by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Click here to read Part 1
Now let me ask you, if our bodies are members of Christ, can it be right to abuse them by smoking and overeating? Think about it. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, can it be right to let our hearts, lungs, and muscles grow weak and sickly through lack of exercise and self-control? Think about it!
I believe that the proper care of our bodies is a divine responsibility given to us by God. This is one reason (apart from staying clean from sin), that Scripture tells us to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
But here is a curious fact. At the same time as we Americans foster an obsession with beautiful bodies on T.V., we are also notorious around the world for being out-of-shape and overweight. We had a visitor from Sweden staying with our family recently, and one of the first things she remarked about Americans was how heavy we appeared to her. And the reason for it, I believe, is that we lead an unnatural lifestyle. Her mother rode her bike to work every day, even in the Swedish winter! But what do we Americans do? If we have to go half a block down to the store, what do we do? You know as well as I — we get into the car and drive! Is it then surprising we’re in the kind of shape we’re in? This is why we had to invent artificial exercise — we don’t get the normal exercise that used to be just a part of living.
by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Obsession with the body and health are undoubtedly outstanding characteristics of modern American life. Commercials sing to us, “You work hard for your body, so you better treat it right.” Health spa chains tell us, “I want your body!” Body-oriented commercials try to sell us everything from milk to deodorant, usually accompanied by visual images of so-called perfect bodies in athletic gear. And this kind of imagery is all around us in a way that gets into our minds without our even being aware of it.
Let me give you an example. The other day my son Sean came to me in the kitchen and asked for a glass of milk. After he finished, he said, “Dad, does milk make your body good?” Where do you think he got that question?!! So you can see how much this body-awareness, this body-obsession, has become a part of American life. Even our kids are picking up on it without being aware of it.
Because of this influence, I want to give what I believe are some basic guidelines for a Christian view of the body and health.
The first point I want to make is this:
by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, November 1968
“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee:. . . From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:12, 17)
The chief problem in communicating today is that people do not always say what they mean. Just notice how often people begin a sentence with, “I’m sorry, but ... I was here first;” or, “I’m sorry, but . . . you’re in my way.” What they mean is that they are not sorry at all. They use the word to pretend they are sympathetic to your plight, but in fact they take the opportunity, while they are still speaking, to argue in behalf of their own personal interests.
Sorry does not mean just sorrowful. One who is truly sorry for his acts recognizes that his behavior is wrong and regrets his actions. In no way does he justify his deeds. On the contrary, he repents, seeking a new course of action.
The very first words spoken by our Lord at the beginning of His ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17). Those to whom he spoke knew what He meant. He was demanding a total conversion of the inner self, which includes: (a) recognizing that one’s way of life is contrary to God’s plan for man: (b) giving up all self-reliance and surrendering unconditionally to our Creator: (c) converting one’s whole being to the Will of God.
One interesting thing about people: we have a tendency to want others to treat us with understanding and compassion. The cry for mercy can be heard everywhere around the globe. Unfortunately, this cry is often one-sided. We want what we consider fairness, mercy and forgiveness for ourselves, but are reluctant to apply the same to others.
from The Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on The Epistle of St. Paul to The Galatians
"For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12)
You observe how sedulously he affirms that he was taught of Christ, who Himself, without human intervention, condescended to reveal to him all knowledge. And if he were asked for his proof that God Himself thus immediately revealed to him these ineffable mysteries, he would instance his former manner of life, arguing that his conversion would not have been so sudden, had it not been by Divine revelation. For when men have been vehement and eager on the contrary side, their conviction, if it is effected by human means, requires much time and ingenuity. It is clear therefore that he, whose conversion is sudden, and who has been sobered in the very height of his madness, must have been vouchsafed a Divine revelation and teaching, and so have at once arrived at complete sanity. On this account he is obliged to relate his former life, and to call the Galatians as witnesses of past events. That the Only-Begotten Son of God had Himself from heaven vouchsafed to call me, says he, you who were not present, could not know, but that I was a persecutor you do know. For my violence even reached your ears, and the distance between Palestine and Galatia is so great, that the report would not have extended thither, had not my acts exceeded all bounds and endurance. Wherefore he says,
by Lynette A. Smith
Not All By Herself
Orthodox believers of both the Eastern and Western Rites celebrate major feast days in honor of the events of the Theotokos’ life. St. Luke records three of these important occurrences: the Annunciation, March 25 (1:26-38), the Visitation, July 2 (1:39-56), and the Presentation, February 2 (2:21-39). One of the features these three stories have in common is that our Lady is never alone; rather, other people share in the events of her life.
We know that Mary deliberately goes to be with her cousin Elizabeth after Mary’s annunciation. Nor is Mary is alone at the Temple when she presents the infant Jesus, because the Gospel tells us that at least her husband, Joseph, the priest, and Saints Simon and Anna are there for the occasion. Mary’s annunciation itself, however, seems a little different. Yes, the archangel Gabriel comes to her, but he leaves after delivering his message, and we do not read that she has anyone else with her. Or, does she?
In fact, those who attend Orthodox Western Rite parishes discover in the lectionary readings for the Feast of the Annunciation that five women from the Old Testament spiritually join with the Blessed Virgin Mary. These women, in order of their liturgical appearance, are Eve, Sarah, the Psalmist’s royal Queen, the conceiving Virgin in Isaiah, and Hannah.
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, April 1978
I want to start an argument. However, if we are going to argue we must do so on my terms only. I must write both sides of the script. Not only must I know what I want to say but you must respond precisely the way I expect you to. Does that sound unreasonable? Of course it does. Yet there are many people who insist that they write both sides of the dialogue, and who are upset when others won’t follow their script.
Some people really think they have the right to decide how others should respond to them. A wise person once said that your feelings are hurt not because of what people say but because of what you hear. That makes a lot of sense to me. If we are in a disturbed frame of mind and emotionally upset, we hear things that other people really did not say. They may have said the words, but their intent was very different from the meaning which we received. We must be extremely careful that we not try to write both sides of the dialogue. We cannot control the scripts of life. Life’s scenario can be filled with love or with bitterness, with forgiveness or with grudge bearing.
Jesus said, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 5:20) He also said, “The kingdom of God is among you.” (St. Luke 17:21) It’s not beyond the clouds, it is among you. You can be together in this group, in the same congregation and some of you are already in the kingdom and some of you are not because there are those among you whose virtue goes no deeper than the virtue of the scribes and the Pharisees.
The core of Deacon Philip's service to everyone, whether as paramedic, husband, father, or deacon in the church, was his love for God. And that love has touched hundreds, even thousands, with God's mercy.
I cannot remember a time in my ministry when Deacon Philip Gilbert (also known as Frank Delano Gilbert, or affectionately as “Lane") wasn't somewhere around, helping, strengthening, and encouraging me. He was one of the most remarkable young men I have ever known.
We began working together when Lane was quite young. Even as a teenager, Lane was special. He was one of those who was always involved in church services, in special programs, in Bible study groups. At school, he was an outspoken witness for Christ. He was quite talented - an athlete, intelligent, musical. He devoted his summers to teaching children about Christ, working as a counselor at the Lake Region Christian Assembly in Crown Point, Indiana. His enthusiasm was contagious; he could be entertaining and still bring young people to see that loving Christ was what life is all about. And his sincerity made the music and teaching all the more special.
When l served as youth minister at the Deep River Church of Christ in Hobart, Indiana, Lane was in my youth group, as was his wife-to-be, Kimberly. God had his reasons for bringing us all together, for as future events would reveal, we would all make the journey to Orthodoxy at Holy Resurrection Church - first in Gary, then in Hobart. l would one day watch with joy as these two fine Christians were married, and celebrate with them the birth of their three children, David (now 13), Christine (11), and Emily (8).
from The Word, October 1961
The Fathers of our Church derived all of their teachings from Orthodoxy. However, they gave everything they possessed for the triumph of the Orthodox Faith, which is the priceless treasure of Christian truth. Nowadays, when we speak about Orthodoxy, we immediately think of all the great figures of the Church, who were the pillars of Orthodoxy. The life, work and spiritual struggles of the Church Fathers are organically and inextricably interwoven with Orthodoxy.
There is a common characteristic among the great figures of Orthodoxy, the guardians of our Faith. That is, they did not only speak and write or struggle against heresy, but they also lived and radiated the spirit of Orthodoxy through the example of their holy lives. This is their great secret. To this they owe their eternal spiritual greatness and also their triumph against all those, who with such madness sought to counterfeit and falsify the truth of Christ. For this reason, they are not simply called Teachers, but Fathers of the Orthodox Church. They had lived a life “in Christ’’ before they began to struggle against those who fought the deity of our Lord. Saint Paul’s “in Christ” which we find in all his Epistles was a blessed reality for the Fathers.
The spiritual struggles of the Fathers against those who fought the Holy Spirit do not derive only from a theological knowledge concerning the Holy Spirit. The Fathers lived in the Holy Spirit. For this reason, they became the spiritual Heralds of Orthodoxy. They had personally lived every Christian truth, for the sake of which they entered fearless and unyielding into the arena of the spiritual struggle.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians
"And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:11)
That is, that all should say so; and this is glory to the Father. Seest thou how wherever the Son is glorified, the Father is also glorified? Thus too when the Son is dishonored, the Father is dishonored also. If this be so with us, where the difference is great between fathers and sons, much more in respect of God, where there is no difference, doth honor and insult pass on to Him. If the world be subjected to the Son, this is glory to the Father. And so when we say that He is perfect, wanting nothing, and not inferior to the Father, this is glory to the Father, that he begat such a one. This is a great proof of His power also, and goodness, and wisdom, that He begat one no whit inferior, neither in wisdom nor in goodness. When I say that He is wise as the Father, and no whit inferior, this is a proof of the great wisdom of the Father; when I say that He is powerful as the Father, this is a proof of the Father's power. When I say that He is good as the Father, this is the greatest evidence of His goodness, that He begat such (a Son), in no whit less or inferior to Himself. When I say that He begat Him not inferior in substance but equal, and not of another substance, in this I again wonder at God, His power, and goodness, and wisdom, that He hath manifested to us another, of Himself, such as Himself, except in His not being the Father. Thus whatsoever great things I say of the Son, pass on to the Father. Now if this small and light matter (for it is but a light thing to God's glory that the world should worship Him) is to the glory of God, how much more so are all those other things?
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. (1Cor 4:5)
Even a casual reading of Jesus’ encounters with others in the Scriptures shows that He did not demand anyone disclose their thoughts and feelings to Him. We could say that He had respect for mankind's free will, for those creatures which He made in His image and called to be like Him. He would ask a question, but never demand an answer. He counseled, but never forced compliance. He read the hearts and minds of many, but never coerced anyone to tell Him what came from their heart, against their will.
Consider the record of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man told to us by St. Matthew (19: 16-22):
And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves." (2 Corinthians 4:7)
For seeing he had spoken many and great things of the unspeakable glory, lest any should say, 'And how enjoying so great a glory remain we in a mortal body?' he saith, that this very thing is indeed the chiefest marvel and a very great example of the power of God, that an earthen vessel hath been enabled to bear so great a brightness and to keep so high a treasure. And therefore as admiring this, he said, "That the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves;" again alluding to those who gloried in themselves. For both the greatness of the things given and the weakness of them that receive show His power; in that He not only gave great things, but also to those who are little. For he used the term "earthen" in allusion to the frailty of our mortal nature, and to declare the weakness of our flesh. For it is nothing better constituted than earthenware; so is it soon damaged, and by death and disease and variations of temperature and ten thousand other things easily dissolved. And he said these things both to take down their inflation, and to show to all that none of the things we hold is human. For then is the power of God chiefly conspicuous, when by vile it worketh mighty things. Wherefore also in another place He said, "For My power is made perfect in weakness."(2 Cor. xii. 9.) And indeed in the Old [Testament] whole hosts of barbarians were turned to flight by gnats and flies, wherefore also He calleth the caterpillar His mighty forces; (Joel ii. 25.) and in the beginning, by only confounding tongues, He put a stop to that great tower in Babylon. And in their wars too, at one time, He routed innumerable hosts by three hundred men; at another He overthrew cities by trumpets; and afterwards by a little and poor stripling, David, He turned to flight the whole army of barbarians. So then here also, sending forth twelve only He overcame the world; twelve, and those, persecuted, warred against.
by Fr. Richard L. Tinker
from The Word, November 1966
A short time ago I was discussing religious education with a Roman Catholic priest. I have always felt that it is a good idea to shop around for ideas, moving on the assumption that someone else may have solved or at least learned to live with a problem that is currently troubling you.
The priest described himself to me as one who was “up to his neck” in religious education. His parish is a large one: over six thousand parishioners attend Sunday Masses, the earliest of which begins at 5: 30 am. His parochial school, a huge complex of three buildings, educate nearly five thousand students, many of whom are not even members of his parish. The priest also directly supervises the Released Time Religious Education Program. Under provisions of the program, hundreds of students are released from the Public Schools in the neighborhood an hour early on a specified day each week in order to attend special religious instruction classes in his school. When they arrive, they are taught by dedicated nuns especially trained for that work. The classes are conducted in modern classrooms, furnished with beautifully illustrated textbooks, and crammed with the latest audio-visual aids. I remarked that he was working under near perfect circumstances, and that his program must be succeeding rather well.
He nodded, sat back, and with a wry smile, said: “I wish it were, Father. The plain fact is that we are not. Oh, the kids come, all right. They learn a lot about the Church, but I’m pretty sure that we are going to lose most of them.”
But the soul falls ill when its right judgment is impaired and it is overcome by the passions which cause disease (St. Neilos the Ascetic, Philokalia I).
Those of the Fathers of the Church who wrote about the spiritual life were keen observers of human behavior and because of that emphasized the need for “right judgment,” as in St. Neilos’s words, to control and direct human “passions,” or what we now call emotions.
Our understanding of man created by God is that he is composed of body, mind and soul-spirit. While not apprehending the complexity and nuances of brain-behavior relationships, our Church Fathers spoke about the different types of knowledge that was related to each component of mankind. St. Maximus the Confessor (Philokalia II) notes: “Since man is constituted of soul and sentient body, he is limited and defined and he himself imposes limits and makes definitions by virtue of the natural and distinctive reciprocity that exists between himself and these two aspects of creation.” The saint goes on to say: “As a compound of soul and body he is limited essentially by intelligible and sensible realities, while at the same time he himself defines these realities through the capacity to apprehend intellectually and to perceive with his senses.” In achieving our end to become “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Pt 1:4) it behooves us to use all the gifts, natural and spiritual that God has granted to us.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2: 28
These words by the prophet Joel (whose name means Yahweh is God) were spoken during the reign of King Uzziah (800 BC). Uzziah's reign was focused on achieving success in external and internal policies, including extending economic and military resources.
Joel prophesized during a time of great calamity, most often plague and pestilence. He considered these upheavals not only as natural disasters, but also an indication of an impending judgment by God when the people broke His law, a presage of God’s convulsing of the earth, known in scriptural terminology the "day of the Lord."
The notion of an Old Testament God raining judgment on the earth strikes modern ears as a quaint relic of the past (but not one that has been drained of all fear). But is this accurate? Or is our modern perception more the detritus of sated hearts and distracted minds; the result of the surfeit of material goods we consume beyond our immediate needs?
If the question appears too strong, consider the words of Christ: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:19-24). What is our treasure? The treasures of many Westerners are material goods, comfort, wealth, luxury, power, sensual gratification, and technological escape. When any of these elements become an end in themselves, when they distract us from God and the commandment to love Him and our neighbor; they become idols - false gods which substitute for the light and life that has its source and origin only in the true God.
by Nick Papas
from The Word, December 2001
My dad oversaw many projects in his years of working as a manager for Westinghouse. He learned various managerial methods along the way. One fascinating lesson he passed along to me can be applied to the Church and fasting. It has to do with helping anyone involved in a project to see “the big picture.” Dad explained that seeing “the big picture” gives people a sense of fulfillment. Being able to see how their piece fits into the puzzle also helps them to do their work in a less burdened manner.
Often, when involved in a project, we have incomplete, strange and even wrong reasons given to us for why we are doing what we are doing. This can happen to Christians that are given the “project” of fasting. We often do not have “the big picture”; instead we have incomplete or poor information. By applying my dad’s managerial method maybe believers would find fasting to be less burdensome and more fulfilling.
What is “the big picture” when it comes to fasting? To know that God loves us! I am reminded of the story of when someone caught a glimpse of St. Herman of Alaska carrying a huge log. The log was well beyond the weight of something he should have been able to haul. Here is a literal example of a heavy load being made light. Did Herman possess superpowers? Yes. He possessed the superpower of the knowledge of God’s personal love for him.
BOOK REVIEW: Surviving the Folded Flag
Book Author: Deborah H. Tainsh
Book Review Author: V. Rev. Archpriest Fr. George Morelli, Ph.D.
Most of those who make a decision to serve our country in the armed forces take the military oath, receive training and then many are sent into harm’s way. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. Their loved ones, family and friends become members of the military family much less formally, but certainly as deeply. They do not take the oath of office and receive no training for what they may encounter. The “insignia” of informal members of the military family for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is the “Gold Star” flag. As explained by Mrs. Tainsh, this flag started in World War I. For a family with two sons serving in the U.S. armed forces the flag originally had two blue stars. After one was killed in action the color of one of the stars was changed to gold. A congressman read into the Congressional Record the significance of the flag: "The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother — their children."
“…and grant that this Thy handmaid may, in all things, be pleasing to her husband; and that this Thy servant may love and cherish his wife; that they may live according to Thy Will.” (from the Marriage Service Prayers of the Orthodox Church)
The ideal of Christian marriage is well known: “that they may abound in every work that is good and acceptable unto thee.”[i] A marriage that is blessed by God is one that interiorizes the Love the Persons of the Holy Trinity have for each other, as well as the Love they have for their creation. Thus a husband and wife’s relationship will manifest Christ’s instruction to his Apostles: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13: 34). It will also demonstrate the words of the Father, said of our ancestral parents, “ . . . male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it . . . .” (Gen 1: 27-28). In other words, they will produce, and will love their offspring in emulation of the creative loving act of God Himself. (Morelli, 2008). At times, faulty cognitions and the ensuing dysfunctional and behavioral barriers get in the way of actualizing Divinely enlivened spousal love. Ultimatum is one such roadblock.
by Christopher Holwey
I would like to offer a few words here concerning the difference between volunteerism and stewardship, and how it correctly pertains to our life in the Church. Over the years, I have seen many of us in the church struggle to get more and more people to participate and “volunteer” to do what needs to be done to keep our churches going.
I remember the first time I met Scott Hakim, a United States Marine who had grown up attending St. Anthony’s Orthodox Church in Bergenfeld, New Jersey. I was assigned to that parish while attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and he was just coming back from Iraq; I had been invited to his coming-home party at his family’s house on a Sunday afternoon. The thing I remember best is being lost – his father Jerry Hakim could tell you how many times I called, just to find the house!
Ever since then, it feels like I have been trying hard to find him in one place or another. Soon after he left New Jersey that Sunday afternoon to head back to Camp Lejeune, I received orders from the Navy Chaplain Corps, stationing me with the Marines, actually right down the street from him. Our command buildings were less than half a mile from each other, but getting together was not so easy – we stay pretty busy in the Marine Corps. Through a series of phone calls and near misses over my first six weeks at Camp Lejeune, we finally got together on the base, and my wife and I eventually got him over to our house for dinner. He also became a regular at my little Orthodox Chapel at nearby Camp Johnson.
In October of this past year I realized I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks, and called his cell phone. There was no answer. It turned out he was at a training exercise across the country. As he returned, I traveled west for training, missing him again. And then I was deployed to Afghanistan in January.
With different ‘old-calendar’ and ‘new-calendar’ dates for Nativity, an early Lent, Easter candy at the supermarket already, and a new iPhone that I can’t seem to synch with my Outlook calendar, I have to admit I have calendar vertigo. It started when I attended a festive party on December 26th and listened to a certain lawyer, a young priest and a smart seminary graduate debate the Old Julian and New Gregorian Ecclesial calendars regarding the date of the Nativity Feast. Honestly, it was confusing: Why is it that we Antiochians just celebrated Christmas on the 25th with the Western Catholic church and our American Protestant culture, but the Russian church downtown is still fasting? For the sake of unity can’t we be on one calendar? If unity is what you want, we should switch to the Old Julian Calendar because North American Orthodoxy is the minority compared to worldwide Orthodoxy. Does it really matter if one calendar is 13 days off five hundred years from now? On and on the conversation went with a spirit of love, fun and debate, but no real resolution.
Soon we talked of other things, but I left that night thinking about calendars and the rhythms they create in our lives. When one takes a moment to reflect on the rhythm of our days, weeks, months and years, one starts to realize that the calendar one lives by, or, more accurately, the many calendars one lives by, give a rhythm to your life. Calendars are intertwined with one’s personal walk with Christ and certainly are crucial to one’s own theosis. I looked around and noticed the many calendars that influence the rhythm of my own life.
I was told about a Carolina Governor who was carrying on with a woman who was not his wife, and, when it became public, justified himself on the grounds that she was his “soul mate.” The term is used constantly now and some assume, unfortunately, that we should be constantly looking for this soul mate. This is utter rubbish, of course. There’s no such thing, at least not in the sense we use the term now.
My dad taught me a great number of wise things before his untimely death, and one of them was that we don’t fall in love with “the one person” who was created for us; what usually happens is that we reach a point in life where we’re ready to have a family and the person who most closely resembles our vision of a spouse at that point is the one we focus our attention on. There is a lot of truth in that. I’ve seen it over and over as a parish priest.
At one time that wasn’t a bad thing, either. We generally kept around folks who had been raised with the same basic values and background that we had. Our families often had known each other for some time. Expectations were shared. Now, people can share only four years of college (or a night in a bar) and an overwhelming lust – what a foundation! – but they say, “I’ve met my soul mate.”
Real love, the kind that really works and is good for us, requires more than attraction and appreciation; it requires active, sacrifi cial love. Real love is not about self-actualization and self-discovery – that can be therapy, not love. Real love requires the Cross of Christ, because God is love. This is the tough stuff: we don’t want sacrifice, we want romanticism instead. A person who is set only on romantic love will never find true love. The romantic is ultimately the sad, melancholic figure at the edge of a cliff watching the crashing of the sea far below.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
"In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-38)
They who come to the divine preaching and give heed to the faith, must manifest the desire of thirsty men for water, and kindle in themselves a similar longing; so will they be able also very carefully to retain what is said. For as thirsty men, when they have taken a bowl, eagerly drain it and then desist, so too they who hear the divine oracles if they receive them thirsting, will never be weary until they have drunk them up. For to show that men ought ever to thirst and hunger, "Blessed," it saith, "are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt. v. 6); and here Christ saith, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." What He saith is of this kind, "I draw no man to Me by necessity and constraint; but if any hath great zeal, if any is inflamed with desire, him I call."
Almighty God has gifted Orthodox Christianity with monasticism. It is the “alternative lifestyle” of Orthodoxy to which some, but not all, are called. Many sources state that the monastic life is the angelic life. Going one step further, some sources even state that God has replaced the angelic ranks that fell with Satan with the men and women who have been called to the angelic (that is, monastic) life.
When we think of monasticism, several images and ideas come to mind – such as monasteries, the prayer life, and asceticism. But what about evangelism? Does the angelic life have a connection with the evangelical life that we Orthodox Christians are supposed to be living daily (especially those of us in the “front lines” – in our parishes and in the secular world)?
If we turn to the hymnography of the feastday of the Synaxis of the Angels (November 8), in particular to the stichera on “Lord, I call …” at Great Vespers, we get some surprising insights about the angelic life worthy of consideration and application in the monastic life.
The angelic life is one of worship. Stichera 6 states:
As thou hast been manifested standing all resplendent, before the triluminary Godhead, O Michael, leader of hosts, thou dost shout rejoicing with the powers on high, “Holy Father! Holy Coeternal Word! Holy, Holy Spirit! One Glory and Sovereignty, one Nature, one Godhead, and one Power.”
“What do you mean, Ian goes to church?” other parents and teachers would ask me about my son, who has autism spectrum disorder. “How can he stay still for that long?” Ian would leap out of his chair in class and sway back and forth. At home, nothing could keep his attention – not movies, TV, or even baking his favorite cookies. In his day program, he needed constant one-to-one supervision in order to do his work. So what is it about the Orthodox Church that allows Ian to follow the deacon’s frequent reminders in the Liturgy “to attend”?
First of all, there is the music. Ian taps his foot and sways to music of all kinds, but the words contained in the rhythm and repetition of chanting keep his attention and stay in his memory. This is no accident, because the Orthodox Church has relied on the senses to teach its doctrine since the very beginning. Besides hearing the Word, we can see and learn about the characters and events in the Bible that are displayed everywhere in the church. Ian enjoys looking at the murals and icons in church that, along with the burning candles, calm him and help him to focus. He also tracks the colors of the priest’s garments and the processions around the altar. Smelling incense and flowers in the church is another sensory pathway to Ian’s memory. Before praying for his family, he sniffs the roses and candles.
Why are the repetition of words, and the chants and the movements so important to someone like Ian with symptoms of autism? Ian knows that he can count on the same order of liturgy every Sunday. This consistency gives a meaningful pattern and framework to the torrent of overwhelming sensations. Unchanging is not only a historical characteristic of the liturgy, it is also an important psychological strength. In these times of overnight change, we all need a place and time to come for support and consistency.