Category Archives: Saints of the Church

Preserving Our Stillness and Joy, airing in May 2015 on OCN


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Preserving Our Stillness and Joy

It has been a while since I have recorded a podcast. The week before the weekend of The Cross, I contracted a terrible flu, which went viral and affected my brain! It was the most intense experience I have ever lived through. I had hallucinations for 10 days I went to the hospital twice. I did not sleep for most of those days and as time went on became quite innocent and about the age of a 3 year old!

My doctors had no idea what was causing my altered mental status. I underwent all kinds of tests – none of which helped to indicate what was causing my altered mental status. Finally, they gave me an anti-viral IV and medicine to allow me to sleep, At 3 AM the following morning – I came back! Glory to God!

Had it not been for the grace of God, the sacraments of the church, my husband’s support and the prayers of many people – I am not sure I would be here today in my right mind. Glory to God for all things! It has taken me a while to recover my self and I am so thankful to be well and back to my life again celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.

Therefore, I thought I would draw on our dear Saints to discuss how we can maintain or guard the sanctity and peace of our souls in times of distress.

My husband strove during our battle with the flu and I am sure demonic forces to keep me positive even in the face of my altered mental status by continually saying to me: “God is good. God brings good from everything. Glory to God for all things!” These simple phrases became one of my anchors while I waited for God to heal me.

What else can we do to maintain our inner stillness and joy, especially as we slowly re-enter the fallen world after Pascha or deal with very challenging experiences?

My resources for this podcast are:

St. Seraphim of Sarov

St Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue

The Gospel according to St. John

Let’s start with St. Seraphim of Sarov

“We must endeavor by every means to keep peace of soul. Do not be troubled by the insults of men. It is necessary at all costs to restrain oneself from anger, and by watchfulness over oneself, to keep the mind and heart from vain movement… 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. When a man attains to such a state, he receives divine revelation. For a man to be able to keep himself from judging others, he must be vigilant over himself; he must not dare to receive vain thoughts from another, and must be as one dead before all that is of this world. We must tirelessly keep our hearts from vain thoughts and impressions (Prov. 4:23). By constant watchfulness over the heart, a purity of heart is born in which God is seen, according to the words of eternal truths: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’.” (Matt. 5:8).

St. Seraphim of Sarov

We spent all of Lent practicing ‘watchfulness over the heart’ – now we are asked to continue our watchfulness – in the spirit of the Resurrection. How do we do that?

This is what St. Nicholai has to say about the fears that can assail us:

‘Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen.’ (Rev. 1:17-18)

“Thus says the Lord Jesus to His beloved disciple John in a vision on the island of Patmos. Fear not–what? Fear not the persecution of the church by the pagans. Fear not the torturers who martyr My faithful on all sides. Fear not kings who raise up persecution against the Christians. Fear not the successors of the chief men of this world, who ridicule My humiliation and My death. Fear not the demons, who blind men by the passions so they do not see the truth that I brought on earth. Fear nothing!

Christ is Risen!

Lord, how do I not fear? When the whole world gathers to ridicule us to our faces, small in number and unretaliating as we are, how can we not fear?

Fear not, for I am the first and the last, Alpha and Omega, and all those armies of mockers against you are nothing but a transient whirlwind of corpses. I am from before time began, I am after time ends; before the beginning of all and after the fulfillment of all things created, I am. And they are all shut up in the one span of time, which I have measured out to every creature, and beyond that span they cannot exist.

Let us rejoice at this – Christ is Risen!

Fear not, for ‘I was dead; and behold, I am alive’. Do not even fear death. I am before death and after death. Death is my servant, and I sent death into the world to serve Me. I gave Myself into My servant’s hands for three days. Then I commanded him to let Me go–and, behold, I am alive. I am the ruler of death as of life. I am the ruler of time as of eternity. Fear not!

I am alive for evermore and you will be alive with Me; you, and all who remain faithful to Me and are unafraid will be alive with Me. I am Alpha and Omega.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, March 21

Christ is Risen!

O eternal and immortal Lord, grant that these Thy words may ever sound in the souls of Thy faithful people whenever persecution rises up against Thy Holy Church. Let us not fear, being held by the right hand of God. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

St Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, March 21

“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Christ is Risen! Let us pray to our Risen Lord to deliver us from all our distress.

May you have a blessed completion of this Pascal Season, an awesome Ascension and Pentecost.

Christ is Risen!

Orthodox Missionary Work, Finding the Lost Sheep, Podcast airing early Feb. 2015


The Good Shepherd Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy

The Good Shepherd Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy

Orthodox Missionary Work, Finding the Lost Sheep

Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke begins with, “Then drew near to Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him… What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he should loose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he cometh home, pulleth together all his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, rejoice with me; I have found my sheep which was lost. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7)

Shortly after this statement our Lord tells the parable of the prodigal son.

In this time of preparation for Great Lent when we are called to start to look within ourselves more deeply, let us reflect upon the absolute necessity of missions and missionary work.

Why do we try to spread our Faith to people who have their own beliefs? A good question and one that is essential for us to answer, for our salvation and the salvation of others are dependent upon sharing the “Good News”. We were all lost sheep and prodigal children prior to someone leading us to our baptism or conversion. What then is the motivation of this underlying call we as Christians have to bring others to Christ?

My resources for this podcast are:

Fr. Martin Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasios speaking about The Purpose and Motive of Mission

The Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865 concerning his conversion thanks to St. Herman

Fr. Martin Ritsi

“Why do we try to spread our Faith to people who have their own beliefs?

Somewhere along my journey toward the missionary vocation, I came across an Orthodox perspective presented by Archbishop Anastasios in a paper called, The Purpose and Motive of Mission. This paper became a watershed for me, since it seemed to encompass everything I had been learning and experiencing as a student and missionary….

Without question, the foundation for mission is the glory of God and the redemption of all creation. The Scriptures emphasize this theme over and over again, beginning with Creation itself, and leading us through the rejection of that glory and the subsequent entrance of death into the world. Jesus’ life, from this perspective, is a manifestation of the glory of God. In Christ, human nature is redeemed and the universal order restored. Finally, the Church becomes a participant in proclaiming this redemption until the Parousia, when the glory of God is fully revealed.

Participation in spreading the glory of God is so basic to the Christian spirit that it may be called an inner necessity. Archbishop Anastasios explains:

The question of the motive of mission can be studied from several angles: love of God and men, obedience to the Great Command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19), desire for the salvation of souls, longing for God’s glory. All these surely, are serious motives. . . . However, we think that the real motive of mission, for both the individual and the Church, is something deeper. It is not simply obedience, duty or altruism. It is an inner necessity. “Necessity is laid upon me,” said St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). All other motives are aspects of this need, derivative motives. Mission is an inner necessity for the faithful and for the Church. If they refuse it, they do not merely omit a duty, they deny themselves.

This inner necessity is an outgrowth of our being made in God’s image. Throughout history, we can clearly see God’s purpose in the revelation of His glory, the drawing of all things to Himself, and the establishment of His Kingdom. In addition, we can see that God has shared this mission with humanity, from Abraham to Jesus’ disciples and on to the Church today.

Thus mission work is not a task, which is simply imposed upon us; nor is it rooted solely in our obedience, respect, or even love of God. Rather it is the actualization of our inherent nature to participate in the fulfillment, destiny, and direction of humanity and all creation as it is drawn back to God and towards the coming of His Kingdom.”

Veronica:

What Father Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasi have shared with us reminded me of my motivation when I wrote my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church. As soon as I was baptized I realized that I had to write a book about my experience – it was an inner necessity that I had to fulfill; in part due to gratitude, for I was saved; in part to bare my story to those as unconsciously lost as I was in the seductions of the New Age and Eastern religions. Writing my book was a calling I had to answer and fulfill. A calling that came from deep inside of me.

We as Christians are called to share the Gospel, but the expression of our calling is unique to each of us. Given I had spent more than 25 years seeking what I have now found in the Orthodox Church – how could I hide my ‘talent’ Christ had given me in the ground and not tell my story? My conversion was hard fought! It was a life changing experience for me to become Orthodox and yet another life changing experience for me to write my story.

I realized when I had finished my book that God works our salvation through our ministries and labors. I had lead so many people away from Christ during my years as a metaphysical teacher and spiritist, for which I have wept many tears. So you can only imagine how thrilled beyond words I was, when some fifteen years after my conversion, after 6 long years of work I published my book. Then a few months later I personally sold my book to a woman who then came to our church bazaar. A week later she came to church and is now a member of our faith! So true are the words of our Lord about the one lost sheep. There is not only rejoicing in heaven but in my heart and soul!

Back to Fr. Ritsi…

Conclusion

In this article, we have considered the longstanding and sometimes forgotten tradition of Orthodox missionary work. Space has not allowed us to explore in depth the loving characters, the powerful visions, the solid strategies, and the intensely sacrificial lives of so many Orthodox missionaries…

I have attempted to give a taste—if ever so faint—of the rich flavor of a vibrant history that continues in the present and which is at the very heart of our being. As Orthodox, we have been, and must be, involved in missionary work. We have a firm historical tradition and developed principles which tell us this.

Most importantly, we have an understanding that bringing God’s love, compassion, and message to the world, drawing people to Him and establishing worshiping communities among all nations and in all cultures is not merely an imposed command or a religious principle—it is a part of our own nature as we are created in the image and likeness of God.

Participation in missions, both as individuals and as a Church, is an action necessary to our fully being who we are. Without it something will be lacking. With two-thirds of our world still missing the love and joy of being in Jesus Christ, we have much to do. May the Lord guide us to actualize this dimension of ourselves so that His saving power may be known among all nations.”

As Fr. Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasios have so eloquently stated, each one of us has an inner call to share our life in Christ with others. Had it not been for the efforts of St. Herman, St. Innocent and so many others, would we have an Orthodox Church in America?

If you have not yet found your way to share support missionary work, then the first step is to pray for God to show you His will and calling for you. Let us not leave our ‘talent’ the Lord has given us buried in the ground.

The next quote I will read to you is from a letter written by one of St. Herman’s converts – I think this sums up the great task and necessity of sharing the gospel set before us by our Lord:

Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865

I was thirty years old when I met Father Herman. Here it should be said that I was brought up in the naval corps, knew many sciences and read much, but unfortunately… I was only in name a Christian, while in soul and in deed I was a freethinker, a deist, as are nearly all who are brought up in the military corps and in public institutions. How unfortunate that no attention is given this: that God’s Law is everywhere taught superficially, even in the seminaries; yes, and even from the theological academies there come out students, even Masters, who are very learned, but do not have an active faith in their heart, and thus do not live in a Christian way.

All the more did I fail to recognize the godliness and sanctity of our religion, in that I had read many atheist writings of Voltaire and other philosophers of the 18th Century. Father Herman immediately noticed this and wished to convert me. But this was not easy! I had to be convinced, to be shown the sanctity of our religion; and, therefore, much time, knowledge, and the ability to speak well and convincing was required.

To my great amazement, the simple, uneducated monk, Father Herman, being inspired by grace, spoke and argued so wisely, powerfully, and convincingly that, it seems to me, no kind of learnedness and earthly wisdom could withstand his words. In actual fact Father Herman had a great innate intelligence and sound thinking, had read many spiritual patristic books; and most important, he had the grace of God!

But since in a short winter’s day I had no time at all to devote myself to him, he therefore came to me every day for evening tea, and sometimes also for dinner, and we conversed until midnight, and sometimes after; he never stayed the night. Neither rain nor snow nor storm kept the zealous Elder from visiting me and returning the half mile home alone at midnight! He came to me regularly every day in an old ryassa, without a coat; I warmed him with tea and I conversed with him without ceasing: on God’s Law, on eternity, on the salvation of the soul, on Christian life, and other things. A sweet discourse flowed from his mouth in an unceasing, enthralling torrent . . !

Then at midnight, or after, the Elder went home alone with his staff in every kind of storm and cold weather; no one accompanied him on the slippery rocky path; but angels accompanied him and supported him: “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Ps. 90:11). And Christian love warmed him, with which he was penetrated for the salvation of his neighbor.

By such constant conversations and by the prayers of the holy Elder the Lord completely converted me to the true path, and I became a real Christian. For all this I am obliged to Father Herman. He is my true benefactor.

(Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865)

By the prayers of St. Herman and all the saints – may we too share the “Good News”, pray for and help our missionaries.

For those of you that are interested in my book, The Pearl of Great Price, you can go to my author’s website: pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. For a Kindle copy – go to Amazon.

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

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

 

 

 

“Enter into thy closet and shut the door.” Matt. 6:6, The first in a Series on Internal Prayer


St. Veronica

 

Internal Prayer

and

Finding One’s Deep Heart

 

 

 

St. Veronica

When I wrote this post it was my name’s day old calendar!

“Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is.”  St. Dimitri of Rostov

Please join Veronica Hughes, St. Dimitri of Rostov, and Elder Zacharias for the first of several podcasts on the art of prayer and finding one’s deep heart.

Today we will begin our deeper exploration into the art of prayer. Yes, prayer is an art, which like any other art requires diligence and practice for us to master…

My resources for this podcast are:

The Art of Prayer

by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

1. Quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov (1651–1709): one of the most celebrated preachers in the history of the Russian Church. His chief literary work was a great collection of the Lives of the Saints.

2. Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias

So let’s pick up where we left off in our last podcast about levels of knowledge and the way we can deepen our faith, transforming worldly knowledge into spiritual knowledge by following our Lord’s words…

“Enter into thy closet and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6)

“…Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Inner spiritual training begins with the words of Christ, ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret’.(Matt. 6:6)

Man is dual: exterior and interior, flesh and spirit. The outer man is visible, of the flesh; but the inner man is invisible, spiritual– what the Apostle Peter terms… ‘the hidden man of the heart, which is not corruptible,… a meek and quiet spirit’ (1 Pet. 3:4)… the works of the outer man are visible, but those of the inner man are invisible, according to the Psalmist: ‘The inner man and the heart are very deep’…

This is my first mention of what some elders call one’s deep heart – finding Jesus in our heart is one of the primary goals of our prayer life.

Here is what Elder Zacharias says about our finding our heart in Christ:

“…God may well seek man’s heart. But because man uses his freedom wrongly and has become enslaved by so many attachments, God’s grace is prevented from entering man’s heart and dwelling there….”

Part of the purpose of prayer is to draw us away from that first degree of knowledge – worldly attachments and thoughts, then to help us find the strength to turn our will to God and develope a healthy fear of God.

Back to Elder Zacharias

“…And once the fear of God lays hold of our heart, we begin to see how unable we are to pursue a relationship with God.” Veronica again… Why? Until our development of a healthy fear of God moves out of fear of condemnation or punishment and into wanting to please and then love God – there is no possibility for intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is accomplished by means of prayer and love…. Back to Elder Z…

“It is by His grace alone that we are rendered able to pursue a relationship with God… How do we attract the grace of God to help us? Contrition humbles the heart of man and humility opens the heart to receive the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Comforter, which is man’s only true consolation…. (Vs worldly consolation, which is temporary and part of the first degree of knowledge we spoke of in our last 2 podcasts) …the Holy Spirit then provokes man’s heart to contrition… It melts the mountains of impurity that sit upon the heart. It breaks the rocks of the hardness of man’s inner being, and helps him to find his ‘deep heart’.

How might this finding of one’s deep heart come about? So man undergoes a primordial ‘earthquake’ when he suffers such trials as are necessary to teach him that one thing alone is needful–the discovery of his heart.”  And I will add – for in the heart we find God. Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love. 

In continuation of our study about our regeneration by grace, here we see again repeated the necessity of the fear of God – not just for discovering faith, but for finding our heart in Christ, as well as contrition, which melts our heart and makes it receptive to God. When entering our closet to pray, the awareness of both help to focus our minds in our heart.

Back to St. Dimitri…

“Training, then, must be twofold, outer and inner: outer in reading books, inner in thoughts of God; outer in love of wisdom, inner in love of God; outer in words, inner in prayer; outer in keenness of intellect, inner in warmth of spirit; outer in technique, inner in vision…

Both internal and external have a place when used to support our relationship with God vs the acquisition of worldly knowledge. Our strivings for attracting the grace of the Holy Spirit come through acquiring the virtues. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the most important striving we must have.

Prayer is likewise twofold, exterior and interior. There is prayer made openly, and there is secret prayer; I will add that the secret prayer most recommended is the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.’… prayer with others and solitary prayer; prayer undertaken as a duty and prayers that are voluntarily offered. Prayer as a duty, performed openly according to Church rules, in company with others, has its own times: the Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours, the Liturgy, Vespers and Compline.

Voluntary prayer, which is in secret on the other hand, has no fixed time, being made whenever you wish, without bidding, simply when the spirit moves you… Though I will add that most elders recommend a structure for our inner prayer during specific times of the day to start to develop the practice of unceasing prayer mentioned by St. Paul.

The first kind is performed aloud by the lips and voice, the second only in spirit. Once more I will also add here that many elders recommend beginning our practice of the Jesus Prayer aloud at first. The first is performed standing, the second, not only standing or walking, but also lying down, and in a word, always–whenever you happen to raise your mind to God.

This is very good news for those of us with infirmities or age related challenges. What do we do when we cannot go to Church as often as we would like or stand to do our prayers… we do them however we can and whenever we can. My internal prayer life has replaced my external attendance in Church, which has turned out to be such a blessing!

The first, made in the company with others … but the second is performed when you are alone in the shut closet, according to the word of the Lord.

The closet is twofold, outer and inner, material and spiritual: the material place is of wood or stone, the spiritual closet is the heart or mind…. Therefore the material closet remains always fixed in the same place, but the spiritual one you carry with you and you wherever you go. Wherever a man is, his heart is always with him, so having collected his thoughts inside his heart, he can shut himself in and pray to God in secret, whether he be talking or listening, whether among few people or many… All that is necessary is to raise your mind to God, and descend deep into yourself, and this can be done everywhere… according to the Gospel words of Christ himself: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17:21). Explaining this text, St. Markarios of Egypt writes: ‘The heart is a small vessel, but all things are contained in it; God is there, the angels are there, and there also is life in the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace.’

Our new frontier in our regeneration by grace is the discovery of our deep heart! How inspiring!

Man needs to enclose himself in the inner closet of his heart more often than he need go to church: and collecting all his thoughts there, he must place his mind before God, praying to Him in secret with all warmth of spirit and with living faith.”

I want to add that many of us must first do our prayers more externally – those of us that are converts or returning to the Church – for that is where we begin our work in reestablishing our communion with God through confession and Holy Communion. Once a solid foundation of regular church attendance has been formed, the Lord will call us to a deeper level of prayer.

Thank you St. Dimitri and Elder Zacharias! Our next podcast will focus on practical steps to take to anchor our prayer life in the loving union with God.

God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

 

Faith and Illumination, airing June 18th on OCN


IMG_0591

 

 

Faith and Illumination

The Holy Spirit has descended!

From heaven to earth!

 

 

 

 

 

In this second podcast about Faith, during the season of Holy Spirit, we will explore the relationship between faith and illumination, our regeneration in grace, and our second baptism.

My resources for this podcast are:

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue

Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias

Fr. George Calciu

 

Let’s start with St. Nickolai:

‘Awake, thou that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’

(Eph. 5:14).

“The holy Apostle Paul, in common with all the other Christian apostles and saints, teaches all that he teaches from personal experience. For the Christian, faith is experience, not theory or human sophistry.”

We cannot convince people of our faith, rather as Fr. George Calciu, who spent 17 years in Romanian prisons says, “I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

“Paul had lain as one spiritually asleep. He was dead in spirit while he opposed the Christian faith. But he awoke and got up and, with a risen spirit, was illumined by Christ. He could see himself in the time when he fell into spiritual sleep, then in the time when he awoke, then when he got up, then when he rose in spirit and finally when he was illumined by Christ…

The illumining of Christ is necessary to a man at the beginning as well as at the end. For, without Christ illumining, he cannot awaken or get up or rise from the dead, as neither can he later by himself live in faith or die in hope… the apostle himself received the illumining of Christ at the beginning, on the road to Damascus, then later again. The first illuminating brought him to Christ and the second established him in Christ. We all receive the first illumining at baptism, and the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord.”

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 30th

Here St. Nickolai is referring to our second baptism, our regeneration by grace: the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord. Fulfilling our part – is what draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to us, to allow our love of Christ to help us fight against our passions and be obedient and humble.

Back to St. Nickolai:

“The heart is apparently a small organ, but God can abide in it. And when God abides in it, it is filled to overflowing and nothing else can stand in it. If, however, the whole world were to dwell in it, without God, it would remain empty. My brethren, let Christ the risen and living Lord dwell in your hearts by faith, and your hearts will be filled to overflowing. For he can in no other way abide in your hearts other than by your faith. If you have no faith, Christ will remain only on your tongue or on paper, or on the wall or in a museum.”

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 21

Are there some of you that struggle with “let Christ dwell in our hearts”? I did for years.

How I prayed for years to understand “let Christ dwell in our hearts” I still struggle with keeping the fire of my faith and love for Christ before me.

Here is what Elder Zacharias says about acquiring Faith and Christ in our hearts:

“This wonderful account shows clearly how the mind of man gradually ascends to true knowledge of God once he accepts the word of Christ. First he discovers the divine power of this word and his faith is strengthened.”

Believing in the words of Christ written in the gospels and by his eye-witnesses, the apostles, opens our hearts to illumination by the Holy Spirit – often when we least expect it… Then our faith is strengthened.”

“He then accepts the truth of Christ–God, being guided by right doctrine.”

We must entreat God and his Saints to help us accept this Truth if we as of yet do not fully grasp it or lose it frequently. We must continue to ‘fight the good fight’ with our fallen nature and allow God to cleanse our nous – our spiritual inner eye…

“His inner eye is cleansed and he begins to see clearly with Whom he is in contact. Light spreads throughout his soul until his heart is flooded with the divine light of the Sun of Righteousness. He becomes a child of the day, for the Daystar has risen in his heart. He is then united to God and worships Him in spirit and in truth. With his whole heart he worships this God who has honored him with His grace, knowing that He alone is the one true God and Savior of the world.”

Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias

This is the reward of our labors.

Our Lord has Risen! He has Ascended! And He has sent His Holy Spirit to us! How wonderful it is to share this joy with our neighbors – this Light in the darkness of our fallen world.

In this after season of the Holy Spirit following Christ’s Resurrection, let’s turn to Fr. George Calciu again to help us understand how to share our Faith in the Risen Lord:

“Christ is Risen! In truth He is Risen! This is the single argument we have for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can invoke the information of the Bible: to the unfaithful it means nothing. We can speak from the Holy Fathers; again it is nothing to them. Therefore it was enough for me to say in front of the colonel, ‘Christ is Risen!’ We need no other proof. Because of just trying to prove to the colonel that Jesus really rose from the dead, I felt something wrong in my orientation. Since then I gave up trying to give proofs to the guards or to the inmates, the criminals. I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

The convicts sent to murder Fr. Calciu found themselves converted, kneeling, weeping in their cell while Fr. Calciu was serving Divine Liturgy bathed in Uncreated Light!

Let us go forth with the Light of Christ we faithfully hold in our hearts. O Holy Spirit purify and illumine our hearts, and deepen our faith.

In Christ,

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

Faith vs. Knowledge Part 1, Podcast Airing on OCN, July 2nd


" I have lifted up my eyes to the mountain where comes my help. My help comes from the Lord Who made heaven and earth.

Mt Lassen

 

 Faith vs. Knowledge

Part I

Why is it so challenging sometimes to have faith?

What does worldly knowledge

have to do with our lack of faith?

Let’s find out!

 

 

 

 

I am so inspired about our podcast today! When my husband read Homily 52 by St. Isaac the Syrian to me about a year ago I felt as if the Lord had given me an answer to multiple pleas and prayers. I had been struggling for years to understand how to have faith – especially with regards to my health issues and my spiritual life. Reading and re-reading this homily has changed my life!

Wonderful is God in his Saints! Let us begin our study of Faith vs. Knowledge from St. Isaac the Syrian…

“It is well known that knowledge cannot exist without investigation… But faith requires a way of thinking that a single, limpidly pure and simple, far removed from any deviousness or invention of methods… This should be a clear tip off to us that we are not in the right frame of mind, not present to faith when our thinking becomes too complicated, worldly solution oriented and logical. The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart.

Knowledge keeps within the boundaries of nature (St. Isaac is referring to our earthly/scientific nature here) in all its paths; but faith makes its journey above nature. (Faith is part of our spiritual nature.) Knowledge (what we understand in a worldly context) does not allow itself to experience anything that is ruinous to nature (this means anything that is a leap of faith, requires stepping out of what we know and putting our faith in the providence of God), and it keeps far away from it; but faith readily submits itself to this and says, ‘Upon the asp and the basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and the dragon.’ Faith is fearless!

Fear accompanies knowledge; but confidence accompanies faith. The more a man journeys in the pathways of knowledge, the more he is shackled by fear and cannot be found worthy of freedom from it; but he who follows faith straightway becomes a free man and a ruler of himself, and as a son of God he freely wields all things with authority…

When I read this for the first time how my heart leapt! Of course we can surmount our earthly sorrows and struggles if we put our faith in Christ! I understood that my fears are based not only on my past, but, in what I have learned in the world to survive, which does not support the life of my spirit.

But knowledge can do nothing without matter. Knowledge is not so bold as to attempt anything that has not been given to nature. How so? The liquid nature of water cannot support upon its back the footsteps of a body; the man who comes too close to fire burns himself; and whosoever should rashly oppose nature in this fashion brings himself into peril… But faith transgresses them with authority, saying: ‘If thou go through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, and the rivers shall not overflow thee.’ Faith has many times worked such things before the eyes of all creation…

Christ walked on water, He and is Saints have healed countless people, Christ fed 5,000 with only a few loaves and fishes, and more… He fed and healed their soul.

If knowledge were given the opportunity to attempt such things, it would in no wise be persuaded. (This is where I hear myself saying, “You cannot do this Veronica because of this and that…. Just what the devil wants me to think and believe, but it is not true. I can choose to not listen to this voice that has spoken to me for years.) For it is by faith that men have entered into the flames and bridle the burning power of the fire, walking unharmed as the midst thereof, and they have trodden upon the back of the sea as on dry land. All these are above nature and opposed to the ways and means of knowledge….

Do you see how faith has shaken the foundations of knowledge and proven it futile in all its ways and laws? Do you see how knowledge keeps within the limits of nature? Do you see how faith passes above nature in traveling on the pathway of its journey? Yes! This is why Christ came to earth!

The ways and means of knowledge governed the world for a little more or less than 5000 years, and man was in no wise able to raise his head from the earth and perceive the power of his Creator. For this was not until our faith shone forth and freed us from the gloom of earthly labors and futile slavery that seeks fruitless distraction.

How much time have I spent in my life with fruitless distractions – to take me away from the pain of my seeming failures or disappointments in life? Am I not ready to focus my mind and heart on something higher? Yes!

There is no knowledge that is not needy, however rich it might be; but heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith. The man whose heart is upheld by the confidence of faith will never be in want; and when he has nothing, by faith he possesses all, as it is written: ‘All things whatever you shall ask in prayer, ye shall receive’, and again, ‘The Lord is at hand, have care for nothing.’”

So let us now go to Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom to further help our spiritual understanding of what St. Isaac is saying to us…

Let us return to our starting point on faith, the fear of the Lord….

 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, says the wise Solomon, and the Fathers agree. And I say to you, ‘Blessed and thrice blessed is the man that fears the Lord.’ (Ps.111:1) (When a person truly fears God and has dedicated his life to God – he knows that God is capable of working anything in his life, especially that which is beyond our understanding, for that person trusts and knows God in his heart. He believes that God is greater than his mind. I am still working on this one!)

From this divine fear, faith in God is born. Then a person believes wholeheartedly that since he has completely dedicated himself to God, God intern assumes all solicitude for him… So when this faith takes root, that kind of knowledge is completely abolished which gives rise to doubt about everything, decreases faith, and many times eliminates it (for it has nature on its side, since we were brought up with it). But once faith is victorious after many trials, it turns and gives birth to spiritual knowledge, or rather is given as a gift, which does not oppose faith, but flies with its wings and explores the depths of the mysteries. And these two: faith and knowledge, knowledge and faith, are thence forth inseparable sisters.

Elder Joseph is reminding us that we have many trials to endure for the acquisition of faith – so take courage – our sufferings have a purpose!

If you leave everything to God, behold that you have acquired faith, and certainly, without a doubt, you will have Him as your helper. So even if you are tried 1 million times and Satan tempts you in order to dull your faith, choose death 1 million times and do not comply with human knowledge. And in this manner the door of mysteries will open. Then you will marvel that although you were formerly bound with the chains of human knowledge, now you fly above the earth with divine wings and breathe another air of freedom, which others lack.

Conversely if you see that human knowledge reigns in you, and if at the slightest danger you lose your head in despair, know that you still lack faith. Therefore, you do not yet have all your hope in God, and do not yet trust that He is able to save you from every evil. Take care to correct yourself here, as we have said, so that you are not deprived of such a great good.” Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom

May we pray to St. Issac and Elder Joseph to help us learn to surmount our worldly knowledge and acquire faith!

God bless you,

Veronica

Link to the first part of the full text of Homily 52

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

First of two podcast on Obedience and Humility, airing May 7th on OCN


Part I – Obedience

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

 

 

 

 

 

When researching for this podcast I realized that I could not talk about humility without first speaking about obedience, for according to many of the Holy Fathers, from obedience comes humility.

“Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for all walks of life

What does St. Paul say about this dynamic duo?

“And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.” Phil. 2:8

In this season of rejoicing, let us reflect on the obedience and humility of Our Lord, which freed us from sin and death, which allowed us to be resurrected in Him.

The key to unlocking our regeneration is grace hinges on these two virtues, for grace will not come to us if either obedience or humility is missing.

My resources for this:

  • My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim
  • Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life by Archmandrite Vassilious Papavassilios
  • The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus

The Fruits of Obedience

My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

“Francis (the future Elder Joseph) and Father Arsenios behaved like angels towards their elders. They prepared the food, clean the house, and did whatever was necessary with joy and love. In fact, they even try to foresee what the elders would need in order to please them more. They had so much reverence for those old monks that they were even more obedient to them than children to their real parents. For this is the true meaning of obedience: to remove your ego from the center of your soul and to place God and your elder there…

For many of us who do not have an elder, our elder come in the form of those around us– our daily obedience’s – to our spouses, parents, pastors, teachers and employers with joy and love.

…It was not long before they saw the fruits of their obedience. Because of their obedience, it was natural that they found great ease in prayer. In this way, Francis realized from his own experience why the holy Fathers praised holy obedience….

Isn’t that amazing! They found great ease in prayer due to their obedience! Elder Ephrim also commented that when he first became a novice he was quite ill with beginning stages of TB. He understood though that by keeping perfect obedience if he died he would go directly to heaven! Therefore, he was not concerned about dying.

…Ever since then, Francis held holy obedience as the foremost virtue. He emphasized no other virtue more than this one. In fact, he later wrote to someone: ‘Personally, I have never seen anything more comforting in my soul than perfect obedience.’…

When Papa–Ephraim was an old man, he recollected the good old days and said: ‘O, blessed obedience! What can I tell you? When I was under obedience, I had a special kind of grace, a different kind of prayer. It was as if I were flying, for prayer springs from obedience–not obedience from prayer. Be obedient for now, and later you will acquire grace.’…

…Elder Joseph told us: ‘When a person is obedient to an elder, it doesn’t matter if the command is wrong; it will turn out well for him simply because he is being obedient. It doesn’t matter who his elder is. What good did it do Judas that he had Christ? None! … What good did it do Adam, who was in paradise, and his ‘elder’ in a sense was God? None, because he was disobedient.”

“When Grace comes to a man, it makes him God. But when it departs from him, then he is ready to fall into every heresy, every delusion, every moral deviation, and even damnation. Everything is supported by the grace of God. But Grace also has its requirements before it will dwell in man. It seeks his good intentions, his willpower, and his struggle. Together with grace, man becomes an angel. Without grace, he deviates and becomes a demon.” St. John Climacus

I know this from experience with my husband and parents. In times of great stress – when I trusted in their instructions and followed them – when I was obedient to their wishes, in spite of my fears and thoughts, things worked out in a marvelous manner – far better than I could have imagined.

From Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life

Step 4 – Obedience

“…The virtue of obedience is rooted not in fearful pragmatism, but in humility. True obedience, like true love, cannot be forced–it must be free. Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection…

…From obedience comes humility… and from humility comes discernment. (St. John Cassian, Conference 2.)

Take courage from this. For few are able to do something as basic and simple as to obey, then you are already on your way to learning one of the greatest and highest virtues of all: humility. People may think obedience is for children. They are right! No one is as humble as a little child. Thus no one practices obedience better than infants. Let us remember what we said in chapter 1: Children are the greatest example of what God wants us to be…

Obedience to God

It may seem blindingly obvious, but we are obedient, above all, to God. And this is expressed not only in keeping his commandments, but also in the action of prayer. Only an obedient heart can truly pray, for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us. Furthermore only a humble person can really pray, because only when we are humble do we not rely wholly on our own judgments, actions, and capabilities….

The root of the word obedience come from French, obieir or Latin, oboedire: to hear or to listen to. It is only though our obedience – that we can eventually hear God in our heart.

…for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us.

…If our obedience is sincere, it bestows upon us the peace from above. If we practice it ungrudgingly (even if we do not like what we have been asked to do), we will find inner stillness and ‘the peace of God, which passes all understanding’. Phil. 4:7

Obedience in Marriage

Obedience is part and parcel not only of monastic life, but also of married life. Husband and wife are subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). They are not to seek their own will, but must subject themselves to the will of the other, for they are no longer two independent individuals, but one flesh. No marriage can work if the two do not sacrifice their own wills in loving obedience.

How well I know this after 27 years of marriage to my dear, patient husband! Until we made being obedient to God our first priority, we could not become obedient to each other. Our prayer life has helped us to trust each other and to trust that we can place our obedience with love in each other if our trust is first in God. This came out of many struggles….

St. John Climacus

For obedience is entirely foreign to the hypocrisy and one’s own will.

Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility.

Stay tuned for our next podcast on humility…

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

The first building block of our regeneration by Grace is Love, Podcast 4/2/2014 on OCN


Moon Rise over Mt Lassen from our cabin

Moon Rise over Mt Lassen from our cabin

PODCAST 4/2/14 – ABOUT LOVE

For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that does not love, does not know God, for God is love. (John 4: 7-8)

A summary of my commentary:

The first essential building block in our efforts to be cooperative with God in the process of our transformation by grace is LOVE. We are born in the Spirit when we are received into the Church. We are born into Love. We know from the saints that our conversion in the Spirit begins and ends with love. In order for our conversion in the Spirit, our second baptism, to be an active force in our life, one needs to turn his or her will with love towards God. Unless our will comes into motion and is redirected towards God, there is no conversion. Our will is fickle and not to be trusted unless it is directed towards God with love.

At some point in our life as an adult, we have the opportunity to re-choose and embrace our first baptism. This is where our will comes into play – what gives God permission to help us to heal and transform by His grace is our choice to walk with Him in love in the Church. Our task is to find the way to enter into the light of Christ. Whoever loves Christ and other people truly lives life.

… to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness; when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness. Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10) in this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love and in the perfection of love defines its own fulfillment.

May God be merciful and guide us through our loving cooperation with His will.

In Christ,

Veronica

St. Sinceltike, The Great Synaxaristes, Celebrated Jan 5th

(The sayings of this holy mother, a nun and later abbess of a convent she founded, were written by St. Anthanasius the Great. It is thought that she aided the saint when in exile while he lived in a well for six years.)

“First we must preserve what was revealed by the grace of God: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they soul, and they neighbor as thyself’ (Lk. 10:17).

These two commandments are the summit of the law, and upon them rests all the fullness of grace. These words are few, but great and continuous is their power because all that is good and beneficial to the soul hangs on these two commandments.

According to the testimony of the divine Paul, ‘ the end of the commandment is love’ (1 Tim 1:5). Whatever useful words have been spoken, according to the grace of the Holy Spirit, they commence with love and they conclude with love. Therefore, salvation is this twofold love. I must, however, add what each of us knows. We must always desire to possess love, which is the greatest virtue of all.”

Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh

We cannot partake deeply in the life of God unless we change profoundly. It is therefore essential that we should go to God in order that He should transform and change us, and that is why, to begin with, we must all become converts. Conversion in Latin and Hebrew means a turn, a change in the direction of things. The Greek word … means a change of mind.

Conversion means that instead of spending our lives looking in all directions, we should follow one direction only. It is a turning away from a great many things that we know are ultimately not good for us. The first impact of conversion is to modify our sense of values: God being at the center of all, everything acquires a new position and a new depth. All that is God’s; all that belongs to Him is positive and real. Everything that is outside of him ultimately has no value or meaning.

But it is not change of mind alone that we can call conversion. We can change our minds and go no further: what must follow is an act of will and unless our will comes into motion and is redirected towards God, there is no conversion; at most there is only an incipient, still dormant and inactive change in us.”

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, Jan 29th

Oh my brethren, our will is as elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp; let us not follow it and perish. But let us follow the will of the Lord who loves mankind, who alone knows what is best for us.

Elder Prophyrios, Wounded by Love

“He who loves little, gives little. He who loves more, gives more. And he who loves beyond measure, what has he to give? He gives himself!

Our task is to find the way to enter into the light of Christ…  The essence of the matter is for us to be with Christ; for our soul to wake up and to love Christ and become holy; to abandon herself to divine eros. Thus He too will love us. Then the joy will be inalienable. That is what Christ wants most of all, to fill us with joy, because he is the wellspring of joy….  Whoever loves Christ and other people truly lives life.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki, The Philokalia, #89 

Part II

“…In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile. Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness; when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness.

Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10) in this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love and in the perfection of love defines its own fulfillment. “

“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