Thursday, June 7, 2018

Principles of Healing for the Passion of Lust from the Early Church (200 A.D. to 850 A.D.)

St. John Climacus: Description of Lust

A victim of sensuality who had overcome his weakness told me once that within people of this kind there flourishes a yearning for bodies, a shameless, and terrible spirit that asserts itself at the very heart’s core. Sheer physical pain burns so fiercely in the heart that it is like being scorched by an open fire. The sufferer finds that because of this he has no fear of God, he spurns the thought of punishment, turns away from prayer, and the sight of a corpse moves him no more than if it were a stone. He is like someone out of his mind, in a daze and he is perpetually drunk with desire for man or beast. And if a limit were not placed on the activities of this demon, no one would be saved, no one who is made of clay mingled with blood and foul moisture.[1]  

An important point: People did recover! Many today act as if they have to struggle with lust until they die. While it may be appropriate to fight the passion of lust to the end from an attitude of humility, people throughout the centuries recovered from lust and lived a life of purity.  It was expected that if you lived the life of a Christian, who put away lust from your life.  The attitude that it is a lifelong battle and that “God is forgiving” often becomes a license to continue in this sin.  But the Apostle Paul states:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9) 

This verse is quoted extensively by the church fathers. Most references to lust include these words “will not inherit the kingdom of God” and “be not deceived.”     

Sexual sin is different from all others in that it is a sin against one’ own body. 

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Abortion as a Form of Genocide by Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi Monastery, Mt. Athos

We live in a time when people are becoming increasingly vindictive. Their morals are deteriorating and their minds are darkened. The absurdity that people are experiencing today is obvious and undeniable. We’re living in a time prophesied by Anthony the Great when people who are mad appear to be rational and those who are rational are deemed mad. It may be claimed that in older times, too, there was rampant sinfulness, but we ought to note that there was never this offensive legitimation and widespread social acceptance of sin. In our time, abortions, adultery and homosexuality have all been made legal, though this would have been inconceivable until the middle of the 20th century. It’s a cause of astonishment, if nothing else, that today sin is projected not simply as legitimate, but as an ideal way of life.

Today the family is undergoing a great crisis throughout the world. The eternal enemy of mankind knows very well that if he strikes at the core of society, which is the family, he’ll achieve his goal. He’s created conditions such that young people avoid or delay getting married, and naturally with no thought to what should go without saying -- chastity and a life in Christ. They don’t have a Church wedding, which is the only valid and blessed marriage in the sight of God. They have a civil wedding or that modern, demonic agreement to live together, by which even homosexuals can marry. And even in existing families, he’s created temptations out of nothing, so that divorce presents itself very easily as the ideal solution! The statistics from dioceses in the Church of Greece indicate that in any year there are more divorces than weddings.

So when people today are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, they think that an abortion’s perfectly natural. It’s been accepted under the term ‘artificial termination of pregnancy’. As if it’s so easy, like pressing a switch and turning off the electricity. The people who have abortions have no sense that they’re committing a crime, a great sin, which is what murder is. From the moment of conception, that is when the egg’s fertilized, we have an embryo which is also a person, a psycho-somatic entity which grows for nine months in its mother’s womb until it sees the light of life at its birth. At no point in the progress of the embryo in its mother’s womb, even in the first twelve weeks, can we cut off its life. If we do, it’s murder.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Use of Incense in the Church

In the Orthodox Church, we burn incense in a metal vessel that hangs on three chains and has a sliding cover to regulate the burning of charcoal.  The whole apparatus is called a censer or thurible.  On the chains are twelve small bells, signifying the Disciples.

We put grains of incense on burning charcoal in the censer with a prayer, “We offer thee incense, O Christ our God, for an odour of spiritual fragrance.  Receive it upon your heavenly altar and send down upon us, in return, the gift of your Holy Spirit.”  Incense is a mix of spices and gums that we burn during services to produce fragrant smoke.

We do not know when incense was introduced into church services.  It is quite likely that we used it from the beginning of Christian worship since its use was common in Jewish worship in the Temple at Jerusalem.  This is a supposition, however, because the early witnesses are silent about its use.  We only find it recommended from about the 4th century on.

The burning incense symbolizes prayer. “Let my prayer come before thee as incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. . . .“ (Psalm 141: 2 – used during Vespers as the whole church is censed).  In Old Testament times, the people would pray before the Holy of Holies while the priest within made the sacrifice. “And the whole multitude of people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” (Luke 1: 10)  Symbolically, the incense represents prayer ascending to God.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Monastic Tonsure

It is generally accepted that monasticism began in Egypt towards the end of the Third Century, though its origins may have been older. Indeed, some form of monasticism may have existed almost from the birth of the Church. As the word monastic implies (in Greek monos alone), the Monk was one who went into the desert to live alone with God. (Such were also called hermits (or anchorites), which means solitaries.) The first recorded hermitic Orthodox Christian literature was St. Paul of Thebes ( 341) who lived over sixty years in a cave in the Egyptian desert. 

But the greatest of these hermits, often called the Father of Monasticism, was St. Anthony the Great ( 356). Yet, even in the life of this father of monasticism, the desert solitude was gradually modified by the appearance of disciples. These men wished to pursue the monastic life under the guidance of one who was already experienced. A soldier marching into battle would much rather be commanded by an experienced officer than an inexperienced one, no matter how educated the latter may be. Nor, if he himself is inexperienced, would he wish to enter the battle alone. Thus, after struggling many years as a solitary, St. Anthony gathered to himself a community of Monks who lived in separate huts, each working out his own salvation in his own particular way, but under Anthony's supervision, guided by his great experience in spiritual life.

Anthony knew, however, the difficulties of the solitary life and he strongly approved of the establishment of the coenobitic or common life, as it was perfected by another Egyptian father, St. Pachomius the Great (348). In his coenobitic communities the Monks all lived together in one place, everything being held in common (there being no private property), and the individual Monk was under the strict supervision of a spiritual elder (or starets in this case Pachomius himself). There were still solitaries inhabiting the surrounding desert, and sometimes the elder would himself choose to live more frequently in the desert than in the more populated central community.

Eventually the central community became the norm of monasticism and the solitary life the exception. Whenever we see examples of solitary monastic life in later Saint's lives, we see it entered into almost exclusively by those who had already acquired considerable experience in communal monastic life. Even as great an ascetic as Saint Seraphim of Sarov pleaded for a long time before he was given permission to withdraw into the forest outside of his monastery in order to pursue the solitary life. Thus, in time, the communal, coenobitic form became the preferred form of Orthodox monasticism and thus, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox monastic communities in the world today are coenobitic communities.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae: Guarding the Mind, Knocking on the Door of the Heart

To guard the mind requires that we know Christ's presence in our heart.  Once we know this presence, we can bring our innocent thoughts to Christ.  But first, our heart needs to be opened.  Until it is open, Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says that we must knock at its door, with thoughts sacrificed to Christ, with the hope that we will gain the awareness of His presence and by this our heart will be opened.

He also says that we don't have a full feeling of His presence at first. We will experience gradual progress in this. We must be persistent and have patience.

The whole notion of guarding the mind is dependent on us being able to bring our thoughts to the door of the heart.  Therefore it is also called watching of the heart.

Standing watch at the door of the heart, the mind does nothing but keep itself from going astray, because the heart is, after all, nothing but the depths of the mind.

Think about how often our minds go astray. How often by our immersion in our ego needs we ignore this place of the heart.  The mind never stops and our actions seemingly spinout of the control of our highest values. We need to be ever vigilant.

Saint Mark the Ascetic says,
The mind must keep vigil over the heart and guard it with all watchfulness, trying to penetrate into its innermost and undisturbed chamber, where there are no winds of evil thoughts... to be vigilant over the heart and go ever deeper into it and to approach God alone, without becoming disgusted with the toils of attention and persistence.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Spiritual Labour of Non-Condemnation

The venerable Maxim the Confessor says: “Should we not tremble, hearing how God the Father, without judging anyone Himself, ‘hath committed all judgment unto the Son’ (John 5:22)? And the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, says to us: ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged’ (Luke 6:37). Similarly, Apostle Paul says: ‘Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes’ (1 Cor. 4:5), and again: ‘for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself’ (Rom. 2:1). I tell you, it is so: for men, having ceased to weep over their own sins, have taken the judgment out of the hands of the Son, and judge and condemn each other as though they themselves were sinless! Truly this frightens the heavens and makes the earth tremble.”

Centuries pass, yet men still stand before this unassailable wall of condemnation and are unable to overcome it. Adam, justifying himself in paradise before God, condemned Eve; Cain, having condemned his brother Abel in his heart, killed him; the sin of condemnation led the Jews to kill the Messiah; and we, modern Cainites and Pharisees, are pushed by condemnation to a daily spiritual execution of our brothers.

Judgment tortures the doers of it themselves, takes away their peace of mind, forces them to continuously monitor the actions of those around them, and poisons their souls with the bitter poison of suspicion.

An elder once said: “It is easy to step unto the path of salvation: you must only firmly decide that from this moment you will no longer judge anyone.” We can understand these words with our mind, but how do we actually accomplish them? For this, we must understand why we judge others. The reason lies in our false self-evaluation: he judges others, who feels that he has a right to judge, who places himself higher than others, who sees himself blameless of the sins of which he accuses others. Whoever is not aware of his own spiritual corruption, will never cease to judge others.

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.