Category Archives: Fasting and Prayer

The Aquisition of the Holy Spirit – Step One: The Break with the World


The Break with the World:

Step 1: Renunciation

A friend of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can. The self-controlled man strives with all his might amidst the trials, the snares, the noise of the world, to be like someone who rises above them.” St. John of the Ladder

Every Christian is called to a life of renunciation: ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’ (Luke 9:23–24).

What we seek is what we once were, something we all know and have tasted: innocence… Thus St. John tells novices of the monastic life to look to infants as their example… ‘Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3).”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

“Do whatever you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carrying no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and shake off all things, that, they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues taking in their model natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful.” St. John

“Christians renounce the world by living for something other than the world. By living thus, we become the light of the world.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

How does this step apply to our tendency to judge others? This month as part of my renunciation of the world I am going to be using the Apostles Fast to help me refrain from judging. I think this is one of the key ways in which I lose my footing and the grace of God, judging. I am not meek and lowly of heart or as a little child when I judge others or myself. There is an entire step of the Ladder devoted to slander or judgment, which we will delve into in a future podcast. For now let us look at how judging is worldly. What are the results of our judgments? Can we begin to renounce our judgments?

“For the guarding of peace of soul, it is also necessary to flee from judging others. By non-judgment and silence, peace of soul is preserved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

My next podcast will be about Step 2 – Detachment.

Finally here is a wonderful passage about the difference between the spirit of this world and the Spirit of God:

‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God.’

(1 Cor. 2:12)

“The spirit of this world, my brethren, is the spirit of pride and brutality. The Spirit of God is a spirit of meekness and grace. God’s Apostle emphasizes that Christ’s followers have not received the spirit of this world but the spirit which is of God; that is, which proceeds from God the Father like a refreshing fragrance from flowers, flowing through the soul of a man, making it strong, radiant, peaceful, thankful and gentle.

Men are by nature good and gentle, Tertullian writes: ‘the soul of man is Christian by nature’, but is excited and enraged by the spirit of this world. The spirit of this world makes sheep and wolves, while the Spirit of God makes wolves into sheep.

The apostle adds that, ‘we have received the Spirit of God in order to know the things that are freely given to us of God’, that we might see, then, what is of God and what is not, and that we might feel the sweetness of that which is of God and the bitterness of that which is not of Him but of the spirit of this world. While man is outside his own nature, he finds the bitter sweet and the sweet bitter. But when by the Spirit of God, he returns to his true nature, he tastes as sweet as sweet and bitter as bitter.

Who can turn a man back to God? Who can heal a man of the poison of sinful bitterness? Who can teach him by experience to differentiate true sweetness from bitterness? No-one other than the Spirit, which is of God.

Therefore, we pray, my brethren, that God will give us His Holy Spirit, as He gave Him to his Apostles and saints. And when that Holy Spirit comes and abides in us, the kingdom of God has come to us, in which we are all sweetness, goodness, light, meekness and grace.

O Holy Spirit, thou Spirit of meekness and grace, come and abide in us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, May 20

Come and abide in us indeed!

Have a blessed start to the Apostles Fast!

A friend of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can. The self-controlled man strives with all his might amidst the trials, the snares, the noise of the world, to be like someone who rises above them.” St. John of the Ladder

Every Christian is called to a life of renunciation: ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’ (Luke 9:23–24).

What we seek is what we once were, something we all know and have tasted: innocence… Thus St. John tells novices of the monastic life to look to infants as their example… ‘Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3).”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

“Do whatever you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carrying no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and shake off all things, that, they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues taking in their model natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful.” St. John

“Christians renounce the world by living for something other than the world. By living thus, we become the light of the world.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

How does this step apply to our tendency to judge others? This month as part of my renunciation of the world I am going to be using the Apostles Fast to help me refrain from judging. I think this is one of the key ways in which I lose my footing and the grace of God, judging. I am not meek and lowly of heart or as a little child when I judge others or myself. There is an entire step of the Ladder devoted to slander or judgment, which we will delve into in a future podcast. For now let us look at how judging is worldly. What are the results of our judgments? Can we begin to renounce our judgments?

“For the guarding of peace of soul, it is also necessary to flee from judging others. By non-judgment and silence, peace of soul is preserved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

Finally here is a wonderful passage about the difference between the spirit of this world and the Spirit of God:

‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God.’

(1 Cor. 2:12)

“The spirit of this world, my brethren, is the spirit of pride and brutality. The Spirit of God is a spirit of meekness and grace. God’s Apostle emphasizes that Christ’s followers have not received the spirit of this world but the spirit which is of God; that is, which proceeds from God the Father like a refreshing fragrance from flowers, flowing through the soul of a man, making it strong, radiant, peaceful, thankful and gentle.

Men are by nature good and gentle, Tertullian writes: ‘the soul of man is Christian by nature’, but is excited and enraged by the spirit of this world. The spirit of this world makes sheep and wolves, while the Spirit of God makes wolves into sheep.

The apostle adds that, ‘we have received the Spirit of God in order to know the things that are freely given to us of God’, that we might see, then, what is of God and what is not, and that we might feel the sweetness of that which is of God and the bitterness of that which is not of Him but of the spirit of this world. While man is outside his own nature, he finds the bitter sweet and the sweet bitter. But when by the Spirit of God, he returns to his true nature, he tastes as sweet as sweet and bitter as bitter.

Who can turn a man back to God? Who can heal a man of the poison of sinful bitterness? Who can teach him by experience to differentiate true sweetness from bitterness? No-one other than the Spirit, which is of God.

Therefore, we pray, my brethren, that God will give us His Holy Spirit, as He gave Him to his Apostles and saints. And when that Holy Spirit comes and abides in us, the kingdom of God has come to us, in which we are all sweetness, goodness, light, meekness and grace.

O Holy Spirit, thou Spirit of meekness and grace, come and abide in us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, May 20

Come and abide in us indeed!

Have a blessed start to the Apostles Fast!

In Christ,

Veronica

Sensual Judgment and Curiosity, the Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness, airing March 2015


IMG_1552

Sensual Judgment and Curiosity

The Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness

“Try to be free of curiosity, for it can defile stillness as nothing else can.” St. John Climacus

In this podcast Veronica examines the sensual aspect of our fallen nature and how our physical senses and curious tendencies can entice and entrap our souls robbing us of our stillness and relationship with God.

‘Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me.’ If we were still in paradise, what would be most natural for us would be to turn our minds and hearts towards our Creator, but here we are in the fallen world.

Least we should be lulled to sleep by the world and its temptations, Lent serves to remind us, ‘We are fallen.’ We are being mislead, but by what? ‘How, dear Lord can we be lead astray so often?’ How is it that we continually put distance between God and ourselves – all the while thinking, ‘There is nothing amiss. Everything is fine.’

My research for this podcast started with the term ‘sensual judgment’ used by St. Nicholai Velomirovic in a passage in The Prologue. I pondered its meaning for a few moments. ‘Sensual judgment’ was a show-stopper for me. I had never thought of judgment being in relationship with sensuality or being based upon sensual perceptions. The more I pondered the deeper meaning of ‘sensual judgment’ – the more I thought the term so accurate.

I recalled when I was seeped in the New Age and Eastern religions I thought how I felt and what I perceived through my senses, including my ‘sixth sense’, was an accurate perception of reality.

However, when I became Orthodox I realized I had been trapped in my sensual perceptions and far, far away from true spiritual discernment. I was in a state of ‘sensual judgment’, for I was using what my senses perceived as my measuring stick for reality, my means of judging what was good. If it felt good – then it must be good – right? Wrong! This was a life changing understanding for me.

What about now? Am I still under to dominion of my senses. Yes! Perhaps I am less captured, but an onion has many layers… So let’s take a good look at this onion called ‘sensual judgment’ and how our senses, fueled by curiosity, imagination and self-will can lead us astray rob us of our communication with God and our inner stillness.

Here is what St. Nicholai has to say about the milk of sensual judgment and the gradualness of spiritual development:

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, we have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 6:12–14)

Those who are fed on the milk of sensual judgment cannot easily differentiate between good and evil. They generally come to the conclusion that all faiths are of equal value, that sin is the indispensable shadow of virtue and that evil is a necessary companion of good.

A true Christian cannot come to these utterly mistaken conclusions. For a true Christian is a mature man, who does not feed on milk, who is distrustful of sensuality, who has a finer judgment and makes a finer distinction between the value of the enduring and transient. To the Christian, surely, clear guidance is given by the revelation of God to distinguish between good and evil; but he has need of long and serious study to reach perfection, to be able to know in every given situation what is good and what is evil…

St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, Jan. 11th

No wonder one Lent is not sufficient to change us! Who has not been raised on the milk of sensual judgment? How is it that our senses often run our lives?

For help with these questions I turned to St. Theophan the Recluse and his book, The Path of Salvation.  What follows are instructions St. Theophan is giving to parents for raising their children to be the master of their passions. How I wish my parents had read this book!

St. Theophan:

It is impossible not to use the senses, for it is only through them that one may note the things one must know for the glory of God and for our own good. But in doing this it is impossible to avoid curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose–what is being done where, and how things are… Curiosity consists of trying to know everything without order, without aim, without distinguishing whether it is needful or not.

…curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose – what a shocker this was to me! I thought curiosity was a good thing. Here is my first example of how sensual judgment has misdirected me. Curiosity is not a ‘good’ thing. Curiosity is a distraction and the dictionary definitions of curiosity back this up as you will see…

Definitions for curiosity:

1) A desire to learn or to know. (this desire must be directed and have a purpose according to St. Theophan

2) The desire to know about matters of no concern to one; nosiness.

3) Something novel or extraordinary that arouses interest.

The last two definitions brought to my mind gossip and the arousal of my passions in unhealthy ways.

My husband and I were discussing how pernicious unstructured curiosity is.

Here are a few examples we thought of in our own experience about this:

The distraction of computers and other devices like our cell phones – how we are going from site to site or video game or other games. Channel surfing and watching too much TV – we are curious about the previews of movies or TV shows

These are all things the Church asks us to moderate or abandon during Lent – for good reason. We thought of all the time we have wasted in our life with these distractions, which means that time could have been given to God or others we love.

 

How many of us suffer from distraction during our prayers? Here St. Theophan is explaining the reason why. Curiosity leads to imagination and fantasy. I can see how I just follow my thoughts during prayers. I am curious and attracted by them and off I go…. 5 min. later I ask myself, ‘Where have I been?’ How many wasted moments has curiosity bought me?

Back to St. Theophan

One who is unable to master the senses and imagination will inevitably be distracted…being overcome by curiosity, which will chase him from one subject to another until he is exhausted and all this without fruit.

What the senses do is to see, to hear, to feel–in general to experience, to test. This is why our senses are the first rousers of curiosity, which later, because of them, goes over into the imagination and memory and, having acquired a seed in them, becomes an unconquerable tyrant for the soul.

Great Lent is our opportunity to turn the tables on this so-called tyrant of our soul, our senses. How do we do this?

Back to St. Theophan:

When man was in union with God, he found delight in divine and sacred things by the grace of God. After his fall he lost this taste and thirsted for what is sensual. The grace of baptism has removed this, but sensuality is again ready to fill the heart. One must not allow this; one must guard the heart.

The most effective means for the education of the true taste in the heart is a church–centered life… sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in the midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive and worldly vanity…

A soul that has been calmed and ordered in this way will not, in accordance with its natural disorderliness, hinder the development of the Spirit. This is a person who is committed to …having unfailingly in mind not to ignite the passion for sensual enjoyments, and to train one to deny oneself.

Thus here is more validation for the need of our fasting periods. We are fasting not just from food, but, from the indulgence of our senses, curiosity and imagination. If we want to be that spiritually mature man that St. Nickolai referred to, who has true spiritual discernment we need to learn to control the sensual aspect of our fallen nature. No wonder Lent is so challenging!

In conclusion here is what both St. Theophan and St. Nicholai have to say to encourage us to ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent…

…The beginning of a Christian life in a man is a kind of re-creation, an endowing of new powers, of new life… This seed of life (the resolution one makes to live a Christian life) is not surrounded by elements favorable to him. And besides this, the whole man–his body and soul–remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ. Therefore from this moment begins in a man a labor of sweat–a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties, according to the Christian standard.

Back to St. Nicholai to complete what he started…

Let us strive, my brethren, each day and each hour, to refine our hearts, that they may be able at all times to differentiate between good and evil…

O Lord, Thou lover of mankind, warm our hearts with the good that is from Thee. Bring us to our senses, Lord, that we may learn to distinguish good from evil. Strengthen us, O Master, that we may always cleave to good and cast away evil, to Thy glory and our salvation. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Amen! Thank you St. Nicholai and St. Theophan!

My next podcast will focus on Inner Stillness – The Fruit of Our Spiritual Labors.

God bless you Lenten struggles!!!

Veronica

Entering the Arena–Great Lent Begins Again, Podcast airing mid-Feb. 2015


Icon of The Prodigal Son

Icon of The Prodigal Son

Entering the Arena–Great Lent Begins Again

It’s that time of year again most of us fear and love at the same time. Great Lent! One of my pastors said, ‘How we enter and participate in the first week of Lent is very important. Our struggles in the first week, in Pure Week, set the tone for our Lenten Journey.” How can we best approach Pure Week and Lent in general? Elder Ephraim of Arizona will answer that question for us.

My resource for this podcast is:

Homily #1

The Art of Salvation – a wonderful new book that has been published with homilies of

Elder Ephraim, most of which are for lay people.

I feel that this homily is such a gift. I will be reading selected paragraphs from this first homily without interruption and giving a summary of the important points at the end.

Elder Ephraim:

‘I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Giver of Light, make radiant the garment of my soul, and save me,’ chants our Church during Holy Week.

The Christian soul, the repentant soul, the soul who is conscious of her sinfulness and accountability, turns her eyes toward the Bridegroom of the Church and woefully exclaims, ‘My Savior and my Benefactor: You were crucified for me the sinful soul. I do not possess a clean, radiant garment cleansed with tears and repentance. I do not have a pure garment…

Please, I beg of You, O Heavenly Bridegroom of my soul: make me radiant, and cleanse the garments of my soul. Give me the required means of purification in order for this garment to become radiant, and make me worthy of partaking and dwelling in Your heavenly and eternal bridal chamber…

Souls who have been cleansed and purified with tears sense this heavenly bridal chamber. They taste it now at the present time. They see it with the eyes of their soul. They desire it, long for it, and yearn for the day and the hour when they will go to dwell in it.

The Apostle Paul had a glimpse of it and exclaimed with full surprise and amazement, ‘Oh, the depth and riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!’ (Rom. 11:33)…

We are invited to become inhabitants of and to dwell in this heavenly bridal chamber, to assemble with the angels and saints in the heavenly bridal room, in the Jerusalem above, in the beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom, in the unapproachable light… once we have purified the garment of our soul….

Our Church helps us tremendously with the purification of our soul’s garment, which we are called to achieve. For this reason, during these holy days, during this time of the year that has opened up for us again–through general fasting, by abstaining not only from food, but mainly from evil desires–every Christian who longs for salvation must collect his thoughts and decisively struggle to live more modestly, moderately, and plainly. He must cease trying to look attractive externally and turn toward his internal embellishments. The external for the vessel will be destroyed, it will disintegrate, it will decay and become food for the worms. However nothing can ruin the beauty of the soul; on the contrary, the Spirit of God remodels it to a more noble state.

Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death. We should know that even one tear of repentance is equivalent to a spiritual bath. Just as the body feels refreshed when it bathes, and just as clothes become clean when they are washed, similarly, the tears of a repentant soul purify the heart, purify the mind, purify the body, purify life, purify speech, and purify a person’s every action…

‘Let us kneel and pray with extreme humility!

Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer. We observe this with the harlot in the Gospel reading of Holy Wednesday (Matt. 26:6:–16). How did this woman of the street know how to pray? She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth. How beautiful are her words to the Savior! She knelt in front of Him and, undoubtedly had an inner dialogue with Him! She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior. Everyone else had deceived her. She realized that only Jesus Christ was the one who would give her light, relief, joy, and the remission of her many offenses.

‘Except me.’ She said, ‘the sinner. Except this sea of my sins!

Every sinful soul who sheds tears and wets the feet of our Christ noetically also receives the same blessing as the harlot. Not only was she herself saved but she also became a bright example for every straying soul by pointing to the way, the path, and the light of return. If one could penetrate the soul of this woman–the very moment she was bewailing, crying, and wetting the immaculate feet of Jesus–one would witness how light she became as the tremendous weight was lifted from her, and how much peace her conscience received. On account of her repentant tears, Christ granted complete remission of all her sins.

This is the case for every person who returns to him. Christ bestows bountiful forgiveness, as long as a person repents sincerely…. Let us follow the bright road of repentance! If we sincerely repent, God will accept our repentance and establish a new relationship with us….

On account of God’s infinite compassion, let us thank Him and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul. If God were not so infinitely compassionate, no one would be saved. No one at all! There is no one, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be anyone on earth who is blameless, without fault, and without stain. No one can boast that he has preserved his heart clean and unblemished. Nonetheless, God’s compassion is so effective, this medication is so powerful and potent that it wipes out everything. It makes wondrous interventions, performs unbelievable operations, and saves a man’s soul from certain death…

The bridal chamber has been opened. Christ is patiently waiting for us; we must not delay. We have now entered the arena of fasting and purification, and the bath of repentance is awaiting us. Let us use our time wisely now that all things are conducive to repentance.

And if God grants tears to our eyes, let us thank Him, let us humble ourselves, and let us confess to Him our weaknesses. Let us admit that we are incapable and unworthy of repentance, and that only with His compassion do we sincerely repent. If we believe in God and if we acknowledge our sinfulness, we do so only through His grace and compassion. If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change. If we decide to return, if we repent, if we change our lives, this is all due to the indescribable grace of God. If the grace of God has come upon us, this means that Grace will accept us.

Let us compel ourselves to remain vigilant and watchful, and let us ward off negligence and indolence because they hinder God’s love towards man. Oftentimes the demon comes to make us feel tired and worn out. ‘Don’t do prostrations,’ he whispers to us. ‘Don’t get up to pray now. You are tired! Sleep a little longer because you have to go to work’, and many other things. Let us force ourselves because we do not know what may happen in the moments that follow. If He finds us forcing ourselves to struggle, He will rank us with the faithful servants…

Let us therefore, force ourselves to struggle in everything, so that we may enter the bridal chamber of Christ–because ‘To them who struggle belongs the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matt. 11:12). Amen.

Selected passages from Homily #1 from The Art of Salvation, Elder Ephraim of Arizona

My Summary of key points of Elder Ephraim:

  1. Through general fasting, by abstaining not only from food, but mainly from evil desires–every Christian who longs for salvation must collect his thoughts and decisively struggle to live more modestly, moderately, and plainly.

  2. Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death.

  3. Let us kneel and pray with humility!

  4. Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer.

  5. She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth.

  6. She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior.

  7. On account of God’s infinite compassion, let us thank Him and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul.

  8. If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change.

  9. Let us compel ourselves to remain vigilant and watchful, and let us ward off negligence and indolence because they hinder God’s love towards man.

What more can I say – Elder Ephraim has said it all. May the beginning of your Lenten struggles be blessed and grace-filled.

God bless you,

Veronica

Mary, the First Hesyachist – Part II – “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”


Mary, the First Hesyachist

Part II

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”

While in the womb of the Advent Fast, awaiting the birth of Christ, let us enter into the prayer life of the Theotokos, whom St. Gregory Palamas called the first hesyachist and reflect on the value of secret meditation of the heart, which Mary pioneered. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

My resources for this podcast are:

The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos

Holy Apostles Convent with quotes from St. Gregory Palamas

The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

Quotes from St. Theophan the Recluse

Elder Joseph

From the Life of Mary quoting St. Gregory Palamas

“The sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple is described by St. Gregory Palamas in terms that make Mary the model of the hesychastic life. Extolling constant prayer, the saint indicates that the Virgin was the first to take it upon herself to pray unceasingly. According to St. Gregory her asceticsim therein did not lead her to come to an understanding of the grace received from the time of her conception, but to learn more of the nature of the sins of Adam. It was there that she perceived and realized that ‘no one could halt the murderous rush, which was bearing away the human race.’

Thus she was filled with pity for people who were brought to ruin and condemnations for disobedience. Therefore, she resolved to have her heart, mind and soul to dwell on God, and endeavored to remain attentive and struggle in prayer. She would pray for the human race and God’s great mercy.

She understood the most excellent way to converse with God was through holy silence and silence of the mind. Hence, she withdrew from the world and put away all earthly things. Through this, by God’s grace, she pioneered a new path to God, the path of silencing the thoughts. Abiding in prayer day and night, and maintaining silence, she cleansed her heart and was inexpressibly united with God.

Rising above all creation and creatures, the all holy Virgin contemplated God’s glory more fully than did Moses, and communed with divine grace in such a way that defies words and even reason… the young virgin Mary gave herself up entirely to God and repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, yet still she felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others.

Therefore, she greatly desired the coming of the Savior… She became an abode of every virtue, turning her mind away from every worldly and carnal desire. This was fitting for her who was to conceive God within herself.

St. Gregory Palamas praises Mary in superlative terms, writing: ‘Today a new world and a wonderful paradise has appeared. In it and from it a new Adam is born to reform the old Adam and renew the whole world… God has kept this Virgin for Himself before all ages. He chose her from among all generations and bestowed on her grace higher than that given to all others, making her, even before her wondrous childbirth, the saint of saints, giving her the honor of His own house in the Holy of Holies… wishing to create an image of absolute beauty and to manifest clearly, to angels and men, the power of His art. God made Mary truly all beautiful… He made of her blend of all divine, angelic and human perfection, a sublime beauty embellishing the two worlds, rising from earth to heaven and surpassing even the latter.’”

We can see from these revelations given to St. Gregory that Mary developed and diligently practiced secret meditation on God in her heart, which for her led to the incarnation of God within her womb. This was Mary’s role in our salvation.

Where can the diligent practice of secret mediation of the heart lead us?

Let’s explore what St. Theophan the Recluse has to say about secret meditation of the heart…

“Gather yourself together in your heart, and there practice secret meditation. By this means, with the help of God’s grace, the spirit of God will be maintained in its true character – burning sometimes less and sometimes more brightly. Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.”

St. Theophan is telling us that secret meditation is “The one thing needful.” How do we start to dwell in our heart in prayer?

“Some Godly thoughts come nearer to the heart than others. Should this be so after you have finished your prayers, continue to remain dwelling on such a thought and feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.”

Here are some examples of what St. Theophan is talking about:

Secret meditation most often takes the form of indwelling The Jesus Prayer, prayers to our Most Holy Theotokos and other supplications to the Saints. Other Fathers have also recommended the recitation of a verse from the Psalms, a part of a prayer you love, and or hymns from church. For example: Because I am musically oriented and love to sing –I indwell hymns through out my day. Be creative, as you would with anyone you love. If you are prone to depression or despondency, it is good to indwell joyful praises to God – that bring forth gratitude, which is a good remedy for despondency.

Wouldn’t we all rather give our praises to God than negative thoughts? Our goal is to quietly and secretly please God and express our unique love towards Him.

‘Praying always with prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18)

“Prayer must not be an occupation for a certain period of time, but a permanent state of spirit… In other words, prayer must not only be outward, but also inward, an activity of the mind in the heart. In this lies the essence of prayer, which is raising the mind and heart towards God.

It is clear that the practice of prayer is not something carried out at certain hours, but requires a permanent walking before God, a dedication of all one’s activities to Him…its secret is love of the Lord. As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.”

St. Theophan the Recluse

“As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.” This is what the Theotokos did! What love she developed for God! Mary can help us if we just call on her with love and faith to devote more of our day to God as did Elder Joseph who has these words to say about calling on the Panagia, our heavenly Mother:

“Embrace in your arms the icon of the Panagia as if she were alive, as you embraced your dear mother when you were little. Tell her all your pain, wet her icon with your pure tears, then you will derive consistent consolation. She will intercede with her Son, Who is so good, Who loves the good, has mercy on the bad, and forgives repenting sinners. He will open the noetic eyes of your soul and fill your heart with love and divine eros. And then your eyes will become two fountains of tears.” Elder Joseph

Glory to God and his Saints! Let us strive to use the remainder of this fasting period to incorporate a little more unceasing prayer into our daily life.

For new listeners who want to draw closer to the Mother of God in prayer this Advent, I want to extend an invitation to join me and other listeners each day in praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God. I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I am using to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

Since this is the Christmas Season, I also invite those of you who are looking for a unique gift for friends or family to consider giving them a copy of my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church through the OCN Amazon Store banner on any OCN website page. With every purchase you make on Amazon through the OCN Amazon Store you will be supporting the wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Network.

If you want a signed copy with a spiritual thought as well, you can obtain that through my author’s website, once again, pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. Please make sure you order your copy from before the 12th of December for Western Christmas.

I have yet one more podcast in this series on the Drawing Closer to the Mother of God – airing mid-December.

May God continue bless you in your efforts and struggles this Advent,

In Christ,

Veronica

Drawing closer to the Mother of God during Advent, Part I airing on OCN mid-Nov.


Most of us are not thrilled about fasting – which part of the struggle we all confront when we begin a fast. How do we joyfully and thankfully approach fasting? How do we prepare ourselves to receive Christ into the manger of our souls? How can the Mary be a guide to us this Advent? In this episode I will draw on the wisdom of St. Gregory Palamas and the life of Mary, even before her conception, to help us prepare for the Advent Fast.

My resource for this podcast is:

The Life of Mary, The Theotokos, Written and compiled by Holy Apostles Convent

St. Dionysios the Areopagite, October 3, The Great Synaxtarisis of the Orthodox Church

To Encourage Fasting, from Homilies Six and Seven, The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas

So let’s start with St. Gregory and a few of his counsels regarding fasting:

“The invisible serpent, the originator of evil, is inventive, versatile and extremely skillful in contriving wickedness (with regards to any attempts to acquire virtue, which is part of the reason why we fast.)… First of all he points out how laborious and difficult it is to accomplish virtue. In this way he fills us with laziness and despair, as though we were attempting difficult to impossible things and were therefore incapable of putting our intentions into action. Then he engenders disbelief in the rewards, which God has promised to those who struggle. Here God is using the devil to test our resolve and commitment.

But we, brethren, should rise above these traps by our soul’s courage, eagerness and faith. We should bear in mind the fact that just as the earth cannot yield worthwhile fruit without labor so the soul cannot acquire anything, which pleases God or leads to salvation, without spiritual struggles.

The last 2 podcasts I did on The Dance between Temptations and Grace addressed this very subject. One cannot earn grace without surmounting temptations with God’s help.

But while it is possible to find earth, which is unsuitable for cultivation, every human soul is naturally suited to virtue…

This is good news!!! Our soul thirsts and hungers for God. Let us remember why we made the commitment to fast as Orthodox Christians…

Let us give up transitory things in exchange for things that endure, and receive what is beneficial in exchange for what is harmful, transforming short-term toil into a means to gain eternal ease. If we labor here for the sake of virtue we shall certainly attain to the rest promised in the age to come. He who promised is trustworthy and is at hand to help all who readily take on the struggle for virtue. If He can do all things gives us His help, is anything impossible to achieve?” From Homily Six, St. Gregory Palamas

Upholding the fast in other ways:

“In this time of fasting and prayer, Brethren, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we all devote ourselves to love, and let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defense of one another, having good thoughts and disposition within us before God and man. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God while we fast will be readily received. We shall rightly call upon Him as our Father by grace and we can boldly say to Him, “Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

It is important for us to fast according to our conscience and strength, relying not on our strength, but God’s or our attempts to fast from certain foods and passions will fail miserably. So let us turn to the life of the Mother of God to see how even before her conception, her life can be a guide to us in finding our right disposition this Advent fast.

From The Life of Mary, The Theotokos, prior to her conception:

The Archangel Gabriel appears to Joachim and Anna, who are struggling with being childless, and tells them about the daughter they will conceive:

“Fear not Joachim, I am the angel of the Lord and have been sent by God to tell thee that thy prayers have been heard and thy charitable deeds have gone up into His presence. God has seen thy shame and has heard the reproach of unfruitfullness, which has been unjustly brought against thee; for God is the avenger of sin, not of nature.

Therefore, when He shuts up the womb of anyone, He does so that He may in a more wonderful manner open it, so that which is born may be acknowledged to be the gift of God and not the product of lust…

Let’s look at these wonderful words from the Archangel Gabriel and find the beginning of the right approach to Advent…

Thy prayers have been heard – Let us begin this Advent fast asking in our prayers for God to help us. We want conceive purity in our hearts and souls – to prepare our souls to receive Christ more fully through our humble attempts to keep the fast.

Thy charitable deeds have gone up to His presence – Let us be charitable during Advent to those around us by our manner of being and giving.

God has seen thy shame and has heard the reproach of unfruitfullness – God has seen our shame – He knows we have often fallen short of the mark – that unseen adversaries persecute us and afflict us, and our passions take us away from Him. But with God anything is possible!

“Believe in the fact that conceptions very late in life, and in the case of women that have been barren, are usually attended by something wonderful. Accordingly, Anna, thy wife, will bring forth a daughter to thee and ye shall call her Mary. According to thy vow, she shall be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and she shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb. ”

Let us believe that it is never too late to make an effort for the Lord – and that effort will help us conceive something wonderful in our soul. According to our promise – we will strive to uphold the fast so that we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit!

“Mary shall not eat or drink anything unclean, nor shall her conversation or life be among the crowds of the people, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her.

Let us do our best to fast, not just from food, for some of us due to age or health issues cannot observe a strict fast, but we can guard our tongue, refrain from the passions, give alms to others, and be in church or in prayer at home more frequently.

…So in the process of her years, Mary shall be in a miraculous manner born of one that was barren, so she shall, while yet a virgin, in an incomparable manner, bring forth a Son of the most high, the Savior of all nations.

So in a miraculous manner we too can receive the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and bring forth Christ in the manger of our souls.

She, His Handmaiden, shall bring forth the Lord, both in grace, and in name, and in work, the Savior of the world.”

We too by our efforts during this Advent can attract the grace of God to us.

To draw closer to the Mother of God and Jesus in prayer this Advent I want to extend an invitation to all my listeners to join me praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God during the Nativity Fast.

I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I plan to use to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

My next podcast will continue on with the theme of drawing closer to the Mother of God and how her efforts attracted the Grace of God. Until then…

“Let us ascend to the Holy Mountain,” wherein it is written that St. Dionysios went to Jerusalem while the Theotokos was still in the world… As he beheld her divine appearance and awesome beauty, and also the choir of angels that guarded her, and as he heard her heavenly words, he was astonished and awestruck, and admitted that everything about her indicated she was the Mother of God.

St. Dionysios the Areopagite

Thank you for joining me and have a blessed start to Advent and Happy Thanksgiving.

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 on Prayer, The Reverent Approach to Loving Union with God, airing August 20th


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Part 2 on Prayer

The Reverent Approach

to Loving Union with God

 

 

 

If we live in the world – we most likely are struggling with our prayer life. How can we transform our prayers so that they are more meaningful? How can we focus our mind in our hearts so that we can commune more deeply with our Creator? Let’s find out!

My resources for this podcast are from the Art of Prayer by Igumen Chariton of Valamo quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov and St. Theophan the Recluse

Now to one of my favorite Saints, St. Theophan the Recluse

Three types of prayer: of the lips, of the mind, of the heart

“What is the cause of this division of prayer into parts? Because it happens that sometimes through our negligence the tongue recites the only words of prayer, but the mind wanders elsewhere: or the mind understands the words of the prayer of the heart does not respond to them with feeling. In the first case prayer is only oral, and is not prayer at all, in the second, mental prayer joins the oral, but this prayer is still imperfect and incomplete. Complete and real prayer comes only when prayer of the word and thought is joined by prayer of feeling.

What constitutes real prayer?

Spiritual or inner prayer comes when he who prays, after gathering his mind within his heart, from there directs his prayer to God in words no longer oral but silent: glorifying Him and giving thanks, confessing his sins with contrition before God, and asking from Him the spiritual and physical blessings that he needs. You must pray not only with words, but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them are absent your prayer is either not perfect or is not prayer at all.”

From what St. Theophan has stated, I am reminded that a lot of my time in prayer is filled with distraction and or lack of feeling. Here is more of what St. Theophan has to say about the right feeling to have in prayer…

“Feeling towards God–even without words–is a prayer – words support and sometimes deepen the feeling.

This gift of feeling is given to you by the mercy of God. How?

First and foremost by having humility, ascribing everything to grace, and nothing to yourself. Secondly by regarding yourself as dust and ashes.”

This is a reminder that humility and contrition are the first steps towards gathering our mind into our heart so as to have the proper attitude when approaching prayer. Asking God in His tender mercy to awaken the proper feeling within us. What is the next step…?

Body, soul and spirit

“The body is made of earth; yet it is not something dead but alive and endowed with a living soul. Into this soul is breathed a spirit–the Spirit of God, intended to know God, to reverence Him…

This brings us back to one of our other important themes in my podcasts – the fear of God and the proper reverence towards Him with love…with bowed head, humbly standing in prayer before the holy icons, all the Saints and God, we…

Draw down our mind into our heart

Turn to the Lord, drawing down the attention of the mind into the heart and calling Him there. With the mind firmly established in the heart, stand before the Lord with all reference and devotion. If we were to follow this small rule unfailingly, then passionate desires and feelings would never arise, nor would any other thought in our prayers.”

How I struggle and forget to follow St. Theophan’s rule of preparation, but what a difference it makes! That is why we cross ourselves and venerate icons when entering church – to put ourselves in the right place and frame of mind and heart. This is so important when approaching prayer especially at home.

Taking 2 minutes to prepare ourselves for prayer, presenting ourselves humbly to our Creator with contrition…. I am personally taking a new commitment to do this and encourage those of you who feel so moved to join me. These detailed steps can be downloaded from my blog. Go to pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com and click on the navigation button for my blog.

What is next?

Most elders suggest you start with the normal beginning of prayer and recite about 5-10 minutes of oral prayers like the 50th Psalm and the Creed so as to gather your thoughts. They also call this drawing in the nous. St. John of the Ladder says, ‘Confine your mind within the words of the prayer.

Back to St. Dimitri for a few more helpful suggestions:

Prayer should be short, but often repeated

“From those who have experience in raising their mind to God, I learned that, in the case of prayer made by the mind from the heart, a short prayer, often repeated, is warmer and more useful than a long one… Short yet frequent prayer, has more stability, because the mind, immersed for a short time in God, can perform it with greater warmth. And St. John of the Ladder also teaches: ‘Do not try to use many words, lest your mind become distracted by the search for the words. Because of one short sentence, the publican received the mercy of God, and one brief affirmation of belief saved the Robber. An excessive multitude of words in prayer disperses the mind in dreams, while one word or short sentence helps to collect the mind.’

And so collect all your thoughts: laying aside all outer worldly cares, direct your mind towards God, concentrating it holy upon Him.”

Loving union with God

“… the duty of all Christians–especially of those who’s calling dedicates them to the spiritual life–is to strive always and in every way to be united with God, their creator, lover, benefactor, and their supreme good, by whom and for whom they were created. This is because the center and final purpose of the soul, which God created, must be God Himself alone, and nothing else …

No unity with God as possible except by an exceeding great love… To kindle in his heart such a divine love, to unite with God in an inseparable union of love, it is necessary for man to pray often, raising the mind to Him. For as the flame increases when it is constantly fed, so prayer, made often, with the mind dwelling even more deeply in God, arouses divine love in the heart. And the heart, set on fire, will warm all the inner man, will enlighten and teach him, revealing to him all its unknown and hidden wisdom, making him like a flaming seraph, always standing before God within his spirit, always looking at Him within his mind, and drawing from this vision the sweetness of spiritual joy.”

Thank you St. Dimitri and St. Theophan!

My next two podcasts will feature quotes in support of OCN’s effort to raise our awareness and prayerful support of all the Christians in the Middle East that are enduring suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake. Until then, please keep our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world in your hearts and prayers…

God bless you!

Veronica

Ps

All the photographs I post on my blog were taken by either my husband or me. If you would like to see more of our photographs and the wilderness cards we sell go to:

http://www.pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com/pearl-wilderness-cards_280.html%5B/embed%5D

 

 

 

“Prayer”, Airing 4/16/14, Veronica’s next podcast on OCN


Venus at early dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER

Summary of Veronica’s Commentary:

The second building block in our cooperation with God in our regeneration by grace is PRAYER. Cooperation implies communication, respect, intimacy and love.  All of these need to present when we pray. The Orthodox Church has given us a starting structure for our prayer life:

  • Maintain a personal prayer and fasting rule that you strive to practice everyday, which grows and deepens as we mature in our faith
  • Attend church regularly, receiving confession and communion, including on feasts of the Church, during Great Lent and other fasting periods
  • Read the daily gospel and epistle readings appointed by the Church calendar, as well as the lives of the some of saints for each day.

Orthodox Christianity is not a stagnant religion. Once one has integrated and is practicing a basic prayer rule, we strive to not sit on our laurels, but deepen and increase our time in prayer slowly and gradually over time.

As Christians we must constantly do battle with our fallen nature. When temptations arise, rejoice! Seek relief in prayer with God. It is through those temptations that we learn our only true comfort rests in our Lord.

When we fall into doubt, worries or fears, know that God has not stepped away from us. Let us strive to question ourselves, especially now during Lent. Perhaps we have become complacent in our prayer rule and or have unknowingly started relying on ourselves again?

It is so easy for us to become distracted or take God for granted when we get busy or worried. Then we unknowingly start to slip and fall into old habits and states of sin. Hours or days later, when the pain of our fall becomes unbearable, then perhaps we realize we have stepped away from God or need God to help us start over again.

To correct our behavior, God essentially narrows our focus. It is through our temptations and sufferings that God strives to wake us up to our state of sin. We are all so accustomed to avoiding and mitigating our suffering through temporary fixes, which fasting removes or lessens, which ultimately will not help us, but prolongs our suffering.

Personal prayer is one of the means God gave us to help us to restore and continually renew our connection with Him. When we humbly put ourselves before God again in prayer, we heal. Therefore, arm your self with prayer!

We also need a right attitude towards prayer, which Elder Prophyrios will help us to clarify:

Wounded by love, the Life and the Wisdom of Elder Prophyrios

“One thing is our aim–love for Christ, for the church, for our neighbor. Love, worship of, and craving for God, the union with Christ and with the church are paradise on earth.

Let us love Christ and let our only hope and care be for him.

But are we inflamed by love for Christ? Do we run into the Beloved when we are exhausted to find rest in prayer or do we do it as a burdensome duty and say, ‘ Now I have to do my prayers and prostrations’…? Divine eros is what’s missing. Prayer of this kind could even be harmful.

Pray to God with fervor and love in a calm state of mind, with meekness and gentleness, without forcing yourself.

The object is not to sit and afflict and constrict yourself in order to improve. The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love–in love for Christ and for the church. Don’t say ‘I’ll force myself and now I’ll pray to acquire love and become good’.”

Christ stands outside the door of our soul and knocks for us to open to Him, but He doesn’t enter. He doesn’t want to violate the freedom, which He Himself gave us…. Christ is courteous. He stands outside the door of our soul and knocks gently. If we open to Him, He will enter us and give us everything–Himself–secretly and silently.

We will not be able to know Christ unless He knows us… Nor can we love Him unless He loves us. Christ will not love us if we are not worthy for Him to love us. In order for Him to love us, he must discover something special in us. You may desire, demand, struggle and entreat, but you receive nothing. You prepare yourself to acquire those things, which Christ desires in order for divine grace to enter you, but it cannot enter when that special ingredient you require is lacking. What is that? It is humility. Without humility, we cannot love Christ… humility and selflessness in worship of God… ‘Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing’. (Matt 6:3)

No one must see you; no one must understand the motions of your worship towards the Divinity. All these things must be hidden and secret, as with the hermits.”

May God bless your prayers and Lenten Journey!

In Christ,

Veronica

Prayer of Saint Ephraim, may God bless your Lenten Journey…


Prayer of Saint Ephraim


O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.
Amen.

You are Three, a two-part Russian Orthodox video about prayer


Click on these links and you will partake in the essence of heartfelt prayer – enjoy! (about 20 mins. total)

http://youtu.be/PnlXsWoE_Zw

http://youtu.be/r0Ky5CUxSsY

A good reminder for us to be humble and simple, pure in mind and spirit, hospital and loving, and willing to learn no matter how old we are.

God Bless,

Veronica

Truly a Lovely work of Prayer – The Lamentations of Holy and Great Saturday – CD


This is a wonderful recording!

Professionally recorded and digitally mastered CD, entitled the Lamentations of Holy and Great Saturday.  Utilizing the traditional Byzantine melodies, this 74-minute English version of the Lamentations is the only professionally recorded full-length English version of the Lamentations in the world. The Byzantine melodies assigned to this special Holy Week service are beautifully sung and deeply prayerful, and would make an exceptional gift or an outstanding addition to any music library.

Stasis 1: 28:36 Minutes – Christ is crucified and laid in the tomb

Stasis 2: 29:54 Minutes – The earth trembles in travail at the sacrifice of the Creator of life

Stasis 3: 15:20 Minutes – In His death lies the Hope of the Resurrection

Byzantine Chant is among the most ancient forms of Christian hymnody. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, all worship services primarily consist of chant and choral singing. During Great Lent, no sacred music is more poignant or powerful than the three distinct Byzantine melodies used in this version of the Lamentations. It is said that the angels praise God through song. This CD seeks to emulate the angels and encourages listeners to reach with heart, mind, and voice to glorify the Creator—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The retail cost of each CD is $16. Standard trade discounts apply for bookstores and bulk orders.  For wholesale, bulk, or international orders, please contact bookstore@joyofallwhosorrow.org.