Archive for the ‘Eastern wisdom’ category

Do not react, do not resent, keep inner stillness

January 22, 2011

In what will likely be my only attempt to participate in this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (in addition to a few meager prayers for that intention), I took time today to breathe with the other lung by watching/listening to this recent talk by Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA.  His prior training in eastern monasticism gives his presentations a credibility and a depth that really draws me in.

The title of his talk, “Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness,” proposes three principles of living the Christian life taught by the Eastern Fathers.  Underlying the successful implementation of these principles is the practice of intentional silence – a proposition highly incongruous with the busyness and wordiness of our current American culture.

Met Jonah begins with a quote:

St Isaac the Syrian:
Let us take refuge in the Lord and ascend a little to the place where thoughts dry up and stirrings vanish, where memories fade away and the passions die, where human nature becomes serene and is transformed as it stands in the other world.

He proceeds to teach how, through, silence, prayer, and repentance, we can ascend above the rational two-dimensional “Etch-A-Sketch” level of consciousness to attain the highest levels of spiritual maturity, having our senses transformed through the grace that comes with entering into cooperation with God.  Then the entire creation will shimmer with God, and we’ll see God’s presence in everyone and everything, and all of creation is made new before our eyes.  The highest level is to know the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit, so that we can dare to say “Our Father”.

As we grow deeper and deeper in this spiritual maturity, we can become more like God, especially in his compassion and forgiveness.  The grace of God’s presence within us will enable us to root out the criticisms, condemnations, and judgments to which we are so prone.  Our increasingly compassionate and forgiving heart will empower us to practice not reacting, not resenting, and keeping our inner stillness.

As an example of the effectiveness of this path, he concludes his talk with an emotional testimony of apparition, healing, and forgiveness involving Matushka Olga, who has been supernaturally assisting abused and battered women.


New Year’s resolution

December 18, 2010

I will read more Russian Orthodox material, because it contains stories like this that challenge my heart and life.

It’s a matter of perspective

July 1, 2010

Here’s a great line found in this post on Fr Stephen’s blog:

…Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

I want that quote on a T-shirt.

The nature of things is that people die – and not only do they die – but death, already at work in them from the moment of their birth, is the primary issue. The failure of humanity is not to be found or understood in a purely moral context. We are not creatures of choice and decision. How and why we choose is a very complex process that we ourselves do not understand. We can make a “decision” for Jesus only to discover that little has changed.


our Baptism unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ, making possible a proper existence. Living that proper existence will not be done by merely trying to control our decisions and choices, but by consciously and unconsciously working to maintain our union with God.


And so if we will live in such communion we will struggle to pray, not as a moral duty, but as the very means of our existence. We pray, we fast, we give alms, we confess, we commune, not in order to be better people, but because if we neglect these things we will die. And the death will be slow and marked by the increasing dissolution of who and what we are.

Ordained Lectors?

April 13, 2010

After Vatican II in the reformation of the liturgy the Western rite did away with the minor orders. These are still retained to a degree in the Eastern rites of the church. I was listening to a great radio program called ‘Light of the East’where they were interviewing a man who was recently ordained into the minor order of Lector.  Though they are principally referring to the Mass as celebrated in the Eastern Rites where the lector Chants the epistles, I think the discussion could bear fruit the Western Rite as well.

Here is a bit of paraphrasing  the transcript from that program

The minor order of lector has kind of slipped by the wayside in the Eastern rites principally because it is expedient  to have a person act as a lector in the liturgy without being ordained, especially in the Eastern churches where we are small and we don’t necessarily have much of a ‘bench’.  In other words we don’t have a lot of ‘go-to’ people we in our small parishes.   At the same time doesn’t this represent perhaps a kind of lowering of the bar of what we’re really offering back to God in our sense of liturgy?  Once we figure, ”well this person can do it”, it becomes the norm and we settle for that standard. When really at the time when the lectorate really was more common and ordination was more official for the practice it seemed like they had a higher standard for liturgy. In other words not everyone can do this part of the liturgy. Even though they could physically do it, there was more to it than that. They had to have a certain quality, a certain as it were — professionalism, or character to it.

What would it be like if you’re at a parish where there was no ordained cantor? They would not be allowed to have the phrases chanted and the parish would have to speak the Divine liturgy. What would that be like? What if you had to have an ordained lector and in order to hear the epistle you had to have one?  What would that liturgy be like?   Even today if we have a parish that has no priests and you can’t find one, you cannot have the Divine liturgy. So why is there an exception for the other orders? It’s an interesting problem. One priest explained to me when I asked him “why is it that we don’t ordain cantors anymore”, he gave a very interesting answer that is worth discussion.   He said “it is not necessary any longer for the cantor to have the graces of the sacrament of being ordained a cantor in order to fulfill his ministry.”  I think that approach to things is a great temptation today in putting a kind of a spin on what is actually a lowering of the standards.  In other words ” this is good enough so why do we need this or that.” And secondly this whole idea of function  — just because someone does something, doesn’t mean that it is enough. Just because a person reads the epistle doesn’t mean that they have fulfilled the function.  How you do something is important. Some of these things are an art. If we really want to communicate the Word of God, the vital life-giving Word of God that nourishes us in preparation for our salvation as well is our proper living on this eart — it has to be delivered.  Anything worthwhile has to be brought to someone in the right way otherwise they may not get it. And in fact that is often times what happens. When you have anyone doing a reading for expedience sake, or even if you are at a small parish and this is all you have to volunteer, but when you’re reading the readings they may be going through it in a way where it’s not as effective as someone who is truly qualified. So the listener in a sense his short changed a bit. Short changed in regard to receiving the life-giving message. Especially now in our Rite, unlike in the Roman tradition – people in our church don’t have the reading in front of them ;so if the lector doesn’t chant clearly and with the proper emphasis ;the laity may have to wait until they get home to check their Bible if they want to understand what the reading was.  Plus you have to consider acoustics that may jumble the words so the people lose that message. So for everything in the liturgy there really is, to use the term – an art to it. It is a calling, it is not just that you do it, but it is important how it is done.  And how it is done is determined by the person’s qualifications, they’re  being qualified to deliver it in a proper way.  So I guess you could say I am all for the reinstitution of ordained cantors and ordained lector’s. Because that re-emphasizes the great lofty dignity of each part of the liturgy and each ministry in the liturgy. The liturgy is vital. You come here that one time to have that message delivered to you, and it’s got to be delivered in a meaningful way.  Just think of going to a play or an opera where they just flow through it. No — every detail of their performance would be labored over so that the essence of that performance is communicated to the audience in a way that moves them, forms then, changes them, touches them. So much more so for liturgy. The liturgy should be a transformational experience. Every time you go to liturgy you should walk out changed in some way for the betterment of our salvation. In the anaphora of the Eucharistic prayer of the Byzantine liturgy, when the priest prays over the gifts and he calls down the Holy Spirit-he is talking about change. And the sequence actually is -in so many words  -the prayers say we do this so that we will be changed and then the bread will be changed. In other words the purpose of liturgy is not to make Jesus as it were, Jesus is always present. But it is to have him become physically present so that we can change.  So that we are transformed.  We enter the liturgy transformed by having touched God this intimately and we leave  to touch the world and change the world. Which is why I think it would be wonderful if cantors were given by grace of ordination because I think of the grace as being the presence of God. And I don’t want to minister to the people as a cantor or choir director lector without the presence of God.  Good intentions are good, sincerity is good but you also need the gifts.  Grace builds on nature.  As St. Paul says God gave a each different gifts to further his kingdom.

 What do you think?

Apologia ad Autolycum

March 10, 2010

The Apology to Autolycus is a series of books written to a pagan friend by Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (~170 AD).  Himself a pagan convert, he sought to  convince a pagan friend, Autolycus, a man of great learning and an earnest seeker after truth, of the truth of the Christian religion, while at the same time displaying the falsehood and absurdity of paganism.

If you say, “Show me your God,”  I will say to you, “Show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God.”  SHow me then whether the eyes of your mind can see, and the ears of your heart can hear.

It is like this.  THose who can see with the eyes of their bodies are aware of what is happening in this life on earth.  They get to know things that are different from each other.  They distinguish light and darkness, black and white, ugliness and beauty, elegance and inelegance, proportion and lack of proportion, excess and defect.  The same is true of our heart and the eyes of our mind in their capacity to hear or see God.

God is seen by those who have the capacity to see Him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open.  All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun.  Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine.  The blind must trace the cause back to themselves and their eyes.  In the same way, you have eyes in your mind that are shrouded in darkness because of your sins and evil deeds.

A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light.  If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it.  In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.

The Common Hirmos

December 8, 2009

It is truly proper to glorify you, who have borne God, the ever-blessed, Immaculate and the Mother of our God.  More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who, a virgin, gave birth to God the Word, you, truly the Mother of God, we magnify.

Some things just don’t change

November 6, 2009

From St. John Crysostom’s book,  ‘On Living Simply’ written 1,600 years ago:

“We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often contradict our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses, and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many non-believers refuse to believe what we say. “If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,” they ask, “why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give away their riches and live in simple huts.” So these non-believers conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgment of the non-believers about you is more accurate than your judgment of yourself. While the non-believers accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty.”