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An Orthodox University: Higher Education for Orthodox Christians

by the Right Reverend Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D.

If we were to survey the Orthodox Christian private grammar schools that currently exist in our country, we would discover that they exist for one of two reasons. The first, and probably the more common, is that parents want a place for their children that is safe from the evil influences found in the secular schools that will also give to them an adequate academic education. Such schools do not particularly exist as Orthodox schools for the sake of Orthodoxy, but rather as safe havens, sheltering students reassuringly under the preferred religious branding.

By contrast, the other kind of Orthodox Christian school that exists in our country is dedicated to immersion in the Kingdom of God. Their purpose is not to provide a shelter from the world that happens to give a decent education, but rather it is to use education sacramentally to unite students mystically with Jesus Christ. Indeed, far from providing a shelter, we may think of such places as a barracks or as a training camp, raising up soldiers for Christ’s mystical army. Such schools have one purpose: the salvation of students and of the world. For them, education can become a mystery of the Church.

May 25, 2011 + from Homily LVI

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John

And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:1-3)

Lo, here again is another difficulty, if without this man's punishment, it was not possible that the glory of God should be shown. Certainly it is not said that it was impossible, for it was possible, but, "that it might be manifested even in this man." "What," saith some one, "did he suffer wrong for the glory of God?" What wrong, tell me? For what if God had never willed to produce him at all? But I assert that he even received benefit from his blindness: since he recovered the sight of the eyes within. What were the Jews profited by their eyes? They incurred the heavier punishment, being blinded even while they saw. And what injury had this man by his blindness? For by means of it he recovered sight. As then the evils of the present life are not evils, so neither are the good things good; sin alone is an evil, but blindness is not an evil. And He who had brought this man from not being into being, had also power to leave him as he was.

May 18, 2011 + from Homily XXXIV

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John

The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a Man which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?" (John 4: 28-29)

We require much fervor and uproused zeal, for without these it is impossible to obtain the blessings promised to us. And to show this, Christ at one time saith, "Except a man take up his cross and follow Me, he is not worthy of Me" (Matt. x. 38); at another, "I am come to send fire upon the earth, and what will I if it be already kindled?" (Luke xii. 49); by both these desiring to represent to us a disciple full of heat and fire, and prepared for every danger. Such an one was this woman. For so kindled was she by His words, that she left her water pot and the purpose for which she came, ran into the city, and drew all the people to Jesus. "Come," she saith, "see a Man which told me all things that ever I did."

Observe her zeal and wisdom. She came to draw water, and when she had lighted upon the true Well, she after that despised the material one; teaching us even by this trifling instance when we are listening to spiritual matters to overlook the things of this life, and make no account of them. For what the Apostles did, that, after her ability, did this woman also. They when they were called, left their nets; she of her own accord, without the command of any, leaves her water pot, and winged by joy performs the office of Evangelists. And she calls not one or two, as did Andrew and Philip, but having aroused a whole city and people, so brought them to Him.

New Creation in Christ: How Jesus Changed Us and Our Marriages

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We come to the Holy Gospel at last and to the Christian way of life! The fullness of time has come and God has sent forth His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. How everything has changed! No aspect of life remains as it was before Christ came. Everything has died with Him, and everything has been raised and transfigured in Him. All for us has been redeemed, transformed, deified, elevated, and, in a word, made Christian.

When Jesus came to earth He found us with lame limbs, weak and failing, and He perfected our bodies and restored them to health, just as He corrected, molded, improved, and fulfilled the Old Law. St. Ephrem the Syrian describes some of the healing effects of the Incarnation on human nature in his Hymn 37, On Virginity:

His body was newly mixed with our bodies, and His pure blood has been poured out into our veins, and His voice into our ears, and His brightness into our eyes. All of Him has been mixed into all of us by His compassion, and since He loves his church very much, he did not give her the manna of her rival. He had living bread for her to eat. Wheat, the olive and grapes, created for our use – the three of them serve You symbolically in three ways. With three medicines You healed our disease. Humankind had become weak and sorrowful and was failing. You strengthened her with Your blessed bread, and You consoled her with Your sober wine, and You made her joyful with Your holy chrism (K. McVey, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality, New York: Mahwah, 1989, p. 425).

Creation, Wonder and Ecology

For the Lord is a great God, and a great king over all the earth.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.   (Ps. 95: 3-7)

There is nothing that our great God has created in heaven and earth that does not have its purpose.  He gave us the four seasons; one for planting; one for growing; a season to reap the harvest and a season for the earth to rest and be ready for renewal. 

He gave us the sun to warm us and light for the labor of our day.  He gave us the moon and the stars in the evening to soften the darkness we need to rest from our labors. 

He gave us the animals to help us in our labors.  He gave us the plants for food and to bring beauty to our lives.

We are the breath of God, created in His image.

May 11, 2011 + from Homily XXXVI

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John

"Now there is at Jerusalem a sheep pool, called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of halt, blind, withered, waiting for the moving of the water."  (John 5:2-3)

What manner of cure is this? What mystery doth it signify to us? For these things are not written carelessly, or without a purpose, but as by a figure and type they show in outline things to come, in order that what was exceedingly strange might not by coming unexpectedly harm among the many the power of faith. What then is it that they show in outline? A Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances. And first is given a water which purges the stains of our bodies, and those defilements which are not, but seem to be, as those from touching the dead, those from leprosy, and other similar causes; under the old covenant one may see many things done by water on this account. However let us now proceed to the matter in hand.

April 27, 2011 + The Eternity of Easter

by C. G. Pallas
from The Word, May 1962

If the celebration of Easter were a mere poetical remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion and triumph over death, we would find Holy Week in the Church a somewhat theatrical procedure, a sentimental pageant of song and ritual that could well be replaced by a simple reading from the Scriptures appropriate to the occasion. That it is not, however, encourages us to consider the Church’s deep understanding of the miracle of the Resurrection and her ability, nourished by nearly 2,000 years of experience, to coordinate and combine her doctrine and her liturgical function into that supreme form of prayer which we know as worship.

Anyone who has witnessed the Holy Week services of the Orthodox Church cannot come away without at least a minimal insight into the Church’s genius in expressing, through her worship, her innermost feelings and her deep love for Jesus Christ. A simple reading of the services themselves is a veritable lesson in theology, but it is a theology stripped of the complex eloquence that invariably surrounds doctrinal thought, a theology which the layman learns unconsciously, either by listening to a hymn or by singing it.

On the Passion of the Savior

by St. Ephraim the Syrian

I am afraid to speak

and touch with my tongue
this fearful narrative
concerning the Saviour.
For truly it is fearful
to narrate all this.

Our Lord
was given up today
into the hands of sinners!

For what reason then
was one who is holy
and without sin given up?

For having done no sin
he was given up today.

On the Saving Passion of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ

CATECHESIS 73, St. Theodore the Studite

On the saving passion of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
Given on Great and Holy Friday.

Brethren and Fathers, while the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ when they are recalled are always able to pierce the soul, they do so especially in these present days, on which each of them reached its end. What then are they? The murderous council against him, the Jewish arrest, his being led away to death, his arraignment before Pilate's tribunal, the interrogation, the scourging, the blows, the spittings, the insults, the mockeries, the ascent of the Cross, the nailing of his hands and feet, the tasting of gall, the piercing of his side and all the other things which blazed forth with them, which the world cannot contain, nor can anyone worthily proclaim, not human tongue, nor even all the tongues of angels together.

For let us consider, brethren, this great and ineffable mystery. The Lord who reveals the counsels of hearts [1 Cor. 4:5] and knows every human desire is the one who is taken before a council of death; the Lord who bears all things by the word of his power [Hebrews 1:3] is the one who is handed over to sinners; the Lord who binds the water in the clouds [Job 26:8] and sows in the earth in due season and uniformly is the one who is led away prisoner; the Lord who measures the heavens with the span of his hand and the earth in a handful and weighed all the mountains in the balance [Isaias 40:12.] is the one who is struck by the hand of a servant; the Lord who adorned the boundaries of the earth with flowers is the one who is dishonourably crowned with thorns; the Lord who planted the tree of life in Paradise is the one who is hanged upon an accursed tree.

April 20, 2011 + Christ is Risen, Indeed He is Risen

by Fr. Don Hock
from The Word, April 1996

This powerful Paschal greeting contains the entire essence, depth and meaning of our Christian faith. "Christ is risen, and our sins are forgiven! Christ is risen, and death is destroyed! Christ is risen, and life is transfigured!" We exult and rejoice in these great truths, but do they make a difference in our lives? Is there a way to live personally as families, and as a parish in the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection?

The Orthodox Church answers these questions with a thunderous and resounding "YES"! For we believe and cling to the fact that this unheard of victory over death actually changed every thing in the world - it transforms all of creation and makes it new. The early Christians called their faith not a religion, but the Good News, because they knew and believed that this resurrection of Christ was the source of powerful and transfigured lives. Likewise, we who rejoice and celebrate today in this Paschal season experience the reality of the living Christ Who has and is making us to be alive in Him. All the work that we are accomplishing, sharing the faith, celebrating the Mysteries of Salvation, baptizing and chrismating new Orthodox Christians, working together in various projects, sharing life with each other as one family in Christ .......this is the proof of the Resurrection in every healthy and active Orthodox Christian community throughout the world. The living resurrected Christ in our midst continues to transform us as individuals, as families, and as a network of families (our parish community) to become in even greater fullness what we already are — His Body here on earth, the extension of His Incarnation in the flesh.

Greece Prepares Me for the Western Rite

by Peter Kavanaugh

After a year and a half on Mt. Olympus I prepared for my return back to America. I did not know what would await me there, and was a little anxious about leaving behind the awesome Grace of God I had experienced in Greece.

It was in the spring of 2008 that I began my life at the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysius of Mt. Olympus. I had gone there because I wished to live in an environment where Orthodoxy was deeply embedded into everyday life. There I found a community of lay people and clergy with a Christianity that was not, in the popular sense of the word, just a “religion” (in the popular sense of the word), or merely a set of dogmas and rituals, nor was it just “what we do on Sundays.” Instead, their faith was to be found even in the way they drink their coffee, in their daily expressions and habits, in their hospitality and lack of anxiety, and especially in their love for one another.

I was especially impressed by how natural and uncontrived their religion was. For them Orthodoxy was not exotic or foreign. It was simply life. One day followed another as these monks engaged in ancient, beautiful traditions. But as time passed by, it was no longer the elaborate robes and rituals that impressed me. Behind everything they did there was a spirit. Their faith, expressed through their Byzantine traditions, consisted of something much deeper and transcendental. There was a quiet power in their hearts and behind their eyes. This gradually became much more apparent and alluring. I went to Greece seeking to find the height of Orthodox expression. When I left, I simply wanted to find God.

Thoughts on Living with Cancer

“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:106

We sing the verse above at the service of the Artoklasia – five loaves. It is a source of great comfort and strength. Then St. John of Damascus writes in the funeral service of the Holy Orthodox Church, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?” Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we can hardly taste the sweetness. Our life on earth can be a constant struggle between faith and fear: faith that God conquers all evil, and fear of buckling under the tyranny of illness, with all the misery it brings. From the depth of our hearts we cry to the Lord to help us through this dark valley, to bring us to a safe port.

Our Lord prayed to the Father on His way to crucifixion that the cup of death might pass from Him, but He added, “Let it be your will.” We find ourselves on the same path when it comes to facing the pain either of enduring cancer or of watching someone we love go through it. The results of the medical exam, the blood work, the CAT scan, the MRI and the biopsy all came back positive: “You have cancer,” the doctor said. After this heavy news comes the rocky road of chemo and radiation.

I don’t know much about chemo, but I know that it’s supposed to kill the cancer cells and some good ones. We could deal with the hair loss, but we pray that we never experience loss of faith, patience or hope, because that is much worse than having cancer. “Hear my cry, O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against my foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 61).

Why the Church Needs Monasteries

At times when things become frightening, when we are anxious and afraid, we are comforted to know that prayers are always being said in the Orthodox monasteries, the Rt. Rev. John Abdalah, spiritual advisor to the North American Board of Antiochian Women, told the group at their last meeting.

“It is a blessing to know that we have men and women in the Church who have dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and worship.” As a result, the Church around the world at every hour of the day is praying without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17), even when you and I cannot, wrote Fr. Steven Salaris, presbyter of All Saints of North America Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Maryland Heights, Missouri (“Monasticism: The Angelic Evangelic Life,” The WORD, March 2010).

The most important work of the monastery is to pray. “Our entire life and our day-to-day activities are all scheduled around the daily cycle of services,” said Mother Abbess Gabriella of the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery, founded in 1987 in Rives Junction, Michigan. Joy Corey of Antiochian Women of St. John the Baptist Antiochian Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho, and speaker at the first Midwest Antiochian Women’s retreat held in 2006 at the Monastery, discussed prayer in her book, The Tools of Spiritual Warfare:

April 13, 2011 + from Homily LXVI

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. Matthew

And when He drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying, Go into the village over against you, and ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he sendeth them. And this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Zechariah the prophet, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (Matthew 21:1-5)

And yet He had often entered Jerusalem before, but never with so much circumstance. What then is the cause? It was the beginning then of the dispensation; and neither was He very well known, nor the time of His passion near; wherefore He mixed with them with less distinction, and more disguising Himself. For He would not have been held in admiration, had He so appeared, and He would have excited them to greater anger. But when He had both given them sufficient proof of His power, and the cross was at the doors, He makes Himself then more conspicuous, and doeth with greater circumstance all the things that were likely to inflame them. For it was indeed possible for this to have been done at the beginning also; but it was not profitable nor expedient it should be so.

But do thou observe, I pray thee, how many miracles are done, and how many prophecies are fulfilled. He said, "Ye shall find an ass;" He foretold that no man should hinder them, but that all, when they heard, should hold their peace.

Letting the Light of Christ Shine Through: Icons and Iconographers

by Janet Jaime

We are each uniquely blessed with gifts from God. Some of us have many gifts and others, only one. My gift is iconography. When we offer our gifts to God, we are really only returning what was given to us, that which we do not own nor can take credit for. God provides us, out of His creation, the materials needed to create.

When making Holy Bread, for example, we use the gifts from the earth – wheat, yeast and water, with a pinch of salt – and return it back to God as an offering which we made with our hands. In iconography, our materials are also taken from the earth – pigments, precious minerals, animal hide glue, whiting, wood, gold and eggs – to create, with our hands, an image to be venerated, an icon created as an act of devotion and prayer to God.

Sometime after I became Orthodox, my priest, Fr. Constantine Nasr, suggested that I should learn how to write icons. He said this in a very matterof- fact way, and through his encouragement gave me an open door into a wonderful world.

I began to observe icons closely and soon realized that they appealed to my particular temperament, which is naturally drawn to doing tight, detailed work. At that time I was an illustrator who worked in a photo-realistic style.

I rather naively didn’t see such a great leap between being slavishly accurate in representing detail recorded by a camera, on the one hand, and being slavishly obedient to the rules of iconography, and following prototypes, on the other hand. Icons, I observed, were classically rendered subjects that obviously required a detailed, exacting, time-consuming process. What a perfect fit for me, a lover of anything tedious, I thought.

April 6, 2011 + It Makes a Difference

by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, April 1983

On the Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of Our Righteous Mother, St. Mary of Egypt, the prototype of St. Mary Magdalena who repented of her sins and became a deeply dedicated ascetic, going into the Egyptian desert and living there the rest of her life in piety and in prayer, offering prayers of repentance to Christ and of intercession for the people of the world. She is commemorated by the Church as an example for all of us. The life that is exemplified by people like St. Mary of Egypt, while carried to the ultimate of asceticism and almost a super monasticism, should be kind of a pace setter for those of us of the Orthodox Faith who usually make exceptions of things.

For example, this morning I was admonishing a young man who was talking in Church, and he asked, “What’s the difference! It isn’t important!” This seems to permeate our attitude until finally nothing seems to make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference if we fast, if we pray, if we go to Church regularly; and what’s the difference if we go to the hospital to visit the sick or simply send a fifty cent get well card or ask the relatives of the sick person, how that person is getting along. What’s the difference? The life of St. Mary of Egypt as the lives of all the great ascetics say there is a difference because these people have been glorified by God. Their memories live. Mary of Egypt lived centuries ago. The events of her life have long since been absorbed into history and yet here we are hundreds of years later talking about her because the virtue of her asceticism, the beauty of her understanding that it does make a difference in our commitment and devotion to Christ that her memory has indeed become eternal.

Good Marriage XXII + A Marriage Breaker: Obnoxiously Insisting on Your Point of View

by Fr. George Morelli

"... learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt 11: 29)

There is so much in the teachings of Christ and His Church, that if one is committed to be a follower of Christ that one of the major virtues that would be nurtured would be a firm commitment to truth. Consider the approbative words Jesus told the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him." (Jn 4: 23) St. John (8: 22) records Jesus very strong assertion: "...you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." During the Divine Liturgy, after reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, the choir (congregation) chants: "We have seen the true light ...found the true faith..."  It would appear, Christians should not get away from what is the truth. (Morelli, 2010a)  Of course this focus on truth would certainly  extend to how the husband-wife--father-mother relate to each other in a blessed marriage when they create a domestic church, a little church in their home, and this extends to their children as well. 

Chaplain's Corner + Pride: The Source of All Evil

by Fr. George Morelli

There is no doubt that most readers have heard the aphorism: 'money is the root of all evils.’ This apothegm is actually a popularization of St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy (1Tim 6: 10): “For the love of money is a root of all of evils. . . .” Of course, there is much wisdom in this teaching. However, we must consider that there is a vice that precedes and nourishes this 'root' of money, and all the other vices as well.  St. Hesychios the Priest writes: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God."  Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High."

There is agreement among world religions on the deleterious nature of pride. The Hindu scripture states: "Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit (Bhagavad-Gita 13:7)." In the Koran it is written (Surah 96: 6-8): "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." In the Buddhist tradition we read: "Free from . . . overbearing pride, principled, trained, a 'last-body': he's what I call a Brahmin [the elite]. (Dhammapada, 26).”

March 30, 2011 + Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

by Very Rev. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, March 2000

In the Prologue from Ochrid, that wonderful collection of the lives of the saints compiled by St. Nicholai Velimirovich, we hear a marvelous account on the thirtieth day of this month.  On this day, an unnamed monk is commemorated who is described as “lazy, careless, disinclined to prayer . . .”  Hardly the description we would expect of a monk commemorated by the Church!

We are told that, when this monk lay dying, he was full of joy. His fellow monks, who knew well the lack­luster efforts of their brother, were confused how one so seemingly negligent could be facing death so joyfully.  They asked him how this could be and he responded:  “I have seen the angels, and they showed me a page with all my many sins.  I said to them:  The Lord said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’  I have never judged anyone and I hope in the mercy of God, that He will not judge me.”

The dying monk ended the account by telling his brothers that the angels, upon hearing that the monk had never judged anyone, immediately tore up the long list of his sins.

The story ends by telling us that all the monks marveled at this and learned from it.

There is probably nothing to which our Lord attached a greater warning than judging our brother.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

The Twelve Great Feasts

Great Feasts of the Fixed Cycle

 

The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos (September 8)

The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds precious and venerates that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day the boundary of the Old and New Covenants was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical Incarnation of God the Word.

The first Old Testament Reading of Vespers (Gen. 28:10-17) speaks of the dream of Jacob, one of the Old Testament Patriarchs, when he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. He saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. When he awoke, Jacob blessed with oil the stone on which he had slept and called it Bethel, meaning house of God. The Most-Pure Mother of God is seen here as that ladder between heaven and earth, uniting earth with heaven in her womb. She who carried God in her womb is truly Bethel, none other than the house of God...and the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17).

March 23, 2011 + The Second Eve

by Isabel C. Elac
from The Word, March 1988

The doorbell rings — you answer it — it is a stranger. Politely you listen. He tells you that you are going to conceive! In nine months! "Oh, how ridiculous" you say — and completely disturbed by this impossible announcement — completely outraged — you slam the door in his face!

Which one of us would act any differently? Today, we probably wouldn't even answer the door, right?

On March 25, the Church celebrates one of the most important events in world history — THE ANNUNCIATION — when the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph… and the virgin's name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27). The Angel Gabriel "came in unto her and said, Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28).

How did Mary react? Did she throw him out — outraged — as most of us would have! Oh, with that beautiful, humble and complete submission, Mary responds to the Angel: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man (Luke 1:34)… For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37). And Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).

March 16, 2011 + A Lenten Message

by the Rev. Fr. John Namie
from The Word, March 1968

There is a tendency today in our society to diminish the importance of various aspects of Christian life which is taught by the Orthodox Church. One of these things is fasting. We are surrounded in our society by different types of religions, by atheistic influences, and especially by the great trend towards materialistic living which affects all the preceding.

Materialism has become the battleground in the church whether we wish to accept this or nor. All religions and all groups are directly or indirectly taking shape according to materialistic principles. Even the Roman Catholic Church which had been so traditional in its spirituality has been influenced to the extent that no longer does it deem fasting as a necessary element in the life of her people. This diminishment is definitely a product of materialistic thinking and compromising to the materialistic way.

The Orthodox Church has not reached yet the point that it feels that fasting is not necessary, although many people in the Orthodox Church feel this way. While fasting is not a means that leads us directly to salvation, nevertheless it is necessary in that it helps us to salvation. This may seem like a strong statement. but if we understand fasting and Orthodox spirituality in its real sense, we will find the front line of the battleground against materialism here.

March 9, 2011 + Silence that Screams

by the Rev. Fr. Joseph J. Allen
from The Word, April 1969

It is difficult and almost impossible for us to imagine in today’s world that silence is beautiful. What was possible at one time is quickly becoming extinct in all areas, but greatest amongst those disappearing elements is silence. When we shop in the stores we hear bells of all sorts, e.g. cash registers. Driving for only the shortest time can bring every kind of noisy sound, from the toll booth to the old car next to yours with a bad muffler. Then, of course, — there is the neighbor who runs the lawn mower at every hour or, for the apartment dweller it is the young couple upstairs (and young couples so very often begin their married life in apartments) who have all those first year “battles.”

But I cannot help feeling that somewhere in the depth of man’s soul he longs for silence, for a time when the phone won’t ring and he won’t “have” to listen to the newest FM radio. But we seem trapped by it all! How can man escape all this without becoming isolated, or greater, from becoming neurotic?  Where can he turn to find the “silent sound,” sound that can in a way scream about a kind of joy just because it is silent. This is the joy that needs no sound to be joy, the joy that a mother understands when she places her ear to the face of her newly born infant and hears the soft sound of life as it breathes.

Eating in an Anciently Refreshing Way

Tootie Fields once said, “I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I’ve lost is two weeks!”

There is a common pattern of “yo-yo” dieting – you’re on a diet . . . off a diet . . . on a diet . . . . Oh, wait, you’re off again; it’s hard to keep track. Our culture is obsessed with food. We can walk into a gas station or an office supply store and purchase food. It is everywhere! We eat in our cars, on the bus, on our bikes, and in front of our computers. Sometimes we’re eating and forget that we’re doing so.

The idea of eating in a balanced way and living a life in balance seems like a chore. We don’t even know where to begin. And it does not help that we have a multi-billion dollar diet industry working hard to “help us”: “Eat this.” “No don’t eat that – it contains carbohydrates.” “Should I use the pink, the yellow, or the white sweetener packet?” “Is this a low-fat food?” “What should I eat?” Something as basic as choosing what and when to eat can become an overwhelming task. This is not a new problem, but a new twist on an old one. For centuries using food in the wrong way has been a temptation. So what do we do?

Our faith can guide us by teaching us to eat in a spiritually minded manner. In living the Christian life, everything we do should be done for the glory of God. A spiritual father once said to me that our senses were given to us to commune with the Divine. This statement – full of wisdom – really got me thinking. We use our senses literally all the time. So, what are we taking in with our eyes? When we watch a movie or read a book, are we utilizing our sense of vision to commune with the Divine? Or are the choices we make causing us to draw away from Him? What about our eating? Is our time spent eating glorifying God?

Cultivating Inexpressible Joy

Godly life is joyful. Secular life is sorrowful. For forty years, as though the presence of God were a toxin in our culture, schools and public square, many of America’s leaders have been zealously working to detoxify our land. Not surprisingly, the more secularized we have become, the more sorrowful we have become. Now here is an amazing disconnect. Why is it that America has never been so Christian1 and yet so joyless? A greater percentage of our population self-identifies as Christian than at any time in our nation’s history, yet we are by all observable phenomena radically depressed. How are we to explain such an anomaly?

The normal state of internal affairs for Christians is expressed by St. Peter: “ ...Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Prozac is no substitute for joy inexpressible. While there are many contributing factors to this epidemic of joylessness, I would like to suggest the primary cause: isolation.

Joy and the Presence of God