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I just read this, and it’s too good not to share. It is from The Light Shineth in the Darkness the Russian Orthodox Philosopher S. L. Frank:

A number of monastic orders have directly set as their practical task the religious and moral action on the world. On the other hand, it is also sufficiently well known, alas, how often monks have brought in their souls the powers of the world even into the monastery and how often they have been imprisoned by these powers in the monastery. And contrarily, Christians who live in the world and are open to all the temptations of the world are compelled—insofar as they are at all Christians—to observe in the depths of their soul the life-in-God detached from the world, i.e., to perform invisibly the function of monks. And if the Christian faith presupposes a universal priesthood, then in this sense it also presupposes a kind of invisible universal monkhood, realized in the depths of souls. Every Christian must in a certain sense be a “monk” in the eternally pagan world.

Just as inconsistent is the widespread identification of the duality under consideration with the distinction between the “religious” life of man and his “worldly” or secular life; or, in the collective plane, the distinction between the church (understood as a union or organization of believers) and the worldly powers of the state politics, secular culture, and so on. From this point of view, a Christian is a Christian only insofar as he prays, fasts, attends church, and so on. Beyond these limits, a man is not a “Christian” but the performer of some secular function, a soldier, bureaucrat, merchant, or scholar; and the Christian church is but one of the entities and powers of the world, like the family, the state, professional associations, trade, industry, science, art, etc.

In reality, however, the “religious” life of a Christian is not some particular sphere of his life and activity, but his very being. (143-144)

The Mark of a Man

Abba Poemen said: “The mark of the true monk only appears under temptation.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

We could easily say the same for any man or woman. It is a strange thing about life that sometimes its best blessings, rightly understood, are tragic. View full article »

Humility and Secrecy

One of the holy men named Philagrius lived in Jerusalem and laboured to earn himself enough to eat. And when he was standing in the market-square trying to sell what he had made, by chance a bag fell on the ground near him, containing a great many shillings. The old man found it, and stood there thinking, “The loser must soon come here.” And soon the man who had lost it came lamenting. So Philagrius took him apart and gave him back his bag. The owner asked him to accept some of the shillings, but the old man would have nothing. Then the owner began to shout and call: “Come and see what the man of God has done.” But the old man fled away unperceived, and went out of the town, so that they should not know what he had done, nor pay him honour.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Philagrius demonstrates well the admonition of Christ,

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Not wanting the praise of men for his reward, Abba Philagrius fled, knowing that praise can induce pride, and pride destroys compassion and humility, which are better than any material reward.

There is something else about this story, however, that I find insightful. View full article »

‘Gossip, Slander, and Complaining’

An old man said: “… If anyone speaks to you on a matter of controversy, do not argue with him. If he speaks well, say ‘Yes.’ If he speaks ill, say ‘l am ignorant in the matter.’ But argue not with what he has said, and then your mind will be at peace.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Obviously “Everyday Asceticism” does not refer to frequency of publication. But as this saying reminds us, sometimes—perhaps most of the time—it is better not to speak at all. View full article »

What God Wants

Life has been busy, so just a saying without commentary today:

An old man was asked by a brother: “How do I find God? With fasts, or labour, or watchings, or works of mercy?” The old man replied: “In all that you have said, and in discretion. I tell you that many have afflicted their body, but have gained no profit because they did it without discretion. Even if our mouths stink with fasting, and we have learnt all the Scriptures, and memorized the whole Psalter, we still lack what God wants: humility and charity.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 10.91 View full article »

What to Do

A story for a future collection of sayings:

I heard once from another parishioner that Fr. Jim, the priest who chrismated me and received me into the Orthodox Church, was approached years ago by a Protestant couple who wanted to become Orthodox. (Note: the point of this story is not polemical.) They came to him and met with him over the next months for catechesis. View full article »

An Ascetic Epitome

There are a few similar sayings from the desert fathers to the one below, but I think it might be the most expansive. In any case, I think it stands alone just fine—one could consider every post on this blog as commentary on this one saying. It is an epitome of the ascetic life. The part that sits with me the most right now is “in deep humility.” Those three words are profound enough for me. View full article »


Fairer he in beauty
than are all mortal kind,
now a corpse we see, unsightly, bereft of form,
he who beautified the nature of all things.

~ Lamentations of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday

I tried to find a good text of all the Lamentations, but it proved harder to find than I have time for at the moment. The link above appears to be a longer version than what I am used to, and it contains the whole service rather than just the Lamentations. What I did find (also with great difficulty) was a recording of another Orthodox parish that sings the Lamentations with the same melodies that we do in mine.

This is the only time of the year (to my knowledge) that these melodies are used, and I find them to perfectly capture the aesthetic of “bright sadness” that characterizes all of Great Lent, and indeed, all our lives. These are sung as part of what is a funeral service for Christ, who having been crucified on Holy Friday, was laid in a tomb and rested there on Holy Saturday, fulfilling the Sabbath. View full article »

“Watch and Pray”

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, therefore, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep; lest thou be given over to death, and shut out from the kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

~ “Behold the Bridegroom Cometh,” Bridegroom Matins

Tonight we had our first Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week. One of at least two recurring hymns at these services, which we observe Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night, this hymn highlights the central importance of the discipline of watchfulness: “blessed is the servant whom [Christ] shall find watching.” View full article »

Thy Will Be Done

[Abba Isaac said:] “To pray, ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’ is to pray that men may be like angels, that as angels fulfil God’s will in heaven, men may fulfil his will instead of their own, on earth. No one can say this sincerely except one who believes that every circumstance, favourable or unfavourable, is designed by God’s providence for his good, and that he thinks and cares more for the good of his people and their salvation than we do for ourselves. It may be understood thus: the will of God is the salvation of all men, according to that text of St Paul: ‘who willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ [1 Timothy 2:4].”

~ Conferences of St. John Cassian, 9.20

The acceptance of all things as God’s will is one of the most common and most difficult teachings of the fathers. In particular, the part where Abba Isaac makes clear this includes “every circumstance, favourable or unfavourable,” is especially hard to swallow. What might we make of this? What good does it do? How does it affect our spiritual practice? View full article »


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