When you lie down on your bed to sleep,

remember with thanksgiving the blessings and the providence of God.

   – St. Anthony the Great

An Intelligent Soul

Men are often called intelligent wrongly. Intelligent men are not those who are erudite in the sayings and books of the wise men of old, but those who have an intelligent soul and can discriminate between good and evil. They avoid what is sinful and harms the soul; and with deep gratitude to God they resolutely adhere by dint of practice to what is good and benefits the soul. These men alone should truly be called intelligent.     

– St. Anthony the Great

Virtue and Trust in Suffering

When we suffer, we can offer two things to God. The first is our virtue, by which I mean the witness of a clear conscience at peace with itself and God. This is our longing for uprightness (Ps. 17:2) and for the sovereignty of God’s will over our own. Our will should be in accord with the will of God.

The second is our complete trust in God; the patient, hopeful surrender of ourselves to God. There will come times in our life – or rather, such times will come continually – when all seems lost; when it appears that even those we love and trusted have abandoned us, that they have grown distant and estranged. There will be moments when black clouds gather menacingly over our head. But it is during such moments, my beloved, that God is visiting us, in order to see our patience, to test the quality of our trust, which is the proof of our love for him.

Why does this scandalize us? The answer is simple. It is because our hearts are still attached to earthly things, still clinging to false “goods” that we continue to covet and crave. We must become completely estranged to all things earthy and human, to all human logic, to all human ways of thinking… only then can God become all things to us, as if there existed nothing else in the world for us except God!                      

-Elder Aimilianos: Psalm 17

On Marriage…

In movies and magazines the “icon” of marriage is always a youthful couple. But once, in the light and warmth of an autumn afternoon, this writer saw on the bench of an public square, in a poor Parisian suburb, an old and poor couple. They were sitting hand in hand, in silence, enjoying the pale light, the last warmth of the season. In silence: all words had been said, all passion exhausted, all storms at peace.

old-couple-collage

The whole life was behind – yet all of it was now “present”, in this silence, in this light, in this warmth, in this silent unity of hands. Present – and ready for eternity, ripe for joy. This to me remains the vision of marriage, of its heavenly beauty.                     

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann: For the Life of the World

Preserving Spiritual Peace…

It is necessary to strive to preserve one’s spiritual peace by any means possible. Do not be upset by the insults of others. Strive in every possible way to restrain yourself from anger and to guard attentively both your heart and mind against unbefitting emotions….

st gregory the wonderworker

We see such an example in St. Gregory the Wonderworker, when a certain prostitute publicly demanded that he compensate her for an alleged sinful encounter with her. He, not becoming in the least angry, meekly told his friend 

to quickly give her the money she was demanding. The woman had no sooner taken the money than she fell subject to an attack of a demon. Then the holy one prayed and drove the demon from her.

If on the other hand, you find it impossible not to become offended, then at least you should try to hold your tongue, for as the psalmist said, “I was troubled and did not speak” (Ps. 77:4). Here, we can take example from St. Spyridon and the venerable St. Ephraim.

Once, by imperial command, St. Spyridon went to see the Emperor. One of the servants, mistaking him for a beggar, began to mock him and would not let him enter into the palace. The servant then struck St. Spyridon on the face. Being full of meekness and true to the command of the Lord, the Saint then turned his other cheek to him.

And once, when St. Ephraim was fasting in the wilderness, one of his disciples decided to bring him some food, but along the way, he accidentally dropped and broke the plate. Seeing his disciple’s sorrow, St. Ephriam said, “Don’t be sad, brother. If the food decided that it did not want to come to us, then we instead, will go to it.” Then the Saint sat down beside the broken dish and began to eat the food from the ground. You see how truly forbearing he was.

In order to preserve spiritual peace, a person must refrain from despondency and strive to attain a joyful spirit, for “sorrow has destroyed many, and there is no profit in it” (Sirach 30:23).

In order to preserve spiritual peace, it is also necessary to avoid judging one’s neighbor. Humility and silence preserve spiritual peace. Divine revelation comes only to those who have achieved spiritual peace. To avoid entering into judgment of others, one must be mindful only of himself (i.e. his own sins)….      – St. Seraphim of Sarov  

New Year’s Sermon from Fr. Alexander Schmemann

There is a long-standing custom that on New Year’s, when the clock strikes midnight, people make a wish, turning with a dream to the unknown future, awaiting something needed and cherished.

Now it is New Year’s again. What do we wish for ourselves, for others, for each and everyone? Where is our hope directed?

It is directed to one undying word: happiness. “To the New Year, to new happiness!” This happiness is addressed to each of us personally and individually. But the very faith that there may be happiness, that it can be expected and hoped for – this is a common faith. But when is a person truly happy?

Now, after centuries of experience and after everything we know about man, we can no longer equate happiness with any single outward thing – money, health, success – that we know does not coincide with that ever mysterious, ever elusive notion of happiness.

Yes, it is clear that physical contentment is happiness, but not complete happiness. That money is happiness, but also misery. That success is happiness, but also fear. It is striking that the greater the outward happiness, the more fragile it is, the greater the fear of losing it, of not holding on to it, of missing it. Perhaps this is why at midnight on New Year’s we speak of new happiness, since the “old” happiness has never really been attained, that there is always something missing from it. And then once again we advance entreatingly, looking ahead with our dreams and hopes…

My God, how long ago were the words of the Gospel spoken about the man who grew rich, who built new barns for his crops, and who decided that he had everything, that he had every guarantee of success! He relaxed. And then that very night he heard: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? [Luke 12:20].

Of course, it is this latent knowledge that nothing will last, that everything will come apart and reach an end, that poisons our small and limited happiness.

This is probably how the custom arose that on New Year’s, when the clock begins to strike midnight, people clamor and shout, filling the world with racket and noise. This comes from the fear of hearing the striking of the clock – that implacable voice of fate – in quiet and solitude. One stroke, then a second, and a third – how implacable, precise, and terrible it is all the way to the end. Nothing changes, nothing stops.

So here are the two genuinely profound and ineradicable poles of human consciousness: fear and happiness, horror and dreaming. The new happiness about which we dream at New Year’s is one that would wholly pacify, dissolve, and overcome fear. A happiness that would be without that terror nesting somewhere in the depths of our consciousness – from which we always protect ourselves with wine, cares, and noise – and whose quiet would overcome any noise.

“Thou fool!” Yes, in fact, our undying dream of happiness in this world stricken by fear and death is foolish. And man, at the summit of his culture, knows this. What mournful truthfulness and sadness there are in the words of the life-loving Pushkin: “There is no joy on earth”! What great sadness pervades all genuine art! It is only there, down below, that the crowd roars and bellows, thinking that happiness comes from noise and turbid merriment.

No, happiness comes only when one peers at life truthfully, courageously, and profoundly; when one removes its veil of lies and self-deception; when one looks into the face of fear; and when one finally learns that happiness – authentic, solid, undying happiness – is in the encounter with Truth and Love, with that which is infinitely lofty and pure, with that which man has called, and continues to call, God.

In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not [John 1:4-5]. This means: do not be engulfed by fear and terror; do not become dissolved in sorrow and despair.

O, if only people in their vain thirst for momentary happiness would find in themselves the strength to stop, think, and look into the depths of their lives! If only they would hear what manner of words, what manner of voice, is addressing them in these depths! If only they knew what genuine happiness was!

And your joy no man taketh from you [John 16:22]. But is it really about this kind of joy, the joy that cannot be taken away, that we dream as the clock strikes? But how rarely we arrive at such depths! How we somehow fear it and keep putting it off: I will not take up that which is central and eternal today, but tomorrow or the day after. Not today. There is still time. But there is so little time! Just a little more, and the clock will cross that fatal line. Why then put it off?

Someone is standing here beside us: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock [Revelation 3:20]. And if we were not afraid to look at Him, we would see such light, such joy, and such fullness that we would most likely understand the meaning of that elusive and mysterious word: “happiness.”