Category: Community


Souls like Feathers

400px-Feather2[Abba Isaac said:] There is a good comparison between the soul and a delicate little feather. If a feather has not been touched by [moisture], it is so light that the slightest breath of wind can puff it high into the air. But if even a little [moisture] has weighed it down, it cannot float, and falls straight to the ground. In the same way the mind, if not burdened by sin and the cares of daily life and evil passion, has a natural purity which lifts it from earth to heaven at the least breath of a meditation upon the invisible things of the spirit. The Lord’s command is sufficient warning—“Take heed that your hearts be not weighed down by drunkenness and the cares of this world” [Luke 21:34]. So if we want our prayers to reach the sky and beyond the sky, we must make sure that the mind is so unburdened by the weights of sin and passion as to be restored to its natural buoyancy. Then the prayer will rise to God.

~ Conferences of Cassian 9.4

This beautiful image from Abba Isaac is perhaps even more fitting when one remembers that ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin all used the same word for breath, wind, and spirit (within each language, not between them). An example can be seen in the words of Christ himself (originally recorded in Greek): “The wind [pneuma] blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit [pneuma]” (John 3:8). In this context, Christ is talking about being born again (or “from above”) by water and the Spirit, i.e. through baptism. Nevertheless, his insight in this verse relates to anyone who truly prays in purity of heart. As Abba Isaac says, “[I]f not burdened by sin and the cares of daily life and evil passion, [the mind] has a natural purity which lifts it from earth to heaven at the least breath of a meditation upon the invisible things of the spirit.” Continue reading

Giving Thanks

Abba Cassian also said: “We came to another old man and he invited us to sup, and pressed us, though we had eaten, to eat more. I said that I could not. He answered: ‘I have already given meals to six different visitors, and am still hungry. Have you only eaten once and yet are so full that you cannot eat with me now?'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 13.3

For Orthodox Christians like myself, the season of Advent has come (beginning November 15). Advent is a period of fasting leading up to the feast of the Nativity, better known as Christmas. In the United States, however, there is a significant bump along this road to Christmas: Thanksgiving. This year, not only does Thanksgiving day interrupt the fast, but I attended a conference last weekend (beginning last Thursday) that was catered with all sorts of wonderful, but non-lenten foods and drinks. So I didn’t really get to begin. On top of that, Sunday night Kelly and Brendan and I went to my mother’s to have a local family Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we are driving down to Indiana for Thanksgiving with Kelly’s aunts and uncle and grandfather. Before too long, everyone will be having Christmas parties (before Christmas, of course, rather than during those twelve days afterward set aside for, you know, celebrating Christmas). I am starting to wonder if I will get an Advent at all this year…. Continue reading

The Ethic of the Icon

[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

The teaching of this saying is very simple, yet it is one that deserves continual repetition. There is a similar saying, Romanian I think, that says, “Your neighbor is your salvation.” The point being that every relationship we have holds ultimate significance, because every human being is created in the image of God. Continue reading

Symphony

Being servants of love and peace, the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke 15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing.

~ St. Theodore the Great Ascetic,
A Century of Spiritual Texts 20

Through the generosity of a coworker, Kelly and I got to go on a free date last night! We went to see the Grand Rapids Symphony perform a variety of pieces from Stravinsky to Mozart to Mendelssohn and including some original work by a young composer a year younger than myself. As part of the program, he was there and was able to comment on his two contributions, bringing further life into an already vibrant performance. In addition, there was a very talented pianist (a full five years younger than me!) who performed beautifully on the Mendelssohn piece that closed the night. On the few occasions that I have been blessed to attend the symphony, I always find my mind wondering to reflect on what a great illustration it is for our spiritual life. Continue reading

Memory Eternal

Be very constant in your prayers for the faithful departed, as if each dead person were a personal friend of yours.

~ Rule of Colmcille 13

Death has a way of straightening out our thoughts and perspective. Despite being a curse and contrary to nature, such tragedy can, nevertheless, be a spiritual blessing. Our enemy seeks to put all evil into our lives, but “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Continue reading

With a Little Help from My Friends

There was a bishop of the city of Oxyrhynchus named Affy. They said that while he was a monk, he treated his body very severely. And when he became a bishop, he wanted to continue in his city the austerities which he had practised in the desert, but he could not. So he fell prostrate before God, and said: “Dost thou think, my Lord, that thy grace has left me because I have become a bishop?” And it was revealed to him: “No: in the desert you had no man to help you, and God alone sustained you. But now you are in the world, and have men to help you.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 15.13

This is an important saying. It reveals that, despite their quest for perfection, the desert fathers were realists when it came to discipline. They did not consider that their way of life made them holier than those in the world per se; rather they saw it as an effective way to focus on austerity, as a path, but not the only path. Continue reading