Archive | Meditations

Monthly Meditation – April 2010

FROM THE MISSIONARY LETTERS OF ST. NIKOLAI VELIMIROVICH: About the Paschal Service in Jerusalem

Silouan of Mt. Athos

The awaited has arrived! When the old patriarch sang “Christ is Risen” the heavy stone was lifted from our souls. We felt like bodiless spirits. Like we were resurrected! Suddenly, thunderous voices of nations and tribes roared, like the sound of many waters, down by the Sepulcher, up by Golgotha, in galleries, on the pillars, on the beams of the iconostas, in window frames. Wherever there was room for a human head, a whole man squeezed into it. By these exclamations, our brothers from Asia and Africa expressed their joy. It was a strange sight for Europeans, but such are the people of the East. Pain to the point of ecstasy and joy to the point of ecstasy. During Holy Week, they sobbed out loud around the Sepulcher of the Lord, kissing the tomb, touched it with their faces and their hands, beat their chest, mourned, and lo this morning—roaring and shouts of joy. Like children—sincere and without reservations. Did not the Lord promise the Heavenly Kingdom to the children? I heard a Copt say about Europeans, “They know how to laugh, but not how to rejoice.” The joy of easterners is without laughter, especially the higher, spiritual joy.

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, says the patriarch. Hristos Anesti, Christ is Risen—the Greeks sing. The Tomb is transformed into paradise, a torture chamber into the palace of joy. We hold candles in our hands, but our souls are brighter than candles.

Hristos Voskrese—Russians sing. Beautifully and with compunction, soft like silk, like only Russians can. But in this hour, in this place, even the ugliest singing seems nice. Yes, and the ugliest face seems beautiful. The light and joy of the resurrection changes everything, transforms everything—voices, faces, things. Everything around us is beautiful, clean, holy, heavenly.

Christ is Risen—the Arabs sing, clapping their hands and dancing with their feet. Tears pour down their faces and glow from the thousand lights of candles from all sides. The expression of sadness is put into the service of joy. How great is the human soul in its sincerity! There is nothing greater other than God and His Angels!

Christ is Risen—sung by Serbs, Copts, Armenians, Bulgarians, Abyssinians, Blacks, one after another, each in his language and in his tone. But they all sing nicely. I tell you, all the people around us look beautiful and good. The black sons and daughters of Africa—all beautiful and good like Angels. It is a miracle that only the Resurrected Lord can perform. This is the only true foundation of brotherhood among people—seeing all people as good and beautiful.

After all the languages had their turn in singing of the tropar, the procession around the Holy Sepulcher started. Asians with their fezzes and Africans with their covers sang some song of theirs giving it the rhythm by clapping and beating: One faith is true The Orthodox Faith

And then the canon and the Liturgy. But all the readings and singing are overcome by one and the same victorious song—Christ is Risen from the dead!

At dawn, the Paschal service finishes in the church but continues in our souls. We started seeing everything in the light of Christ's Paschal glory, and everything looked different than yesterday. Everything is more beautiful, more sensible, more glorious. Only in that light of the Resurrection does life have meaning.

At noon, Antipascha is served – a glorious procession through the Holy City and the reading of the Gospel in many languages. After that, we watched how Arabs play with swords and carry the patriarch on their hands.

We felt like going down to the Russian church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane. And we were invited by the kind Russian sisters. So we walked down the Via Dolorosa again. But behold, it was different now, radiant, beautiful! The soul was at such ease. Victory has swallowed death, and along with it the torments and the sufferings. Nothing else is seen from the bright light of the Resurrection.

Truly, truly Christ is risen!

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Monthly Meditation – March 2010

“We live a long time on this earth and we love the beauty of the earth: the sky and the sun, gardens, sea and river, forest and meadow, music too, and all the beauties of the world. But when the soul comes to know our Lord Jesus Christ then she has no further desire for the things of the earth…. The spirit of the man who has come to know God by the Holy Spirit burns day and night with the love of God, and his soul can form no earthly attachment.”

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos

Many of us may have read, or tried to read, St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent. I have read only the first three steps and referenced a few others. The very first step, Renunciation of Life, challenged me immensely. The next two steps showed me without question that I was not ready to read further. This is not light reading and cannot be treated as such. Its content is certainly for every man (even St. John said to those living amongst worldly cares, “Do whatever good you may.”) yet its complete application needs a true guide, a proper environment and a dedicated commitment, which is why this text was intended for the monastic.

In the midst of our Lenten journey let us meditate for a moment simply on the first two steps of the Ladder: Renunciation of Life and Detachment. It is good for us as Orthodox Christians to be reminded that it is completely normal for us to consider earthly attachment as detrimental to our Christian life. I mention this as particular to Orthodoxy because of the overwhelming majority of conversations I’ve had with “western” Christians who consider it odd that an Orthodox Christian would actively withdraw (or

fast) from this God’s activities and attachments. Something as natural to the Orthodox as fasting from food seemed unbelievably foreign to one Christian pastor who couldn’t believe that we would ever “deny ourselves” anything that was created by God. Let us therefore consider the instructions of Renunciation and Detachment and see even a sliver of their benefit for those who desire to grow in their love for God.

We must first acknowledge that man is a being of vitality. There is life in us. We are given the gift of God’s image. We have the ability to appreciate, to recognize and to participate in all that belongs to God, save His essence. Each spring, as life and beauty emerge from beneath the winter snows I especially feel this vitality—this love of life. As I look upon my wife, my son, my family, my church, my friends, my vocation, I see all that is truly beautiful and I must again acknowledge how much I love life. So one might ask, “What could possibly be wrong about that, Father?” It’s not that the love of these things is wrong, but rather the question of whether or not I love these things more than the One who gave them to me? Am I ready to follow the example of Job?

To be in the world but not of the world is a perplexing and difficult problem. It affects everything, not just the sin we are asked to repent of but also that which is good in our lives, which must not become a stumbling block to our relationship with God. As an example I recall a reference made by Fr. Alexander Schmemman that at first shocked me and took me a while to understand. He said, “Even something as good as family can become demonic.” Indeed it is good for us to contemplate this along with all other attachments that might take on a greater importance than my relationship with God.

Beloved, if our Lenten disciplines can provide us any spiritual benefit let us hope that by withdrawing from whatever worldly cares we can, even for this short time, we would be given greater discernment regarding anything that might interfere with our love for God; and thereby begin to discover what is truly meant by Renunciation of Life and Detachment. Ours is a royal way which leads to a Kingdom greater than anything this world has to offer. May God grant us a fervent love for Him, appreciating the abundant goodness of this life but preferring the Paradise yet to come!

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Mission Monthly – February 2010

“If we have true love with sympathy and patient labor, we shall not go about scrutinizing our neighbor’s shortcomings.”

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

True love? It’s probably easier to define true love by what it is not rather than by what it is. And while there is not
enough space on this page maybe I will try to sum up an explanation by simply saying that true love has absolutely nothing to do
with what one “feels.”

Great and Holy Lent is at our doorstep and I can think of no greater topics to meditate on than love, labor and non-judgment.
If our goal in life is to enter into the eternal life of holiness in the kingdom of God, then these three virtues should indeed
be the daily aim of all our activity and thought.

How do we develop “true love” in caring for others? Isn’t this something we possess by right of our very birth as enlightened
and civilized human beings? If it were only that simple! The unfortunate reality that we must face as fundamental to our fallen
nature is how much of every decision we make in life has to do with the way any given situation makes us feel and how
circumstances can be best manipulated to serve our self-interest. Every person who has reached the age of reason should be aware
of this, if not through mature self-examination then certainly by observation of the very fabric of our society of
self-interest. However, society’s struggle with self-interest is simply the individual’s struggle with self-interest: it is
my own struggle.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Save yourself and a thousand will be saved around you.” Do not misunderstand. “Saving oneself”
is not an act of self-interest based on feelings or manipulation, rather it is an act of faith in which one dies to himself for
the sake of the other. Others are saved around us by our living first for them. This is the irony of Christian self-interest: we
truly only receive by giving; as the old saying goes, “Love is the only treasure that increases the more it is given away.”

It would seem that the absence of “true love” would be very obvious, however, we understand from the spiritual teachings of
our Holy Church that more often than not this “absence” is very subtle and requires careful self-examination. Let us look
attentively into the inner depths of our hearts and see the many ways in which we are easily offended or are ready to see and to
judge the sins of others. As a priest there is a passage from the scripture I call to mind again and again. As members of the
priesthood of believers I believe this passage applies to all of us: “For every high priest chosen from among men is
appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the
ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness”
(Hebrews 5:1-2). Are we not all “beset with weakness?”
Should this not be the strongest of reasons for each of us to have “sympathy” for others rather than scrutinizing them, while we
patiently work out our own salvation “in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)?

“True love” requires only action and has nothing to do with what or how we feel. Anger, resentment, judgment, envy are all
feelings that result from another feeling: that of having been offended or provoked; and the truth of the matter is, if we truly
see ourselves (as we say in our pre-Communion prayers) as the “chief [first] among sinners,” is not the more serious sin that of
the offended rather than that of the offender? With the ease with which people are offended, believer and non-believer alike, it
is clear that “true love” is not as common as the world, and we ourselves, would like to think. Nevertheless let us be hopeful
and diligent as we embrace these true and precious teachings, especially now as we prepare to enter into the patient labor of
lent, confident that we will continue to be transformed by God’s grace and His “true love” for us.

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Mission Monthly – January 2010

The Nativity and Epiphany:

The fullness of celebrating

By Father Nicholas Speier

In approaching the Christmas Feast and celebrating the beginning of the New Year (2009) we recall that the historic Christian center of this time of year is Epiphany (Theophany). The Church in her wisdom has placed these feasts together so we might experience the fullness of celebrating the coming of our Lord.

The Nativity of our Lord is a feast of joy, but at Epiphany the joy is greater still. In the stable cave we see God becoming man and sanctifying humanity, and we see His humility and His love for us. But at Epiphany we see the greater work of sanctifying all of creation in the baptismal water. We know from our reading of the Gospel of St. John that Christ came to save not only man but all of creation.

The Nativity has the angel proclaiming glad tidings, but at Epiphany the forerunner prepares the way. At His birth Christ brought us the message of peace on earth and good will toward man, a true sign of His condescending love. But at Epiphany we see the forerunner preparing the way for all humanity to walk in peace and good will. For God not only wants us to know about life in Him but to live our life in Him.

The Nativity has blood spilt, as Bethlehem wails in her childlessness, but at Epiphany this water gives way to many sons. As Christ is born, this world begins its rejection of the Savior to end at His crucifixion and death. But at the Baptism of Christ we see that His presence can not be stamped out. He is forever making things new through death and resurrection and the new children of God entering the Kingdom through Baptismal water.

At the Nativity, the star proclaims Christ to the Wise men, but at Epiphany the Father reveals Christ to the whole universe. Mary and Joseph quietly come into Bethlehem and Christ is born of her amidst a few, but now at Epiphany the Father's voice declares to all men, angels, and all creation that Christ is the Beloved and only begotten Son of the Father.

As we can see, the two feasts together help us to experience the fullness of the coming of our Lord. They emphasize his humility in lowering himself to save us, His beloved. The two feasts declare to us, beyond doubt, God's great love for mankind and all creation. He did not wait for us to make things better or right, but He came to us in our distress to save us and to save this world. May the depth and joy of these celebrations lift our spirits so we may rejoice with the angels and all the saints at the coming of Christ our Lord.

A SHORT MEDITATION

“At the approach of a great feast you must watch yourself with particular care. The enemy endeavors beforehand to chill your heart towards the event being celebrated, so that you will not honor it by whole-heartedly considering its reality. He acts upon us through the weather, or through the food and drink we have taken, or through his own arrows thrown plentifully at the heart and inflaming the entire person, at which time evil, impure and blasphemous thoughts occur to us, and we feel thoroughly averse to the solemnity. We must overcome the enemy by forcing ourselves to meditate and pray devoutly.”

St. John of Kronstadt

This year's Nativity season reminded me of past holy seasons interrupted with illnesses, weather and other various struggles. One recent year I recall how Kh. Vanessa, after Great Lent's long journey, because of Anthony's illness, simply had to miss virtually all of Holy Week and Pascha itself. This year, due to ill-timed ice storms, we came as close as we ever have to possibly having to cancel both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services (and by the grace of God and the vitamin intervention if Susan Miglautsch I was able to stave off an approaching cold to complete our Confession schedule and the beautiful services of Christmas). Most certainly each of us have our own stories to tell. The question I raise here is whether or not we need to see the “enemy” in these inopportune interruptions or if these are just inconvenient coincidences? Personally I take seriously what has been said here by St. John of Kronstadt. It is no light matter and to simply reject outright the influence of the evil one over the conditions of our lives would be fool-hearty. But rather than assigning blame to the cause of our struggles, we might simply grow in the awareness of spiritual warfare and how it affects our lives; and work more diligently at maintaining warmth towards God which allows us with humility and zeal to absorb all of life's trials. If God allowed Job's entire life to be intentionally taken from him by the Devil should we not expect even these smallest of attacks, and remain devoted to solemn prayer, repentance, contemplation and celebration? Beloved, THIS is our reality, and by the grace of God and our watchfulness may we always be ready to “overcome!”

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Mission Monthly – December 2009

A Christmas Homily (excerpt)

by St. Gregory of Nazianzus (+380)

Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth, be exalted. Sing to the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.

Again, the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people who sat in the darkness of ignorance, let them see the great Light full of knowledge. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away, the truth comes in on them. Melchizedek is concluded. He who was without Mother becomes without Father (without mother of His former state, without father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, whose government is upon His shoulder (for with the cross it is raised up), and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, prepare the way of the Lord; I too will cry the power of this Day. He who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk until their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God—that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation

The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honor, virginity had to receive new honor. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honor of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom's friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit. We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

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