a habit; if he feels easy about anything at this stage, it is his easy relations with the demons and his easy access to dark paths. The state of the soul is dismal, hopeless, totally isolated, but at the same time there is a sincere conviction in the rightness of his path and a feeling of complete safety, despite the fact that he is being rushed on black wings to perdition.

In truth, such a state of mind does not differ greatly from madness.

At this stage the proud person lives in a state of total isolation. Look at how he talks, argues: he either does not hear at all what others say to him, or hears only that which coincides with his own views; if something is said to him contrary to his opinions, he becomes angry as though he were greatly offended, and viciously refutes everything. In those around him he sees only those qualities, which he himself had imposed upon them, so that even in his praises he remains proud, self-centered, impervious to objectivity.

Characteristically the most prevalent forms of psychological illness - megalomania and persecution mania - spring directly from “increased self-awareness” and are totally unthinkable in individuals who are humble, simple and self-sacrificing. Even psychiatrists believe that paranoia is based upon an exaggerated awareness of one’s own self, a hostile attitude towards others, a loss of normal ability for adaptation, an irrationality of beliefs. A classic paranoiac never criticizes himself, in his own eyes he is always right and he is sharply dissatisfied with the people around him and with the conditions of his life.

Here is a perfect illustration of the depth of St. John of the Ladder’s determination: “Pride is extreme poverty of the soul.”

A proud man suffers defeat on all fronts:

Psychologically - anguish, gloom, barrenness.

Morally - solitude, the drying up of love, anger.

Physiologically and pathologically - nervous illness and madness.

From a theological point of view - the death of the soul preceding physical death, the experience of hell while still in this life.

In conclusion it is natural to pose a question: how to struggle against this illness, how to oppose the destruction which threatens those who follow this path? The answer springs from the essence of the question: first of all - humility; then - obedience, in increments - to loved ones, to elders, to the laws of the world, to objective truth, to beauty, to all that is good within us and around us, obedience to the law of God, and finally - obedience to the Church, its rules, its commandments, its mystic sacraments. And to achieve this - follow that which stands at the beginning of the Christian path: “Whosoever wishes to follow Me, must renounce himself.”

Renounce himself…. and must continue renouncing himself every day; every day a person must take upon himself his cross - a cross of enduring affronts, placing oneself last, suffering sorrows and illnesses, silently accepting abuse, offering total and unconditional obedience - immediate, voluntary, joyous, fearless, constant obedience.

And then the path into the kingdom of peace and profoundest wisdom, which destroys all passions, shall become open to him.

Glory be to our God, Who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble!

Protopriest Alezxander Elchaninov.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

How does a priest discourage the faithful from attending church through priestly indifference?

The tragedy of being a priest without Divine Grace

by Nikita Kafkiou

Mr. Kafkiou tells us: “The personal relationship of man with God is not a given, nor is it guaranteed to be stable, progressive or constant. A priest may start off in life with spiritual enthusiasm for his priestly calling. But after a few years, it is possible for him to feel completely removed from the Grace of God. Human weaknesses, the difficulties of married life, the uncertainties of daily life are able to knuckle under the most dedicated faithful priest. The only possible way for a priest to live a spiritual life is for him to accept his unworthiness and to submit his feelings to the love of Jesus Christ. If a priest cannot bring himself to bring before Jesus his pain and defeat, he will end up being completely lost. For a priest to find spiritual maturity he must realize that this journey is a one way street. If a priest does not progress spiritually he will be ripped to shreds. If the priest falls away from God because of his spiritual failures, he will become worldly. Instead of a liturgist he will end up being simply an actor.

A priest who is burdened by the darkness of his spiritual downfall no longer has the disposition or the burning desire to deal with liturgical details of Church life. In many of our Orthodox Churches on Sunday mornings and feast days the gathering of the faithful feels like they are attending a theatrical performance. During the celebration of Church services the faithful do not feel a sense of peace. Instead of charging up their spiritual batteries they experience psychosomatic turmoil. His emotional life is tortured and his spiritual being is scandalized.

In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to comment directly on certain acts and behavior of a spiritually burdened priest which upset sensitive and well-intentioned Church goers. I am listing fifteen contemporary ways with which our Church turns people off.


1. Acoustics: 
(Please remember, once again, that the author of these statements is making them with tongue in cheek). 
 Turn up the volume on the PA system so that nobody feels comfortable and cannot feel a sense of compunction. Also place speakers outside the Church building in order to upset the neighbors. This will also allow Church goers listening to the service outside the Church not to find a sense of peace. Do not allow professional people install the PA system. The priest should be concerned that the final acoustical system should remind one of a gypsy who navigates our neighborhoods with his cart selling carpets and potatoes.

2. Lighting. 
The priest should make sure that the chandeliers are turned on for the services. And if for some reason the chandeliers are not lit make sure that you have a powerful floodlight that reminds people of a police searchlight during a police investigation. You should allow the cantors to have a bright light shining on their heads so that they can read their service books.

3. Sermon.  
Make sure you give the sermon before Holy Communion (before the invitation: “With the fear of God, with faith and with love draw near.” Make sure your sermon is long. It should avoid talking about real life issues and zero in on social, moral and political issues. You should also emphasize the moral downfall of contemporary society. You should offer moral advice to the congregation in an alarming way. Make sure that you express your exasperation with the prevalence of sin in our contemporary world. Emphasize the egocentric tendency of middle class people wanting to live the good life. While doing this you should also compare this way of life with the ascetics of the Church who live in the wilderness. Try to convince people in your sermon that the reason they are not progressing spiritually is because they are not trying hard enough. Make sure to speak with a loud voice—menacing voice so that the people will believe what you are saying.

4. Typikon—Rubrics. (The liturgical order of services).  
The priest should be indifferent to the liturgical order of services. The liturgical rubrics are not something foundational. Cut and paste the service the way you desire it to be. Do not read the Psalms and the readings from the Old Testament because the faithful do not understand this ancient language. Give directives to the cantors not to chant the whole of “Κύριε έκέκραξα» during the vesper service and also omit most of the odes in the matins service. Do things in a hurried and most convenient way for you.

5. Behavior.  
The priest should make sure that during the course of the services that he should navigate around the altar nervously. The priest should do everything with a sense of indifference and without feeling deeply what he is doing. When you face the congregation in the Royal Entrance or when you are about to incense the people make sure you check out who is in Church. You can also look upon the congregation with a sense of indifference.

6. Vestments.  
During the Divine Liturgy the priest should wear vestments with bright colors and a lot of phony jewels. Make sure that you look spectacular. Understand how important you are and that you are truly the pride of the Church by the way you are vested.

7. Commentary. 
  During the highlights of the Divine Liturgy such as the Cherubic Hymn, the Consecration of the Holy Gifts or before dispensing Holy Communion, make sure to admonish the people about their proper conduct in Church. If a child cries, make sure you make it known to the mother in a stern way to either remove the child or keep it quiet.

8. The Cleanliness of the Icons.
  Do not bother with the cleanliness of the icons during Sunday services and for the feast days. Allow the accumulation of saliva and lipstick to remain on the protective glass of the icons so that the faithful will feel a sense of disgust while reverencing them.

9. Candles and Incense. 
Make sure that you offer only the cheapest candles you can purchase for the candle stand in the narthex. These candles look like soap. Also price them according to their size. The priest should stock only the cheapest incense money can buy. Place the kernels of incense on the charcoal shortly before you start to incense the altar and the icons. Do this so that by the time you come to incense the people the censer will be giving off only smoke without the fragrance of incense. Do not add any more kernels of incense while you are incensing.

10. Intoning the Petitions.
  When intoning the petitions shout them out in an inarticulate voice so that no one can understand what you are saying. Chant in such a way that you sound like someone singing in a night club. Forget that you are offering your prayers to God and make sure that you sound good to your audience and to yourself. When you read the prayers make sure you annunciate only the vowels and skip the consonants. It is important to say what you are chanting or reading not the way you are expressing them. Remember that no one cares and or understands what is being said. Project the intensity of your voice in a boisterous way believing that this will elicit spiritual compunction from the faithful.

11. During the Divine Liturgy.
  Make sure that you use wine that is of average quality. And fill the chalice with a lot of hot water so that the taste of the wine will be lost. While dispensing Holy Communion make sure the communion spoon contains very little consecrated wine (the Blood) and no consecrated bread (the Body). And while dispensing Holy Communion do not say the name of the communicant. Be very indifferent to the fact that you are holding in your hands God Himself. While serving the Divine Liturgy make quick and nervous movements. Dispense the Body and Blood of the Lord in a casual and indifferent way as if you are serving desert. Make sure that the Divine Liturgy continues to be chanted while you are dispensing Holy Communion so the faithful can hear “we have seen the true Light” even before they receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. At the end of the Divine Liturgy dispense the antidoron (the pieces of altar bread) with both hands. While doing this the cantors should stop chanting so you can hear the chatter of the people in the Church. Make sure you avoid reading the prayer of thanksgiving while consuming the consecrated elements in the chalice before you leave the altar.

12. Beggars. 
 Make sure that on Sundays and Feast Days that you allow the beggars to stand at the very entrance to the Church. This allows the faithful to get a taste of poverty, misery, horror, lies and indignation. In this way, those who attend Church infrequently acquire a clear connection with God so that they can identify their attendance at Church with negative feelings.

13. Money.
 Make sure that you use every opportunity you get to ask the congregation for money. Place large containers in the narthex that clearly display how the money will be be used. Pass trays during the Divine Liturgy. Make sure that these trays are passed during the holiest moments of the Liturgy so that the faithful will give more money. Make sure that there are fees for weddings and baptisms. When the priest visits homes to perform the services of holy unction or blessing of water the priest should accept an honorarium without hesitation. You should believe that you are worthy of being compensated for these services that you offer. You should not forget that the majority of the faithful believe that priests are not money hungry.

14. Problematic Co-workers. 
The priest should make sure that he appoints self-centered and ill-tempered council members. Make them understand that they are the leaders. Impress upon them that they have special powers. Remind them to police the faithful in the Church. Now and then you, the priest, should have disagreements with the council members in front of the faithful.

15. Automobile. 
The priest should buy a very expensive automobile so that the faithful will be scandalized. You should make your choice of an automobile based on the argument that even Jesus did not walk around but used a beautiful donkey for transportation. With an automobile like this the faithful will be reminded of Palm Sunday and Jesus Christ.

16. Iconography. 
If there are any bare walls in Church, the priest should get bids from iconographers and fill these spaces with inexpensive icons. Make sure that these icons do not display a sense of creativity but they are simply copies of icons.

17. The Altar Bread.
 Place baskets of altar bread in the narthex of the Church. The pieces of bread should be large pieces and make sure that this bread is purchased by the faithful at a local bakery. If the priest does this he will not be burdened with handing out the bread himself. This will also allow him to avoid coming into personal contact with the faithful of the parish.

-Dear People,

I found this article on the Greek internet and it fascinated me about Church life in Greece and why people do not attend Church frequently in that country. It is fascinating to me because, as an Orthodox priest in America, I am always concerned about issues that keep our faithful from attending our Churches. It is very important to realize as you read about these issues that turn people off about attending Church that some of these issues do not apply here in America. As you read the article, those of you that live in the USA will know which are unique to Greece. As I translated the seventeen reasons that discourage our faithful from attending Church services, it is very evident that the person who wrote this article writes about these issues with tongue in cheek. Every one of the reasons that he writes about are written mockingly. In other words he wished that priests would not do the things that he writes about. As I read about the negative things that priests do in our Churches that make them uninviting to our faithful, I came to the conclusion that only by being totally committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can a priest avoid the pitfalls that destroy his calling. Mr. Kafkiou says that when a young priest loses his enthusiasm and idealism about the priesthood he most always ends up being nothing more than an actor. I pray that I will be able to get across to you the spirit of what this man is trying to say about the parish priest.

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, June 24, 2014, the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Postscript—after sharing this with my presbytera, she tells me that it is silly and that I not share it. Something within me says that I should share it.

Translated from the Greek by:

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, June 24, 2014,

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Time is Money ( Elder Ephraim of Arizona )

Time is the currency with which we acquire eternity. 
The ancients would say, “time is money.” 
Indeed, time is a currency of incalculable value. We do not need even one dollar to purchase eternity; all we need is one minute. 
How did the thief on the cross acquire Paradise? He did so with one minute. 
Actually, it took him less than a minute to confess Jesus Christ, to seek His mercy, and to utter with sincere repentance, “Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom.”
 This is why the Apostle Paul exclaims, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
 Behold, the greatest purchase of all time! 
Let us rush to acquire Paradise. 
We have the means. 
It will be the best investment of our life, because Paradise is forever.
Ioasaf, who went on to become a saint of our Orthodox Church, was the son of the King of India.  Saint Barlaam instructed him in the Christian faith and baptized him. One of the many things Righteous Barlaam taught him was the following:
“In a certain land, the citizens had the custom of electing as their king a foreigner who would come to visit their city. The unsuspecting visitor would accept their offer because he was unaware of their customs and practices. They would crown the visitor and enthrone him king for a certain period of time, only to dethrone him a short time later, without a warning, and exile him to a desolate region. 
Since they never revealed to the stranger that within six months to a year they would strip him of his regal title and send him into exile, the visitor ruled the land assuming that he would reign forever, until the end of his life. The thought of exile would never even cross his mind, and,unmindfulof the citizens’intent to banish him, he never prepared for such a calamity.
During one such trip to the city by a particular visitor, a good and virtuous citizen who saw the foreigner approached him and told him in secret, “My fellow countrymen who dwell in this city are planning to make you a king. You should realize, however, that after a short period of time they will exile you. So, now when you become king and while you have all the goods accessible to you, see to it that you send food, provisions, and other useful items to that deserted region, so that when they banish you to that land you will have them there waiting for you, and youwill be able to live comfortably.” 
“Oh! Thank you very much for telling me,” replied the guest.Indeed, by following the advice of that good citizen, this man sent an abundance of provisions to the land of exile. And so, when the time came and the citizens banished him, he went their gladly and henceforth lived comfortably, because he had sent many goods there beforehand. 
 “Similarly,” explained St. Barlaam to Ioasaph, “Man comes into this present life, and, fooled by the world, he believes that he will reign and live many years; death, however, appears unexpectedly and sends him to eternity. 
 The Church, another good citizen, comes to advise man and points out to him, “Look, you are not going to be here very long. You will depart for the next life , which is eternal. 
Make sure, now that you are here and capable, to do good works and send them there to the next life. Thus, when you die and the world ejects you from the earth, you will find these items there. God will repay you thousand times over, and you will henceforth live joyfully.”
The time of our present life is the opportunity to sow. 
Eternity is the time of harvest.
 Tell me what you sow, and I will tell you what you will reap. 
Do you sow faith, love, and tears of effort and repentance?
 You will reap the joy of eternal Paradise. 
The Lord confirms this: 
“You shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life”(Mt. 19:29). 
St. Paul also emphasizes this in his epistle to the Corinthians:
 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2Cor. 4:17).
Elder Ephraim of Arizona 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

One day a week you should ‘keep holy’ ( Saint Gregory Palamas )

One day a week you should ‘keep holy’ (Ex. 20:8): that which is called the Lord’s day, because it is consecrated to the Lord, who on that day arose from the dead, disclosing and giving prior assurance of the general resurrection, when every earthly activity will come to an end. And you must not engage in any worldly activity that is not essential; and you must allow those who are under your authority and those who live with you to rest, so that together you may all glorify Him who redeemed us through His death and who arose from the dead and resurrected our human nature with Himself…

On this day you should go to the temple of God and attend the services held there and with sincere faith and a clean conscience you should receive the holy body and blood of Christ.

Saint Gregory Palamas