by Fr. Michael Keiser
The other Sunday, a friend of mine who is a pastor took an informal survey of his congregation during the homily. “How many of you struggle with your prayer life?” he asked. Every hand in this parish of nearly three hundred shot up! The priest admitted that prayer was his own greatest spiritual struggle. The fact is, practicing effective prayer is like fighting on the front lines in a war. Our greatest challenge is to pray!
This is an interesting time to be Orthodox. Our secular world provides little certainty for people’s lives, and the Orthodox faith issues an unchanging message of truth and stability. Orthodox Christianity may be the last firm footing on which to stand, yet it would be fair to say that very few Orthodox Christians are aware of the depth and richness of the Church’s spiritual tradition when it comes to personal devotion. We Orthodox are big on externals. Our liturgical worship is a drama of striking beauty and color, of scent and sound. But besides being beautiful, icons, vestments, chanting, and incense together constitute an important statement about God. He has created us as physical beings in a material world, and we approach Him using the elements of that material world. The way in which we Orthodox worship involves all of our senses and physical nature, so that we may respond to God with all of our being—our bodies as well as our minds and souls.
However, there is something else that is as essential to our spiritual growth as outward worship, and that is personal prayer. Anyone who wants to grow closer to God must develop a disciplined prayer life.
What Is Prayer?
Public worship and personal prayer are the twin support beams of the spiritual life for any believer. All our growing will take place within the framework they provide. But they are not the same thing, and they are not interchangeable.
The Orthodox Christian faith is growing on our continent and, with it, awareness of the challenge of raising and educating our children in a way that is shaped by that faith. On many occasions I have been asked my opinion, as both a hierarch and as an educator, as to my preferred educational option, whether parents ought to favor public schools, private schools, homeschooling or some other approach.
It has become clear to me, though, that there can be no "one size fits all" approach; each circumstance requires careful and prayerful consideration and exploration of options. Parents must decide based on their particular situation what will be the best preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven for their children, how their children's schooling can be not only educational, but sanctifying. "Sanctified Schooling," as I've come to call it, means finding the best educational fit for students and their families to grow in sanctity as they grow physically, intellectually and emotionally.
St. John Chrysostom, The Orthodox New Testament: Acts, Epistles, and Revelation, Vol. 2, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:8, p. 360.
1 Timothy 5:8: "But if one provide not for one's own, and most of all for those of one's own house, such a one hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
The provision of which the blessed Paul speaks is universal and relates to the soul as well as the body, since both are to be provided for ... Isaiah says, 'Thou shalt not disregard the relations of thine own seed' [Is. 58:7]. If a man deserts those who are united by ties of kindred and affinity, how shall he be affectionate towards others? Will it not have the appearance of vainglory, when benefiting others he slights his own relations, and does not provide for them? ... What is meant is that the law of God and of nature is violated by him who provides not for his own family. But how has such a one denied the faith? Even as it is said, 'They confess to know God, but in works deny Him' [cf. Tit. 1:16] ...
St. Maximus the Confessor, The Life of the Virgin, translated by Stephen H. Shoemaker, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2012, p. 149.
She is the ardent intercessor of her Son, Christ God, for all those who entreat her.
She is the calm harbor of all those buffeted by waves, who rescues them from spiritual and fleshly waves.
She is the guide on the way of life for all who have gone astray.
She is the one who seeks converts those who are lost.
She is the help and support of those who are afflicted.
She is the intercessor and mediator of those who are penitent.
And I will say even more than the above:
She is the resurrection of the fallen Adam.
She is the destruction of Eve's tears.
She is the comforter of those who mourn.
She is the throne of the king, who bears the One who bears all.
She is the one who renews the old world.
Eve of the Feast of St. Panteleimon, July 26, 2013
By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
Antiochian Archdiocese Convention, Houston, Texas
In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read the account of the Lord Jesus calling the tax collector Matthew, the author of this Gospel, to follow Him and to be one of His disciples. We then read of how Jesus and His disciples are sitting with many tax collectors and and sinners and eating together with them. The Pharisees, who were known for their precision in following their particular interpretation of the Law of Moses, objected to this scene and accusingly asked Jesus' disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matt. 9:9-11)
We look back at this incident from twenty centuries of hindsight and of course know that the Pharisees are the "bad guys," while Jesus is the "good guy." But in the first century, the Pharisees were most certainly not the bad guys, at least not as far as the general society of Judaism was concerned. The Pharisees were well-respected leaders in the community, and they made sure that Jews followed their traditions as they had been written—all 613 commandments that they counted in the Law of Moses. Eating with public sinners, especially traitors to the Jewish people and collaborators with the Roman conquerers like tax collectors, was not something good Jews were supposed to be doing. So when the Pharisees ask this question, it's a good question.
Jesus hears the Pharisees questioning, and He responds to them Himself, saying, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:12-13).
In the 8th Century B.C., King Solomon, the author of the book of Proverbs, wrote: "A mild answer breaketh wrath: but a harsh word stirreth up fury. The tongue of the wise adorneth knowledge: but the mouth of fools bubbleth out folly." (Proverbs 15:1-2). Since first penned, this wisdom has been confirmed by thousands of years of human experience. This is no truer than in today's world in which we encounter a proliferation of crudeness, harshness, rudeness, lack of respect of the person and attempts to control others. The use of four letter and scatological words in dealing with others is found everywhere. No segment of the media is exempt. The explosive worldwide multiplication of social media use has made such discordant behavior almost unavoidable.
It is important to realize that a crude, rude and harshly toned reactive response by us often creates a pattern of escalation of incivility between all involved. We may not be able to change the uncivil behavior of others, but we can change our response to such rudeness when it is directed to us. This was recognized by Confucius in 4th Century B.C. China who wrote: "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps."i In the Jewish Talmud we read: ""The highest form of wisdom is kindness."ii After being confronted by unseemly words and actions it might be a stretch for some to respond with kindness, but a good first step would be to act in wisdom according to the advice of Molière (1622-1673 A.D.): "A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation."iii
It was Patriot's Day 2013 in Massachusetts. Few around the world are now unaware that the Boston Marathon was run that day. Few are also now unaware that the new Boston Massacre occurred on that day as well. On April 15, 2013 (Patriot's Day), I was writing on my computer at the time and getting 'pop-up' Breaking News alerts of 'an explosion in Boston.' As an example of how common, and thus de-sensitized, I think many of us, including myself, have become to such news alerts, I paid it little attention. As per my work routine, at 4:00 PM CA time I turned on TV News while sorting my email. I immediately saw, once again, that the world as many of us have come to know it was, once again, radically changed.
I want to take the lead from a seminarian who was interviewed by one of the national networks, (I do not recall which network as I was constantly flipping news channels), whose witness reminded that any experience can be made a Godly one if it is tied to prayer. The seminarian and his wife were actually caught in the cross-fire that killed one of the alleged perpetrators: the older brother. Bullets were flying around them. They used the time to pray to God for deliverance during this "nightmare."
We can think of all the responders who came to the aid of the many injured. If their service was done with a pure heart and Godly spirit, then it became a channel of spiritual and psychological healing for all involved. We can also reflect on the great endurance of the victims, their family and friends, the heroic law enforcement officers [let me mention the many from far away states] and the people of Boston, who were on lockdown and living in a state of fear. I believe the apt slogan that has emerged from those affected is "Boston Strong."
By Bishop John Abdalah, Diocese of Worcester and New England
April showers bring May flowers, and our Lenten efforts bring Paschal celebrations, but what about April snow and ice? What kind of Pascha comes from those kinds of intense surprises? I suppose it depends on a number of things. April snow and ice may be likened to all those events in life that we don’t like and don’t want. We may see no possible good coming from them, and no joy or benefit from enduring them. They may be temptations that arise from sickness, or unhappy people in our lives, or perenially dissatisfied folks who chair church committees, or judgmental dogooders with weak boundaries, invading our personal space and butting into our business.
What do you do with such things? John Dalack and his daughter, Khouria Leila Ellias, told a group of New England retreat-goers in Norwood last month that you thank God for it. All of it! This concept of thanking God for everything that we endure is sewn within the rich fabric of our Orthodox Christian heritage. God loves us and we can use all of April’s snow and ice to prepare us for Pascha. I heard a young man thank God for the cancer that claimed his mother’s life, for cancer was the instrument of her “translation” into heaven. As a pastor, I saw many mothers deliver their children to God as their children’s suffering ended, along with their lives; they thanked God for accomplishing everything that we need to be rejoined with our loved ones in Him. I have seen people lose jobs and get better or healthier ones. I have seen others repeatedly knocked down, and have myself been knocked down, only to get up stronger and wiser each time.
By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
It is well-known among Orthodox Christians that the word orthodoxy—often used as a shorthand for our faith—has two parallel meanings. It is composed of two Greek words—orthos and doxa. Together, they form orthodoxia, rendered into English as orthodoxy. The word orthos literally means “straight,” and those familiar with geometry will recognize it in the word orthogonal, which refers to something lying at a right angle. Those who know something about dentistry will think of orthodontics, which concerns itself with straight teeth, while the orthopedist wants to make sure your skeleton is straight (literally, orthopedics means “straight children”). It should come as no surprise that Greek uses orthos metaphorically also to refer to something that is true, since we English speakers use straight to refer to reliability and truth, especially in such terms as straight-talker or to be set straight. And of course someone who is on the right path is on the straight and narrow. And no doubt our minds are also called to the use of the word straight to refer to a properly ordered sexuality or even from a decade or two ago when straight referred to someone doesn’t take recreational drugs.
The other side of the word orthodoxy is what may intrigue us more, however, and it is the doxa which gives orthodoxia its double meaning, for doxa can mean both “opinion” and “glory.” Often, in thinking of orthodoxy, it is this first meaning that occurs to the world—an “orthodoxy” is a hard and fast, unmovable set of teachings or opinions. And this meaning should occur to us, as well, that Orthodoxy is very much about the straight, true teachings of the Church, teachings that cannot be changed. The orthodoxy of the Orthodox Church is therefore precisely a deposit of faith, a theology that will never be altered, because it is the truth. It is the straight teaching, the true opinion.
"“Let alone the little children, and cease hindering them to come to Me; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens." And He laid His hands upon them..." (Mt. 19:14-15)
Tragic news is set before us every day by the ever-present news media. Bombings, gang shootings, child abuse, starving refugees, massive floods. So much, so often, that we could get inured to it. But some days there is news that demands deeper attention, deeper mourning, a more sustained search for solace.
December 14, 2012. A Breaking News alert caught my eye while I was at my computer on a teleconference call, a report of a “massive school shooting in Connecticut.” I casually mentioned it the conferences, then when the call ended, I turned on the TV news. Only in extremely exceptional circumstances do I ever watch TV during the day; the last time was in 2001 –the terrorist attack on the United States that resulted in the tragic death of all those victims and left such untoward psycho-spiritual aftermath. For the rest of that day I continued to watch the news and followed breaking developments on internet media.