Tag Archives: faith

Part 2 on Spiritual Violence, airing on OCN Oct. 22


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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11: 12)

St. Ambrose writes: “This is the weapon of a righteous man: to win while retreating, as skilled archers are able, while in retreat, to hit those stronger than themselves.”

What are the arrows we aim at our adversaries?

“Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. ” “We bless them because we must consider them our benefactors. For anyone who persecutes us and puts us to the test, lightens the punishment that we will suffer for our own sins. We will also bless them when God gives us the great crown of the contest.”(Matt. 5: 44–45)

Blessed Theophylact, The Gospel of St. Matthew

What are our shields and armor?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The whole armor of God is: ‘Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh.’ (Rom. 13:14), following the commandments of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Rom. 13:9-10) By doing so we draw the grace of God to us.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our enemies are our sinful thoughts, our envy, strife and fears, which cause the grace of God to withdraw from us – leaving us open to the attacks of the cunning one. ‘let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light’. (Rom. 13:12)

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand honestly in our good works for love of God and neighbor, in our faith and love.

Stand therefore, having your loins girth about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereonto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints;

And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6: 10-19)

Let us turn now to St. John Chrysostom for his interpretation of parts of this passage:

“As the word has power to do all things, so also has he who has the spiritual gift. For ‘the word of God’, he says, ‘is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword’ (Heb 4:12)… By ‘the word of God in this place’, he means on the one hand the ordinances of God, or the word of command, on the other hand that it is in the name of Christ. For if we keep his commandments, with these we will kill and slay the dragon himself, the crooked serpent (Is. 27:1)… ‘With all prayer and supplication’, … Do not limit it I say to certain times of the day, for hearing what he is saying: approach at all times, ‘prayer without ceasing’ .” (Thess. 5:17).

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on Ephesians 6

We change the world through the act of living and sharing the Gospel by and through our presence. God makes use of his witnesses, his saints, and our efforts to live as Christians to bring forth change in others. Others see our light with the eyes of their soul. Some are drawn to it and some react and flee from it. However small, our efforts to change ourselves in Christ will bear fruit in God’s time and providence. Why do we even make the effort? Why do some risk their lives for the gospel? “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for those that love Him.” (Isa. 64:4)

So let up put on our amour of light in Christ and be a witness to those around us.

Finally, here is a story of a modern martyr and witness for Christ:

“Night after night for three years, Jamil endured the same abuse. Different groups of men–leaders of a local Islamic group–came to his home and took turns beating him. In their eyes, he was an infidel, in his small central Asian village, and he was leading others astray from Islam.

Jamil was raised in a moderate Muslim family, but his older brother adopted more radical beliefs when serving a prison sentence. Jamil’s curiosity was piqued by his brother’s views, so he began his own search for spiritual truth. During his studies, he met Christians who shared the gospel with him. Jamil knew he had found the one true God, and he turned his back on Islam for good.

He immediately began sharing the gospel, leading his Islamist brother to Christ as well as three other siblings. He planted four house churches before his church sent him as a missionary to a village composed entirely of Muslims.

Jamil shared the gospel as he worked to support his family. News of his Christian faith quickly spread among the villagers, and they soon decided that he had to be stopped. That’s when the nightly beatings began. They couldn’t allow infidels in their village.

One night as the leaders of the local Islamic group were leaving on a hunting trip, they barged into Jamil’s home at dinnertime to deliver their nightly beating. And this time they were hungry. Turning to Jamil’s wife one of the men gruffly said, “You cook for us!” They sat on the floor around the table looking at her as if they were daring her to refuse their demand. Jamil’s wife looked questioningly at her husband, hoping Jamil would tell her what to do. “Cook for them.”, he told her.

Jamil’s wife dutifully prepared the meal and served the men who had beaten her husband. As they ate, Jamil saw his opportunity and began to share the gospel with them. He knew that sharing the Gospel could lead to more beatings or even worse the beating of his son and possibly his wife. As the men finished their meal, Jamil ended his gospel presentation by saying, “May God bless your hunt.”

The men were astonished. “We came here to eat your food and beat you, but now we cannot,” said the leader. “We will leave you in peace.”

Jamil and his wife were stunned at their response as they push back from the table and left the house.

Days later, the leader of the group invited Jamil to his home to share the Gospel with his family. As the villagers observed all that happened the Gospel began to make headway.”

Voice of the Martyrs, September 2014

This moving story sums up our life as Christians and how we fight our spiritual battles for Christ armed with the Gospel, repentance, humility, prayer and love we find our courage in Christ.

Let us pray for Jamil, his family and all those who are suffering for Christ’s sake throughout the world.

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

 

“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

Part 2 of Homily 52 by St. Issac the Syrian, the degrees of knowledge


Rainbow from our upper deck

 

 

 

 

 

No matter how many times I read Homily 52, especially concerning the degrees of knowledge, I am reminded how captured I am by what I know and how challenging, yet fulfilling and inspiring staying connected to one’s faith is by comparison.

What I know is so ingrained in my being! Lord have mercy!  Glory to God and His Saints! Who we are is not what we know according to the world, but what God has blessed us to know by His grace.

In Christ,

Veronica

Homily 52, Part II, by St. Issac the Syrian

Question:  Whom does he resemble that has been deemed worthy to taste the sweetness of faith but afterwards turns again to unspiritual knowledge?

Answer:   He resembles the man who has found a pearl of great price and exchanges it for a copper obol, who has abandoned self–sufficient freedom and turned to the ways of destitution, filled with fear and slavery.

It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher; and if we find fault, it is not knowledge that we blame. Far be it! Rather it is to distinguish the erring modes by which it goes against nature, and how it becomes kindred to the orders of the demons–which distinctions we shall clearly make hereafter; and how many steps there are in which knowledge journeys; what is the difference in each of them; by what conceptions it is awakened in each mode when it abides therein; in which of these modes (when it walks therein) it opposes faith and goes forth outside of nature; what are the distinctions in knowledge; in which degree (when knowledge returns to its primary aim) it comes into its nature and by its good discipline becomes a stepping–stone for faith; and how far the distinctions of its degree reaches; how it passes from these modes to higher ones; which are the modes of that other degree that is first in honor; when it is that knowledge unites with faith and becomes one with it and from it receives the vesture of fiery intellections; 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, with the aid of other modes. But for the moment it is suitable that we should know only that faith and its working is higher than knowledge.

Knowledge is perfected by faith and acquires the power to ascend on high, to perceive that which is higher than every perception, and to see the radiance of Him that is incomprehensible to the mind and to the knowledge of created things. Knowledge is a step whereby a man can climb up to the lofty heights of faith; and when a man has reached faith, he no longer has need of knowledge. ‘Now,’ it is said, ‘we know in part and we noetically perceive in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.’ Faith, therefore, now shows us, as it were before our eyes, the reality of that future perfection. It is by our faith that we learn those things that cannot be comprehended, not by the investigation and power of knowledge.

These are the works of righteousness; fasting, alms, vigil, holiness, and the rest of such works performed by the body. 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, are performed in the soul-all these require knowledge, for knowledge guards and teaches their order. All these are known as virtues, but they are still only steps by which the soul ascends to the more lofty height of faith.

The way of life proper to faith is more exalted than the working of virtue, and it is not labor, but perfect rest, consolation, words in the heart, and it is accomplished by the intellections of the soul. All these wondrous modes of spiritual discipline–the practice of which in the spiritual life is awareness, delight, fruition of the soul, burning love, joy in God, and the rest–and whatsoever things in this discipline are bestowed upon the soul accounted worthy of the grace of that yonder blessedness, and whatsoever things are subtly indicated in the Divine Scriptures, all these things are accomplished through faith by God, Who is boundless in His gifts.

A difficulty:  But if any says, if all these good things, and the aforementioned works of virtue, the abstention from evils, the discernment of those subtle thoughts that sprout up in the soul, the battle with thoughts, the struggle with the inciting passions, and the rest of such things which even faith itself cannot manifest its power in the soul’s actions–if it is knowledge that accomplishes all these good things, then how can knowledge be considered to be opposed to faith?

Solution:   We say that there are also three intelligible degrees in which knowledge ascends and descends, and according to the variation of the modes wherein it walks, it submits to change and becomes the cause of either harm or help. There are three degrees: body, soul, and spirit. And although knowledge is single in its nature, yet it becomes more gross and more subtle and changes its provisions and the activities of its conceptions in relation to the noetic and sensible realms. So hearken and learn the order of its activity and causes whereby it harms or helps. Knowledge is a gift bestowed by God on the nature of rational beings in their very creation. It is naturally simple and undivided, even as the light of the sun: but according to its activity, knowledge undergoes changes and additions.

On the first degree of 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 crowned the body in this visible world. Among the properties of this knowledge belong those that are opposed to faith, which we have stated an enumerated above. 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 and irrational importance, and its concern is totally for this world.

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. It takes no account of God’s providential governance; but on the contrary, it attributes to a man’s diligence and his methods every good thing in him, his rescue from what harms him, his natural ability to avert the plights and many adversities that secretly and manifestly accompany our nature.

This degree of knowledge presumes that all things are by its own providence, like those men who assert that there is no divine governance of visible things. 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. For knowledge does not know how to cast its care upon God through the confident trust of faith in Him; wherefore in all things that concern it, it is constantly engaged in devising devices and clever contrivances. But when in some instance the modes of its contrivances prove fruitless, it strives with men as though they hindered and opposed it, since it does not see in this the mystical hand of providence.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is planted in this very knowledge. It investigates the minute faults of other men and the causes thereof, and their wickednesses; and it arms a man for stubbornly upholding his opinion, for disputation, and aids him in cunningly employing devices and crafty machinations and other means, which dishonor a man. 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.

Faith, however, attributes its works to grace. For this reason it cannot be lifted up with pride, as it is written: ‘Not I, but the grace of God which was with me’; and also, ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ which the blessed Apostle said of this same knowledge, since it is not mingled with faith and hope in God, but he said it concerning true knowledge, far be it!

By humility, true knowledge makes perfect the soul of those who have acquired it, like Moses, David, Esaias, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the saints who have accounted been worthy of this perfect knowledge to the degree possible for human nature. And by diverse theorias and divine revelations, by the lofty vision of spiritual things and by ineffable mysteries and the like, their knowledge is swallowed up at times, and in their own eyes they reckon their souls to be dust and ashes.

But that other knowledge is puffed up, even as is meet, since it walks in darkness and values that which belongs to it by comparison with things of earth, and it knows not that there is something better than itself. And so all (who claim to such knowledge) are seized by the uplifting of pride, because they measure their discipline according to the standard of the earth in the flesh, they rely upon their works, and their minds do not enter into in comprehensible matters.

But as many as reflect upon the waves of the glorious splendor of the Godhead, and whose labor is on high, their minds do not turn aside with interventions and vain thoughts. For those who walk in the light cannot go astray, and for this reason all those who have strayed from the light of the knowledge of the Son of God, have turned away from the truth, journey in these pathways just mentioned.

This is the first degree of knowledge; in it a man follows the desire of the flesh. We find this knowledge blameworthy and declare it to be opposed not only to faith, but to every working of virtue.

On the second degree of knowledge:

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. These deeds are: fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the divine Scripture, the modes of virtue, battle with the passions, and the rest. For all these good things, all the various excellences seen in the soul and the wondrous means that are employed for serving in Christ’s court in the second degree of knowledge, are made perfect by the Holy Spirit through the action of its power. This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age.

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, that is, when it has laid the foundation of its action on seclusion from men, reading of the Scriptures, prayer, and other good works by which the second degree of knowledge is made perfect. It is by this knowledge that all that is excellent is performed; indeed, 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.

On the third degree of knowledge, which is the degree of perfection:

Here now how a knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit, then comes to resemble the life of the unseen hosts which perform their liturgy not by the palpable activity of works, but through the activity accomplished in the meditation of the understanding. 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.

Then it can soar on wings in the regions of the bodiless and touch the depths of the unfathomable sea, musing upon the wonders and divine workings of God’s governance of noetic and corporeal creatures. It searches our spiritual mysteries that are perceived by this simple and subtle understanding. Then the inner senses awakened for spiritual doing, according to the order that will be in the immortal and incorporeal life. For even from now it has received, as it were in a mystery, the noetic resurrection as a true witness of the universal renewal of all things.

These are the three degrees of knowledge wherein is brought together a man’s whole course in the body, in the soul, and in the spirit. From the time when man begins to distinguish between good and evil until he takes leave of this world, his soul’s knowledge journeys in these stages. The fullness of all wrong and impiety, and the fullness of righteousness, and the probing of the depths of all the mysteries of the spirit are wrought by one knowledge in the aforementioned three stages; and in it is contained the mind’s every movement, whether the mind ascends or descends in good or in evil, or in things midway between the two.

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, as has been said: when the soul works righteousness in (the confines of) nature, or when through her recollection she is caught away to a higher state than nature in the divine vision of God, or when she goes out of her nature to herd swine, as did that young man who squandered the wealth of his discretion and laborers for a troop of demons.

A recapitulation of the three degrees of knowledge:

The first degree of knowledge renders the soul cold to works that go in pursuit of God. The second makes her fervent in the swift course on the level of faith. But the third is rest from labor, which is the type of the age to come, for the soul takes delight solely in the mind’s meditation upon the mysteries of the good things to come. But since a man’s nature is not yet completely elevated above the state of morality and the heaviness of the flesh, and is not yet perfected in the spiritual state that transcends this other state that is liable to aberration, it is unable to attain to the perfection that knows no cessation in its liturgy; and while a man is in this world of deadness, he cannot entirely take leave of the flesh’s nature.

So long as a man still abides in the nature of the flesh, he is in continual transition from one (state) to another. At one time, as a poor man and a pauper, his soul performs her service in the second, middle degree, working virtue that is inherent in her nature by means natural to the body. At another time, like those who have received the Spirit of adoption in the mystery of freedom, the soul employs the gift of the Spirit, given that according to the beneficence of its Bestower; but afterward she again returns to the loneliness of her works, that is, those wrought by the body. The soul keeps watch over the body, lest the crafty one take her captive through the enticements found in this age, and by troubled and erring thoughts. So long as the soul is closed behind the veil of the door of the flesh, she has no confidence, for there is no perfect freedom in this imperfect age.

Every working of knowledge is for the sake of activity and training; the working of faith, however, is not performed in deeds, but is accomplished by spiritual insights to the naked activity of the soul, and it transcends the senses. For faith is more subtle than knowledge, just as knowledge is more subtle than palpable deeds. All the saints who have been found worthy to attain to this spiritual discipline (which is awestruck wonder at God) pass their lives by the power of faith in the delight of that discipline which is above nature.

By faith we mean not that wherewith a man believes in the distinctions of the Divine and worshipful Hypostases, in the singular and unique nature of the very Godhead, and the wondrous dispensation to mankind to the assumption of our nature, although this faith is also very lofty. But we call faith that light which dawns in the soul by grace, and by which the testimony of the mind establishes the heart in freedom from doubt through the full assurance of hope that is remote from all conceit. 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. The 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, and the saints gain greater knowledge of it through experience. This power is the Comforter Himself Who, in the strength of faith, consumes the parts of 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, and as though drunken, she is ever found in the awestruck wonder of solicitude for God; and with simple, uncompounded vision, and with invisible perception of the Divine nature, the understanding becomes accustomed to attending to reflection upon that nature’s hiddenness. For until the coming of that which is the perfection of the mysteries, and until we be found worthy of their manifest revelation, faith administers unspeakable mysteries between God and the saints. Of these may we be deemed worthy of the grace of Christ, here as an earnest, but there in the substance of truth in the kingdom of the Heavens together with those who love Him. Amen.

Whatever prompted two people with fibromyalgia to move to a wilderness mountain top?


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This is one the exquisite mountains we gaze upon from our mountain home overlooking the “Valley of the Dancing Angels (My husband gave this valley that name. When it is a cloudy day wisps of clouds float and dance in the valley resembling dancing angels.) We moved here in May to retire and deepen our spiritual life. Both my husband and I suffer from fibromyalgia and are following a medical protocol that over time will hopefully reverse most of the chronic and limiting symptoms of this disease. (For info on this protocol read: What your doctor may not tell you about Fibromyalgia, by Dr. Paul St. Amand, 3 edition. Since beginning this protocol a year and a half ago, my husband and I have seen a 50% reduction in our large visible fibro nodules, many of the smaller ones are completely gone!)

In the mean time, while attempting to tame our land, integrate a more consistent prayer regime and prepare for winter, both of us have been pushing the limits of what we can do physically. Whatever possessed me to agree to move here at the age of 60 being disabled?

I look normal until I have to sit or stand for any length of time. Then out comes my portable zero gravity recliner or memory foam pillows! I did experience a grace when we arrived here to help us accomplish our move and get through our initial struggles to settle in. But now that grace has departed.

Moving here has been a blessing and tremendous struggle for me. There were times when I just could not understand how – given my health issues – this is where I would wind up? I would get really angry with God and my husband! Yet in my heart I truly love being here.

Since we moved, I have had repeated meltdowns as my knowledge of what I could deal with came up against my husband’s faith and the fact that we are here, for better or for worse. I had some faith or I would not have agreed to this move, but it was being trampled down by my knowledge of what was reasonable for someone my age and with my health issues. I also have a terrible case of Marthaism, I get caught up in doing too much and forget the one thing needful.

Then, after the worse meltdown yet last Monday, one that I committed never to experience again, in answer to my prayer, ‘Please Lord, help me to understand what has happened to the innocent child/woman within me that wanted to live a life in the world, but not be of the world? What is hardening my heart and causing me such pain and anger? How can I regain my zeal for our task here?’, my husband read this passage and more from Homily 52 by St. Issac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies of St. Issac the Syrian.

May this reading prove to change your life as much as it changed ours/mine! Knowledge will never be able to answer those questions, but faith will!

Glory to God for all things!

Veronica Hughes

Homily 52, Knowledge vs Faith, by St. Issac the Syrian

The soul that journeys by the pathways of discipline upon the road of faith, and has often made great progress therein, if she returns once more to the ways and means of knowledge, will straightway be crippled in her faith, and will be deprived of the noetic power of faith, which with diverse forms of (divine) assistance manifests itself in a pure soul that unquestionably has recourse to it with simplicity in all her concerns.

For the soul that once and for all has surrendered herself to God in faith, and has received through much experience the taste of His help, will not take thought for herself again, but rather, she is stilled in the awestruck wonder and silence, and has no power to return to the ways and means of her own knowledge and to be engaged in them. And this is so lest, on the contrary, she should be deprived of God’s providence, which secretly shelters her unceasingly, cares for her, and everywhere cleaves to her incessantly. For the soul would be foolish to suppose herself sufficient to provide for herself on the strength of her own knowledge.

Those upon whom the light of faith has dawned are no longer so audacious as to pray for themselves; nor do they entreat God, saying, ‘Give this to us’, or ‘Take that from us.’; nor do they in any wise care for themselves. For every moment, with the noetic eyes of faith, they see the fatherly providence which comes from the true Father to shelter them: He Who in His great and immeasurable love surpasses all in fraternal affection and Who, more than all, has the power and might help us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask, or think, or conceive.

For knowledge as opposed to faith; and faith, in all that pertains to it, is the breaking of the laws of knowledge (we do not, however, speak here of spiritual knowledge). For such is the definition of knowledge–that without investigation and examination it has no authority to do anything, but it must investigate whether that which it considers and desires as possible. But as to faith, what shall we say? If yes and no approach it at the same time, it will not be persuaded to remain in such a position.

It is well known that knowledge cannot exist without investigation and the employment of its means of operations; and this is a sign of hesitation regarding truth. But faith requires a way of thinking that a single, limpidly pure and simple, far removed from any deviousness or invention of methods. See how faith and knowledge are opposed to one another! The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart. ‘ In the simplicity of their hearts,’ it says, ‘they glorified God.’ And, ‘Except ye be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.’ But knowledge conspires against and opposes both these qualities.

Knowledge keeps within the boundaries of nature in all its paths; but faith makes its journey above nature. Knowledge does not allow itself to experience anything that is ruinous to nature, 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.’ 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. The man who has found the keys of faith weilds all the natures of creation you can as God; for by faith comes the authority, after the likeness of God, to create a new creation.  ‘ Thou didst so well,’ it says, ‘and all things were present before Thee.’ And oftentimes, out of things that are not, faith can do all things.

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.

Knowledge watchfully guards itself from such things and will in no wise be persuaded to overstep their boundaries. 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. If knowledge were given the opportunity to attempt such things, it would in no wise be persuaded. 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? 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. And now we have reached the unfathomable sea and the unfailing treasure, we desire once again to turn aside to miserable little brooks. 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.’

Knowledge always seeks means to safeguard those who have acquired it. But what says faith?  ‘Except the Lord build the house and guard the city, in vain does he labor that buildeth it and watch that guardeth her.’ The man who takes refuge in faith never employs or is engaged in ways and means. For knowledge everywhere sings the praises of fear, as the man said, ‘He that feareth in his heart is blessed.’ But what says faith? ‘He was afraid and began to sink’; and again, ‘For ye have not received the spirit of bondage unto fear, but you have received the Spirit of Sonship unto the freedom of faith and trust in God; and again, ‘Fear then not, nor flee from before their face.’

Fear is always followed by doubt; doubt, by investigation; investigation, by ways and means; and ways and means, by knowledge. And in examination and investigation, fear and doubt are always made known–for knowledge does not always succeed everywhere, as we showed in the beginning. Often calamities, grievous adversities, and many occurrences filled with peril befall the soul, wherein knowledge and the devices of wisdom are utterly unable to provide help against these difficulties that defy the whole power and limit of human knowledge. But faith is never vanquished by anything. For what help can human knowledge offer in open conflicts or in war against invisible beings, against incorporeal powers, and many other things of this kind?

Do you see the feebleness of the power of knowledge and the strength of the power of faith? Knowledge prevents its disciples from approaching anything alien to nature. But see here the power of faith and what it commands its pupils: ‘In My Name,’ it says, ‘ye shall cast out demons, take up serpents, and if ye drink poison, it shall not hurt you.’

Knowledge enjoins all who journey in its path to investigate according to its laws, the end of anything before making a beginning, and thus to commence; lest the end of the thing proves unachievable by the limit of human ability, and labor be spent in vain, and lest the thing proved difficult and impossible to realize. But what says faith? ‘All things are possible to him that believeth,’ for to God nothing is impossible. O unspeakable wealth, O ocean rich in its billows and its marvelous treasures and mighty floods of power of faith! How filled with boldness, how replete with sweetness and hope is the journey accompanied by faith! How light our faith’s burdens, how sweet its labors!

We are a week away from moving…Opposition of Human Reasonings and Faith


Opposition of Human Reasonings and Faith:

God Tempts Abraham to Offer Issac, His Son (Gen. 22 1-18)

Great indeed was the faith of Abraham. For a while in the case of Able, and of Noah, and of Enoch, there was an opposition of reasonings, and it was necessary to go beyond human reasonings; in this case it was necessary not only to go beyond human reason means, but to manifest something more. For what was of God seemed to be opposed to what was of God; and faith opposed faith, and command promise. I mean this: He had said, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred, and I will give you this land.” (Gen. 12:1,7). ‘He gave him no inheritance in it, no not so much as to set foot his on’ (Acts 7:5). Do you see how what was done was opposed to the promise? Again He said, ‘In Issac your seed shall be called’ (Gen 21:12), and he believed: and again He says, Sacrifice to Me this one, who was to fill all the world from his seed. You see the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger nor say he had been deceived.

St. John Chrysostom.  Homily XXV on Hebrews XI

Christ is Risen!!!

While I cannot even attempt to compare our move to our mountain home overlooking the Valley of the Dancing Angels (My husband gave this valley that name. When it is a cloudy day wisps of clouds float and dance in the valley resembling dancing angels., finally making the decision at the age of 60 to trust that making a permanent move to our little piece of Orthodox ascetic heaven was the right thing to do.

I understood from the get go when my husband was inspired to buy this land and build on it, that he was acting on faith. He had been waiting for many years for the land to come up for sale. Just when it did, Greg received an inheritance sufficient enough for him to purchase the land and begin developing it. Then, each step along the way, when a need presented itself, there was someone who helped us, whether financially or physically.

At the same time that Greg started developing and building on our land, I contracted Lyme disease in addition to having chronic back problems and fibromyalgia. During the years I struggled to heal from Lyme, which I did, while Greg was building and started writing my book, The Pearl of Great Price, which helped me to heal many things from my past prior to becoming Orthodox.

With all my health issues, I would think, “Could I ever be well enough to live here God? Why would you give us this land if I am too sick to live here?” Yet, here is where Greg is building us a home – kind of like Noah building the Ark. Having faith in something or someone makes no sense to our minds, but then neither does love or any of the intangible virtues we strive to acquire as Christians.

I love being on our property and attending services at the monastery up the road. There is a “peace that passes all understanding” on this sacred mountain. Years of praying and spiritual struggles have brought grace to the mountain.

I told our spiritual father after our first attempt to move in 2009 failed and my fibro became much worse, “It would take an act of God for me to be able to live here.” Well, as the saying goes, “Ask and ye shall receive.” Low and behold my act of God occurred multiple times!

Within months of requesting an act of God to come to my aid, I discovered and started a protocol that reverses fibro. (Turns out both my husband and I are afflicted by fibromyalgia and are doing this protocol together!) After starting to see improvement, I/we realized that perhaps I could live on our land. Then one by one all the other issues that interfered with our first attempt to move were remedied! Now we are a week away from making our move up to our sacred mountain.

Glory to God for all things!

 

Upcoming Book Event with Veronica Hughes, 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25


Upcoming Book Event with Veronica Hughes, 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25

Pearl of Great Price
Please join us for a “Book Event” at 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25. Author Veronica Hughes will be here to speak on her book “Pearl of Great Price” which chronicles her journey from disillusioned baby-boomer Roman Catholic—to practitioner and teacher of Hatha yoga, EST, Hinduism, occult, metaphysics, psychic healing, Tibetan Buddhism and Theosophy—to faith in Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church.

St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
90 Mountain View Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95407    info@saintseraphim.com
707-584-9491 (Phone)
707-585-9445 (Fax)