Category: Community


I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life—do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God’s; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Romans, 6.2

My good friend Nathan (“Basil”) has produced a wonderful new film about 1) the stories of religiously unaffiliated persons or “nones” and 2) the story of how he went from being a none to finding the Orthodox Church.

You can watch the trailer above.

There is a press release here.

The film has a website, where you can request to host a screening, here.

Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Abba Evagrius said: “A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened down by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody, and long-suffering, and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure. If they are used at the wrong times and to excess, they are useful for a short time. But what is only useful for a short time, is harmful in the long run.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 10.20

When one reads early Christian responses to Jewish practices like Kosher diet or Sabbath observance or circumcision, especially that of St. Paul, perhaps, one can get the impression that he contradicts himself. At some points, he says that so long as someone does these things with a good conscience, it is pleasing to God. At other times, he talks about how none of these things have any spiritual profit. I think this saying from Abba Evagrius gives us some insight into what that early Christian perspective really was about: prudence. Continue reading

[Abba Antony] said: “From our neighbour are life and death. If we do good to our neighbour, we do good to God: if we cause our neighbour to stumble, we sin against Christ.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 17.2

Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius: “Why do you run away from us?” The old man said: “God knows I love you. But I cannot be with God and with men. The countless hosts of angels have but a single will, while men have many wills. So I cannot let God go, and come and be with men.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 17.5

I’ve mentioned before how the sayings of the desert fathers are practical wisdom. As such, they can appear contradictory. Practical wisdom is situational, prudential. Sometimes Abba Antony is right, sometimes Abba Arsenius. It depends on the person and the context when the wisdom of one applies compared to another. Continue reading

Born of the Same Mother

Abba John told this story. Abba Anub and Abba Poemen and the others, who were born of the same mother, were monks in Scete. And some savage Mazicae came and sacked Scete. The monks went away, and came to a place called Terenuthis, while they discussed where to live, and stayed a few days there in an old temple. Abba Anub said to Abba Poemen: “Of your charity, let me live apart from you and your brothers, and we shall not see each other for a week.” And Abba Poemen said: “Let us do as you wish”: and they did so.

In the temple stood a stone statue. And every day at dawn Abba Anub rose and pelted the face of the statue with stones: and every day at evening he said: “Forgive me.” Every day for a week he did this: and on Saturday they met again. And Abba Poemen said to Abba Anub: “I saw you, Abba, throwing stones at the face of the statue every day this week, and later doing penance to the statue. A true Christian would not have done that.” And the old man answered: “For your sakes I did it. When you saw me throwing stones at the statue’s face, did it speak? Was it angry?”

And Abba Poemen said: “No.”

And he said: “When I did penance before the statue, was it troubled in heart? Did it say: ‘I do not forgive you?’ ”

And Abba Poemen answered: “No.”

And he said: “Here we are, seven brothers. If we want to stay together, we must become like this statue, which is untroubled by the injuries I have done it. If you will not become like this statue, see, there are four doors to this temple, and each of us may go in the direction he chooses.”

At these words they fell upon the ground before Abba Anub, and said to him: “As you say, Father. We will do what you tell us.” And afterwards Abba Poemen described what happened. “We remained together all our lives, doing our work and everything else as the old man directed us. He appointed one of us as a steward, and we ate whatever he put before us; no one could have said: ‘Bring something else to eat, or ‘I will not eat that.’ And so we passed our lives in quiet and peace.” 

 ~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15.11

This is one of the few stories from the desert fathers where biological relations seem to be honored. More often, we read of men who leave everything, including family, for the sake of the Gospel, for a life dedicated to Jesus Christ. To such stories we may say that such literal renunciation is not necessary for all Christians. Yet we can still learn from their dedication. Here, however, we have an example far more easily applicable to a life of everyday asceticism. Continue reading

If [the Holy Spirit] takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world in the nets of Christ, taking them up in the meshes of the Word [Gk. Logos]. Look at Peter and Andrew and the Sons of Thunder, thundering the things of the Spirit. If of Publicans, He makes gain of them for discipleship, and makes them merchants of souls; witness Matthew, yesterday a Publican, today an Evangelist. If of zealous persecutors, He changes the current of their zeal, and makes them Pauls instead of Sauls, and as full of piety as He found them of wickedness.

~ St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 41: “On Pentecost,” 14

Ascension and Pentecost came and went, and I haven’t even reflected on either yet! Monday we will start the Apostles Fast that lasts until the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It’s all too much to cover in one post, so I’ll try not to get carried away, but what I do have might serve as a little bridge between the two seasons. Continue reading

Knees Like a Camel

[St. James] was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.

Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.6

The St. James in this story is St. James the Just, the son of Joseph, who was the betrothed of the Virgin Mary. Thus, he was one of Jesus’s (step-)brothers, at least according to tradition. (The Greek word “brother,” as is also the Hebrew, is very general in meaning and can simply mean “kindred.”) In any case, he is important for being the brother of Jesus, as I have said, and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was a major leader in the early Church and a martyr for the faith. His example, I think, is especially appropriate to recall this time of year.

(As a small disclaimer, I must apologize that the following post is a little “wonky,” to borrow from the common language of political commentary. It is full of words that I have to define that slow down the flow. On the other hand, I would rather expect much of my readership and be confusing to some rather than talk down to them and belittle many.)

After fifty days of Pascha, this past Sunday was Pentecost in the Orthodox Church, which, among other things, means a lot of kneeling. The divine liturgy and vespers both have additional, long prayers during which everyone kneels for a long time. In fact, kneeling is one of three traditional postures of prayer: standing, kneeling, and prostrations. I cannot begin to rival St. James, but it is probably the time of the year I think most about how he knelt in prayer so much that “his knees became hard like those of a camel.” Continue reading

An old man said: “I never wanted a work to be useful to me while causing loss to my brother: for I have this hope, that what helps my brother will bring fruit to me.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 17.24

According to Abba Isaac, intercession is the third of four forms of prayer, after supplications and vows and before thanksgiving. Intercession corresponds to the affective state of longing, which differs, in ancient Christian terminology, from desire (epithemia) in its ends. Longing is a wish for what is holy and virtuous. Intercession, similarly, is a request on behalf of another for his/her good. While Christians do not seek the good of others purely out of self-interest well understood, nevertheless the saying of this old man is true that “what helps my brother will bring fruit to me.” Continue reading