Friday, October 26, 2018

Useless Knowledge and Idle Curiosity

Just as it is necessary to guard the mind from ignorance, so is it equally necessary to protect it from the opposite, namely from too much knowledge and curiosity. For if we fill it with a quantity of information, ideas and thoughts, not excluding such as are vain, unsuitable and harmful, we deprive it of force, so that it is no longer able to understand clearly what is useful for our true self-correction and perfection. Therefore, in relation to the knowledge of earthly things, which is not indispensable, even if it is permissible, your attitude should be as of one already dead. Always collect your mind within yourself, with all the concentration you can, and keep it free of thoughts about all worldly things.

Let tales of the past and news of the present pass you by, and let all the changes in the world and its kingdoms, be for you as though they did not exist at all. If anyone brings you such news, disregard it and turn it away from your heart and imagination. Listen to what St. Basil says: "Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you, and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey.” Listen also to the words of David: "The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law" (Psalm 109:85). Love to hear only of spiritual and heavenly things and to study them, and wish to know nothing in the world except our Lord "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2), save His life and death and what He demands of you. Acting thus, you will act in a way pleasing to God, Who has for His chosen and beloved those who love Him and try to do His will.

All other inquiry and investigation is the offspring and food of self-love and pride. They are the nets and shackles of the devil; he sees the strength and firmness of will of those who pay attention to spiritual life, and strives to conquer their minds by means of such curiosity, in order to gain possession of their mind and will. For this purpose, he suggests to them thoughts that are lofty, subtle and wondrous, especially to those who are sharp-witted and quick to make lofty speculations.

Monday, September 3, 2018

On Struggling by Saint John of Kronstadt

Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.

You cannot conquer any passion, any sin without gracious help; therefore, always ask the help of Christ, your Saviour. It was for this that He came into the world, for this that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, in order to help us in everything, to save us from sin, and from the violence of the passions, to cleanse us from our sins, to bestow upon us power in Holy Spirit to do good works, to enlighten us, to strengthen us, to give us peace. You ask how you can save yourself when sin stands at every step, and you sin at every moment? There is a simple answer to this: at every step, at every moment, call upon the Saviour, remember the Saviour, and you will save yourself and others.

Now we stand up and fall (in faith and virtue), but we hope for a time and condition when we shall no longer be able to fall, when we shall reach such a state of perfect safety from falling, as the angels have attained to, who are now inaccessible to evil, and when we shall become strengthened in holiness. In the meantime fight against sin, and hope that the time will at last come of perfect victory over sin and over death, which is its offspring. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."[1160]

Everything is possible unto those who believe and trust. We must struggle and conquer.

Struggle against your infirmity, pray as much as you have the strength to, and the Lord will not despise the infirmity of your flesh and spirit.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"Imitate; Don't Innovate": Safeguarding the Integrity of the Orthodox Faith

SOME YEARS AGO, Professor Constantine Kalokyris, the renowned expert on the history and theory of Orthodox Iconography, made the observation that, "In America they have started making Byzantine icons, mosaics, and wall-paintings, but the painters here are still lacking the theological presuppositions of Orthodox iconography." [1] One might take some exception to this statement now, several decades later, when traditional Iconography and iconographers can be found in many places in America; and, indeed, it can be persuasively argued that there were very no table and clear exceptions to his claim, especially in certain Russian  Orthodox circles in this country, at the very time that Kalokyris originally made his observation. Nonetheless, there was, in part, some accuracy in what he said, and there persists among Orthodox in America an iconographic "tradition" which most assuredly reflects a deficit in that correct understanding of the theological and dogmatic presuppositions which define the Church’s iconographic witness.

What lies at the core of the many deviations that we see from traditional Iconography is a failure to grasp one of the essential spiritual axioms that undergird the preservation of Holy Tradition itself: following the path carefully set forth and meticulously defined by those who have gone before us. As I constantly tell my own spiritual children: "Imitate; don’t innovate." The failure to honor this simple principle has serious negative consequences, not only for the field of sacred art, but in every other area of Orthodox theology as well. The malaise of modernism, which so deeply affects so many Orthodox jurisdictions today, can be traced precisely to a willful rejection of the humility of imitation for the arrogance of innovation. This fact is perfectly illustrated by two Icons recently printed by the Conciliar Press, a publishing house of the now-defunct "Antiochian Orthodox Evangelical Mission," a short-lived "church within a Church" that was formed when a group of former Evangelical Protestants (the self-styled "Evangelical Orthodox Church") was received into the ultra-modernist Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. These two iconographic offerings, advertised in the publishing house’s Spring 1998 catalogue, also provide compelling evidence that Professor Kalokyris’ somewhat dated misgivings about traditional Church art in America are not wholly without merit and still find application in at least some contemporary Orthodox circles here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Saint Maximos The Confessor: Even After Death the Soul Retains Activity

On the second day of this August in the current first indiction, our mutual friend handed me the honourable letters sent by your fatherly holiness. Naturally, I was comforted to read that you are in good health; since after God, you, my master, are the cause of every good thing [in my life]. So much has the Holy Spirit of God united Himself to you, that even when you are absent I behold you with my mind’s eye alone. I order my life and my speech [or reason] using what strength I possess, because when I remember you, it is as if I am seeing God before me, and I am filled with reverence. 

I was not a little disturbed to learn that the [heretical] doctrine concerning the soul is shamelessly being preached in your parts with the same support and boldness as it is here. In fact, I am filled with grief, and a weight has settled on my mind like a cloud, because this novel doctrine about [the state of the soul after] the resurrection is being advocated by almost everyone here, in particular by the supposedly most distinguished monks. One would not be far off if he supposed that this was the first sign of the coming of the Antichrist. Indeed, anyone who is able to reason should affirm this to be the case, since he has as a witness to the great evil the absurdity of the things they say. 

These people shamelessly sharpen their tongues against everything and do not consider anything irreverently said or done to be terrible. Thus they claim that after the resurrection bodies will continue to subsist by means of phlegm, blood, yellow and black bile, breathing, and tangible food. They say that in the resurrection, nothing will be different from this present life, except that no one will die again. I do not know how they can stop their ears and close the eyes of their souls so as not to understand everything written in Holy Scripture about the soul and the resurrection through the prophets and apostles, through the Word of God Himself speaking in the flesh, and especially through the divine Paul when he expounds on the resurrection to the Corinthians. These passages are crystal-clear and very well known. They do not require an exegete. Moreover, the nature of reality itself, no less than the divine oracles, teaches about the resurrection and leads even barbarians to the knowledge of the truth. Nevertheless, [the heretics] feel no shame in ignoring these self-evident proofs.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Saint Athanasios the Athonite

According to his biography, St Athanasios hailed from the east, from Trapezounta. After concluding his education- as a teacher of literature- while still very young he was touched by the Divine Grace. He forsaken the world and espoused monasticism under the guidance of his uncle (St Michael Maelinos).

It is said that when the young generals who later played a crucial role in the Byzantine Empire, Nikiforos and Leon, visited St Michael to confess, he guided them to the place where St Athanasios –then thirty years old- was staying and told them that he wanted to show them a ‘treasure’. After meeting and talking with Athanasios, the two men were truly amazed and concurred that indeed he was ‘a great treasure’. They were then commanded to ‘reveal all their thoughts to this very monk for ever’. Until the end of their lives, these two great men continued to have St Athanasios as their spiritual guide. Nikiforos was so keen to be with him that they promised each other to live together as monks for ever.

Nikiforos never managed to keep his part of the promise. Being a general was called to free Crete from the pirates. Then he became king against his will and was later murdered. However, he never stopped looking after the monastery of Great Lavra, established by St Athanasios.

St Athanasios came to Mount Athos from Bythinia. When he reached Karyes, which was the centre of monasticism at the time, he never revealed who he was, but pretended to be an illiterate peasant. His elder had tried several times to teach him to read to assist him with his spiritual regime. He, however, was pretending to be incapable of learning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Orthodox Byzantine Music

Strictly speaking, Byzantine music is the medieval sacred chant of Christian Churches following the Orthodox rite. This tradition, encompassing the Greek-speaking world, developed in Byzantium from the establishment of its capital, Constantinople, in 330 until its fall in 1453. It is undeniably of composite origin, drawing on the artistic and technical productions of the classical age, on Jewish music, and inspired by the monophonic vocal music that evolved in the early Christian cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Ephesus.

Byzantine chant manuscripts date from the ninth century, while lectionaries of biblical readings in Ekphonetic Notation (a primitive graphic system designed to indicate the manner of reciting lessons from Scripture) begin about a century earlier and continue in use until the twelfth or thirteenth century. Our knowledge of the older period is derived from Church service books Typika, patristic writings and medieval histories. Scattered examples of hymn texts from the early centuries of Greek Christianity still exist. Some of these employ the metrical schemes of classical Greek poetry; but the change of pronunciation had rendered those meters largely meaningless, and, except when classical forms were imitated, Byzantine hymns of the following centuries are prose-poetry, unrhymed verses of irregular length and accentual patterns. The common term for a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas, is troparion (this may carry the further connotation of a hymn interpolated between psalm verses). A famous example, whose existence is attested as early as the fourth century, is the Vesper hymn, Phos Hilaron, "Gladsome Light"; another, O Monogenes Yios, "Only Begotten Son," ascribed to Justinian I (527-565), figures in the introductory portion of the Divine Liturgy. Perhaps the earliest set of troparia of known authorship are those of the monk Auxentios (first half of the fifty century), attested in his biography but not preserved in any later Byzantine order of service.

Two concepts must be understood if we are to appreciate fully the function of music in Byzantine worship. The first, which retained currency in Greek theological and mystical speculation until the dissolution of the empire, was the belief in the angelic transmission of sacred chant: the assumption that the early Church united men in the prayer of the angelic choirs. This notion is certainly older than the Apocalypse account (Revelations 4:8-11), for the musical function of angels as conceived in the Old Testament is brought out dearly by Isaiah (6:1-4) and Ezekiel (3:12). Most significant in the fact, outlined in Exodus 25, that the pattern for the earthly worship of Israel was derived from heaven. The allusion is perpetuated in the writings of the early Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Justin, Ignatius of Antioch Athenagoras of Athens and Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite. It receives acknowledgement later in the liturgical treatises of Nicolas Kavasilas and Symeon of Thessaloniki (Patrologia Graeca, CL, 368-492 and CLV, 536-699, respectively).

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.