“A Candle Before the Icon”: Archbishop Anastasios

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“As a young person I had been moved by stories of Father Damian, a Catholic priest who served lepers in Hawaii, and also Albert Schweitzer. I asked myself whatever happened to our missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church? Where were the Orthodox missionaries? What are we doing to share our faith with others? What are we doing to reach all those people who have never heard the Gospel? I realized that indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. How had it happened that a Church called to baptize the nations was so indifferent to the nations? Saint Paul brought the Gospel to Greeks. Who were we bringing it to?”

It was a pivotal question that would shape the rest of his life.

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Indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ.

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‘Krishti u ngjall, Zoti eshte me ne, lavdi Zotit!’ — ‘Christ is risen, God is with us, Glory to God!’

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While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, Anastasios has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all. Also we pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan — we see not how someone is my neighbor but how someone becomes a neighbor. It is a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”

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People look at the difficulties of life here and say to me, ‘How can you stand it? It is so ugly!’ But for me it is so beautiful! It is God’s blessing to be here — not the blessing I imagined but the one I received. …

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“People sometimes ask me about my expectations, but I don’t know about the future! You can only do your job with love and humility. I am not the savior of Albania, only a candle in front of the icon of the Saviour.”

For more insights into Archbishop Anastasios legacy go to “A Candle Before the Icon: Archbishop Anastasios”, from Jim Forest’s book Resurrection of the Church of Albania, WCC Publications

Don’t spill the Grace. Keep it there!

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One young convert, radiant after experiencing his first Pascha in the wilderness, was asked by Fr. Seraphim: “Well, how did you like the Feast?”

“It was wonderful!” replied the elated pilgrim.

“Don’t waste what you’ve been given,” Fr. Seraphim said, echoing the words of Bishop Nektary. “Don’t spill the grace. Keep it there!” As he said this, Fr. Seraphim tapped the young man’s chest, right on his heart.

Christ is Risen!

 

 

Father Ilarion and the Suffering Horse

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Source: Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses

The sequel to Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father

“There are many times when we read the words “the best book I have ever read”….well, this book is certainly the benchmark by which you can measure all the others you will read. If you are spiritually hungry and thirsting for that one drop of spiritual water….then read this. It will open your heart. The words in this book will feed your soul. If you are reading this because you are undecided…..then why don’t you ask your heart to make the decision for you? I did…..!”

Orthodoxy and Animals

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St Fillan and the Repentant Wolf

If you have not heard of St Fillan, please search his life and read it. There is nothing shameful in not knowing anything, in not having even heard of him or any of these wonderful Saints. We see today the effects of centuries of purposeful destruction of their heritage, centuries of constant attempts to delete their memory. When you discover a Celtic Saint of which you had no previous knowledge, give thanks to God: you have unearthed an amazing treasure. Begin from there and see where Christ leads you – there is no accident, no coincidence in the eyes of God.

St Fillan is such a treasure. I have not been able to find any previous icon of him – if you know of any, please send it to me. This icon focuses on one particular event in the Saint’s life, but tries to make something else visible. Once, a wolf killed the ox which St Fillan used to work the fields, so the wolf had to replace the dead ox and plough the fields with the saint. On the surface, this is what the icon shows.

Pray for a little while and the icon suddenly becomes the image of a confessor’s gentleness, or that of a parent’s struggle to both love and educate. This is the icon of the struggle any loving heart goes through when faced with the need to direct or to punish. Love punishes in a manner that edifies – not crushes; love corrects in a way that allows one to grow into one’s true identity (God has created the wolf to serve man, and in this obedience it finds its true meaning) – not deform one’s identity by imposing the parent’s identity on him.

When love educates, there is no battle of wills involved. In fact, there is no human will here – the only will present is that of God. Looking at their faces, it is obvious that to punish goes against the Saint’s love, while to obey goes against the wolf’s fallen nature. And yet both of them bow down to one another (see their posture) and together, they both bow to God’s will.

The hands that impose obedience look more like hands that caress, hands that bless. The one in authority has the posture of the one under obedience. When you look at their posture, one cannot distinguish who is the one in authority, who obeys to whom, for they both obey to God, and they bow down to one other.

Humanity is called to use the created world in love, not to abuse it with indifference. Humanity is called to help rekindle the true identity of the created world, not to destroy it. For after all – and this is something we should never allow ourselves to forget – our own fall, the fall of Man has dragged the world into its current fallen state.

The expression on St Fillan’s face reflects this very awareness: this animal has killed, this animal has fallen because of our fallen nature, and ultimately, because of my own sinfulness.

Source: Mull Monastery — Fr. Seraphim Aldea

*St Fillan — 9 Jan — is the patron Saint of the mentally ill

* “When you discover a Celtic Saint of which you had no previous knowledge, give thanks to God: you have unearthed an amazing treasure. Begin from there and see where Christ leads you – there is no accident, no coincidence in the eyes of God.” Indeed! But more about the Celtic Saints who have come to me in my recent pilgrimages in the blog posts to follow …

Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study

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And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

 

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Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

What is the Role of a Spiritual Father?

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These excerpts are from a paper on the Orthodox Christian monastic life, yet all they say about the role of the spiritual father, I find it equally relevant to those who live in the world.

“… you choose, or rather, recognize your spiritual father or mother, and he or she will recognize you as his/her spiritual child.

The spiritual father does not need to be some kind of clairvoyant elder. Rather, he is someone to whom you can open your heart. There is often a mutual recognition, that “this is my father,” and “this is my son.” Or, at least, that this is a person with whom I want to work out my salvation.

The discipler, the spiritual father or mother, is the one to whom you will promise obedience, as a means of being obedient to Christ. It is a sacramental relationship: obedience given to the spiritual father for Christ’s sake becomes obedience to Christ. The spiritual father will not give you something immoral or illegal—it would be your duty to disobey such a command. Being obedient means cutting off our own will. It is training. But it is also a means of grace, because we are obedient to Christ through our obedience to the spiritual father. This is itself a means of grace, a synergy or cooperation with God, and accomplished by the power of His energy. We strive to harmonize our will with God’s will, by cutting off our self-will in obedience. Then it becomes all grace, God’s activity within us. But the more we resist, rebel and protest, the more self-willed and independent we are, the more we reject the grace of God.

The passions of envy and jealousy, abandonment anxiety, pride, and anything else surface in the first few years [of the discipleship],  if things are working right.

Obedience is not about subjugation. It is not about depriving the disciple of his will, or much less surrender of one’s personhood. These are abuses. Rather, obedience is willing submission in love. 

It is a relationship of the most profound intimacy and openness.

The relationship between a spiritual father and son is a relationship of love and respect, mutual in every dimension. It becomes the context in which we authentically develop our personhood, and transcend our ego-centrism. Submission to a spiritual father means to enter into a mutual striving for salvation together (1Peter 5:5). It is a relationship of the most profound intimacy and openness. You come to know each other profoundly. And yet, the relationship of a spiritual father and son is also a participation in Christ’s own sonship to the Father. It is a relationship that is sacramental, full of grace. That grace does not depend on the charismatic gifts of the spiritual father, his maturity or clairvoyance. Of course he should be someone blessed by the Church to have such a ministry, and likely will be a priest. If the relationship is undertaken in good faith, on both parts, it becomes that sacramental bond in Christ by the Spirit.

We must remember that this relationship, because it is the very means of working out our salvation, will be tried by fire.

It is important to respect and have faith in your spiritual father. But know for certain that your spiritual elder is a sinful man with passions and shortcomings, like yourself. If you have the idea that he is sinless and infallible, you are only setting yourself up for a huge fall. And if you judge your spiritual father for his inevitable failings, you are also setting yourself up for a fall from your own pride and arrogance. We must remember that this relationship, because it is the very means of working out our salvation, will be tried by fire. Our faith in our spiritual father will be tried by enormous temptations, by his mistakes and shortcomings, and by our own brokenness, rebelliousness and arrogance. But what is important is to persevere through the temptations, and not allow ourselves to judge him. It is said that there are very, very few great elders in the world, but what is even more rare is the true disciple. We must remember that our judgment exposes our own hypocrisy, more than anyone else’s.

Our faith in our spiritual father will be tried by enormous temptations, by his mistakes and shortcomings, and by our own brokenness, rebelliousness and arrogance. 

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the Lord’s most vivid illustrations, and used extensively for the monastic life. How profoundly we betray our Father, going off and living prodigally, wasting his riches on harlotry and riotous living. Coming to our self, finally, we repent and return to the Father. How the Father has waited for the return of his beloved son, no matter how much the son’s insensitivity, words and actions have hurt the father. The Father does not assign us a place with the servants, but restores to us our birthright—now a gift of grace. So also does our spiritual father wait for us to repent, to return, so that we may receive the gift of his love.

‘Make haste to open to me Thy fatherly embrace, for as the prodigal I have wasted my life. In the unfailing wealth of Thy mercy, O Savior, reject not my heart in its poverty. For with compunction I cry to Thee, O Lord: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee. ‘(Troparion at Monastic Tonsure)

You have found your spiritual father when knowing you, you realize that he loves you unconditionally.

Always in a spirit of unconditional love and acceptance, even when the passions are raging and the son is in a state of rebellion and stubbornness. 

The relationship to the spiritual father is the way to work out authentic self- acceptance. The spiritual father loves the spiritual son unconditionally, and that love is the foundation for the son to learn how to love the other, to accept himself, and to look at himself in naked honesty and love himself in a healthy way. Constant confession, opening the heart to the spiritual father, and exposing the most shameful and inmost thoughts and inclinations, is the way to this deep cleansing of the heart. The father must give his son both the encouragement and the rebukes that help him see himself. But this is always in a spirit of unconditional love and acceptance, even when the passions are raging and the son is in a state of rebellion and stubbornness.

All the rage, anger, rebelliousness and hatred that are concealed in the heart get projected onto the spiritual father.

So the spiritual father is called to be patient, no matter how hurtful the son can be. All the rage, anger, rebelliousness and hatred that are concealed in the heart get projected onto the spiritual father. The passions of envy and jealousy, abandonment anxiety, pride, and anything else surface in the first few years [of the discipleship], if things are working right.

The spiritual father is called to be patient, no matter how hurtful the son can be.

Obedience is one of the most important things to expose the passions. Obedience demands the cutting off of the will; and our passions are in what we will. Obedience also demands cooperation with the other brothers. We easily cooperate when we want to do something; when we don’t, that is the key point in the confrontation with our will. And if we have underlying passions, such as envy and jealousy, pride and arrogance—Why did he get to do that? [He]  loves him more than me… Why should I have to do that?… or I should have gotten to do that… etc.—so the real battleground of purification is obedience.”

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Dedicated with a love and gratitude which words can’t express to my spiritual father, one I recognised very soon, as “this is my father”, one who loves me unconditionally 

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Dedicated also to St. Dositheus, ο αληθής υποτακτικός,  the true obedient, a Saint I am personally very drawn to.

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Anything that the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has to say is of the utmost importance for our spiritual life, even more so when such a gifted spiritual father talks about “SPIRITUALITY AND THE ROLE OF A SPIRITUAL FATHER”

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