God is the Lord of all places. Now, since the incarnation, the whole earth shines with glory; there is no place whence the incense of prayer cannot rightly rise. The manna of the Word of God rains down on every city and every wilderness; the incorruptible feast can be partaken of in the humblest church of the poorest village; the living waters of grace can be drunk by all who courageously and unflinchingly seek Him who say, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’(John 7) –Saint Macarius of Optina

Humility

We must be humbler people, we must have kind feelings, and God, seeing our kindness and persistence towards Him for His help, will help us. He is there for us. God listens. No prayer is lost. And He listens at all hours. There is no need to wear our good clothes and make an appointment with the secretary. Each of us is welcome at every moment. And He knows English, Greek, German, Spanish, He hears the deaf and dumb, He hears everyone. We only need one garment, the garment of humility. we must be humble people. God loves this very much. Humble does not mean stupid or naive. A humble person is dignified, noble, respectable, his word is graceful, he has peace, he imparts peace. He is the person who is blessed by God. Upon these hearts, God rests. So let us do what we can and, in time, we will also achieve the greater part. From a tap, a drop of water falls, and each successive drop slowly erodes the marble and pits it. However, this is a steady process. Thus, we must keep the memory of God. We must remember God and His love and compassion.

~ Monk Moses of Athos

Life With Heart

Education in the faith is important but alone it cannot supplant the powerful cultural forces that have swayed our society. We will lose the battle if we aren’t capturing the human heart. Education in the faith will help win this battle only if it is accompanied and nourished by prayer, and especially the Jesus Prayer. Elder Sophrony once noted, “People live with their brain: their lives are centered on reason. If scientists were to invent such a machine, they would be able to read people’s thoughts, and direct them. All those, however, who live with their heart, within which God’s grace acts, and who pray in their heart, have the sign of the cross in their heart, and no one is able to control them spiritually. They have freedom of spirit.” When we speak of Orthodox witness to the world, there is no better witness than the one who keeps the remembrance of God. This is precisely why prayer is so vital and encouraged. The greatest Christian witness we can offer the world is our own relationship with Christ. If He dwells in our hearts countless others will be attracted to the message of the Gospel.

~Bishop Thomas

To Sing Like a River

There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak of creation giving praise to God. To treat such verses as mere metaphor would be a profound mistake. It is not uncommon in the modern world for people to imagine themselves as the only sentient creatures while staring out into the heavens wondering if there is some other possible life-form out there. We fail to understand the creation in which we live because we do not understand ourselves. Human beings are made of the same stuff as everything around us. We do not understand the fundamental communion of all created things, nor the utterly cosmic nature of the statement that God “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We hear our own voices but do not recognize their kinship to every other sound around us. The sound of my voice and the sound of the river belong to the same class of event. Trees speak and animals discuss among themselves. We think to ourselves, “What if trees could actually speak?” But we never seem to think, “What if we actually knew how to listen?”

Most people would be greatly surprised to know that plants have a soul. According to the teaching of the Church, plants have a “vegetative soul” that comprises their drive towards reproduction and life itself. The human soul also has this component, as well as an irrational component and a rational component. None of these divisions is dogma. However, it is worth noting that the Tradition is quite comfortable with thinking about a “soul” even in plants.

Just as a tree longs for water and sends its roots in search of it, so too does it long for God, in whom it lives and moves and has its being. A tree’s desire for God differs from our own desire for God. But the desire remains. The existence of all created things “tends” towards God. St. Paul describes this as a “groaning”. (Romans 8:22)

Christianity reveals a dignity of the created order that never enters the modern mind. Our modern failure is not found in loving material things too much rather, we love them too little and in the wrong manner. We love our ideas about things and now we feel about things. Nothing is therefore loved for itself, but only for the sentiments that arise from its misuse.

The worship of God is a truly cosmic event, something that is the united and harmonious voice of all created things. The song itself is a material offering. We either sing within that harmony and within its key, or we sing amiss. There are no soloists in the choir.

Glory to God for all things, and with all things!

~Father Stephen Freeman

Seeds of Faith

“I have kept the faith. I have run with patience the race that was set before me.”(Holy Apostle Paul, 2 Tim 4; Heb. 12) “The fruits of the earth are not brought to perfection immediately, but by time, rain and care. In a similar manner, the fruits of the Christian life ripen through practice, study, time, perseverance, self control and patience.” (Saint Anthony the Great)

Consider Saints Cyril and Methodius, Equal of the Apostles, Enlighteners of the Slavs. In the life of these saints it is said that they preferred to build churches out of stone because of its durability, rather than from wood. Perhaps they had the intimation as they went about their daily tasks that successes might be far between, or a long time coming. After many years of labor they died in relative obscurity with their work seemingly a failure. Who would have guessed at the time, that their labors, the fruits of their lives for Christ, would fall into the ground and die, and lie dormant for centuries. Only later, in God’s time, would all those everyday duties and activities lived in Christ bear fruit, as the Gospel says “some thirty, some fifty, some an hundred.” A few followers, a few translations, books and memories produced bit by bit were left behind. But eventually their work produced a vast sea of conversion in the conversion of the Slavic peoples to Christianity and the establishment of the Orthodox Faith in many nations. This flourished and eventually washed ashore in our own country as the Alaskan mission that brought the Faith of the Undivided Church, Orthodox Christianity into everyday homes and families in America.

If you see that your labor seems to bear little fruit or success, or for some reason sinful people suggest this to you and lead you to think, should I give up? Is it worth it to give all my strength and health to what many would call such an insignificant and fruitless work? Then inwardly repent and hurry to calm yourself. Remember Christ’s own word to the one who gives even a glass of cold water in His name, ‘you will not remain without reward.’ Is it possible that even the “cup of cold water” will not be found among your labors? Be at peace, it will be found as long as your deeds are performed with love and faithfulness, which is really what the Lord expects from you. Success is in patient humility. Zeal is in faithful perseverance. Take one step. Then take another. Remember that even the drop gives you benefit, and realize that from these drops will form a stream, a river, a sea. You bring to the altar of divine love and truth one drop, someone else another drop, each a drop and the whole forms a stream, a river, and as the years go by, a whole ocean of labors, faith and love to the Lord. It is God who gives the success. True zeal is in the perseverance, faithfulness. Remember this and expel from yourself all internal and external temptations which serve to disturb your peaceful life in Christ. “Keep the Faith. Run with patience the race that is set before you.”

Serve as Christ

Pray to Christ our Lord and God for yourself and for your spouse and children Struggle daily to love and serve them better and you till find yourself not only calm, but joyful in the contest and blessing of your married life.

When you receive, your hands are filled but when you give, your soul is filled. So “it is more blessed to give than to receive”(Act 20:35). When you sweat for someone else, your body is getting tired but your soul is at rest. Life means ‘offering’. A marriage is also an offering. It is a source of life, a source of joy.

A candle will not illuminate a room if it does not melt. Incense doesn’t become fragrant i it doesn’t burn. The same is true of spouses. It they do not ‘melt’ into their obligations, they will not illumine their marriage or become fragrant.

Every husband and wife can become light and incense as long as they desire to do so, as long as they try and struggle to ‘melt’ while fulfilling their spousal obligations. And God, who is just, will glorify them on earth and more so in heaven.

The Gift of Christ

Take or Receive? As Orthodox Christians we know that the Sacrament of Holy Communion plays an extremely important role in our spiritual lives. If we take a moment to think about our participation in this sacrament, we should realize that we do not “take” communion, but instead, we “receive” it. At first it may seem that there really isn’t any difference between “taking” and “receiving.” This difference can be more clearly seen, however, if we recognize that the Eucharist is a gift. We wouldn’t speak of taking a birthday present from someone, but rather, we would receive it from them.

Holy Communion is a gift that Christ, through sacrificing Himself, has given to us. It is the precious body and blood of our Savior which He presents to us as an expression of His incredible love for us. Christ gives part of Himself to us as a gift so that we can grow closer to Him.As Orthodox Christians we work toward becoming one with God. Having the body and blood of Jesus Christ within us helps us to achieve this goal. It allows us to move toward salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Knowing these things we can see how important it is for us to receive communion.

Further, if we are prepared to receive, we must also act appropriately when we approach the chalice. This is not a time for daydreaming or joking around, but a moment of respect and prayer. During the Liturgy the priest says, “With the fear of God, faith, and love, draw near.” Hearing these words we must keep in mind God’s great power, our faith in Jesus Christ, and our love for one another.

When we attend the Divine Liturgy it is essential that we are aware of what is taking place. Christ is giving us the greatest gift the world has ever known. He is sharing Himself with us so that we can attain eternal life with Him. Holy Communion is not something that we simply can take, but instead it is the gift of life that we are called to receive from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

~ Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver

An Interview

Q. Father Valerian, how would you explain what confession is and why it is necessary?

A. Once a professor at a theological academy gave my father-also a priest-this question during an exam: “Tell me, young Father (and my father was already in his tifties; he was 49 when he entered the seminary), what does God do when he wants to bring someone to Himself? My dad answered this way and that, and the old professor agreed. Yet towards the end, to get at the heart of the matter, he asked, “And what is the most important?” He himself answered, “He sends a person spiritual heaviness and sorrow of soul, so that the person will seek God, so that he will realize that he cannot be delivered from that condition by any earthly means .”And I think this is very true! During his life, a person constantly and inescapably runs into the consequences of his sins. There is a saying, “Live in such a way during the day, so that at night your conscience won’t bite.” This is an expression of folk wisdom: it is certainly true that one is disturbed by impressions of what one did, said, or saw during the day. It seems that everything has gone without problems, but then one begins to ponder on some incident or other, and hears a certain voice saying something to him-the voice of conscience. Sometimes a person, seeing that what he has done is irrevocable, takes a terrible step: he decides to “deliver” himself from this earthly life, or he begins to drink.And thus a person falls into a state even more ruinous than that from which he is fleeing. All of this is but anesthesia; the person can’t cure the disease, but he gets rid of the symptoms, or at least numbs himself to them. Searching for a way out of this pain of soul also brings him to see his need for repentance and forgiveness, one of the basic causes compelling; person to go to Church and confession.

Q. What kind of things should one confess? Our conscience doesn’t bother us, doesn’t accuse us; we didn’t kill, didn’t rob.

A.  Yes, the conscience accuses a person first of the serious sins. But if the conscience doesn’t say anything, often that is because the conscience has opened its mouth before, but the person stopped it up. The holy fathers say that if a person goes from sunlight into a dark room, he begins first to see big objects, then smaller; if he lights a light, then he begins to see everything. In the same way, a person who begins to keep track of his inner life at first sees only the big sins, then the smaller. Then grace gives him light so that he can see his own sins.

Specifically of what sins one should repent is a question of time. At first a person doesn’t understand or notice very much. But the sacrament itself grace, the spirit of God, begins to open up a person’s ability to see his sins. And the person, perhaps not even realizing specifically how he has sinned, all the same feels his sinfulness. Although the confession of sins includes the idea of comprehension;there is also a state of feeling when a person realizes simply that he is sinful in comparison to holiness; and this also is the action of grace. For example. . .

My father was born in 1900, so the post-revolutionary years came during his youth. There were all these new currents of thought, this breath of (so called) “freedom” and so he drifted away from the Church. His mother, my grandmother, asked him if he would go to Church and take Holy Communion. She said, “If you do, I’ll bow down at your feet.” “Oh Mama, you don’t have to do that, I’ll just go,” he answered, and went to the church. He got in line for confession and had not a single thought about repentance; he just stood there and looked at the pretty girls. When his turn came, he knelt down, and to the priest’s question, “Well, young fella, what do you want to say?” my papa answered, “I don’t have anything to say.” “And why did you come?” “My mama asked me to.” The priest was silent for a little while, and then answered, “That’s very good, that you listened to your mama.” He covered my father with his epitrachelion and began to read the prayer of forgiveness. “What happened to me next,I don’t understand to this day,” my father told me later. “I began to sob; tears came out of my eyes as if from a spigot. And when I got up and returned to my place in the church, I didn’t look at anyone, anyone at all. The world had become completely different for me.” From that time on, my father began to go to Church. Then by the Providence of God, he was sent to prison, where he was in the same prison cell with holy confessors of the faith. After prison he became a clergyman. (Edited from an interview with Fr. Valerian Krechetov)

Thy Kingdom Come

The kingdom of God, in the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “does not come with observation.” It does not come for all to see; saying: behold, here it is, or behold, there it is, but the kingdom of God is within us, and our life is “hidden with Christ in God.”

When we pray “Our Father who art in heaven; Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, to have it within our self, that there it might grow and bear fruit. When we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we are not praying that God should do what He wills, but so that we may be able to do what God wills. For no one could resist God so as to prevent Him from doing What He wills. But since we are often hindered by temptation, by thought, and by deed, from obeying God’s will, or knowing God’s will, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us.

For this to come about, we need God’s good will, that is, we need His help and protection and grace, because none of us are strong enough in and of ourselves, but we live by the grace and mercy of God. But let us clarify for ourselves what the will of God is. The will of God is that which Christ both did and taught. It means to have humility in dealings with others; to be steadfast in faith; to live in modesty and simplicity in our speaking and decorum. It means to exhibit justice in our deeds and more importantly, mercy in our works. It means to have a regimen of discipline in our morals and our lives, while not judging others in theirs. It means to develop a culture of the heart so as to become unable to intentionally do wrong to others; and to be able to bear a wrong when it is done to us, whether intentionally or not. It means to learn to keep peace with those around us, “Above all, seek peace,” says Saint Seraphim. It means to grow in love of God with all one’s heart. One of the saints says “make sure the thermometer of your love for Christ is rising every day.” This means to prefer nothing to Christ because Christ preferred nothing to us. It means to adhere to His love so that love governs our thoughts and deeds, so that we live by the Spirit of God, with love of God and love of our fellow man as the foundation of our everyday life. It means to be comfortable in our love of God as our Father who loves us, even to His death, but to hold all things in respect and honor because He is also the all powerful God. It means to remain faithful by His cross; and if there is any conflict over His name and honor, to be steadfast and confess Him with confidence and patience.

This is what the saints say it means to want to be co-heirs with Christ, this is what it means to do what God commands, this is what it is to fulfill the will of the Father. Remember we are those who live in the world. We have not been called out of the world, but our Lord sustains us in the world to do His work and His will. And He Himself prays for us, “I pray not that Thou wouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou wouldst keep them from the evil.”(John 17) “By taking one small step at a time, and by not thinking that in one big leap we are going to get any place, we can walk straight to the Kingdom of Heaven-and there is no reason for any of us to fall away from that.”