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August 13, 2014 + Humility in Dealings with Your Neighbor

by St. Ignatius Briachaninov

Through humility in your dealings with your neighbor, and through love for your neighbor, hardness and callousness is expelled from the heart. It is rolled away like a heavy rock from the entrance to a tomb, and the heart revives for spiritual relations with God for which it has been hitherto dead. A new vista opens to the gaze of the mind: the multitudinous wounds of sin with which the whole fallen nature is riddled. It begins to confess its wretched state to God and implore Him for mercy. The heart assists the mind with mourning and compunction. This is the beginning of true prayer.

On the other hand, the prayer of a resentful person St. Isaac the Syrian compares with sowing on rock. The same must be said of the prayer of one who condemns and despises his neighbor. God not only does not attend to the prayer of one who is proud and angry, but He even permits a person praying in such a state of soul to undergo various most humiliating temptations so that being struck and oppressed by them he may resort to humility in his relations with his neighbor and to love for his neighbor.

August 6, 2014 + The Banquet-Table of Christ

by Leontius the Presbyter of Constantinople

Christ, our generous host, has set before us again today a banquet-table worthy of veneration: a table not simply to be honored by custom, but recognized as part of our familiarity with God; a table not marked by yearning for earthly delights, but sharing in those of heaven; a table not splendid with Solomon's delicacies, but crowned by God's laws; a table not made blessed by abundance of food, but made solemn by thoughts of God. For what could be richer than Solomon's table, spreading out day by day (as is told us in the Third Book of the Kingdoms) 'thirty kors of fine wheat flour, and sixty kors of ground barley meal, and ten tender, choice calves and twenty grazing cows and a hundred sheep – to say nothing of deer and gazelles and choice birds' [see III Kingdoms 11:1-13]. But such a lavish abundance of dishes brought Solomon no benefit, nor did it lead him towards perfect virtue. Just the opposite: by leading him to indulge himself beyond measure, it led him to go mad in the end. But the table of the Lord, richly laid before us again today – a table that is immaterial, infinite, incorruptible, immortal, uncircumscribed, beyond human reckoning – directs us not only towards earthly blessings, but towards heavenly ones as well! For it does not offer us 'thirty kors of wheat flour,' but lavishes on us the kingdom of heaven, as the yeast in 'three measures of barley' [Mt. 13:33]. Nor does it set out 'sixty kors of barley,' but the bread of heaven itself; I mean that the Lord Christ rewards believers here with the gift of Himself, day after day.

Chaplain's Corner + Excuses

by Fr. George Morelli

The world is awash with people in all walks of life making excuses. No one in any level of society, government, military, the corporate world, educational, health and religious institutions is exempt from making excuses. Clinical psychologists consider ‘making excuses’ a form of psychological defensiveness. Albert Ellis (1962)i puts it this way: “psychologically, therefore, rationalizing or excusing one’s behavior is the opposite of being rational or reasonable about it.” (p. 433) He then points out the untoward consequences of such defensiveness: “to rationalize or intellectualize about one’s self-defeating behavior is to help perpetuate it endlessly.” (p. 344)

 While writing this month’s Chaplain’s Corner, I took time out to cook dinner, during which I watched an episode of the Food Network Show Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into an appallingly failing restaurant with his design team with the goal of turning around, in a short time and with a limited budget, failures that can include filthy, outdated interiors, abysmal service, subpar menus and cooking, but, most often, severely dysfunctional interpersonal problems among the owners (many times married and/or family) and between owners and staff (who are often also relatives of the owners). Common to owners, staff and chefs are a myriad of excuses for poor performance. In this particular episode, Chef Robert, with his usual military bearing and tone of voice (he was a former chef in the British Royal Navy), had a one-liner to solve the problem that hits the bull's-eye. He told owners and staff quite dramatically: “Step up and own it.”

July 30, 2014 + Leaving Our Bellies Wanting

by St. John Cassian

A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.

When the Apostle said, 'Make no provision to fulfill the desires of the flesh' (Rom. 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self-indulgence. Moreover, by itself abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul unless the other virtues are active as well. Humility, for example, practiced through obedience in our work and through bodily hardship, is a great help.

If we avoid avarice not only by having no money, but also by not wanting to have any, this leads us towards purity of soul. Freedom from anger, from dejection, self-esteem and pride also contributes to purity of soul in general, while self control and fasting are especially important for bringing about that specific purity of soul which comes through restraint and moderation.

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners + Part 2

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

by Fr. George Morelli

The Orthodox Perception of Contemporary Threats to the Church

Chief among these threats is secularism, defined as the marginalization of God and the Church, and, in place of God and His Church, a focus on "earthly things." (Phil. 3,19). This springs from the values of the contemporary Western world, including radical individualism, moral relativism, and religious and political correctness, all of which guide individual and social behavior and inform political/public policy. Secularism rejects God and His Church as the touchstone of truth and meaning. Moreover, when God is rejected, the locus of truth — the place from which truth emanates and where it is found — must necessarily rest in the created order and shifts to man himself, and as pride and an inflated sense of Godless self-sufficiency grow, ideas which find no court of accountability apart from the like-minded are implemented in this quest for a new Jerusalem. (Morelli 2009b)

July 23, 2014 + If You Desire to Become Equal to the Apostles, There is Nothing to Hinder You

by St. John Chrysostom

Wherefore, if you desire to become equal to the apostles, there is nothing to hinder you. For to have arrived at this virtue only suffices for your not at all falling short of them. Let no one therefore wait for miracles. For though the evil spirit is grieved, when he is driven out of a body, yet much more so, when he sees a soul delivered from sin. For indeed this is his great power [cf. Acts 8:10]. This power caused Christ to die, that He might put an end to it. Yea, for this brought in death; by reason of this all things have been turned upside down. If then thou remove this, you have cut out the nerves of the devil, you have bruised his head, you have put an end to all his might, you have scattered his host, you have exhibited a sign greater than all signs.

July 16, 2014 + About the Participation of the Faithful in God's Nature

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"That by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

Brethren, how can mortal man have a part in God's nature? How can eternity be a companion of time and glory with unglory, the incorruptible with the corruptible, the pure with the impure? They cannot without particular conditions and these conditions the Apostle Peter mentions: one condition on the part of God and the other on the part of men. As a condition on God's part, the apostle mentions: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). As a condition on the part of man: "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). God has fulfilled His condition and gave us His power. "Through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). Now it is man's turn to fulfill his condition, i.e., to know Christ the Lord is to escape from the bodily desires of this world.

July 9, 2014 + On Having Firm Resolve Not to Become Angry

From Abba Isidore

Isidore the Priest was a monk of Scetis and early companion of Macarius (the Great). He is mentioned by Cassian as one of the heads of the four communities in Scetis.

2. A brother asked him, 'Why are the demons so frightened of you?' The old man said to him, 'Because I have practiced asceticism the day I became a monk, and not allowed anger to reach my lips.'

3. He also said that for forty years he had been tempted to sin in thought but that he had never consented either to covetousness or to anger.

7. Abba Isidore said, 'One day I went to the market place to sell some small goods; when I saw anger approaching me, I left the things and fled.'

Healing the Church of the Homogenization of Vocations + A Psycho-Theological Reflection

by Fr. George Morelli

He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me. And the seventy-two returned with joy, saying: Lord, the devils also are subject to us in thy name. (Lk 10 16-17)

A recent report from the Pew Research Organization was entitled: “Majority of U.S. Catholics’ opinions run counter to church on contraception, homosexuality.”[i] While I have not conducted a scientific survey on Eastern Orthodox on these topics, in my pastoral experience I have encountered what I would call a significant number of individuals who consider themselves Orthodox[ii] who would concur with this unfortunate finding.

Chaplain's Corner + Unlikely Heroes in Crisis Times

by Fr. George Morelli

‘Unlikely’ in the title is not used without reason. ‘Likely’ heroes, in classic historical traditions, are found among either the spiritual elite, such as great legendary mythical gods, outstanding religious teachers, like those considered Hindu heroes, and great ascetic masters who renounced the material world, as in Buddhist chronicles, or among the nobility or warrior elite.i

However, in modern times we have learned that another type of hero can be recognized; that ordinary people perform in extraordinary ways and thus earn the designation of being ‘unlikely heroes.’

In San Diego as recently as early this year, 2014, we underwent a conflagration of near epic proportions way before the start of the usual California fire season. My own house was surrounded with raging fire and smoke a mile east and west of me and I was subsequently officially “sheltered in place” in my own home for two days amidst deadly smoke and blood-red skies.

July 2, 2014 + The Virtues of the Peasant

5. Someone said to blessed Arsenius, 'How is it that we, with all our education and our wide knowledge get nowhere, while these Egyptian peasants acquire so many virtues?' Abba Arsenius said to him, 'We indeed get nothing from our secular education, but these Egyptian peasants acquire the virtues by hard work.'

6. One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?' He replied, 'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.'

June 25, 2014 + How Monastics are to Aide the Church's Leaders

As deacon, priest and bishop he [St. John Chysostom] not only remained a monk at heart (what, after all, was a monk but a Christian striving to live out the gospel to the full?), but continued as far as his new situation permitted, to practice his routine of monstic austerities - for example living alone as much as possible. Consistently with this, he never hesitated as bishop, when the needs of the church seemed to warrant it, to call monks from their seclusion and either ordain them and associate them with his ministry or employ them as missionaries. However romantically he could idealise monks in their secluded retreats, he could never, with his wider understanding of the monastic voation, envisage them as standing apart from the church and its prediciments.

June 18, 2014 + I Myself am a Miracle of God's Goodness, Wisdom, and Omnipotence

by St. John of Kronstadt

You wish to comprehend the incomprehensible; but can you understand how the inward sorrows with which your heart is overwhelmed overtake you, and can you find, except in the Lord, the means to drive them away? Learn at first, with your heart, how to free yourself from sorrows, how to ensure peace in your heart, and then, if necessary, philosophize on the incomprehensible, for "if ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest'' (St. Luke xii. 26)?

June 11, 2014 + On the Importance of Bringing Your Children to Church and Teaching Them the Gospel

by St. John Chrysostom

"For let no one tell me that our children ought not to be occupied with these things; they ought not only to be occupied with them, but to be zealous about them only. And although on account of your infirmity I do not assert this, nor take them away from their worldly learning, just as I do not draw you either from your civil business; yet of these seven days I claim that you dedicate one to the common Lord of us all... And yet when you take your children into the theaters, you allege neither their mathematical lessons, nor anything of the kind; but if it be required to gain or collect anything spiritual, you call the matter a waste of time. And how shall you not anger God, if you find leisure and assign a season for everything else, and yet think it a troublesome and unseasonable thing for your children to take in hand what relates to Him?

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners + Part 1

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

by Fr. George Morelli

Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. Jn 14:6

June 4, 2014 + About the Appearance of the Prophet Jeremiah from the Other World

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

This done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs and exceeding glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Onias answered, saying, This is a lover of the brethren, who prays much for the people and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremiah the prophet of God (2 Maccabees 15:13-14).

This was the vision which was seen by the courageous Judas Maccabees. The first to appear to him from the other world was Onias the high priest and after that the holy Prophet Jeremiah. Just as Moses and Elijah were seen in glory by the apostles on Mt. Tabor, thus, at one time Judas Maccabees saw the Prophet Jeremiah in glory. Not even before the resurrected Christ did God the Merciful leave men without proof of life after death. In Christian times, however, those proofs are without number and without end. Whoever, even after all of this, doubts in life after death, that one stands under the curse of his sin as under his grave stone. As inanimate things cannot see the light of day, so neither can he see who doubts life which is and to which there is no end.

Chaplain's Corner + Silence is Golden

by Fr. George Morelli

A number of aphorisms inspired by popular wisdom are especially applicable to this age of instant global communication. I immediately think of one of my father’s favorite instructional sayings: “The wisest word is the word unspoken.” What brings this to my mind are recent media accounts of some notable individuals making some quite unwise statements that they think are private comments, but which later end up being publically broadcasted. Often the individuals themselves are adversely affected, and when they are associated with others, be they corporations, governments or sport teams, the untoward effects extend to many.

Would it not be ideal if “the word unspoken” were not just motivated by desire to avoid the inauspicious consequences of making unwise statements, but, rather, sprang from the habits of a truly virtuous mind and heart? Buddhist wisdom is particularly apt in this understanding: “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”[i] When one has acquired such virtue, then wise silence should follow because it is built on a solid foundation.

May 28, 2014 + No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself

by St. John Chrysostom

... And, tell me, what was the case of the blessed Paul? For there is nothing to prevent my making mention of him again. Did he not experience innumerable storms of trial? And in what respect was he injured by them? Was he not crowned with victory all the more in consequence—because he suffered hunger, because he was consumed with cold and nakedness, because he was often tortured with the scourge, because he was stoned, because he was cast into the sea? But then some one says he was Paul, and called by Christ. Yet Judas also was one of the twelve, and he too was called of Christ; but neither his being of the twelve nor his call profited him, because he had not a mind disposed to virtue. But Paul although struggling with hunger, and at a loss to procure necessary food, and daily undergoing such great sufferings, pursued with great zeal the road which leads to heaven: whereas Judas although he had been called before him, and enjoyed the same advantages as he did, and was initiated in the highest form of Christian life, and partook of the holy table and that most awful of sacred feasts, and received such grace as to be able to raise the dead, and cleanse the lepers, and cast out devils, and often heard discourses concerning poverty, and spent so long a time in the company of Christ Himself, and was entrusted with the money of the poor, so that his passion might be soothed thereby (for he was a thief) even then did not become any better, although he had been favoured with such great condescension.

May 21, 2014 + On the Name of Jesus

by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov

Elder Sophrony Sakharov, a true Father in Christ for our times, having immersed himself in the practice of pure prayer from the heart, explains that:

"the Name Jesus as His proper Name is ontologically connected with Him. For us it is the bridge between ourselves and Him [cf. Jn. 20:29]. It is the channel through which divine strength comes to us. Proceeding from the All-Holy, it [His Name] is holy and we are sanctified by invoking it. With this Name and through this Name our prayer acquires a certain objective form or significance: It unites us with God."

May 14, 2014 + On the Delayed Coming of the Holy Spirit

by St. John Chrysostom

But why did the Holy Ghost come to them, not while Christ was present, nor even immediately after his departure, but, whereas Christ ascended on the fortieth day, the Spirit descended "when the day of Pentecost," that is, the fiftieth, "was fully come?" (Acts ii. 1.) And how was it, if the Spirit had not yet come, that He said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost?" (John xx. 22.) In order to render them capable and meet for the reception of Him. For if Daniel fainted at the sight of an Angel (Dan. viii. 17), much more would these when about to receive so great a grace. Either this then is to be said, or else that Christ spoke of what was to come, as if come already; as when He said, "Tread ye upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the devil." (Luke x. 19.) But why had the Holy Ghost not yet come? It was fit that they should first be brought to have a longing desire for that event, and so receive the grace. For this reason Christ Himself departed, and then the Spirit descended. For had He Himself been there, they would not have expected the Spirit so earnestly as they did. On this account neither did He come immediately after Christ's Ascension, but after eight or nine days. It is the same with us also; for our desires towards God are then most raised, when we stand in need.

Staying Connected To Our Spiritual Family: Our Parish Church

by Fr. George Morelli

This article is an adaptation and revision of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR)i President’s Message 2014 04.  I would pray that all readers who are not Society members would be “friends” of the Society because we are commanded by Christ as is mentioned below that we “all may be one.”

All the members, associate members and friends of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR) know the great importance of assiduously praying and working to conform ourselves - and all of our Apostolic Churches and Christian ecclesial communities as well - to Christ’s priestly prayer to His Father at the Last Supper: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (Jn 17: 21).ii Though St. John records Our Lord using the phrase “may be one” three times in His discourse (in verses 11,1, and 22), I have chosen verse 21 because in this prayer Christ tells the ill consequences of separation and the blessings of unity: “. . .that the world may believe.” Separation is a scandal that disparages Christ and His Church. It sows the evil seed of mockery of His message. It is as if onlookers could say: “If those who call themselves Christians cannot get along, how credible are any of Christ’s teachings?”

May 7, 2014 + On Sacred Tradition, Part 2

by Fr. Michael Pomazansky

We find this sacred ancient Tradition

  • in the most ancient record of the Church, the Canons of the Holy Apostles;
  • in the Symbols of Faith of the ancient local churches;
  • in the ancient Liturgies, in the rite of Baptism, and in other ancient prayers;
  • in the ancient Acts of the Christian martyrs. The Acts of the martyrs did not enter into use by the faithful until they had been examined and approved by the local bishops; and they were read at the public gatherings of Christians under the supervision of the leaders of the churches. In them we see the confession of the Most Holy Trinity, the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, examples of the invocation of the saints, of belief in the conscious life of those who had reposed in Christ, and much else;
  • in the ancient records of the history of the Church, especially in the book of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, where there are gathered many ancient traditions of rite and dogma-in particular, there is given the canon of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments;
  • in the works of the ancient Fathers and teachers of the Church;
  • and, finally, in the very spirit of the Church's life, in the preservation of faithfulness to all her foundations which come from the Holy Apostles.

The Apostolic Tradition which has been preserved and guarded by the Church, by the very fact that it has been kept by the Church, becomes the Tradition of the Church herself, it "belongs" to her, it testifies to her; and, in parallel to Sacred Scripture it is called by her, "Sacred Tradition."

April 30, 2014 + On Sacred Tradition, Part 1

by Fr. Michael Pomazansky

IN THE ORIGINAL PRECISE meaning of the word, Sacred Tradition is the tradition which comes from the ancient Church of Apostolic times. In the second to the fourth centuries this was called "the Apostolic Tradition."

... In the following words St. Basil the Great gives us a clear understanding of the Sacred Apostolic Tradition: "Of the dogmas and sermons preserved in the Church, certain ones we have from written instruction, and certain ones we have received from the Apostolic Tradition, handed down in secret. Both the one and the other have one and the same authority for piety, and no one who is even the least informed in the decrees of the Church will contradict this. For if we dare to overthrow the unwritten customs as if they did not have great importance, we shall thereby imperceptively do harm to the Gospel in its most important points. And even more, we shall be left with the empty name of the Apostolic preaching without content. For example, let us especially make note of the first and commonest thing, that those who hope in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Who taught this in Scripture? Which Scripture instructed us that we should turn to the east in prayer? Which of the saints left us in written form the words of invocation during the transformation of the bread of the Eucharist and the Chalice of blessing? For we are not satisfied with the words which are mentioned in the Epistles or the Gospels, but both before them and after them we pronounce others also as having great authority for the Mystery, having received them from the unwritten teaching.

Chaplain's Corner + Spiritual Neglect

by Fr. George Morelli

Some years ago there was a fast food chain advertisement tagline: “Where’s the beef?” As we look around modern society we can easily modify the tagline as a description of the current ‘state of the world’: ‘Where is the spiritual’? The dictionary word that best fits this description is sloth. Sloth is typically defined as “apathy” and inactivity in the practice of virtue.” It can also be enumerated as one of the “deadly sins,” and be considered as a neglect of God and His word.

In the book of Proverbs (19: 23-24) we read: “The fear of the Lord is unto life: and he shall abide in fullness without being visited with evil. The slothful hideth his hand under his armpit, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth.” Many of the world’s religious traditions warn of the neglect of the spiritual. Hindu writings inform us: “"When a man, having freed his mind from sloth, distraction, and vacillation, becomes as it were delivered from his mind, that is the highest point."i In Islamic tradition we read: “"O Allah! I seek refuge in You from worry and sorrow. I seek refuge in You from incapacity and sloth.”ii Buddhism lists a number of hindrances or obstructions to attaining a spiritual life. Among the five important ones listed are ‘sloth - torpor (thina-middha). It has its deleterious effect by interfering with tranquility and blocking insight.iii

April 23, 2014 + About Stirring up Pure Minds

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; through them by way of reminder I am trying to stir up your sincere disposition" (2 St. Peter 3:1).

Do you see brethren, the goal with which the Apostle Peter writes in his epistle? To stir up in people their pure minds! The apostle considers this as the main thing. And truly, it is the main thing. For if in every man the dormant pure mind would be awakened, there would not be a single human soul left on earth who would not have believed in Christ the Lord; who would not have confessed Him as the crucified and resurrected Savior of the world; and who would not have contritely turned to repentance for sins committed by the inducement of an impure mind.