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The 2016 Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church: Implications for Unity

by Fr. George Morelli
SSJC-WR President's Message Spring 20161

There are many serious challenges to the unity of the Churches, ecclesial communities and confessions and religious groups in today's world. Among these are: secularization, religious pluralism, fundamentalism and ethnophyletism. If the Orthodox Churches one of the Apostolic Churches tracing their succession to Christ Himself, in agreement on faith and morals can achieve agreement on approaching these issues confronting her today, God willing, this will be a witness and model for other Churches and religious communities to do the same. This would be a step toward healing the division among the Churches and communities.

Just such a witness was described in the document issued in January 2016 in Chambésy , Switzerland, by the Synaxis of Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in preparation for the Holy and Great Council that is to be held on the Greek island of Crete during June 2016 - Pentecost as celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. This had been preceded by a draft document adopted by the 5th Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council in October 2015, also in Chambésy. Many ecumenical encounters between Eastern and Western Churches have occurred leading to these events.

April 27, 2016 + Christ Was Never Forsaken by the Godhead in His Passion

by Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

… [W]e bade the simple and unthinking hearer not take the words My God, etc., in a sense as if, when Jesus was fixed upon the wood of the cross, the Omnipotence of the Father’s Deity had gone away from Him; seeing that God’s and Man’s Nature were so completely joined in Him that the union could not be destroyed by punishment nor by death. For while each substance retained its own properties, God neither held aloof from the suffering of His body nor was made passible by the flesh, because the Godhead which was in the Sufferer did not actually suffer. And hence, in accordance with the Nature of the Word made Man, He Who was made in the midst of all is the same as He through Whom all things were made. He Who is arrested by the hands of wicked men is the same as He Who is bound by no limits. He Who is pierced with nails is the same as He Whom no wound can affect. Finally, He Who underwent death is the same as He Who never ceased to be eternal, so that both facts are established by indubitable signs, namely, the truth of the humiliation in Christ and the truth of the majesty; because Divine power joined itself to human frailty to this end, that God, while making what was ours His, might at the same time make what was His ours. The Son, therefore, was not separated from the Father, nor the Father from the Son; and the unchangeable Godhead and the inseparable Trinity did not admit of any division. For although the task of undergoing Incarnation belonged peculiarly to the Only-begotten Son of God, yet the Father was not separated from the Son any more than the flesh was separated from the Word.

April 20, 2016 + Remedies for Senseless Anger, Part 2

by St. Mark the Ascetic

From the time that Christ came to dwell with us, man created according to God's image and likeness is truly renewed through the grace and power of the Spirit, attaining to the perfect love which 'casts out fear' (1 John 4:18) - the love which is no longer able to fail, for 'love never fails' (1 Cor. 13:8). Love, says John, is God; and 'he who dwells in love dwells in God' (1 John 4:16). The apostles were granted this love, and so were those who practiced virtue as they did, offering themselves completely to the Lord, and following Christ with all their heart throughout their lifetime.

April 13, 2016 + Remedies for Senseless Anger, Part 1

by St. Mark the Ascetic

Now let us say something about the senseless passion of anger, which ravages, confuses and darkens every soul and, when it is active, makes those in whom it is easily and quickly aroused behave like beasts. This passion is strengthened particularly by pride, and so long as it is so strengthened it cannot be destroyed. While the diabolical tree of bitterness, anger and wrath has its roots kept moist by the foul water of pride, it blossoms and thrives and produces quantities of rotten fruit. Thus the structure of evil in the soul is impossible to destroy so long as it is rooted firmly in pride.

Do you want this tree of disorder - I mean the passion of bitterness, anger and wrath - to dry up within you and become barren, so that with the axe of the Spirit it may be 'hewn down and cast into the fire' together with every other vice (Matt. 3 :10)? Do you want the destruction of this house of evil which the devil builds in your soul by continually using as stones various plausible or senseless pretexts, whether material or mental, and by constructing its foundations out of thoughts of pride ? If this is what you really want, keep the humility of the Lord in your heart and never forget it.

April 6, 2016 + Prayer at Daybreak

Prayer at Daybreak from Elder Sophrony to be said on rising from sleep

Elder Sophrony (+1993) of Essex, spiritual child of St Silouan the Athonite, gave this prayer to his own spiritual children, to be said 'on rising from sleep.' This version of the prayer is adapted from Hesychia and Theology by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who writes, 'If someone reads this prayer in the morning with contrition and attention, the whole day will be blessed.' (www.abbamoses.com/daybreak.html)

Eternal King without beginning, You who are before all worlds, my Maker, Who have summoned all things from non-being into this life: bless this day that You, in Your inscrutable goodness, give to me. By the power of Your blessing enable me at all times in this coming day to speak and act for You, to Your glory, in Your fear, according to Your will, with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage, wisdom and prayer, aware everywhere of Your presence.

Gleanings From a Book: Catherine’s Pascha by Charlotte Riggle

by Kristina Wenger

This book made me cry. Loud, soggy gasps accompanied my declaration, "I didn't see THAT coming!" My husband came running, thinking something was horribly wrong. "I... love... this book!" I assured him between sobs, and then I showed him the cause of my tears. We'll get to that in just a little bit..

From the moment I cracked it open, this book appealed to me on so many levels. The story is genuine. The illustrations are eye‐catching and detailed. The unity of the Holy Orthodox Church is clearly emphasized. The joy of Pascha is palpable. This book is a delightful celebration of Pascha! 

Catherine's Pascha is written in a realistic, believable way. As I read, it was like I could hear my own children being Catherine's age again, from the "Why do I have to go to bed at regular time, tonight, when I'm getting up again in a few hours to go to church? You KNOW I won't sleep!;" through the delight of shouting "Indeed He is risen!" in multiple languages throughout the Divine Liturgy in the wee hours of the morning; all the way to the gleeful "I'm not a bit sleepy!" while trying to win at the egg‐cracking game and then eating all those things we haven't eaten in weeks. The story itself is a gentle walk through what happens at the Paschal Divine Liturgy, accentuated with the pure delight that children regularly experience and share. The way the story is written fills me with anticipation for the Pascha celebration that lies ahead! Reading the book gave me excited goosebumps.

March 30, 2016 + The Cross Moves Us away from Evil

by St. John of Kronstadt

When your heart inclines to evil, and the evil one begins to undermine your heart, so that it is completely removed from the rock of faith, then say to yourself inwardly: "I know of my spiritual poverty, my own nothingness without faith. I am so weak, that it is only by Christ's name that I live and obtain peace, that I rejoice and my heart expands, whilst without Him I am spiritually dead, I am troubled, and my heart is oppressed; without the Lord's Cross I should have been long since the victim of the most cruel distress and despair. Only Christ keeps me alive: and the Cross is my peace and my consolation."

March 23, 2016 + Thoughts on Fasting and Temperance, Part II

By St. Sebastian Dabovich of Jackson and San Francisco

Do you not know that angels are the constant watchers and guardians of those that fast, just as the demons, those very friends of greasy stuffs, those lovers of blood and companions of drunkards, are the associates of those that give themselves up to debauchery and orgies during such a holy time as Lent? The angels and saints, as also the evil spirits, ally themselves with those they love; they become related with that which is pleasing to them. Every day in our life God points out a lesson to us concerning the eternal life, but we very seldom heed it; in a word, we generally don't care! Oh, is this not terrible to think of? And yet no one man will deliberately, so to speak, attempt to slight the Almighty Creator, no one who is capable of using his understanding in the very least degree. But yet, beloved brethren, we do it! We, day after day, in our worldly habits unconsciously say: "I don't care!"

March 16, 2016 + Thoughts on Fasting and Temperance, Part I

By St. Sebastian Dabovich of Jackson and San Francisco

Man, having received his present being, consisting of a visible body and an intellectual, immaterial soul, is a being complex. But the nature and worth of both the just-named parts are not of equal value. The body is made as an instrument that is moved by the order of a ruler; the soul is designed to govern and command it, as the superior of an inferior. The soul, receiving from the intellect and reason the means by which it makes distinctions, may, possessing such a quality of distinction, separate the truly beautiful from its common imitation; it may perceive God as the Creator and Designer, not only of that which is underneath our feet and received by our senses, but that, also, which is hidden from the eyes, and which the immaterial mind may contemplate, having the power of imagination at its command.

Practicing, as the godly one, in righteousness and virtue, it aspires unto divine wisdom, and, obeying its laws and commands, withdraws as much as possible from the desires of the flesh, comes nearer to God, and strives by all its strength to ally itself with the good. The particular and most importantobjectofthissacredphilosophyis temperance; as it is the mind, which is not disturbed, but free of all influences of pollution, arising from the stomach or other senses, that has a continual action and contemplates the heavenly, the things pertaining to its own sphere.

Spiritual Nuggets + March 14, 2016

Forgiveness Sunday

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

As we spring into the Great Fast with the Sunday of Forgiveness. I ask you to forgive me. Also, I wanted to share this simple little snippet from St. Theophan the Recluse (Thoughts for each Day of the Year, St. Herman Press, Platina, CA, 2010, pg. 53).

What a simple and handy means of salvation! Your trespasses are forgiven under the condition that you forgive your neighbor's trespasses against you. This means that you are in your own hands. Force yourself to pass from agitated feelings toward your brother to truly peaceful feelings - and that is all.
- St. Theophan

Thanks.
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

March 9, 2016 + About Enduring to the End

from St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" (St. Matthew 24:13).

O Lord most wonderful, You have endured all, all to the end. That is why You became not only blessed but the source of blessings for all men who desire good for themselves throughout the ages of ages.

The apostles endured all to the end and entered into blessed eternity. The saints willingly endured the difficulties and sufferings to the end and were glorified, both in heaven and on earth.

The martyrs willingly endured all pains to the end and became the adopted co-inheritors of the Kingdom of Christ.

Every founder of a new organization recruits followers for himself with the promise of good fruits and many pleasures but deliberately remains silent about the hardships and labors which lead to those fruits and pleasures. Our Lord Jesus is the only one Who spoke the whole truth to His followers, both the bitter and the sweet side of the truth. He did not promise fruits without service, nor glory without suffering, nor ultimate rest without the thorny path, nor victory without struggle, nor pleasure without bitterness, nor the kingdom without tears and self-denial.

Vocations Are Gifts from God

by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, March 2016

Hear the Word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He Who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over His flock like a shepherd.' + Jeremiah 31:10

"I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the Lord. + Jeremiah 23:4

As a bishop of the Antiochian Church, I marvel at the very thought of this gift of shepherds that God calls and sends to tend His sheep. These shepherds or priests are those whom God calls to live among the people and encourage them in their lives. This is a noble and holy vocation. When clergy and faithful understand each other and each other's vocations better, I believe we can all benefit from our holy relationships. I have come to understand that theses shepherds are men who come from varied backgrounds. They come from families of every economic level. They also come after surviving sometimes horrible experiences, which left them with scars and wounds. They come as well having enjoyed grace-filled events and experiences that gave them joys, talents and accomplishments. These men were not born and reared in a vacuum, free from the real world which is fallen and sinful. They come from the same fallen world to which we send them back after seminary. They come from the same broken world as all of us. These men will use their life events and experiences to relate to others and help those they will serve and for whom they will care.

Spiritual Nuggets + February 28, 2016

Prodigal Son Sunday

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

This coming Sunday we are reading and celebrating our Lord's parable of the Prodigal Son. St. Nicholai of South Canaan (Homilies I, pg 104) speaks of the perennial value of this clear look into human nature and God's love.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Lord Jesus has given us a picture of real, divine love, painted in such clear colours that it pulsates with life before our eyes, as this world does when, after the darkness of night, the sun shines forth. Two thousand years have not dulled the colours of this picture, and they will never be dulled as long as there are mend on earth, and God's love for them. On the contrary, the more sinful men become, the more vivid is this picture.
- St. Nicholai of South Canaan

In Christ,
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

March 2, 2016 + From St. John of Kronstadt

from St. John of Kronstadt

"The Lord turned and looked upon Peter . . . and Peter went out, and wept bitterly" (Luke xxii. 61, 62). And even now, when the Lord looks upon us we weep bitterly over our sins. Yes, our tears during prayer mean that the Lord has looked upon us with His gaze, that gives life to everything and trieth the hearts and reins. Ah! the soul is sometimes entangled and ensnared by sins, like a bird in the net! We do not sometimes see any outlet from our sins, and they torment us; the heart sometimes feels terribly anxious and sorrowful on account of them; but "Jesus looks upon us, and streams of tears flow from our eyes, and with the tears all the tissue of evil in our soul vanishes; we weep and rejoice that such mercy has been suddenly and unexpectedly sent to us; what warmth we then feel in our heart, and what lightness, as though we could fly up to the Lord God Himself! I thank the Lord with all my heart for freely forgiving all my sin (cf. Psalm ciii. 3)!

February 24, 2016 + Prayer Before Receiving Holy Communion

from St. Basil the Great

O Lord, I know that I am unworthy to receive thy Holy Body and Precious Blood; I know that I am guilty, and that I eat and drink condemnation to myself, not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ my God. But trusting in thy loving-kindness I come unto thee who has said: He that eateth my Body and drinketh my Blood shall dwell in me and I in him. Therefore, O Lord, have compassion on me and make not an example of me, thy sinful servant. But do unto me according to thy great mercy, and grant that these Holy Gifts may be for me unto the healing, purification, enlightenment, protection, salvation and sanctification of my soul and body, and to the expulsion of every evil imagination, sinful deed or work of the Devil. May they move me to reliance on thee and to love thee always, to amend and keep firm my life; and be ever in me to the increase of virtue, to the keeping of thy Commandments, to the communion of the Holy Spirit, and as a good defense before thy dread Judgment Seat, and for Life Eternal. Amen.

Spiritual Nuggets + February 21, 2016

Publican and Pharisee

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

This Sunday we commemorate and read our Lord's Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). St. Nicholai (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, volume 1, tr. Mother Maria, Lazarica Press, Birmingham, England, 1996. p 95.) opens his wonderful homily on this pericope with this beautiful image/story:

A man went into the forest to choose a tree from which to make roof-beams. And he saw two trees, one beside the other. One was smooth and tall, but had rotted away inside, and the other was rough on the outside and ugly, but its core was healthy. The man sighed, and said to himself: "What use is this smooth, tall tree to me if it is rotten inside and useless for beams? The other one, even if it is rough and ugly, is at least healthy on the inside and so, if I put a bit more effort into it, I can use it for roof-beams for my house." And, without thinking any more about it, he chose that tree.
- St. Nicholai

In Christ,
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

Lest We Forget: The Legacy of Metropolitan Antony Bashir

by Fr. Antony Gabriel, first published in The Word Magazine, February 1998

"Orthodoxy is a freedom-loving, democratic faith it is at its best in our free America. Our people are part and parcel of America, gladly giving their treasure and the blood of their sons to safeguard its free institutions which are the reflection of the freedom they find in their faith. If the best of Byzantium has survived, it is in the United States, and if there is an Orthodox political ideal, it is enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

"Thus, while we must still minister to many who remember the ways and customs of another land, it is our policy to make our Church in the United States, an American Church. In my own archdiocese, under my administration, we have pioneered in the introduction of English in our Services and sermons. From the beginning of my ministry, I began the printing of English service books, and the training of English-speaking priests. We are tied to no sacred language; we recognize all tongues as the creation of God, and employ them in His worship. We have no desire to perpetuate anything but the Gospel of Christ, and that we can do as effectively in English as in any other tongue."

February 17, 2016 + On Church Attendance and Anxieties

by St. Macarius of Optina

Since your desire to attend church services is good, this overpowering anxiety about what may happen to your children while you are away from home can be nothing but a subtle temptation.

A father's presence in the home is naturally a great help to all; but since David the Prophet says, The Lord preserveth the simple (Ps. 116:6), can you think that your presence alone, without His help, is worth anything to them? On the other hand, surely His care is sufficient without your presence. And if God should allow some accident to befall one of them, could you prevent it, even if you were on the spot at the time? When you leave home to go to church, commit your children to the care of our Lady and their guardian angels. In church, pray for them. But do not put off going there because of unreasonable scruples, anxieties and fears. [203]

Spiritual Nuggets + February 14, 2016

The Caananite Woman

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

I'd like to send the following from St. Nikolai (Homilies, vol. II, page 175) as he explains why Christ called the Canaanite woman a dog.

The Lord deliberately spoke like this, as all the Jews had spoken, in order that the disciples should reflect and themselves come to the conviction that the understanding held by their nation was mistaken, and that this understanding was as much mistaken as was their nation's degeneration, its apostasy from God and its rejection and despising of Christ the Lord.
- St. Nicholai of South Canaan

In Christ,
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

February 10, 2016 + The Fathers of the Church Have Not Grown Old

from Elder Moses the Hagiorite

The great Fathers of the Church are her great theologians. They are the God-bearers, the God-inspired, the God-moved, the Enlightened, those who rightly administer the word of truth in their life, their teaching and their works. The strain of their theological ascent is what it is, not only because of their constant study of Holy Scripture, but also because of their experiences, since the Word of Scripture became the earnest acceptance of their heart. All the Fathers of the Church are characterized by the holiness of their lives and orthodox doctrine.

There is a great need today to return again to the sacred patristic sources, which are always inexhaustible and life-giving. Great Fathers are not only the ancient ones but also the newer ones, who continue on the path of those who have greater experience from the useful past of the Church. Contemporary theologians need to study faithfully the works of our holy Fathers. Distortion or ignorance of the sacred tradition and the creation of a new Theology, which bypasses the Fathers, who are considered obsolete, with a language which is culturally fashionable, more complex terminology, incomprehensible sometimes even to themselves, neotheological, anti-ascetical, uncut, unattested, easy-going, joyful and very happy, but also as shallow, lukewarm and perfunctory.

Spiritual Nuggets + February 7, 2016

The Parable of the Talents

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

St. Theohylact (Explanation of St. Matthew, pg 216) gives us a plain explanation of what the talents are and why some were initially entrusted with more and some with less.

Into the vessel I offer to God, He places His gift to me. If it is a small vessel, a small gift; if it is a large vessel, a larger gift. For whether a man be gifted in speech, wealth, the authority of kingship, or any other power or skill, if he desires to benefit not only himself but others as well, he doubles what has been given to him. But he who buries the talent is he who cares only for his own benefit and not for that others, and he is condemned.
- St. Theophylact

May God bless us in multiplying our talents for His glory!

In Christ,
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

Our Vision of Leadership is Service

by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, February 2016

Without vision, the people shall perish, but he that keeps the law is blessed.
Proverbs 29:18

VISION IS AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP. CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP IS LEADERSHIP BY THOSE WHO PUT ON CHRIST, AND WHO GATHER AS THE CHURCH TO UNDERSTAND AND TO DO GOD'S WILL. THIS UNDERSTANDING COMES FROM GOD'S PROMISE THAT "WHERE TWO OR THREE GATHER IN MY NAME, THERE AM I WITH THEM" (MATTHEW 18:20). TOGETHER, WITH LOVE AND MUTUAL SUBMISSION AND RESPECT, CHRISTIANS DISCERN GOD'S WILL, "SUBMITTING TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST" (EPHESIANS 5:21).

Christian leadership is always a leadership of service. "After that, he put water into a basin, and began to washthefeetof the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (John13:5). We lead by being true servants of each other and servants of God. Vision is the discernment and articulation of our goals, and of the pathways that take us there.

This leads me to ask, how is it, then, that we discover God's vision for us – God's vision for us as the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, as dioceses throughout North America, as parishes, committees and mission or work teams, and even as Christian families and individuals?

Spiritual Nuggets + January 31, 2016

Zacchaeus Sunday

Masters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, bless.

The shadow of Zacchaeus in his tree looms large on us on as we begin to prepare for our Lenten journey to Pascha. The following from St. Augustine (Sermon 174.3, in ACCS, Luke, pg 290) is a keen etymological insight (sycamore meaning "silly fig" from the Greek Syca and Moron] into the foolishness of the cross.

Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, at people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God's hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies. The crows laughs at the lowly and says, "you helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and back what is your own." ...He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. Instead, he climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of silly fruit. As the apostle says, "we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles."
- St. Augustine

In Christ,
+ Fr. Noah


Readings and Inspiration from the Diocese of Charleston Homepage

February 3, 2016 + About Understanding through Doing

"Whoever chooses to do His will [God's Will] shall know whether my teaching is from God" (St. John 7:17).

It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whosoever would do this, that one will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God.

If you cry for the sake of God, you will know what kind of comfort He is. If you are merciful, you know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called the Son of God. If you forgive men, you will know God forgives you.

Never can anyone be able to know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the Will of God. For only doing the Will of God, fulfilling the commandments of God, that is the key for unlocking Paradise in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation.

Chaplain's Corner + Being True to Our Purpose

by Fr. George Morelli

"Have a purpose in life, and having it, throw into your work such strength of mind and muscle as God has given you," wrote1 Scottish essayist, historian, teacher and writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). This highlights the importance of keeping focus on the goal to be attained. Canadian educator and writer Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), author of The Peter Principle (1968), put it this way: "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else."2 As the Book of Leviticus encourages us, we can have God at our side in our journey of life. "I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people." (Leviticus 26:12).

The Buddhist tradition, while eschewing a personal God, nevertheless holds to the view of individual and group responsibility, so much so that one Buddhist scholar wrote: "Thus we are capable of changing ourselves, even to the extent of changing the world.... If we start toward the direction performing wholesome acts from this very moment, then our future will be full of brightness."3

Purpose in life is more complex in Hindu teaching. It involves four features: dharma (paying debts (thanks) for being born, cared for by parents and teachers, respect for guests and other living things; artha, (prosperity) guided by dharma; kama (desire) as is appropriate in terms of dharma and artha, and moksha (enlightenment) self realization, that is to say, liberation and attaining a sense of being one with God and the universe.4

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