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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 »

Lamentations

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 »

Three Lenten Theses

An old man said: “Ask God to give you heartfelt grief and humility…. Control your tongue and belly, and drink no wine.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 1.22

This old man says a bit more (in particular about lust, judging, and arguments), but I want to focus on the connection between fasting and grief in particular. In fact, grief is the most common—though not the only—occasion for fasting mentioned in the Bible. In particular, I have three, Lenten theses. View full article »

There is a prayer of Metropolitan St. Philaret of Moscow that I love, but I haven’t yet succeeded in memorizing. In effort to capture in a memorable way the spirit of that prayer (a version of which can be found here), I worked out this more poetic paraphrase: View full article »

Forgiveness Sunday 2015

Two brothers went to a town to sell what they had made. In the town they separated, and one of them fell into fornication. Afterwards the other brother said: “Let us go back to our cell, brother.” But he replied: “I am not coming.” And the other asked him: “Why, brother?” And he replied: “Because when you left me, I met temptation, and was guilty of fornication.” The other, wanting to help him, said: “It happened also to me: after I left you, I also fell into fornication. Let us go together, and do penance with all our might, and God will pardon us sinners.” When they returned to their cell, they told the elders what had happened to them, and were instructed what penance they should do. But the one did penance not for himself, but for the other, as though he himself had sinned. God, seeing his earnestness and his charity, disclosed to one of the elders, a few days later, that he had forgiven the fornicator because of the charity of the brother who had not sinned. Truly, this was to lay down his soul for his brother.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.27

Just a short reflection—a few notes, really—for this Forgiveness Sunday. Vespers tonight actually marks the start of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians like myself, but I am unable to go: my little son Brendan seems to have the flu. So I’m home with him (who is sleeping next to me on the couch) while Kelly goes to Church. View full article »

Laying Down One’s Life

[Abba Poemen] also said: “There is nothing greater in love than that a man should lay down his life for his neighbour. When a man hears a complaining word and struggles against himself, and does not himself begin to complain; when a man bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a man lays down his life for his neighbour.”

Abba Poemen here comments on the words of Christ:

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:12-14)

What I like about this saying is that it helps to highlight what ought to be obvious. That is, I think when I read this in the past I thought of Christ’s death on the cross, where he literally lays down his life for his friends. And that is true, fundamental even. But Jesus is saying more than that. This is about more than sacrifice and martyrdom. Or, as Abba Poemen points out, it is about a different kind of martyrdom: love. View full article »

Bright Sadness

Abba Poemen said also: “Grief is twofold: it works good, and it keeps out evil.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.12

There are many ways in which Abba Poemen could be wrong. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that he is aware of all those. When is Abba Poemen right? When is grief not only not bad, but a double blessing? View full article »

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