Tag Archives: Eastern Orthodox

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

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


IMG_0271

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

The Dance Between Temptations and Grace, Part II, Airing on OCN beginning of November


IMG_0389

“For it is absolutely necessary for the grace of God to leave, once a tried struggler has acquired a good taste of it in the beginning, so that he may be tested and become a practiced soldier in Christ.” Elder Joseph

My last few podcasts have focused on fighting our spiritual battles as members of the Church Militant on earth. We wage our spiritual war against unseen forces through the temptations that God sends our way to test us. Understanding the necessity temptations, accepting that they are part of our life as Christians is essential – otherwise we cannot attract the grace of God to help us win our spiritual battles. Grace is withdrawn and returned to us – Why? Elder Joseph, Elder Ephraim and St. Nicholai Velomirovic, my resources for this podcast, will explain this mystery to us….

From My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

By Elder Ephraim

‘For it is absolutely necessary for the grace of God to leave, once a tried struggler has acquired a good taste of it in the beginning, so that he may be tested and become a practiced soldier in Christ. And without such temptations, no one has ever ascended to perfection… the grace of God withdraws in order to make us, as we have said, practiced soldiers of war, so that we are not infants forever. But the Lord wants us to become worthy men and brave fighters – able to guard His riches and that is why He allows us to be tempted.’

“We learned from Elder Joseph that temptations require forcefulness and resistance in order for the passions to abate.

Temptations make a person more experienced, so that he is more careful. They make him say, ‘Without God I can do nothing. I can’t even have faith. Did we hear this? How I struggled for years to acquire faith, but I was missing this understanding…. If God wills, I have faith; if he doesn’t, I won’t. If a person can say this with conviction, he is building on rock. If he can’t, he is building on sand. A rock is solid, and not even waves can break it, but sand shifts with the waves and the wind, and the house built on it can collapse. The rock is the awareness that one can do nothing without the power and grace of God. But in order for this rock to be formed, one must go through many trials in life to learn through experience man’s weakness and God’s omnipotence.’

Elder Ephraim…

He inspired us to aim all our pursuits, all our desires, and all our actions towards this goal: to induce grace to come and stay with us. The focus was on grace because only through grace can we succeed in being freed from the ‘old man,’ (Rom. 6:6) and because without grace we will not be able to do anything. As the Lord said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ (John. 15:5)

The primary reason why he emphasized the acquisition of God’s grace so much was because only God’s grace will bring us the love of God, which is our real goal. He proved to us with detailed explanations that there is nothing more worthy for man to occupy himself with then the love of God. Everything else–even virtues–is vanity in comparison with it. The goal and center of Christian life is the love of God.”

So let’s recap the essential lessons Elders Joseph and Ephraim are teaching us about how to attract the grace of God to us:

We are nothing and can do nothing without God – our spiritual life is built upon this rock or our spiritual foundation will not be secure – it will be sand under our feet.

In our weakness we find God’s strength – ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ as St. Paul learned.

We cannot even have faith without God granting it to us – so praying to God to deepen our faith, especially through our trials is what attracts the grace of God to us, carries us through our sufferings and trials and deepens our love of God, which is the goal and center of our Christian life.

I will also repeat what I learned from my research for this set of podcasts:

Our goal is not to seek or pray for an end to our sufferings. Rather, we pray for God’s grace to carry us through our temptations and trials. We strive to trust in God’s wisdom and His timeline. It is our faith in Him, which He gives us, that lifts us up and lightens the burden of our sufferings. Then we can bear our suffering and trials completely differently, for we experience them in Christ and with Him. That is how the martyrs were able to endure their trials.

According to the Saints, who is our strongest aid in our regeneration by Grace – the Mother of God. In honor Mary and the Advent Fast, I will be devoting my next several podcasts to the Mother of God. It is Mary that can help us to prepare the manger of our soul to receive Christ this Nativity. She is the highest example of transformation by grace.

 Now let’s go to St. Nicholai for his commentary on the dance between temptations and grace…

“The love of God, like a fragrant oil, is shed upon our hearts in no other way than by the Holy Spirit, the all-good and all-powerful Spirit. Though we are utterly undeserving of it, the Spirit of God pours the divine law of God into our hearts in the mystery of Chrismation.

But we sometimes neglect this love and estrange ourselves from God by sin and fall into spiritual weakness. And the Holy Spirit, unable to dwell in an unclean vessel, departs from our hearts. When the Holy Spirit departs from us, joy and strength, peace and fortitude depart at once with Him, and we become miserable, and enfeebled, disturbed and afraid.

But the all–good Spirit of God only puts Himself at a distance from us; he does not abandon us completely. He does not abandon us, but rather offers us, as to sick men, medicines through the mysteries of repentance and Holy Communion. It is so important in our modern times to go frequently to both confession and communion. For these sacraments allow us to commune directly with Christ and renew ourselves for the battles we fight. Why? And when we have cleansed ourselves anew by repentance and communion, then God the Holy Spirit makes His abode in us again and pours the love of God into our hearts.

We fall down and get up; we fall down again and get up again. When we fall, the Spirit of God stands beside us and lifts us up, if we desire to be so lifted. And when we are on our feet, the Spirit of God stands with us until, through our sinfulness and stupidity, we fall again. And so we are by turns a fruitful meadow and a wasteland, sons of repentance and of perdition, of fullness and emptiness, of light and darkness.

O all–good Holy Spirit, our God, do not depart from us either when we need Thee or when we do not feel the need of Thee. Abide with us until our death, and save us for life eternal. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue May 24

And to return where we started this podcast…

“He inspired us to aim all our pursuits, all our desires, and all our actions towards this goal: to induce grace to come and stay with us. The focus was on grace because only through grace can we succeed in being freed from the ‘old man,’ (Rom. 6:6) and because without grace we will not be able to do anything. As the Lord said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ (John. 15:5)”

This is exactly what the Mother of God did!!!

Let us begin to ponder the mystery of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit within Mary’s womb – the ultimate attraction of the Grace of God! ‘Hail, Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast born the Savior of our souls.’

In Christ,

Veronica

Podcast on Martyrdom, In support of our persucuted brethren in Christ,


The Holy Macabees

The Holy Macabees

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven.”

“When the military governor wanted to make Marinus the soldier (commemorated August 7th), an officer, an envious man denounced him as a Christian. The governor gave Marinus three hours to think and choose life or death, to deny Christ or to die. Marinus, hearing the words of his superior, went to the local bishop, Theotechnus, to ask his advice. The bishop took him into the church, stood him before the gospel and then, indicating first the Gospel and then the sword that Marinus was wearing, said to him: ‘Choose, brave man, one of these two: either carry a sword and serve the transient king, being lost eternally at your death, or become a soldier of the King of heaven and lay down your life for His holy name, recorded in this book, and reign with Him in immortal life.’ Marinas at once made up his mind, kissed the Holy Gospel and went out–to go through death to life eternal.”

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue, August 8th

This month on OCN we are honoring those being persecuted for Christ’s sake. To help us draw closer to those who have been martyred for the faith in the Middle East I have chosen passages from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church about the Holy Maccabean Martyrs, August 1st.

I was deeply moved by their martyrdom and felt their story and the footnote taken from their account gave the essence of the path of Christian martyrdom. Whether thrust upon a Christian or chosen, this footnote pretty much sums up what we, as Christians believe about martyrdom, and our future life in Christ after death. Martyrdom is considered a good death for a Christian.

The Holy Macabees suffered for their faith in 167 BC at the hands of the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes. Here is a brief summary of their contest:

First the Holy Priest, Eleazar, 90 years old, was tortured and withstood all attempts to tempt him away from God. Then all 7 sons of Solomone Maccabee, one by one were tortured in front of their mother for their faith. Solomone did not weep, but encouraged her sons in their struggle and contest.

When her last son, 3 years old, remained steadfast and refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he was more severely tortured than all his brothers combined and finally thrown into flames. Solomone then threw herself into the flames with her son so as to remain untouched and join her children in life eternal.

What mourning with joy did I feel when I read the full account of their sufferings – as I do when I read about the Christians being persecuted and killed in Iraq and throughout the world. I have the same feelings on Holy Friday. Let us explore further the roots of martyrdom so that we can pray for those being persecuted from the right orientation.

Historical background on the footnote associated with the Holy Macabees:

“The book of Maccabees, the source of their lives, was a series of books relating to events centering around Judas Maccabeus and other heroes and heroines in the Jewish struggle for religious and political freedom. During the third and second centuries before Christ, persecution was unleashed against the Jews by Egyptian and Syrian kings, particularly the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes.

These books of the Maccabees have special characteristics not usually seen in the other books of the Old Testament.

  1. These books show martyrdoms as the substitutionary atonement that expiates nation’s sin and purifies the land: “For they, winning admiration not only from men in general, but even from their persecutors, for their manliness and endurance, became the means of the destruction of the tyranny against their nation, having conquered the tyrant by their endurance, and so that by them their country was purified (1 Macc. 1:11).” “And, the nation through them obtained peace, and having renewed the obervance of the law in their country, drove the enemy out of their land (4 Macc. 18:4).”

As with our Lord, His Death became the means for the destruction of tyranny – so too we see here that Christian martyrdom brings about the destruction of the tyrant, the devil working through men. As with our Savior, His voluntary Death was an atonement for our sins. Thus the martyrs’ sacrifice is intimately connected with a deeper spiritual atonement.

God brings good out of all evil. We, with our worldly eyes cannot see the hidden spiritual battles that are being fought in Iraq or other countries where our brethren are being persecuted. We must hope for our brethren. Their blood is not spilled in vain. Our brethren in the Middle East are suffering in the hallowed grounds of our Jewish forefathers and many countless Saints of the Church.

  1. Martyrs are immediately immortal, received by the Patriarchs, and living in God: they believed, “that to God they die not; for, as our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they live in God (4 Macc. 7:19).”

We must take consolation in our Lord, Christian martyrs receive crowns of victory and are immediately raised to heaven.

  1. Second Maccebees, especially celebrates the deeds of the martyrs, and that the reposed saints pray for us on earth: “Osias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and good man…prayed for the whole body of the Jews. This being done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceedingly glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Osias answered, saying, “This is a lover of the brethren who prayeth for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremias the prophet of God. “Thereupon, Jeremias, holding forth his right hand, gave to Judas Maccabeus a sword of gold. And in giving it spake thus: “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which thou shalt wound the adversaries (2 Macc. 15:11-16).”

The Church triumphant is in heaven praying for all Christians on earth. We are the Church Militant. We are “fighting the good fight”, each of us in our own arena. Therefore…

  1. The living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Judas Maccebeus came up to take the bodies of their men that had been slain, in order to give them a proper burial. He soon discovered that idols were hidden under the coats of the dead: thus, God permitted them to be slain. Judas and his men “Betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides that, noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin. And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering. He did therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favor laid up for those that died godly, it was a holy and good thought. Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin (2 Macc. 12:42-45).”

…the living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin….

We can raise our prayers to God for His holy ones that have died and are suffering. Our prayers make a difference.

They betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Some of those who have died may not be free of sin, so let us pray that God accept their sacrifices and suffering in His Name.

We are mindful of the resurrection…. And that there is great favor laid up for those that die godly.

Each of us has a talent we cannot keep hidden with regards to our suffering brethren in Christ and their family members who are worried beyond worry here in the US and other countries for their loved ones in danger.

Pray To God:

Pray for the strengthening of our brothers and sisters in Christ that are being persecuted as Solomone, the mother of 7 children prayed for her sons and supported them through their trials and torments by her prayers.

Pray for those Christians who cannot flee or choose not to flee the persecutions taking place in Iraq, we need to pray for God to give them courage. Let us pray that their hearts stay connected with their Creator, focusing on the life in Christ to come.

Let us pray for their families abroad that they do not lose hope and can bear the cross now thrust upon them in a Christian manner for the salvation of their souls.

For those fleeing, we need to pray for their safe passage and endurance.

Finally, let us not fall into despair and doubt the wisdom of our Creator, but pray. Let us practice what we have been hearing from the saints regarding interior prayer. Let us bring our minds into our hearts when we fall into despair or anger about our brethren in Christ who are suffering. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Elder Prophoryos says that when we pray the Jesus prayer we are praying for everyone in need.

For those of us who are too sensitive to see the videos or photos, let us refrain from them in order to stay strong in heart for our persecuted ones and their family members.

We are called by God to not hate our enemies, but to pray for them. We are called by God not to harden our hearts in the face of the temptations and trials that assail us.

St. Maximos the Confessor’s life and martyric sufferings were about love. Let us here his moving summation of the path of love:

“ ‘If I have prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains from one place to another, but I have not love, I am nothing. And if I dole out all my goods, and if I deliver up my body that I may be turned, but I have not love, I am being profited nothing. Love is long-suffering (1 Cor. 13:2, 3).’

It is in love that the whole of Christian life is summarized and contained. Love is the preference of God to all creatures, even one’s own body. Fraternal charity or love of neighbor, which is opposed to anger and self-love, advances the communal life of the Church. All are equally loved. It is love that unites one with God and divinizes one. He who is perfect in love and has attained the summit of detachment knows no difference between ‘ mine and thine’, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and free man, or between male and female.’ Having risen up of the tyranny of the passions and looking to nature, in all men, he considers all equally and is disposed equally towards all. For in Christ ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).’ ”

Therefore let us go forth and do violence on the passions that well up in us in support of our suffering brethren. This will be the subject of my next podcast. “The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by Violence.” What is the difference between earthly violence and spiritual violence?

Thank you Holy Macabees and all the saints!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

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


IMG_0591

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 vs. Knowledge Part 2, Podcast airing July 16th on Pearls of Great Price, OCN


 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge

Part 2

It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher…

 

 

What are the distinctions in knowledge; in which degree (when knowledge returns to its primary aim – the spiritual life) it comes into its nature and by its good discipline (fasting, alms, vigils, holiness… love for one’s neighbor, humility of heart, forgiving those who have sinned, recollection of good things, investigation of the mysteries concealed in the Holy Scriptures, the mind’s occupation with good works, the bridling of the soul’s passions, and the rest of such virtues) becomes a stepping–stone for faith…. when it is that knowledge unites with faith and becomes one with it… when it is inflamed by the Spirit, acquiring the wings of dispassion; and when it is exalted above servitude to things earthly into the realm of its Creator?

If only more folks that are into seeking in the New Age and Eastern religions knew about the depth of our faith! That is why I wrote my first book, The Pearl of Great Price. Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of all my seeking thanks to saints like St. Isaac the Syrian. 

“There are three intelligible degrees in which knowledge ascends and descends…. and becomes the cause of either harm or help.

The first degree of knowledge (Common Knowledge):

When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions: wealth; vainglory; honor; adornment; rest of the body; special means to guard the body’s nature from adversities; assiduity in rational wisdom, such as is suitable for the governance of the world and which gushes forth the novelties of inventions, the arts, sciences, doctrines; and all other things which crown the body in this visible world. This is called common knowledge, for it is naked of all concerns for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational importance, and its concern is totally for this world.

It is not that most of us purposely exclude God, but we are so programed by our worldly knowledge that we forget about God. We think our survival is dependent on us! Part of this is true, for we need to work and be responsible in life, but how hard it is to remember that all is created and sustained by God – not us. When in our survival mode…

This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over a man whatsoever, nor any divine care that shelters and takes concerned for him… Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body. Therefore it is appraised to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of the demons, trepidation before men, the rumor of thieves and the report of murders, anxiety over diseases, concern over want and lack of necessities, fear of death, fear of sufferings, of wild beasts, and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea more turbulent by great waves at every hour of the night and day.

When we are thinking in the above manner this should be a clear tip off to us that we have stepped out of connection with God and have fallen into worldly knowledge and concerns without turning to God first.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is planted in this very knowledge. In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer to God.

The second degree of knowledge (the knowledge of actions):

But when knowledge renounces the first degree and turns toward deep reflections on the love of the soul, then it practices the aforementioned good deeds with the help of the soul’s understanding, in co-operation with the senses of the body, in the light of the soul’s nature (this knowledge takes into account the existence of God and the soul). This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age.

We are learning to act for and with God. We are being purified of that knowledge that obstructs faith – memories, beliefs and patterns of behavior that we learned.

But even so, this knowledge is still corporeal and composite; and although it is the road that leads us and speeds us on our way toward faith, yet there remains a degree of knowledge still higher than it. If it goes forward, it will find itself raised up by faith with the help of Christ… it is called the knowledge of actions, because by concrete actions, through the senses of the body, it accomplishes its work on the external level.”

I think that most of us are waging our spiritual battles in the mist of these first two degrees of knowledge. To achieve the third degree of knowledge, St. Isaac says we need to leave the world, but if we have families and work in the world, how can we do so? By entering the closet of our soul in prayer. My next several podcasts will focus on prayer and practical suggestions from the Holy Fathers about how to enter the closet of our soul and find our deep heart in Christ. Then we can begin to access…

The third degree of knowledge, which is the degree of perfection where:

“…knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit… When knowledge is raised above the earthly things and the cares of earthly activities, and its thoughts begin to gain experience in inward matters which are hidden from the eyes; and when in part it scorns the recollections of things (whence the perverseness of the passions arises), and when it stretches itself upward and follows faith in its solicitude for the future age, in its desire for what has been promised us, and in searching deeply into hidden mysteries: then faith itself swallows up knowledge, converts it, and begets it anew, so that it becomes wholly and completely spirit.

The Fathers call these stages natural, supranatural, and contranatural. These are three directions in which the memory of a rational soul travels up or down So long as a man still abides in the nature of the flesh, he is in continual transition from one (state) to another…”

I will add that as the soul travels up and down this journey in faith, we are also simultaneously experiencing purification, illumination and maybe even God given moments of theosis. I know we all would prefer to be done with our struggles, but the challenging news is that for most of us, the process of regeneration by grace will continue until our last breath. That is why we need faith and hope. We can begin to understand the process of regeneration by grace more clearly in hindsight, in God given moments of illumination and consolation we can see what God was teaching us. Then we fall back into our trials and struggles for a time with worldly knowledge and our passions. This is the cycle that is repeated over and over again until our soul is perfected in God.

But we call faith that light which dawns in the soul by grace… This faith manifests itself not by the tradition of the hearing of the ear, but with spiritual eyes it beholds the mysteries concealed in the soul, and the secret and divine riches that are hidden away from the eyes of the sons of the flesh, but are unveiled by the Spirit to those who are brought up at Christ’s table in the study of His laws. He said, ‘If ye keep My Commandments, I will send you the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, and He shall teach you all truth.’

The Comforter shows a man the holy power that dwells within him at every moment, and the protection, of the noetic force that shelters him always and drives away from him all harm, that it should not touch his soul or his body. The luminous and noetic mind visibly perceives this (holy power) with the eyes of faith… This power is the Comforter Himself Who, in the strength of faith, consumes the soul as with fire. The soul then rushes forward, despising every danger because of her trust in God, and on the wings of faith she soars aloft, taking leave of visible creation… she is ever found in the awestruck wonder of solicitude for God…

Thank you St. Isaac of Syria and by your prayers may we too experience the gift of faith.

If you missed my podcast – Part 1 of Homily 52 – I encourage you to listen to it when you have the chance.

Here is the Link to the second half of the full text of Homily 52

May 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