A reflection on the passage: “The paths of their way are turned aside [Job 6:18].”
by St. Gregory the Great
from Gregory the Great, by John Morrhead, from “The Early Church Fathers” series. Routledge, 2005, pp. 89-91.
Everything which is turned aside is twisted back on itself. Now, there are some who undertake to withstand the sins which draw them astray with their whole strength, but when the critical moment of temptation arrives they do not remain firm in their purpose. For one person, puffed up with the perverse insolence of pride, when he considers that the rewards of humility are great, rises up against himself and, as it were, lays aside his inflated, swollen arrogance, and promises to display humility in the face of all insults. But on being suddenly struck by just one insulting word, he straightaway returns to his old pride, and he is brought back to his swollen headedness to such an extent that he completely forgets having aspired to the virtue of humility. Someone else, stirred by avarice, is panting to increase his possessions...
Someone else is kindled by flames of anger and is so headstrong that he hurls insults at his enemies... And so, when he is just able to exercise restraint after his abusive language, it is too late...
By Bishop John Abdalah
From the October 2012 edition of The Word magazine
Metropolitan Philip has designated October Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Each October we highlight the contributions, activities, and needs of our youth. This year I would like to highlight their needs.
Our youth need Jesus Christ. The need: a real relationship with Christ that will sustain them when their faith is challenged by peers, academics, change, loss and fear. Our youth need pious and holy adults willing to share honestly. Our youth need mentors who will share boldly and unashamedly the Orthodox faith delivered to us from the Apostles and preserved in the Church without alteration or adulteration. Orthodox adults, our youth need you.
Our youth need liturgy. Liturgy is the cooperative work of God and His people. It is here that we join the angelic world at God’s throne to praise Him and interact with His Word, and to be fed in the Eucharist. Liturgy by its very nature can only happen as we gather as the Church. This Church prayer does not happen at the hockey rink or golf course. It doesn’t happen watching sit-coms on television or mowing the lawn. It only happens when we gather as the Church to be the Church. It only happens around the Eucharist and around the bishop or his designee. It is essential to knowing God in the biblical sense of sharing God’s Oneness and living in Him. We who are made one with God in baptism are nurtured by God through His Church in Sunday and festal worship.
An Explanation of the Bread, Wine, and Water Offering at the Proskomedia Service Before the Divine Liturgy
by St. Germanus of Constantinople
from his commentary On the Divine Liturgy, translated by Paul Meyendorff, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984, p. 71.
The bread of offering [offered by our prosfora bakers], which is purified, signifies the superabundant riches of the goodness of our God, because the Son of God became man and gave Himself as an offering and oblation in ransom and atonement for the life and salvation of the world He assumed the entirety of human nature, except for sin. He offered Himself as first-fruits and chosen whole burnt-offering to the God and Father on behalf of the human race, as is written: 'I am the bread which came down from heaven,” and 'He who eats this bread will live for ever' (Jn. 6:51). About this the Prophet Jeremiah says: 'Come, let us place a stake in his bread' (11:19 LXX), point to the wood of the cross nailed to His body.
The piece which is cut out [of the loaf] with the lance [by the priest] signifies that 'Like a sheep He is led to the slaughter, and like a lamb that before its shearer is dumb' (cf. Is. 54:7).
It’s a place we call home, a place where our youth gather every summer, a place where relationships are formed and strengthened, a place that is so difficult to leave, and a place where Christ is truly present. This special place is the Antiochian Village Camp, a family that has influenced our Archdiocese for many years in inexplicable ways. I have been involved with the Village for the past fifteen summers— nine as a camper and CIT, and the past six as a staff member. Every year I fall more in love with the Village, the ministry, and the Orthodox Church.
The influence the Camp has had on our youth is incredible! I have grown up at St. Mary’s Church in Johnstown, a small town in Western Pennsylvania. I have seen the effect the Village has had on our youth in my home parish, our diocese, as well as the youth from around the country.
by St. Justin Popovich
from his The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism, p. 27-28
He who believes in the Lord Christ continually grows by His Truth into its divine infinity; grows with all his being, his mind, heart and soul. Thus he lives constantly by Christ's Truth, as it constitutes life itself in Christ. Life in Christ is life in truth (Eph. 4:15), a constant abiding with all our being in the truth of Christ. A Christian's life in truth stems from his love for the Lord Christ. He is constantly growing and developing in that love, for love never faileth (II Cor. 13:8). This love for the Lord Christ is the motive for our life in His Truth and maintains us in it. It allows a Christian constantly to grow in Christ, into all His height, breadth and depth (cf. Eph. 3:17-19). We are never alone, but are with all the saints, in the Church and with the Church, as it is impossible otherwise to grow into Him which is the Head of the Body of the Church, even Christ (Eph. 4:15). When we live in the truth, we do so with all the saints, and when we love, we love with all the saints, for all is conciliar in the Church; all that happens is with all the saints because all constitute one spiritual Body, in which all live one conciliar life, by one Spirit and one Truth. Only by living in truth and love with all the saints can we grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ. The Church receives the infinite powers required of all Christians for growth in the theanthropic Body directly from its Head, the Lord Christ. For only He, God and Lord, has these innumerable and infinite powers, and discloses them with supreme wisdom.
by St. Cyril of Alexandria
from his Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, ch. 4, vv. 38-39
But observe again, I pray, how great is the efficacy of the touch of His holy flesh. For It both drives away diseases of various kinds, and a crowd of demons, and overthrows the power of the devil, and heals a very great multitude of people in one moment in time. And though able to perform these miracles by a word and the inclination of His will, yet to teach us something useful for us, He also lays His hands upon the sick. For it was necessary, most necessary, for us to learn that the holy flesh which He had made His own was endowed with the activity of the power of the Word by His having implanted in It a godlike might. Let It then take hold of us, or rather let us take hold of It by the mystical 'Giving of thanks' [the Eucharist], that It may free us also from the sicknesses of the soul, and from the assault and violence of demons.
Smart Parenting XVIII + Applying Christ's Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Merciful for They Shall Obtain Mercy
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy." (Mt. 5:7)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954), the Church Father who has written such extensive Homilies on Christ's Beatitudes, instructs us that this Beatitude on mercy, among all of them, points us in a singular way to the core of who God is. He emphasizes that this "Beatitude is the property of God par excellence."
The saint then tells us of the challenge to us that is inherent in this spiritual perception. He asks:
If, therefore, the term "merciful" is suited to God, what else does the Word invite you to become but God, since you ought to model yourself on the property of the Godhead?
Once we have attained being merciful, then we are deemed worthy of Beatitude, because we have attained that which is characteristic of the Divine Nature. Mercy is one of God’s Divine characteristics that He has revealed to mankind. As the prophet David tells us: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies." (Ps 24: 10). And in another psalm David cries out: "O Lord, thy mercy is in heaven, and thy truth reacheth, even to the clouds." (Ps 35: 6). This is beautifully described by St. Isaac of Syria, who in his 1st Ascetical Homily (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us:
Do you wish to commune with God in your mind by receiving a perception of that delight . . .? Pursue mercy; for when something that is like unto God is found in you, then that holy beauty is depicted by Him. For the whole sum of the deeds of mercy immediately brings the soul into communion with the unity of the glory of the Godhead's splendor.
So much of our current society has given way to the modern notions of tolerance and values, instead of instilling and nurturing concrete virtues in our children, a moral road map to guide them through life’s mysterious and sometimes dangerous adventure that will ultimately lead to their becoming the beloved creatures that God intended.
Dr. Vigen Guroian, in Tending the Heart of Virtue ~ How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, Oxford University Press, 1998, shares his knowledge “in order to be of some assistance to parents or teachers who desire to learn, as we did, what books and stories to read with children in the midst of a busy life in which time is limited and making the right choices is important.” His goal was to fill a void he found in instructional material for parents to introduce and discuss the moral fabric of some of the best loved children’s literature, particularly stories and fairy tales.
Guroian asserts that while fairy tales are not a substitute for life lessons, they do have the ability to shape our moral imagination without dogmatic lessons or settling for values-clarification education. Fairy tales remind adults and teach children that virtue and vice are opposites. In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Guroian walks us through the moral lessons and Biblical references that can be found in some of the most popular children’s stories. He also compares and contrasts modern interpretations to the classic tales from which they are derived. Reading and sharing these insights with children will help grow morally responsible and virtuous adults, and isn’t that our goal?
There are many unexpected and sudden difficult challenges that individuals have to face in modern life Many of these may be considered life-changing experiences. Such events may include, for example, abrupt acute-chronic illness, accidental injury, serious financial adversity, sudden unemployment and/or loss of home, severe family-marriage difficulties. Strong dysfunctional emotions such as anger, anxiety depression and a profound sense of dread are often common reactions.
Developing a healthy psycho-spiritual management resilience and hardiness strategies are helpful when coping with such catastrophes. Resilience is a psychological process of adaptation in the face of obstacles, trauma, tragedy and stress that is related to good emotional, physical and spiritual health. One of the resilience strategies favored by scientific cognitive clinical psychologists is the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and the vicissitudes of life. Two essential cognitive shifts are involved in this process. First, framing choices as preferences by using phrases such as "would like,” rather than considering choices as demands by using words that imply “must,” and second, evaluating realistically, that is, seeing the untoward events as less than 100% bad, instead of consistently over-evaluating by labeling them "terrible, awful or the end of the world, more than 100%." Nothing, after all, can be more than 100%.
Looking at Old Testament Sacred Scripture, Esta Mirani asks: "could we understand Exodus as God taking the Jewish People on a journey from weak to strong, from downtrodden to resilient?" She goes on to conclude: "a deeper reading of Exodus is that God guides us on developing personal strength and resiliency. We can persist and overcome adversity and oppression, and achieve security and a sense of well-being.
Monday mornings have a bad reputation. Many priests find it that way, too. On a typical Monday morning, we preachers go to our studies and look up in the lectionary book which epistle reading and gospel reading are assigned for the liturgy on the next Sunday. Then we preachers take our Bibles and look up those passages. All very easy so far! Now comes the hardest part of preaching: figuring out what to say in the sermon about one of those passages for next Sunday! Some Monday mornings, that is easy. Some Monday mornings, it is tough.
I had a tough Monday morning one week back in May. I knew that I wanted to preach on the gospel reading from John 17 for that Sunday. I’ll have to admit, however, that when I read it over again that Monday, my reaction was a bit of “ho-hum.” It comes up each year on the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost. And it gets read in Holy Week, too – it’s part of that longest of all gospel readings, the first one on Holy Thursday evening. And so I’ve preached on it quite a few times before. So “hohum” was my reaction – what to say about this passage when I preach on it one more time? And then something in the passage jumped out at me, something I knew was in John 17 all along, but it hit me differently somehow that Monday morning, so let me tell you about it.
John 17 is part of Jesus’ long talk with the apostles, and long prayer to the Father, on Holy Thursday evening, the night before He was crucified. In this part of John there is quite a bit about the Holy Trinity.
by St. Justin Popovic
People condemned God to death; with His Resurrection He condemned them to immortality. For striking Him, God returned embraces; for insults, blessings; for death, immortality. Never did men show more hate towards God than when they crucified Him; and God never showed His love towards people more than when He was resurrected. Mankind wanted to make God dead, but God, with His Resurrection, made people alive, the crucified God resurrected on the third day and thereby killed death! There is no more death. Immortality is surrounding man and his entire world.
With the Resurrection of the God-Man, the nature of man is irreversibly led toward the road of immortality and man's nature becomes destructive to death itself. For until the Resurrection of Christ, death was destructive for man; from the Resurrection of Christ, man's nature becomes destructive in death. If man lives in the faith of the Resurrected God Man, he lives above death, he is unreachable for her; death is under man's feet. Death where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory? And when a man who believes in Christ dies, he only leaves his body as his clothes, in which he will be dressed again on the Day of Last Judgment.
Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man; life was first and death was second. Man became accustomed to death as something natural. But after His Resurrection the Lord changed everything: and it was only natural until Christ's Resurrection, that the people became mortal, so after Christ's Resurrection it was natural that the people became immortal.
A recent opinion article in The Christian Science Monitor, titled, “The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism,” by the late blogger and evangelical pastor Michael Spencer (also known as “The Internet Monk”), created quite a stir with its publication in May 2012. (It was originally written in 2009). His apocalyptic opening lines were: “Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants.” His prediction is that the evangelical movement in its varied forms is collapsing for a number of reasons, including the following:
- too close an identification with social and political conservatism and the so-called “culture wars”;
- failure to pass on to evangelical young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive;
- Christian education not having produced a people who can withstand the rising tide of secularism;
- Christian ministries increasingly coming into conflict with a secular society that sees its “good works” as “bad”;
- an inability to pass on to their children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith; and
- the sources of money will dry up.
Eastern Orthodox Churches will be shortterm beneficiaries
Spiritual retreats, summer camps, and involvement in local Teen SOYO activities are among the many opportunities for teens to learn, grow, and become leaders in our Orthodox Christian Faith. For over 43 years, members of Teen SOYO have ministered to the youth across our Archdiocese. Every year, The Order of St. Ignatius funds Teen SOYO programs, such as Teen SOYO Leadership Training, and Special Olympics Sports Camp. With generous annual funding from the Order of St. Ignatius, Teen SOYO is blessed with many opportunities for development and expansion. Through the gifts and faith of members of the Order of St. Ignatius, Teen SOYO is able to elect new leaders annually and train them, and fulfill its mission of training and empowering youth.
by St. Theophan the Recluse
taken from The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p. 51
What is prayer? What is its essence? How can we learn to pray? What does the spirit of the Christian experiences as he prayers in humility in his heart?
All such questions should constantly occupy the mind and heart of the believer, for in prayer man converses with God, he enters, through grace, into communion with Him, and lives in God. And the Holy Father and teachers of the Church gives answers to all these questions, based on the grace-given enlightenment which is acquired through the experience of practicing prayer – experience equally accessible to the simple and to the wise.
Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the drive force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong.
Members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, in fact those baptized into any of the Apostolic Churches, have a very important responsibility this Fall 2012 season. American citizens will have the opportunity to vote for the President of the United States as well as for any number of other national, state andlocal offices. The mix of religion and politics in issues in this electoral season has made the usual politicking even more contentious and challenging than in past years.
In no manner shape or form is this message meant to support any particular candidate or political party. The only purpose of this message is to serve as a reminder for all to carefully discern the Mind of Christ and His Church on the critical moral issues raised in this election and to let Christ and the teachings of His Apostolic Churches be our guide in our witness by our political words, deeds and votes.
Unfortunately, some candidates want to usurp our right speak up for ourselves on issues. A particularly egregious statement I constantly hear from candidates for office from all political parties in the United States is, "What the American people want is. . . ." To have some modicum of honesty, politicians could at the very least somewhat qualify such arrogant rhetoric by saying: "Some American people want . . . ." I, for example, am one of these "American people." For a candidate to imply that I want something against the teachings of Christ and His Church is to take away the freedom of speech and religion granted to me – and all - by the constitution and, more importantly, granted by God to all to mankind by His making us in His image and giving us free will.
by St. Gregory Palamas
from The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, written and compiled by Holy Apostles Convent, p. 13.
'For her [the Theotokos'] sake, the God-possessed prophets pronounced prophecies, and miracles are wrought to foretell that future great miracle of the world, the Ever-Virgin mother of God. Generation after generation of vicissitudes and historical events, make a path to their ultimate destination, to the new mystery that will be a type of the future truth of the Spirit. The end, or rather the beginning and root of those earlier events and wonders accomplished in the virtues, of what was to be accomplished (in their daughter).' In another homily, he comments, 'all divinely-inspired Scripture was written for the sake of the Virgin who begat God.'
by St. Macarius the Great
From Genesis, Creation, and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision, by Fr. Seraphim Rose, edited by Hieromonk Damascene, 2nd ed., p. 292.
I always remember that it was Abel who offered a sacrifice to God of the fat and firstlings of his flock, while Cain offered gifts of the fruits of the earth, but not of the firstfruits. It is said: 'And God looked upon Abel and his gifts, but Cain and his sacrifices He regarded not' (Gen. 4:4-5). This teaches us that everything that is done in fear and in faith is pleasing to God, and not that which is done for display and without love.
by St. John Chrysostom
From On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom, #64, compiled by Robert Van de Weyer
Human beings are not consistent in the choices they make. One moment a person may choose to act in a most generous and self-sacrificing way; then a moment later the same person may at with greed and selfishness. Since God has given us freedom of will, e does nothing to prevent this inconstancy. Does this mean that human begins are actually incapable of following Christ? Will they constantly stray from the path of love that he reveals? The answer is both no and yes. We who regard ourselves as disciples of Christ are sadly away of our own sinful tendencies. Indeed it is precisely because we know Christ, and can see his perfection, that we are so conscious of our imperfections; the comparison between ourselves and Christ is painful to behold. This we will always be inclined to stray from the path of love; day by day we will make wrong choices. Yet even to speak about “straying from the path” is to show that we can see the path and can discern the direction it leads. To be a disciple of Christ is not a guarantee of always remaining on the path; rather it is a commitment – a promise – to stay as near to the path as the will allows, and to struggle back onto the path after straying. This is as much as we can undertake in our own strength; through the grace of God we hope that over the years our journey will become straighter.
By Ron Nicola, Chairman of the Department of Stewardship of the Antiochian Archdiocese
From The Word, October 2005
The concept and practice of tithing is being talked about more frequently throughout the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. To some, this is a positive and long overdue development. For others, discussion of tithing within the context of the Orthodox Church is both confusing and unfamiliar. It is true that the practice of tithing has not been common within most Orthodox communities in North America, but this does not mean that a discussion of tithing is out of place. In fact, just the opposite is true. There is nothing about tithing that places it out of the realm of the Orthodox Church, other than the fact that it has not been part of the tradition of our churches for the past few generations. There are countless individuals and some entire parishes within the Antiochian Archdiocese who currently tithe. Their example is a beacon for the rest of us to learn from and follow.
Primate’s Message Delivered at Biennial Parish Council Symposium
By Metropolitan Philip
From The Word, December 1994
Esteemed members of Parish Councils:
On behalf of the entire Archdiocese, I would like first and foremost, to welcome you to the Antiochian Village and especially to the Heritage and Learning Center. While here, I am sure that you will have the opportunity to see our camping facilities where your children spend some of their summer. You will also see our library which now houses more than twenty-five thousand volumes. Moreover, you will see our museum and School of Iconography, our beautiful dining room and the rest of our fine facilities. Surely, without your cooperation, the Heritage and Learning Center would never have existed. I am most thankful to you.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Below you will find two articles taken from the archives of Orthodox Family Life. May God bless you and your families as you begin a new school year.
by Ann Marie Gidus-Mecera
While the trend of many Christians today, including a growing number of Orthodox Christians, is to home school their children, many have chosen (or do so out of necessity) to educate their children through the public school systems.
Any concerned Orthodox parent is aware of the negatives attached to a public school education, and very often struggle with this on an on-going basis. While the purpose of this article is not to defend the benefits of a public school education, it will attempt to help Orthodox parents turn those negative factors into positive learning experiences.
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches--
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8, 9)
At first glance, considering food in the context of Orthodox spirituality and practice may seem inappropriate. But closer examination indicates, in fact, a rather intimate, meaningful connection between the two. We can see this in the quote from the Book of Proverbs that opens this essay. We should eat "the food allotted to us," and which is necessary for our sustenance. To do otherwise is to make ourselves vulnerable to two spiritual dangers.
Problems with Food as a Spiritual Disorder
The first spiritual danger is that we may become so focused on food as an end in itself that it distracts us from what should be our true end: God. In the most basic and first of the commandments, God told us, "I am the LORD your God . . . You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2, 3). This commandment is echoed by Jesus: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." (Matthew 22:37, 38).
What is our treasure: God or food? As Our Lord told us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). As our holy father Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain tells us, "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever" (Ageloglou, 1998).
The recent arrest of local office holder in California for the corporal punishment and name-calling abuse of a child made headlines. Arrest, office holder, politician or not, bullying is always an egregious affront to God and to man whom He made in His image.
Plain and simple, bullying is abuse. Those who bully and those who are bullied are found everywhere. Bullies can be bosses, clergy, military superiors, parents, police, teachers or simply acquaintances etc. Children and adults can be the brunt of bullying. They can be called loathsome names, be belittled, laughed at and/or be ignored. Emotional abuse is one form of bullying that is often most unnoticed because of its ubiquity and subtlety. These practices in our society are so common as to go virtually unperceived. However, emotional abuse but can be equally devastating to the victim as physical and or sexual abuse. Research has shown that victims are susceptible, for example, to clinical depression, suicide and other disorders.
by John Truslow, Archdiocesan Stewardship Team
from The Word, January 2008
Historian of Church Doctrine Jaroslav Pelikan once remarked, “Before Constantine [in the 3rd century A.D.], stewardship might have meant giving your life; after Constantine, stewardship consisted of paying your taxes” (“Orthodox America,” p. 193, in Good and Faithful Servant: Stewardship in the Orthodox Church, edited by A. Scott). This meant that Orthodox Christians were weaned away from biblical disciplines of giving over a millennia and a half of various (Christian and later Muslim) governments authorizing the collection of tax money, a portion of which supported the Church. Why “give” when the money will be taken from you to support the Church anyway, whether you want that or not? Quite so!
You will look in vain today in the (mostly 4th century) Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for a rubric that specifically directs the collection of tithes or offerings at a particular point in our worship, even though sacrificial offerings have been very much a part of worship as long as there have been records of worship, biblical or extra-biblical. Why? Why bother to have offerings when we have already given at the tax office? Quite so!
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
from The Prologue from Ohrid for August 22nd
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isaiah 35: 5-6).
Come, brethren, let us be amazed at the power of our living God Who opened the eyes of mortal men to see in the greatest distance of time that which will come to pass. And still to see in the minutest details as though this prophet [Isaiah] himself was an apostle of Christ, walked with the Lord, witnessed the miracles of miracles, how he gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the lame to walk and to the dumb, voice and speech. When John the Baptist in prison sent his disciples to ask Christ: "Are You He who is to come or do we look for another?" (St. Matthew 11:3), the Lord Christ answered them in the words of His prophet Isaiah: "Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up" (St. Matthew 11: 4-5).