Archive for August, 2013


Salvation for the City

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

It is easy to become discouraged in the spiritual life. It is easy to think, “I am no St. Anthony. How can I hope for blessedness? How can I even be saved?” Attempting to answer this concern is, in part, the reason for this blog. I love the wisdom of the Christian ascetic tradition, but nearly all of it is written primarily by and for monastics. Is perfection only possible in the desert? Or might there be hope for the city as well? Continue reading

The Great Struggle

The brothers asked Abba Agatho: “Father, which virtue in our way of life needs most effort to acquire?” And he said to them: “Forgive me, I think nothing needs so much effort as prayer to God. If a man is wanting to pray, the demons infest him in the attempt to interrupt the prayer, for they know that prayer is the only thing that hinders them. All the other efforts of a religious life, whether they are made vehemently or gently, have room for a measure of rest. But we need to pray till we breathe out our dying breath. That is the great struggle.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 12.2

If Abba Agatho is right (and I think he is), then any tricks of the trade of prayer ought to be valued more than diamonds. Prayer is the primary means by which the soul on a daily basis is raised up to God and united to him in love. Without prayer what aspect of the Christian life has any effect? Indeed, without prayer, can there be faith? Can one be said to live in the grace of the sacraments? Can one know Jesus Christ without prayer? In many cases these items are symbiotic—I do not mean to settle any “chicken or the egg?” sort of questions. As Dom Hubert van Zeller wrote, “there can be no prayer where there is no faith” as well. But the fact remains: prayer too is an essential component, a sine qua non, of the Christian life, and as such the cultivation of pure prayer ought to be one of our primary concerns.
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Fool! Heretic!

Once a provincial judge heard of Abba Moses and went to Scete to see him. They told the old man that he was on his way, and he rose up to flee into the marsh. The judge and his train met him, and asked: “Tell me, old man, where is the cell of Abba Moses?” And the old man said: “Why do you want to see him? He is a fool and a heretic.”

The judge came to the church, and said to the clergy: “I heard of Abba Moses and came to see him. But an old man on his way to Egypt met me, and I asked him where was the cell of Abba Moses. And he said: ‘Why are you looking for him? He is a fool and a heretic.'” And the clergy were distressed and said: “What sort of person was your old man who told you this about the holy man?” And they said: “He was an old man, tall and dark, wearing the oldest possible clothes.” And the clergy said: “That was Abba Moses. And he told you this about himself because he did not want you to see him.” And the judge went away much edified.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 8.10

In the Orthodox Church (as well as in the Western tradition), there is an ascetic tradition of the “holy fool” or “fool for Christ’s sake.” The basic concept is that, as a matter of ascetic calling, one may accept an extreme discipline: pretending madness in order to incite scorn and so avoid the praises of others. The goal is the most pure humility, but the practice can look sort of odd. Abba Moses was not, strictly speaking, a holy fool, but he does at times (as in this story) display a little of what that looks like. Indeed, he shows that sometimes what is foolish to the world may actually be a manifestation of true wisdom. Continue reading

A Christian End

Priest: For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.

People: Grant this, O Lord.

~ Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

This petition from the divine liturgy, which is part of the petitions just after the Great Entrance, puts so succinctly what we ought all to hope for in death: “a Christian end … peaceful, without shame and suffering.” Indeed, most of us quite naturally hope for the second part, if not the first. There is actually much that could be said about this petition, but in light of the recent passing of a member of our parish, I’d like to focus exclusively on this part. Continue reading

An archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to Her such things as these:

Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth:

Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease!

Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam:

Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve!

Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts:

Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels!

Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King:

Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all!

Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear:

Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation!

Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed:

Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!

Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

~ Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos

This excerpt is from the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos (the Mother of God), a work of great beauty by Romanos the Melodist, a saint of the late fifth/early sixth centuries. It is so treasured by the Orthodox Church that we have multiple services during Great Lent to sing it. The present fast (of the Dormition) is another good time to revisit it as well. In particular, I’d like to focus on the refrain at the end: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!” Continue reading