I very well remember the first Church Service that I ventured to endure twenty-some years ago. Endure—precisely the right word.  At that time I understood nothing about the service.  I didn’t really know what the Church is.  I hadn’t read even one spiritual book, except the Gospels.  The Service was in Church Slavonic and it seemed like some kind of Chinese puzzle, and it seemed easier to master this puzzle than to enter into the meaning of the resounding chants.  But all the same I went to church on that night and stood there—in such a crowded multitude, so cramped, that no one had to explain to me why believers in Christ are in essence one, single body.  And I was happy.  Not because I had completed the first fasting period in my life, not because I had lasted to the end of this service so foreign to me, not from the awareness that I had “endured,” but a simple happiness—some kind of childlike, pure joy, thanks to which you become a child and begin to hope that, no matter how bad you are, the Kingdom is for you.
~ Igumen Nektary Morozov

Keeping the Bonds of Unity

Probably one of the most commonly heard pieces of marital advice that we hear before we get married is “never go to bed angry.” Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, even this one can get us into trouble if in our marriage we  expect that all the problems that come up should be solved before bed. The truth is, in marriage, we face both solvable and insolvable problems. Solvable problems are ones that don’t usually involve deeper seated needs. Unsolvable problems are ones that reflect parts of our personalities or general temperaments and personal traits. 
Amidst solvable problems, finding creative solutions and learning to work together to address each of our needs doesn’t always come quickly. Many of these problems can take a lot of time and patience to arrive at the best solutions.
Though some solvable issues seem less difficult, even petty at times, they are sometimes better left for the morning when we are rested, collected and calm. With time, comes perspective.
Couples can get into trouble when they continue to debate an issue when their emotions are strong. During these times, it is hard to be our best self. We have trouble showing empathy and a perspective of “we-ness” that lets the relationship win. Renowned marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman teaches us that when our heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, as it often does when we are angry, we are less likely to handle conflict well. 
So, whether the issue is petty or great, solvable or not, ‘not going to bed angry’, does not mean that your relationship problems must be solved that night.  But it is rather, a goal that you work toward maintaining your own inner peace  throughout your problems. 
And here is the good advice of another expert.  “Be completely humble and gentle; Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)
~ Presbytera Roxanne Louh, edited

To Save Another

One of the most wonderful stories in the Lives of the Ascetics, by Bishop Palladius of Helenopolis, describes the life of a monk who abandoned his monastery and went to the port of Alexandria to work as a dock labourer. Given the fact that it was a port, there was no shortage of prostitutes. The ‘monk’ worked all day, and in the evening he spent all he’d earned, buying the company of a harlot for the whole night.
He was the shame of all the Christians in the city and a scandal for the whole Church. Years passed and despite appeals and advice, he continued with his sinful way of life. Then death came, as it does to all of us, and released him, as if it were medicine to save him from his sins, which he continued to commit until just before he died. But his fellow Christians could hardly refuse to give him a proper burial. The priests came to inter him and bury the scandal along with him. The news spread. The ‘dirty old monk’ had died. But who would go to church to bid him Godspeed?
At the funeral, the church was full of women from Alexandria, honest, Christian women who’d come to say their goodbyes, not just to a person who’d passed away, but to a saint! Somebody recognized the face of a prostitute they’d once seen long ago, down by the docks, but she wasn’t what they remembered. Other women among those present simply awakened vague memories from the past.
The city then learned that the ‘dirty old monk’ was, in fact, a saint, who, with the money he’d earned, bought a night without sin, bought the ‘right’ to the bodies of the harlots in order to save their souls. The city learned that the man whom they thought was a scandal was purity itself, love without guile, self-denial, the word of God, prayer and glorification.
The people of God aren’t judged during the course of their lives, but at the end of them,
because even when we live ‘as we should’, we have to be prepared to witness and to suffer. In the final analysis, who’s the stumbling-block: the other person or us? Am I the one who puts a mask on the other person which fits with the way I want to see them? Maybe because I’m afraid that my own mask will be revealed.
And in the end, what are we going to do with the scandal, who’s going to run with it, who will keep it going? This question is vitally important, because a scandal concerning somebody else performs a basic function. It fills our own void, the void of our egotism. It’s easy to condemn, it’s easy to destroy, but it’s difficult to say something good, to work for the common good. We adopt attitudes for ourselves which are inhuman and which lead to all forms of judgement…We’re experiencing today the qualitative loss of the internal criteria of a society which no longer communicates… ‘Real life’ isn’t our own, but that of other people. And yet we have to seek our own life, because otherwise, at the final Judgement, our own book, our life, will be blank.
~ Ioannis Panayiotopoulos

Have Mercy On Me, a Sinner!

A doctor—a psychiatrist—once came to old Father Dimitry of Santa Rosa asking for instruction in the Jesus Prayer.  He had seen the prayer referenced in a book about mysticism as “the essential prayer belonging to the mystical tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.”  Checking a few other references, he thought this just might be what would help some of his patients, particularly those who needed calm.  And then he heard that there was an old monk in Santa Rosa who practiced this prayer and could guide others to use it.
So, carving out a day in his busy schedule, he made the trip to see Father Dimitry.  He was encouraged to find the old monk reserved and quiet, peaceful and kindly in his demeanor, certainly looking like someone practicing mystical prayer should look.  So, accepting the invitation to sit down, the doctor enthusiastically and carefully explained to him his interest in learning to use the prayer so that he could teach it to his patients.  When the doctor had finished, Father Dimitry sat silent for a moment or two, and then gazing intently at the doctor said to him:  “Are you a sinner?”
The doctor, caught off guard, rose from his seat in some confusion, attempted to collect himself, and then, uttering some words of thanks, nodded his “goodbyes” and quickly left.
Indeed, the aim of the Jesus Prayer is not calm nor any other psychological state.  The aim is salvation, the Kingdom of God, communion with Jesus Christ. And clearly, because one must mean what one says, its starting point is repentance, that is, the acknowledgment of one’s sinful state and the active turning away from it.  There is no other way.  
There is also an adaptation of the Jesus Prayer, effective because repentance leads to angerlessness and forgiveness of others, provided by Saint Dorotheos of Gaza.  ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Name, and through his/her prayers, have mercy on me, a sinner!
~ Abbess Victoria

“The Kingdom of Heaven”

“To what shall I liken the kingdom of heaven?(Luke 20)

A woman is making bread.  She puts leaven in three measures of flour, the process begins, the lump rises, and it’s time to heat the oven.  Such a simple image of a kitchen and a house-wife carries us in thought to the Kingdom of Heaven.(Mt. 13)  Image result for kneading breadOnly a small pinch of leaven is needed to raise the entire amount of dough.  The leaven indicates a barely noticeable active force that transforms everything it enters, our whole life and the lives of those around us. 
The Kingdom of Heaven begins with an inconspicuous event, with a small bit of grace.
We often look for something big and grandiose.  We expect spiritual events to stagger our imagination.  But here is a parable about little things.  And such is the Kingdom of Heaven.  It begins in our lives with a little bit.  With a small prayer, a small bit of patience, a small bit of fortitude and perseverance, with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed.  You have a hard day.  The day ends in weariness and you just want to go to bed.  But remember the parable about the leaven in the flour.  Drop just a pinch of leaven, say just a few prayers, make your Cross and ask God’s blessing.  So too on a rushed morning.  Even a small prayer can leaven the lump.  It is the same with good deeds. 
Have you ever waited in line for the bank, a sandwich, the supermarket, or traffic?  Everything seems to take longer than it should!  We’ve been trained to expect instant response and get aggravated when it is absent.  But a small pinch of patience and kindness can turn the entire tide for yourself and those around you.  Maybe helping someone in a big way is beyond our strength, but nothing prevents doing a small good deed from the heart.  We can travel the road headed to the Kingdom of Heaven with the tiny steps of a child; a smile, a kind word, a prayerful remembrance, a helping hand.  Our abilities and circumstances may not always allow us to make great leaps. But the great begins with the small.  It can happen that a tiny bit of leaven, only the size of a grain of mustard seed, dropped with faith into the circumstances, or into the heart of a person, can set in motion a complete transformation of life.  The grace multiplies, as Saint Paul says, “it rebounds to the glory of God.”(2 Cor. 4)  God’s grace is all-powerful.  And one begins to understand that there is no such a thing as “too small” of an amount of grace.
Let’s go from the kitchen to the field.  The Lord compares the Kingdom of Heaven with a growing seed (Mk. 4:26-29). The seed is sown.  Just how it grows under the earth remains out of sight.  But in time the grain appears, the ears ripen, and the time for harvest arrives.  That’s the whole parable!  A little grain of seed falls on the earth and disappears.  Not much happened, there was a grain, now its gone.  The earth buried it.  But the ground does not kill the grain, but awakens it to life. Image result for seedling The sprout appears barely noticeable and grows quietly, without fanfare, only later bringing forth fruit.  How the seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven fall into hearts is something we are unlikely to see.  What happens in the soul?  What happens in the heart?  Spiritual life begins and proceeds quietly, unnoticeably and gradually.  
There is no forcing these events.  Spiritual growth happens slowly.  Patience is needed to go through life from young spiritual sprout to healthiest ripeness.  “God’s ways are not our ways, saith the Lord.”(Isaiah 55)  We cannot “fast-forward” them on at internet speed.  But we can remember the leaven, the seed,  and the grain, taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we can do more, but even we can only do less, even when the steps are small and childlike, remember, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 19:14)