Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An Orthodox Position on Harry Potter

The Brotherhood of St. Poimen has recently received various letters and e-mails asking us to comment on the Harry Potter issue. For our readers who do not already know, Harry Potter is the fictional character created by J. K. Rowling for the Harry Potter series of books and films, designed primarily for children. Harry Potter's story is that of a youth raised in a school for sorcery who learns witchcraft with surprising speed and aptitude. He is portrayed as a so-called "good" witch (or warlock). Numerous articles have been written in favor or against the books in both purely literary and religious circles. Some Orthodox Christians have also taken part in these discussions from both sides of the fence. Some questions facing Orthodox Christians are the following:

       1. Should anyone, especially an Orthodox Christian, read this series of books? 
       2. Is there such a thing as a "good witch" and is that relevant to the merit of a fictional story?
       3. What is the proper Orthodox attitude toward these books?

It is the latter question which answers all of the former. The Harry Potter books are classed not simply as fiction but as fantasy literature. They use detailed imagery to produce an unreal picture in the imagination of the brain. The imagination has such a strong influence over mankind that we are warned by numerous Fathers of the Church to reject the images of dreams and scorn fantasies of the imagination in favor of what the Philokalic Fathers call "pure intellections," that is, abstract thinking free of images

St. Hesychios of Jerusalem writes in the first volume of the Philokalia, "When there are no fantasies or mental images in the heart, the intellect is established in its true nature, ready to contemplate whatever is full of delight, spiritual, and close to God " (On Watchfulness and Holiness, #93). Here St. Hesychios is reflecting the patristic teaching that man, prior to his fall, had no use for imagination or fantasy. Imagination as we know it is a product of the fall.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Holy and Great Tuesday: Hymn of Kassiani the Nun


The woman who had fallen into many sins recognizes Thy Godhead, O Lord. She takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer and makes ready the myrrh of mourning, before Thy entombment. Woe to me! saith she, for my night is an ecstasy of excess, gloomy and moonless, and full of sinful desire. Receive the sources of my tears, O Thou Who dost gather into clouds the water of the sea; in Thine ineffable condescension, deign to bend down Thyself to me and to the lamentations of my heart, O Thou Who didst spread out the Heavens. I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head, Thy feet at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day. O my Savior and soul-Saver Who can trace out the multitude of my sins, and the abysses of Thy judgment? Do not disregard me Thy servant, O Thou Whose mercy is boundless.


Kassiani is one of the first composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous. In addition, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive. Many are epigrams or aphorisms called "gnomic verse." An example: "I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor."

She was born between 805 and 810 AD in Constantinople into an wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers, Symeon Metarphrastes, George the Monk (a.k.a. George the Sinner) and Leto the Grammarian, claim that she was a participant in the "bride show" organized for the young bachelor Theophilos the Iconoclast by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassia's beauty, the young emperor approached her and said: "Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]," referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve's transgression. Kassiani (Kassia) promptly responded by saying: "And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]," referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation of Christ through the Theotokos (Mother of God). According to tradition, the dialogue was:

"-Εκ γυναικός τα χείρω." " -Και εκ γυναικός τά κρείτω."

His pride wounded by Kassiani's terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos

The feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary is a feast of the Lord and of the Mother of God (Theotokos). It is a feast of the Lord because Christ who was conceived in the womb of the Theotokos. It is a feast of the Theotokos because it refers to the person who aided in the conception and Incarnation of the Word of God, that is, the All-Holy Virgin Mary.

Mary (the Theotokos) has great value and an important position in the Church, precisely because she was the person whom all generations awaited, and she gave human nature to the Word of God. Thus the person of the Theotokos is associated closely with the Person of Christ. Furthermore, the value of the Virgin Mary is not only due to her virtues, but also mainly to the fruit of her womb. For this reason, Theotokology is very closely associated with Christology. When we speak of Christ we cannot ignore her who gave Him flesh. And when we speak of the Virgin Mary, we simultaneously refer to Christ, because from Him she draws Grace and value. This shows clearly in the service of the Salutations, in which the Theotokos is hymned, but always in combination with the fact that she is the mother of Christ: "Rejoice, for you are the throne of the king. Rejoice for you bear Him Who bears all things".

This connection of Christology and Theotokology shows in the lives of the Saints as well. A characteristic mark of the Saints, who are the real members of the Body of Christ, is that they love the Virgin Mary. It is impossible for there to be a Saint who does not love her.

The Annunciation of the Theotokos is the beginning of all feasts of the Lord. In the dismissal hymn of the feast we chant: "Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery from the ages..." The content of the feast refers to the Archangel Gabriel’s (the angel associated with all events having to do with the Incarnation of Christ) visit to the Virgin Mary (with God's command) informing her that the time of the Incarnation of the Word of God had arrived, and that she would become His mother (see Luke 1:26-56).

The word "annunciation" is comprised of two words, good and message, and denotes the good notification, the good announcement. This refers to the information that was given through the Archangel that the Word of God would be incarnated for man's salvation. Essentially this is the fulfilment of God's promise, given after the fall of Adam and Eve (see Gen. 3:15), which is called the proto-evangelion (i.e., the first gospel). For this reason the information of the Incarnation of the Word of God is the greatest notification in history.

According to St. Maximos the Confessor, the gospel of God is the intercession of God and the comforting of men through His incarnate Son. Simultaneously it is the reconciliation of men with the Father, Who gives the unborn theosis as a reward to those who obey Christ. Theosis is called unborn because it is not born but rather is revealed to those who are worthy. Consequently, the theosis that is offered through the incarnate Christ is not a birth, but a revelation of the enhypostatic illumination to those who are worthy of this revelation.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Fasting

The man who during his whole life loves the conversation of this yoke-mate fasting is a friend of chastity. Just as the satisfaction of the belly is the source of all evils, and as the slackness of sleep kindles the lust of fornication, so fasting, vigil, and wakefulness in God’s service by withstanding the sweetness of sleep through crucifying the body throughout the day and night, are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Fasting is the champion of every virtue, the beginning of the struggle, the crown of the abstinent, the beauty of virginity and sanctity, the resplendence of chastity, the commencement of the path of Christianity, the mother of prayer, the well-spring of sobriety and prudence, the teacher of stillness, and the precursor of all good works. Just as the enjoyment of light is coupled with healthy eyes, so desire for prayer accompanies fasting that is practiced with discernment.

When a man begins to fast, he straightway yearns in his mind to enter into converse with God. For the body that fasts cannot endure to sleep upon its pallet all the night through. Fasting naturally incites wakefulness unto God, not only during the day, but also at night. For the empty body of a faster is not greatly wearied by the battle against sleep. And even if his senses are weakened, his mind is wakeful unto God in prayer. It is better for a man to desist from his liturgy because of weakness due to fasting, than because of sloth due to eating.

When the seal of fasting is set upon a man’s lips, his thought reflects with compunction, his heart pours forth prayer, gloom lies upon his countenance, shameful thoughts are far removed from him, cheer cannot be detected in his eyes, and he is an enemy of lusts and vain conversations. No one has ever seen a discerning faster enslaved by evil desires. Fasting with discernment is a spacious mansion for every good thing; but he who neglects fasting makes every good totter. For fasting was the commandment that was given to our nature in the beginning to protect it with respect to the tasting of food, and in this point the progenitor of our substance fell. There, however, where the first defeat was suffered, the ascetic strugglers make their beginning in the fear of God as they start to keep His laws.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Children and Obedience by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Obedience constructs and self-will destructs. A child has to learn to be obedient to its parents and to God. It’ll remember the words of its parents all its life and will always respect its elders, and not only those but people who are younger, too. It’ll be polite and careful with everyone. Unfortunately, there are very few families who bring their children up in this way. 

The spirits of evil provide a distraction in the minds of our children and they try to upset them. Children have to be taught obedience, especially before they’re five years old because it’s at this age that their characters are formed. So the traces of the way their characters have been shaped will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Parents should teach their children total obedience at this time of their lives. When one of the parents says something, the response should be: “Whatever you say”. Today, unfortunately, parents don’t know this and teach their children exactly the opposite. But then they’re bringing them up.

If parents say, “Stay here” then the child should stay where it’s been told to. But the child’s a child; it can’t stay still in one place. What usually happens is that the parents smack the child for its disobedience. This isn’t a good way to teach a child obedience. It may be that, sometimes, such a reaction is necessary, but it should be performed with love and the child should feel this love. Parents should never smack their children in anger. Because if you start chastising someone when you’re angry, you’ll get nowhere. You’ll damage the person in front of you and yourself, as well. If you want to set someone on the right road, you should teach them and advise them. You should first humble yourself and speak to them with a great deal of love. They’ll accept your advice if it’s given with love. But if you want your own will to be imposed at all costs, you won’t achieve anything at all. That’s what makes children react badly. When a child is disobedient, the answer isn’t to smack it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Deliverer by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

The very incarnation of the Son of God and His coming into the world strongly encourages sinners to repentance. For whose sake did Christ come into the world? For the sake of sinners. To what end? For the sake of their salvation. O how dear to God was our salvation! He Himself came into the world, O sinners, for the sake of our salvation. 

Listen, sinners, and understand! God Himself came into the world for the sake of our salvation, and He came in our image. O truly great is the mystery of piety! God appeared in the flesh. "Lord, what is man, that Thou art made known unto him? Or the son of man, that Thou takest account of him?" (LXX-Ps. 143:3 [KJV-Ps. 144:3]).

Truly wonderful is the grace of God toward man, wonderful also is this work of His. Foreseeing this the prophet cried out to Him with fear and terror, "Lord, I have heard Thy report, and I was afraid; O Lord, I considered Thy works, and I was amazed" (Abbac. 3:1-2). Sinners, let us call to mind this great work of God, which He wrought for our sake, and let us repent. Let us remember how for our sake He was born of a Virgin and became a child, and was nourished on His mother's milk. The Invisible became manifest, and He that was without beginning had a beginning, and He that was intangible became tangible and was wrapped as an infant in swaddling bands: "And the Word was made flesh" (Jn. 1:14).

Let us recall how while yet a child He fled from the murderers of Herod the King. Let us recall how He lived on earth and was a stranger, how He went from place to place, and labored for the sake of our salvation. Let us recall how He Who is unapproachable to the Cherubim and Seraphim kept company with sinners; How He who has Heaven as His throne and the earth as the footstool of His feet and Who abides in light unapproachable, had nowhere to lay His head; How He who was rich became poor, that by His poverty we may become rich.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Purification of the Heart by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

Our entire life is preoccupied with the spiritual law. This is the reason why we have withdrawn from the world and have forsaken family life, which itself is not something sinful. We have abandoned these in order to express our love towards the Lord in a unique way, obeying the first commandment precisely. Having been called by the Lord, we have followed Him in order to obey this commandment. We withdrew from society and denied our family to follow the proper, or rather the undisturbed way, preoccupying ourselves with inwardness and paying attention to the meanings of things. 

In this way, we hope to be able not only to win over practical sin but also to eliminate it as soon as it appears. That is, not only not to commit a sin in practice but also to deny any mental association with it. In this way we are able to attaint to our Lord’s beatitude: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5, ). Our Jesus has also told us that ‘what comes from outside into the heart does not defile man’. What defiles him is what comes out from the inside of his heart ‘For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies’ (Matthew 15, 19). These are the things which overflow from the heart and constitute the widespread wickedness.

Thus the freedom of man’s personality has been disgraced; the former gentile, created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ became wicked and corrupted. Since we are also part of this sick condition, we withdrew from the world for this reason. When we are talking about ‘the world’ we do not mean ‘people. ‘The world’ is the entire system of the former self, which according to Paul is ‘passions and desires’. According to John the Evangelist ‘the world’ is ‘the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes’, foolishness and generally speaking ‘vain glory’.