Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Living Out of the Heart

Those who are new to Orthodoxy often spend much time reading and studying the Fathers of the Church, its traditions and practices, reconciling doctrine to Scripture, all to help develop a new Orthodox worldview. There is much to learn when we are making a change in our way of thinking about religion and salvation. For some, this effort can be very intense and demanding. But, this effort is only the beginning. 
At some point it is necessary to make a transition,to shift one's effort towards more inner development. Our love for Christ must move from the head to the heart. This requires more than following the guidelines for daily prayer, following the fasting guidelines, and attending the services of the Church. This too, can be done through mental effort, and often is in the beginning. The move from the head to the heart requires a surrender to the Church, a giving up of filtering everything through the mind. What we seek is the active work of the Holy Spirit that was planted in us at Baptism and sealed with our Chrismation. The aim is a union with God, not fulfilling some external rules.

Saint Tikhon (of Zdonsk) puts it this way,

If someone should say that true faith is the correct holding and confession of correct dogmas, he would be telling the truth, for a believer absolutely needs the Orthodox holding and confession of dogmas. But this knowledge and confession by itself does not make a man a faithful and true Christian. ... The knowledge of correct dogmas is in the mind, and it is often fruitless, arrogant, and proud.... The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.. 
Fr. Saraphim Rose says,

Do we perhaps boast that we keep fasts and the Church calendar, have good icons and congregational singing, give to the poor and maybe even tithe to the Church? Do we delight in exalted Patristic teachings and theological discussions without having in our hearts the duplicity of Christ and true compassion for the suffering?––then ours is a spirituality of comfort, and we will not have the spiritual fruits that will be exhibited by those without all these comforts who deeply suffer and struggle for Christ. When we are able to make this transition from the head to the heart, we discover an intense heartfelt desire, a burning from within, for the love of God and to be united with Him. We leave our earthly passions behind and have only one, to be in the loving embrace of God. We experience a sense of willingness to sacrifice all we have for Him. When we speak we no longer search our memory for the proper thing to say based on what we have learned from out readings or studies. Instead the Holy Spirit moves us to say the proper words and do the proper deeds. It comes naturally and in a loving way. We come alive with an inner fire of love. We find an inner peace no matter what difficulties we face.

Elder Porphyrios says,

When you find Christ [in the heart], you are satisfied, you desire nothing else, you find peace. You become a different person. You live everywhere, wherever Christ is. You live in the stars, in infinity, in heaven with the angels, with the saints, on earth with people, with plants, with animals, with everyone and everything. When there is love for Christ, loneliness disappears. You are peaceable, joyous, full. Neither melancholy, not illness, nor pressure, nor anxiety, nor depression nor hell.
When Christ enters your heart, your life changes. Christ is everything. Whoever experiences Christ within himself, experiences ineffable things––holy and sacred things. He lives in exultation...
 Fr. Seraphim writes,

"When those who are rich in the Holy Spirit, really having the heavenly wealth and the fellowship of the Spirit in themselves, speak to any the word of is out of their own wealth and out of their own treasure, which they possess within themselves when they speak, and out of this that they gladden the souls of the hearers of the spiritual discourse...."
But one who is poor, and does not possess the wealth of Christ in his soul ... even if he wishes to speak a word of truth and to gladden others ... but after he has gone through it, each word goes back to the source from which is was taken, and he himself remains once more naked and poor....
For this reason we should seek first from God with pain of heart and in faith, that He would grant us to find this wealth, the true treasure of Christ in our hearts, in the power and effectual working of the spirit. In this way, first finding in ourselves the Lord to be our profit and salvation and eternal life, we may then profit others also, according to our strength and opportunity, drawing upon Christ, the measure within." It is helpful to seek out a spiritual father who can guide you. He will be able to help you to make this transition. He can help you avoid becoming too intense in your effort to learn doctrine and practice guidelines for this and that. It is God's love we seek and this only comes from the heart.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

When we have a divorce, regardless of the cause of the divorce, we have a sweeping victory of Satan. ( Elder Ephraim of the Skete of St. Andrew )

When we have a divorce, regardless of the cause of the divorce, we have a sweeping victory of Satan.

The devil says:

- You see Nazarene, you crowned them, but I won them, I separated them!
This must be firmly in the mind of every person before they get married , that they should never separate!

When 2 people get married in Christ and then divorce, it's like putting the devil in the middle.

The Gospel says that the only cause of separation is adultery.

Christ does not command them to explicitly separate the husband and wife, but allows them to divorce, so that no other greater sin will be committed later, e.g. murder of the husband/wife.

Blessed is the spouse who, for the love of our Christ, endures this cross and does not ask to be divorced.

But those who do not forgive their spouse for something they have done and ask for separation, tomorrow they will go to the confessor, how will they ask God to forgive them their sins?

Elder Ephraim of the Skete of St. Andrew

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer ( Fr. Stephen Freeman )

Pascha (Easter) comes with a great note of joy in the Christian world. Christ is risen from the dead and our hearts rejoice. That joy begins to wane as the days pass. Our lives settle back down to the mundane tasks at hand. After 40 days, the Church marks the Feast of the Ascension, often attended by only a handful of the faithful (Rome has more-or-less moved the Ascension to a Sunday to make it easier). Some excitement returns with the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, which conveniently falls on a Sunday making its observance easier in a too-busy-to-notice world. Lost in all of this, however, is a subtext (perhaps it is the main text).
It is a liturgical practice that in Orthodoxy begins some weeks before Great Lent. It is a frontal assault on Hades.
The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed. Most of the Saturdays in Great Lent have them. They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday.

This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.

The cycle of prayers assaulting Hades reaches a climax on the day of Pentecost. On the evening of that Sunday, the faithful gather for Vespers. During that service, they kneel for the first time since Pascha. And in that kneeling, the Church teaches them the boldness of prayer, the cry of human hearts for God’s solace and relief. Three lengthy prayers are offered, the third of which completes and fulfills the prayers that began so many weeks before in the Soul Saturdays:

Priest: O Christ our God, the ever-flowing Spring, life-giving, illuminating, creative Power, coeternal with the Father, Who hast most excellently fulfilled the whole dispensation of the salvation of mankind, and didst tear apart the indestructible bonds of death, break asunder the bolts of Hades, and tread down the multitude of evil spirits, offering Thyself as a blameless Sacrifice and offering us Thy pure, spotless and sinless body, Who, by this fearsome, inscrutable divine service didst grant us life everlasting; O Thou Who didst descend into Hades, and demolish the eternal bars, revealing an ascent to those who were in the lower abode; Who with the lure of divine wisdom didst entice the dragon, the head of subtle evil, and with Thy boundless power bound him in abysmal hell, in inextinguishable fire, and extreme darkness. O Wisdom of the Father, Thou great of Name Who dost manifest Thyself a great Helper to those who are in distress; a luminous Light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; Thou art the Lord of everlasting glory, the beloved Son of the Most High Father, eternal Light from eternal Light, Thou Sun of justice! … Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, dost deign to receive oblations and supplications for those bound in Hades, and grantest unto us the great hope that rest and comfort will be sent down from Thee to the departed from the grief that binds them. (edited for length)

I can recall the first time in my priesthood that I offered this prayer. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words above…astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”
The Descent of Christ into Hades itself demonstrates God’s willingness towards our salvation. And the prayer’s imagery here reveals God’s strength:

Who didst descend into Hades, and demolish the eternal bars, revealing an ascent to those who were in the lower abode; Who with the lure of divine wisdom didst entice the dragon, the head of subtle evil, and with Thy boundless power bound him in abysmal hell, in inextinguishable fire, and extreme darkness.
On the Saturday before Pentecost, some 49 days after Pascha, the Church offers the last in the cycle of Soul Saturdays. And on Pentecost itself, and now on bended knee, it boldly goes where only Christ has gone before in victory. As was proclaimed in the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom:

Christ is risen! And not one of the dead is left in the grave, for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
A beloved friend from my youth who has sustained a boldness in Christ through many trials has said that he doesn’t like to pray “safe” prayers. On this holy day, we leave the safety of our fear and dare to walk where Christ has gone before.