How to Make a Good Confession

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A parish retreat (homily & QA session) entitled “Orthodox Spirituality” by. Alexey Young (now Hieroschemamonk Ambrose) (video transcript). Fr. Alexey was a spiritual child of Fr. Seraphim Rose,

We often wonder how often we should go to confession. The answer is simple—whenever you have a serious sin on your conscience. Examine your conscience and beg God to show you’re your faults; if you don’t know who you are then you don’t know what Christ came to save you from. This can be a difficult process, but a necessary one. Such study reveals our self-love by which we blind and deceive ourselves.

Our sins offend the Almighty God. He wants to forgive us and share His mercy. We must be satisfied not just with avoiding serious sins, but even the smallest, in an ongoing striving for holiness. Our sins cause ourselves and others unhappiness—why would we want this?!

St. John of Kronstadt says that if you live just one day in obedience to all the commandments then you’ll have a foretaste of Heaven. Once we know and detest our faults we can begin to replace them with virtues, but know that this won’t happen all at once. Be the simple, difficult, weak creature that you are, and start small—to try to stop sinning all at once is actually a manifestation of pride. Start with the baby milk of spiritual struggle before moving on to the strong wine.

How should we examine our conscience? You should do this daily, taking time at night to reflect. You can use the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and so on, as a guide. My spiritual father, Fr. Seraphim Rose, taught me to consider: How have I sinned against God? against my neighbor? and against myself?

Through examining our conscience we begin to discover what is our predominant passion(s)—that sin we fall into most frequently, which tries to master us. This can be the love of ease, love of power, complaining, judgmentalism, and so on. One of the worst things that can happen to us if when someone asks our advice, so we give “learned advice,” but in the end they don’t follow it and we get very upset.

To overcome vice we must practice the opposing virtue. The Ladder of Divine Ascent is a great help in this regard. St. John Climacus analyzed each virtue and vice as a master of psychology, seeing cause-effect relationships in a theocentric framework. Identify your predominant vice, locate its opposite virtue and begin to cultivate it. Simply avoiding vice won’t work because then the passion will simply be replaced with other passions. If we do this we will see that the spiritual life works! We don’t like anyone to point out our faults, but in actuality we need our spiritual father to do this.

We each have our predominant virtue too. Studying and practicing this tends to draw the other virtues along with it. We can overcome vice by practicing the presence of God, by beginning to develop an awareness that at all times we are in the presence of God and He observes us. The icon corner serves this purpose. It is a two-way window to Heaven. Before doing or saying anything, think to yourself: “Would I do this in Church in front of the altar?” If the answer is “no” then don’t do it. Church is the place par excellence where we come into God’s presence and receive Him.

The Theotokos practiced the presence of God more perfectly than anyone else. Her virtues grew and she thus had a powerful influence on other people. People were made better by her mere presence.

The predominant passion is pride; it is the mother of all sins. Its opposite is humility. No soul can have any holiness without some humility, and yet pride will lurk in our darkest recesses our whole life. Adam and Eve fell because they listened to the serpent and thought that they knew better than God. This is pride, and now most of us follow two masters—a little pride and a little humility. Pride is the love of self, the beginning of all sin, and the neglect of the fact that we depend on God for everything.

What separates us from death is so little. Our lives are very fragile, and pride places us in opposition to God because by it we work only for our own glory.

Pride places false regard on the opinion of others, and of ourselves, when the what you think matters more than what God thinks. It is also manifested as desiring a good reputation—to be thought well of, to be honored—and this is a great temptation for priests, with people looking for the latest guide or guru. A priest must do everything to remain humble about what people say. Actually, criticism against a priest is a blessing to keep him humble, which is in turn good for the whole parish. Pride is also seen in being overbearing towards others, insulting or critiquing others, being argumentative, and getting angry easily.

The Holy Fathers give us the antidote for going from vice to virtue. The spiritual life is a science, not an art form. Most of us aren’t so spiritually talented so we need laws and cause and effect in order to learn the spiritual life. St. John Climacus says that the antidote for pride is prayer. Identify where the pride is in your life and ask for strength against it. Human effort can do very little. We must realize that everything depends on God. In prayer we make use of God’s grace, and then we can do almost anything—we can move mountains!

Pride can also be turned into humility by acts of humility, and especially by accepting humiliations. If someone criticizes you, even unfairly, if someone insults you or talks about you behind your back, instead of becoming defensive, accept it! This cheerful bearing of small failures on the part of ourselves and others is bearing one another’s burdens (see Gal. 6:2). It is important to bear the misunderstandings of others without complaint or self-justification. All too often we’re prone to excuse ourselves and urge our opinions on others. When we learn to accept the humiliations that come our way then we’re learning to be humble. As pride is the mother of all sins, humility is the mother of all virtues.

 Another serious vice is avarice, which is the opposite of detachment and denunciation. It is the desire for many goods, for power over people, and so on. This passion is combated by cultivating a spirit of generosity. The Lord’s command to give up your coat is quite literal (Mt. 5:40). St. John Maximovitch would often come back practically naked because he had given his clothes away to the poor and starving. St. John of Kronstadt did the same. You don’t have to give away everything, but we should strive to not possess our possessions with our heart. We can have the spirit of poverty even if we aren’t poor—only buying what is absolutely necessary.

There was a German Lutheran pastor named Richard Wurmbrandt who was a prisoner of Romanian and Russian Communists. When asked how he could manage solitary confinement he answered that he had had practice beforehand. He suggested that Americans with much wealth go into a store where they have no intention of buying anything, and every time they see something they like, they should go up to it, look at it, and say “I don’t need this.” Do this repeatedly and you train yourself to be detached from worldly goods. He realized that who he is isn’t dependent on what he owns, whereas most of us really do define ourselves by what we surround ourselves with.

The Desert Fathers had a Psalter and a vigil lamp and that was it, and they were free and belonged to God.

Cultivate generosity and have a spirit of detachment. You can practice this by not using credit cards. We live in a world where it’s possible with a little imagination and a credit card to create an environment straight out of another time, such as colonial America, Tudor England, and so on. Never before was this possible. There’s something very abnormal about it when you think about it. Let’s just live simply and love and care for one another and use our blessings to care for the Church, for the poor, and so on.

We need a spirit of detachment from people too. You can have affections that are not immoral but simply too strong. Don’t define yourself in terms of other people. The spirit of Christian poverty allows for what is genuinely needed, but don’t go out and get something just because someone else has it. Of course detachment doesn’t mean laziness, dirtiness, slovenliness, chaos, carelessness, or anything less than orderly and clean—this is a form of self-love. Christian poverty isn’t stinginess—this is avarice.

Possession can be a passion that spreads even to things not worth keeping. Avarice regrets that you don’t have what others have. Avarice is stinginess. When you give to a beggar it’s for you. It’s not so much for the beggar—if you’re not willing to give that tells you something about yourself. We cannot rest in our diligence—there is always some way there for avarice or pride to creep in. And the antidote to avarice is prayer.

What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of His soul—put this in a frame in your house!

Regarding lust, we are taught that the clean of heart shall ascend the mountain of the Lord and see God, which refers to modesty and chastity according to our state in life, not just big things like fornication and adultery, although Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God is specifically about sexual sins. Our culture is awash in a cesspool of immorality and lust, dominating every aspect of our entertainment, commerce, and so on, but Christ encouraged chastity and celibacy amongst His disciples.

Even seemingly “innocent” things need more discipline, such as too much hugging in churches. For instance, monks and nuns don’t hug—they greet one another with a kiss of peace. I never hugged my spiritual father, Fr. Seraphim, but we loved one another. Of course, hugging is not an awful thing, but what I’m talking about is part of a general looseness of our culture, with looseness of dress, especially in Church, and so on. We see women in church in pants, men in shorts, women with uncovered heads—there was a time when this would never have happened.

If we had tea with the Queen we’d wear our absolute best, but we walk into Church with the Almighty God as if we’ve just come from a picnic. We need to rekindle the higher standard. Men shouldn’t wear short sleeves, or shorts, or pants that are too tight, and you don’t need a tie, which St. John called a noose.

You can combat lust by fasting. St. John of Climacus says in his Ladder of Divine Ascent that gluttony is the mother of many sins, particularly lust. If you struggle with lust you can begin fasting with the lessing of your spiritual father, beyond the fasts of the Church even. If you fast you will find that lustful temptations go away.

We need to learn how to guard our eyes. Monastics know not to look all around—keep your eyes on where you’re going. In photos of the saints we see that often they are not looking directly into the camera; they learned to discipline their eyes so that what comes into the soul via the eyes would not harm them. In the evening prayers we ask for forgiveness if we have seen anyone and been wounded thereby in our hearts. We seek to control our minds too, in disciplining the imagination, day-dreaming, curiosity, and so on.

The antidote for lust is prayer. The spiritual life is a constant battle that will end only at our death. We battle not against flesh and blood, but against the fallen angels (see Eph. 6:12). Examine your conscience, identify your predominant virtue and vice and seek the guidance of a spiritual father. The soul is a garden, though often choke with the weeds of the vices. Our task is to learn how to pull out the weeds one-by-one and plant flowers of virtue.

Question: If you’re on the path but still have passions will you see the Kingdom of Heaven?

Answer: We must make sure that we’re really on the path. We often delude ourselves into thinking we’re on the path when we haven’t actually repented. We don’t have to achieve absolute perfection, but we need some victory that shows our heart.

Question: Surely we can’t give to everyone who asks or we’ll go broke.

Answer: We are called to give but we do need to be discerning. Of course we need to keep some money to provide for our families, to give to charitable organizations, and so on.

Question: What is the difference between self-respect and self-love?

Answer: Some have the special grace to stay in and redeem abusive situations, but this is very rare—it’s almost like martyrdom.

We must be very careful about this, as our culture tells us we’re just a little higher than animals, or even less worthy than animals. We see people saving whales but not babies. Until 150 years ago we believed we were a little lower than the angels, and people tend to live up or down to the image they are given of themselves.

We must work with people very carefully to give them self-respect that isn’t pride. Self-respect comes from being made according to the image of God and knowing that He redeemed us. We should not define ourselves by other people.

Question: How can we safeguard ourselves to keep a healthy balance? Is it a sin to decorate your house and things like that?

Answer: We have the responsibility as good stewards to make a pleasing environment, but we should use common sense about how much money we spend. Of course there are those who have lovely homes but are also very generous. Such questions are on a case-by-case basis.

We have to surround ourselves with beauty—that is a Christian virtue.

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Blessed Seraphim Rose on Lenten Temptations

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Excerpt from Blessed Seraphim’s Rose correspondence:

“First Sunday of Great Lent, 1980

Glory be to God, we passed the first week of Lent well, although the devil seems to attack stronger than ever. Last night at the Vigil we had a fire in church, which, if Br. G had not noticed it when he did, might have destroyed the whole church. Just a few minutes before the fire there had been a strong (and I think beneficial) human confrontation almost on that very spot, and it was obvious to me that the fire was caused by the devil’s envy that I secretly rejoiced, seeing that he attacked our property out of frustration at losing his human prey.  The same day a piece on our main printing press broke, but I think I can fix it from a part on the other press. But how well God preserves us in the midst of such trials!”

When Christ Found Me in the Himalayas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impossibility of Aloneness

 

I’m an Orthodox Christian living in Homer, Alaska and experienced Jesus Christ in the Himalayas, in India.

I listen to the heartbeat of rain outside…

Cold, Alaskan fog blowing in off the bay, emerald hills now that autumn is here and summer chased away into the mountains. But a milky white fog spreads over the bay like a silken ghost. I used to visit Trappist monasteries, back when I was Catholic, at the beginning of high school, and searching for a relationship of love. I read plenty of philosophy then to know that knowing isn’t enough, that having a realization in the mind is entirely different from experiencing a revelation of the heart.

I spent two birthdays in the Himalayas…

Traveling along gravel roads that drop deep into icy gulches where the Ganges river rages below not yet packed with the filth and mud and newspapers of villages, not yet carrying remainders of Indians in her current, I found Christ found me. It’s a difficult and strangely compelling atmosphere to confront oneself, – – India, – – sandwiched with black corpses, white snow, pagan fires and virulent animals.

I took a bus north from Delhi. It was crowded, tight and cramped, flies buzzed between my face and the windows smeared with brown slime. It’s so polluted in Delhi, so much coffee-colored smoke, so much steam that you really can’t see the sun. You saw it, a rising orange-reddish ball burning over the horizon fifteen minutes in the morning, but then fifteen minutes slouching back down again, an exhausted head over the mountains.

I grew up Catholic but turned to Buddhism when introduced to a self-hypnosis class at my Catholic high school, experimenting with meditation and ‘mindfulness.’ I experienced serious symptoms of manic depression then, partially because I’d consciously turned away from the Judeo-Christian God, and also because life at home was very, very difficult for me. I grew anxious and got into extremely self-destructive habits, and so Buddhism seemed a perfect door to address – or not address – my turning from God and family, and focusing my energy toward dissolving into a Void, a dissolving bubble on an endless and personless river, Tathāgatagarbha. The element that got me is to dissolve my desire, and abandon my selfhood, in order to avoid suffering. But desire doesn’t seem so bad, especially when it is for love, which requires more than one person, and thereby voids any notion of abandoning self, – – and to love, to truly love, is to give, which may require sacrifice, and suffering – –

So Tibetan Buddhism kept coming up, because the meditation helped calm my anxieties and depression, and because the culture proved highly engaging, what with all her colorful flags, her skulls, and metaphysical explanations of things, – – but what is left, when ‘I’ disappear, and there is no one else for whom a relationship of the heart can exist? Not to mention, what did the experiences of the Gospels, the Cloud of Witnesses, the Holy Church, amount to? I knew nothing of Orthodoxy when I reached into the closet of Buddhism, but in light of it, now, what does it all add up to?

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Joseph in Gangotri, where he met Christ in a cave.

Mindfulness worked as far as cleansing the window, the mind, is concerned, which is important, but then many of its doctrines, – and I explored countless doctrines, – really stop here. Clear sky. But what it did not do, and could not, really, is orient me toward the sun, and the warmth of the sun, and the sunlight – – all religions seem to contain some seed of truth, but fail in witnessing to the Triadic God…and all my destructive habits, and relationships, and every mantra, and yoga, all of which I’ve had my fill…this is how Christ brought me to Him.

Back to the story, I’m in Delhi, on a bus. And after an hour or two of sitting in that cramped, stuffy and urine-soured air you hear the front breaks release, the bus finally stretching her arthritic joints and creak slowly forward. She rolls, head first, toward the busy main road. For fifteen minutes we cough and pop down the road, away from my filthy, but greatly lovable refuge of Manju Ka Tilla, a sort of Tibetan refugee camp criss-crossed with telephone wire, wet and narrow alleyways packed with dogs and diapered babies, and polio. Cobblestone streets and bakeries, copper trinkets and arms, this is the first place on earth I met leprosy, and her sister polio. The beginning of my spiritual warfare.

I usually saw them together, these two, – polio and leprosy – crowding in around a barrel of fiery rags, in the crayon-black darkness hands like chewed-up bread, teeth pencil yellow and cracked. I see a boy attacked by a skinny, vicious-looking dog with long, wet fur and crazy eyes – it looks like a red and yellow fox, – – a tangle of fur and blood and whimper. The taxi cab drivers, waiting on their afternoon customers near the stinking, feathered dumpsters launch after the monster in a terrible raid of madness and darkness. They chase the thing down with bricks loosened from neighboring grocery store steps leaving the boy warm and wet with his own blood, a hound’s tooth broken off inside his leg.

Here is suffering, and personhood, and sacrifice…

He looks young but his face shows no signs of innocence. His dark eyes follow me as I run a few feet away to pick up a bottle of water, then return. We look at each other. His long, dangling arms and fingers started rubbing the area of skin that have broken open and gush a strange, purple fluid.

Wet, mossy feet and the bitter odor of trash hang in the air. Cows streaked with vomit pick through spoiled food and milk cartons nearby at the dumpsters. He waits for a doctor but one never arrives. I don’t know what else to do. The boy looks through me, limping into an alley and disappearing in the terrible darkness.

I will live here a total of five and a half months. I will have arrived here practicing Buddhism and Hinduism for eleven years, and leave Christian…

I thought maybe I’d join a Buddhist monastery, or be discovered by wise sage in the mountains, spend the rest of my life in the Himalayas experiencing exotic mystery and enlightenment. I read dozens of sutras by various Buddhas, had an underlined and well-worn copy of the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads, and was reading all the California guys, Bhagavan Das, Ram Das, Krishna Das, and even met most of them, all the 60s ‘hippy’ idols who dropped acid and flew to India to go ‘find the guru.’ I read Be Here Now and did the whole drug scene, but despite all the colorful statues and marijuana and tantra, no matter how ‘empty’ I became, there wasn’t enough and I sensed…how can I say this…something was wrong.

I worked as a wilderness guide for at-risk youth in the sage deserts of Idaho. Teaching primitive skills, meditation and mantra, and working with psychologists to develop methods of emotional and behavioral therapy – – I was chased by a wolf, I killed a rattlesnake. And while out there, – this is in the middle of my life before Christ, – – toward the end of it, actually, – – I began experiencing strange things – not only while traveling through India, but before that, and not only me, but my girlfriend. We saw, and everyone involved with this recipe of mantra, meditation, yoga, – and a lot of it sober, – – we saw shadows and demons, experienced trembling and ungodly anxiety and fear. So I knew something was strange, something was going on. It is not all opinion, all belief, for if I have freewill, and exist outside the body, – and I had plenty experiences where I knew I was more than my body, – – and this is one of the things that helped me dismiss and eventually leave the bag of eastern religions, – in addition to God’s grace, – – that if I am more than my body, and I have free will, and can choose to either accept or reject love, then others can too, and this brought up the issue of good versus evil, of right and wrong.

Was what I was doing, right? Who was I following? Are these things, these deities, just archetypes, and if not, if they are ‘real,’ are they ‘good?’ It like jumping into an ocean and realizing there are many different things floating around in there, harmless creatures, some of them beautiful, and some, in fact, that will attack you, that are poisonous, and the astral life, the spiritual life, is like that. Very quickly, once I got to India, I understood this. And was scared.

The boy with the watermelon disease, his head swollen on a piece of cloth outside my guest room door, a cloud of black flies wriggling over an empty ribcage and hollow eyes, a human Jack-O-lantern, his mother’s long brown arm rung with silver jewelry begging for rupees.

So why did I leave a supportive and beautiful girlfriend behind in Oregon to experience this? I was beginning to mend my relationship with my parents, gain more confidence, and had read Way of the Pilgrim a number of months before, but it was with all my California stuff, and I never saw any relation to that and Orthodoxy, never once asked, where is a church that deepens one’s relationship with the living, loving, Truth? Where truth is a Person, as I’d later read from Father Seraphim Rose?

I’d head up to the mouth of the Ganges River, to Gangotri, – – into a mountain. On my 28th birthday, I listened to the heartbeat of the wind on the cliffs, on the water, and experience not a realization of the mind, though that did happen, sure enough, but only once the heart was struck by a sort of cherubim’s sword in my heart, experiencing a revelation occurring in meeting the living God, Jesus Christ, and myself peeling away from itself.

What can I say?

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After Baptism Into the Holy Orthodox Church

Everything I’d learned, practiced, experienced for all of eleven years poured out from my head, in one ear and out the other, replaced by their approximate Christian terms, fulfilled, actually, and I knew reincarnation is impossible through the resurrection, because I am a self, a soul, and I knew karma is impossible because it operates independently of ‘God’ and there is Divine Intervention, I’ve witnessed it, and experienced it. In the cave, a joyous ache in my heart, and in the cave, no more aloneness, no more aloofness. In the Himalayas, and I mean immediately, like I was zapped, I really met Christ, and was dumb for a moment, and in Eternity I saw in my heart the Person of God as Christ, and I could never, ever be alone. Maybe I’d FEEL alone, sure, (doubtful) but I ought to remember, the impossibility of aloneness. Maybe that should be the title of this letter.

So what happened after? I picked up a Bible and read the thing in a guest house back in Dharamsala, over 12 hours away, and then I’d return to America, after the shaking bus trips and gargantuan ceremonies of burning bodies and yellow and black gods and goddesses, and and I’d fall into the lap of the Orthodox Church, in Eugene, and, I’m only skimming over it now, due to time constraints, and I’d visit St Anthony’s Monastery, in Arizona, and all the monasteries and churches in between, long enough to fill a book, and pray to St Herman who could, by his intercessions, bring me straight to Spruce Island, and to where, kneeling before his relics, find home. In Homer. There is more, but I’ll write later. So much has happened to my heart. Forgive me for rambling, and going on. May the Father of Lights enlighten us, and have mercy on us. Amen.

 

“It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know Him.” + St Silouan

 

By Magnus

February 18, 2013 

Printed in Issue 24

Editors Note: Joseph Magnus now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. He is a writer of children’s books and helps the Father Lazarus Moore Foundation. To visit his blog and read more of his poetry, short stories, and other writings, visit here: Servant of Prayer

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.

The Burning Bush

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The Role of a Spiritual Father

Excerpts from a transcript of a talk by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh about the role of a spiritual father; an unforgettable talk, for both its essence and the power of its pastoral word.

The Burning Bush

“It is easy and expected for a spiritual child to have humility. But what humility a priest or spiritual father must have in order not to intrude upon that sacred realm, to treat a person’s soul in the way that God commanded Moses to treat the ground surrounding the Burning Bush! Every human being—potentially or actually—is that very Bush. Everything surrounding him is sacred ground upon which the spiritual father may step only after removing his shoes, never stepping in any other way than that of the publican who stood in the back of the temple, looking in and knowing that this is the realm of the Living God, that this is a holy place, and he has no right to enter unless God Himself commands him, or as God Himself suggests he proceed or what words to say.”
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Fatherhood consists in a person—and he or she may not even be a priest—giving another person birth to spiritual life. Looking at his spiritual father, that person saw, as the old saying goes, the radiance of eternal life in his eyes, and therefore was able to approach him and ask him to be his instructor and guide.

The second thing that distinguishes a father is that a father is as if of the same blood and spirit as his disciple; and he can guide his disciple because there is not only a spiritual but also a psychological resonance between them. Probably you remember how the Egyptian desert was once filled with ascetics and instructors, but people did not choose their instructors according to signs of his glory. They did not go to the one about whom they had heard the best reports, but rather sought out instructors who they understood, and who understood them.

This is very important, because obedience does not mean blindly doing what someone who has either material-physical or emotional-spiritual authority over us says. Obedience is when a novice has chosen an instructor whom he trusts unconditionally, in whom he finds what he has sought for. He hearkens not only to his every word, but even his to tone of voice, and tries through all of what manifests the elder’s personality and his spiritual experience to re-cultivate himself, to partake of that experience and become a human being who has grown beyond the limits of what he could have done by himself.

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Obedience is first and foremost a gift of hearing—not only with the mind, or with the ear, but with one’s whole being, with an open heart; a reverent contemplation of the spiritual mystery of another human being.

On the part of the spiritual father, who has perhaps given you birth or received you already born but became a father to you, there should be a deep reverence for what the Holy Spirit is working within you.

A spiritual father, just as the simple and ordinary, commonplace priest, should be in a condition to see the beauty of God’s image in a person that cannot be taken away. (This condition often takes effort, thoughtfulness, and reverence for the person who comes to him.) Even if a person is marred by sin, the priest should see an icon in him that has been harmed either by conditions in life, from human neglect, or blasphemy. He should see an icon in him and have reverence for what has remained of this icon; and only for the sake of this, for the sake of the divine beauty within that person, he should labor to remove everything that deforms that image of God.

When Fr. Evgraf Kovalevsky was still a layman, he once said to me that when God looks at a human being, He does not see the virtues that he may lack, or the successes he has not attained—He sees the unshakeable, radiant beauty of His own Image.

Thus, if a spiritual father is incapable of seeing this eternal beauty in a person, to see the beginning of the process of fulfilling his call to become a God-man in the image of Christ, then he is not capable of leading him, for people are not built or made. They are only aided in their growth according to the measure of their own calling.

At this juncture, the word “obedience” calls for a bit of an explanation. Usually we talk about obedience as submission, being under authority, and often as a kind of enslavement to a spiritual father or a priest whom we call our spiritual father or elder—not to own our detriment only, but also to his.

Obedience consists in, as I have said, hearing with all the powers of our soul. However, this obligates both the spiritual father and the “listener” equally, because a spiritual father should also be listening with all his experience, all his existence, and all his prayer. I will even go further to say that that he should listen with all the power of the Holy Spirit working in him to what the Holy Spirit is bringing to pass in the person entrusted to his care. He should know how to search out the paths of the Holy Spirit in him, to be in awe before what God is doing, and not bring him up according to his own image or how he thinks he should develop, making him a victim of his spiritual guidance.

… One of the tasks of a spiritual father consists in educating a person in spiritual freedom, in the royal freedom of God’s children. He must not keep him in an infantile state all his life, running to his spiritual father over every trifle, but growing into maturity and learning how to hear what the Holy Spirit is wordlessly speaking to him in his heart.

Humility in Russian means a state of being at peace, when a person has made peace with God’s will; that is, he has given himself over to it boundlessly, fully, and joyfully, and says, “Lord, do with me as Thou wilt!” As a result he has also made peace with all the circumstances of his own life—everything for him is a gift of God, be it good or terrible. God has called us to be His emissaries on earth, and He sends us into places of darkness in order to be a light; into places of hopelessness in order to bring hope; into places where joy has died in order to be a joy; and so on. Our place is not necessarily where it is peaceful—in church, at the Liturgy, where we are shielded by the mutual presence of the faithful—but in those places where we stand alone, as the presence of Christ in the darkness of a disfigured world.

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On the other hand, if we think about the Latin roots of the word humility, we see that it comes from the word humus, which indicates fruitful earth. St. Theophan writes about this. Just think about what earth is. It lies there in silence, open, defenseless, vulnerable before the face of the sky. From the sky it receives scorching heat, the sun’s rays, rain, and dew. It also receives what we call fertilizer, that is, manure—everything that we throw into it. And what happens? It brings forth fruit. And the more it bears what we emotionally call humiliation and insult, the more fruit it yields.

Thus, humility means opening up to God perfectly, without any defenses against Him, the action of the Holy Spirit, or the positive image of Christ and His teachings. It means being vulnerable to grace, just as in our sinfulness we are sometimes vulnerable to harm from human hands, from a sharp word, a cruel deed, or mockery. It means giving ourselves over, that it be our own desire that God do with us as He wills. It means accepting everything, opening up; and then giving the Holy Spirit room to win us over.

It seems to me that if a spiritual father would learn humility in this sense—seeing the eternal beauty in a person; if he would know his place, which is nothing other (and this is a place that is so holy, so wondrous) than the place of a friend of the bridegroom, who is appointed to safeguard the meeting of the bride—not his own bride—with the Bridegroom. Then the spiritual father can truly be a travelling companion to his spiritual child, walk with him step by step, protect him, support him, and never intrude upon the realm of the Holy Spirit.

Then the role of the spiritual father becomes a part of that spirituality and that maturing into the sanctity to which each of us is called, and which each spiritual father should help his spiritual children attain.

*

For more food for thought on this matter, go to:

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL DIRECTION? WHAT IS SPIRITUAL DECEPTION? by Fr Alexey Young (now Hieroschemamonk Ambrose), a spiritual child of Fr. Seraphim Rose, who offers some insightful words on the role of a spiritual father in our lives and how to relate to him, seeking to avoid deception and leading us to a true knowledge of God. Fr. Alexey also offers some recollections of his own spiritual father, Fr. Seraphim Rose.

 

And to:

Drop Your Baggage

 

Reflections on Pilgrimages by three fellow ‘Pilgrims

pilgrim3.jpg

“No one descends from the Cross, but they take him down” Christ to Elder Sophrony (Sakharov)

[My interposed or ‘highlighted’ comments  are in brackets and in blue] 

“I had made grand plans [Oh yes! Sooo me!! Throw caution to the wind!]  this past summer. My goal was to retrace Paul’s first missionary journey. I would start in Antalya, shoot past Perge up north through the Taurus Mountains until I was just north of Yalvac (Antioch of Pisidia). From there I would swing west to Konya (Iconium) and do a quick circle hitting the ruins that were Lystra and Derbe before finishing back up at Konya. Unfortunately, just three days into this journey I ended up spraining my ankle. Even though that random injury shortened my planned 500+ mile journey down to seventy, it was still the longest I had ever walked in one setting and it was a great experience.

From start to finish I did that walk with this big black bag. In this bag I carried a tent and small blanket, some clothes, a Bible and a notebook, some food, and water. I carried lots of water. I would much rather not have the need, but I was going through some uninhabited mountains and near desert in weather that was in the nineties and sunny every single day. You might not think of it but water is heavy. Very heavy. As I was walking this bag gave me bruises on my shoulders. When I tried to loosen the straps to relieve them, it would end up chafing my lower ribs and back. [And blisters, corns and callouses on my feet]

[I have moved to the UK since May 20, ‘moved’ by a ‘similar’ missionary impulse. Little did I know that I would spend so much of my day walking from place to place, since I am not in possession of  a car (yet?) and my lodgings appropriately ‘primitive’ and remote, often getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings, carrying, more often than I would have liked, heavy objects in my backpack and bags. Never would I have grasped how spoilt and what a creature of comfort I am if I had not been restricted to such old, poorly maintained, cramped, uncomfortable, poor lodgings!]

There was no escaping the pain. This thing hurt and it was preventing me from being able to walk the walk I wanted to. It was a beautiful moment when I was able to hobble into my hotel in Isparta, drop my bag, and say, “I am done with you.” Like me dropping that bag, there are some things we will need to let go of if we are to chose to walk the life Jesus has called us to. 

 Mark 10:46 – Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed them. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.

The first set of baggage Bartimaeus need to drop is the Baggage of his background.What is your background? What is your cultural heritage? One of the popular memes floating around on the internet are those “Keep calm and _______” Keep calm and pray. Keep calm and drink starbucks. Keep calm and eat a cookie. Keep calm and kill zombies. Keep calm and watch gossip girl. You name it, they’ve “keep calmed” it. One of my favorite “Keep calm’s” is a T-shirt I have seen a few times: “I can’t keep calm. I’m Turkish.” Every culture has it’s own distinctions, some would say stereotypes, and there will always be some who will use one of those cultural distinctions, or their family upbringing, as an excuse for their behavior. “I cant help being an alcoholic, I’m…” Or, “I can’t control my temper. It is the ______ in me coming out.” Or “You think I’m rude? I’m _____. We’re all rude. Deal with it.”

Although our cultural background and family background might make us more likely to act in certain ways, ultimately we are all responsible for our own behavior. [I would have never been made so intensely aware of my own cultural/ family background, had I not moved to a ‘foreign’ country and being ‘forced’ to communicate all the time, in writing and in speaking, in a language which is not my mother tongue. Can you imagine? Two conferences in just two weeks! Most fascinating but forcing me to struggle as they were not in my mother tongue. We never realise how deeply rooted we are in an ‘environment’ until we are completely removed from it] Bartimaeus could have said his background was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand since Timaeus means “highly favored”, Bartimaeus would mean “highly favored son”. He was not born blind and so the name “favorite son” was probably not an ironic misnomer. On the other hand, Timaeus is a Greek name. Those who like philosophy might recognize that it was Timaeus who debated Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. Bartimaeus was a mixed blood in a very racist society. Whether you come from a home of abuse, shame, and poverty or whether you had an incredibly blessed and very loving background, there comes a point when you just need to let go. Leave it behind you. Walk your own walk.

 Mark 10:46 – Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed them. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.

In addition to the baggage of his background, Bartimaeus needed to drop the baggage of his disability. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. In modern society being blind is not as crippling as it was in his day. We have books in braille. I have even been through a drive through for McDonalds where a sign says that they have braille menus available. I really hope no blind driver is ever pulling up to ask for one while I am anywhere near. We also have audio books and a program that will read any PDF file in a reasonably normal voice. We also have medical advances where many who would once have gone blind can now get surgery and see perfectly fine. Bartimaeus had none of that. He had no hope.

What is your disability? Most people would say I am average height, but in my family my shortness is a disability. All of my cousins and siblings, even most of the girls, are taller than me. Our family loves basketball. I love basketball, but I have a permanent unfixable disability against others in my family.  No matter how hard I try, I will never grow taller. It just won’t happen. But then I think of pros like Spud Webb and Mugsy Bogues. These guys were much shorter than I was and yet they played well against others who were far taller and better than anyone in my family. Just like our background, we need to drop the baggage of our supposed disabilities if we are to experience our miracle. If God calls us, He will enable us. [I have repeatedly felt so incompetent, weak, discouraged, vulnerable, frustrated, inadequate, struggling, the last three weeks, even while trying to accomplish such basic tasks, as moving, unpacking, struggling to have a reliable Wi-Fi connection–still a struggle!–registering at NHS, opening bank accounts, securing a variety of official documents …] 

Mark 10:47 – When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In addition to his background and disability, Bartimaeus needed to drop the baggage of his respectability. [Oh yes! Can you imagine what friends, relatives back in Greece think of me when they ask about what on earth I am doing here at the UK? Re-discovering Orthodoxy in a ‘secular’, ‘pagan’, ‘depraved’ country?! Certainly a country that is not God’s ‘chosen nation’ such as Greece!!??] In Mark 10:47 it says that Bartimaeus began to shout. There are two different Greek words that are both translated “shout” in the New Testament. One of those shouts is the cry of joy or greeting. When I am watching Real Madrid in football and Cristiano Ronaldo scores again, I am shouting right along with that announcer, “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!” When I spot an unexpected friend walking along at the far end of Sultanahmet Square, I will be shouting out their name. This type of shout is very different from the type of shout I would be proclaiming if I was in a car that just crashed off the side of a bridge. As that sinking car started to fill up with water and I was still trapped inside, my shout would become louder and louder as I grew more and more desperate.

The truth is, the more joyful or desperate we become, the less concerned we are with those around us. Joy and desperation both expose the fear of respectability as the shadow it really is. The rest of the time, most of us are far too concerned with our respectability. “What would they think if…” is a thought we all think much too often. Think about it. Ninety percent of the time we think about someone else, we are really only wondering what they are thinking about us. On the flip side, those same people, if they think of us at all,  are spending ninety percent of those thoughts wondering what we think of them. We are all trapped in a web of false respectability and we need to drop that baggage off and come to Jesus.

Mark 10:48 – “Be quiet!” Many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Very similar to that baggage of respectability that Bartimaeus had to drop was the baggage of others expectations of him. As much as I just said people don’t often think about you, on those rare moments when they do, they are sure to let you know just exactly what they think. When I first told a certain friends that I was moving to Turkey, they told me I was being stupid. [Likewise] They said I was doing a lot of good work right where I was and that I had no business giving all that up, and leaving my family and friends to go to the other side of the world. It hurt. I knew that I was doing the right thing, and others who I trust their voice in my life agreed, but to hear this person say those things even though I knew they were wrong really hurt.

Everybody around Bartimaeus told him to shut up. They wanted to silence him, but he wasn’t screaming for the crowd. His voice was aimed only at Jesus and he would not be quiet until he received his answer. Sometimes, pursuing our miracle means those around us might end up getting angry or confused. They might not understand what God has called us to or they might become disappointed because we are not following their dreams for our life. Oh well. We need to drop the baggage of other’s expectations if we are going to walk the life Jesus has called us to.[Precisely, ‘crazy’ though that ‘calling’ may appear]

Mark 10:49-50 – When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on. He’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

The next thing Bartimaeus had to throw off was the baggage of his security.[Oh yes! To be sure, Jesus has blessed my every single day here with new friends, new ‘signposts’, caring, clairvoyant elders, miracles, Sants’ relics, you name it, but every single day I had also to learn the hard lesson to rely only on Him] Bartimaeus threw aside his coat. We hear that and think, “so what?” What we do not realize is how much of a big deal this would be for a poor person at that time. Bartimaeus was most likely homeless and, if so, that coat was his most prized possession. The poor man’s coat was also his blanket. In the hot summer days, it was his only protection from the sun. During the cloudless chilly nights, it was his shelter from the cold.

Following Jesus is not safe. [No ‘plans’ or comfortable old habits will do here] I am currently reading a book that is a collection of stories about people who have left their former religion to become followers of Christ. Every single one of them is using a fake name for the book. Most of them had to leave their homes and even their countries to become God followers. I have a friend who is in Bible college now who still has not told his family that he has become a follower of Jesus. He fears that when his father finds out, he will hire someone to forcefully bring him back to his home country or, failing that, just kill him.

I cannot imagine that but I can imagine giving away a thousand book library. For me those books were my security. They were my prized possession. But when Jesus said, “come here” they did not matter. Those things we hold dear, those things that make us feel safe, can be very good or decent things. There was nothing evil about Bartimaeus’s coat but when it weighed him down from coming to Jesus, it had to go. If there is anything in my life that I trust or value more than following Christ, it is baggage that needs to be dropped.

Mark 10:51-52 – “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

He received his sight and followed Jesus. His eyes were opened and his path was set.

So what is our baggage? Jesus is calling us today. He is asking us to come, follow him. What baggage do we need to leave by the roadside in order to obey? For some reading this, it might be the first time you have ever seriously considered following Him. What is holding you back? Is it a fear of losing your respectability? Do the expectations of your family and friends hold you back? Maybe there is something you have done in your past, or something that was done to you, which makes you believe you are not worthy. Drop the baggage.

Others reading this have been following after Jesus for a while now. He is asking you to come a little higher. What would that take? Do you fear you are unfit because of some disability or struggle? Are you unwilling to just let loose and scream? Does the next step that you already know he is calling you to take seem just a little too unsafe?

When Bartimaeus met Jesus, the Messiah was on His way to the cross. This was the last time he would ever pass through Jericho. He did not know it at the time but if Bartimaeus passed up this opportunity, he would never have another. We might think there is all the time in the world to let go of that painful baggage which we consider so dear. We think that, but we certainly do not know it. This might be the last such opportunity you will ever have to grab hold of your miracle. This could be your final opportunity. Will you drop the baggage and step out? Will you be willing to lay everything down at the roadside and begin walking in the footsteps of Jesus?”

Source: Between Two Seas

“It is later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God”.” as my spiritual great-grandfather Blessed Seraphim Rose would say.

Visited by God

Jeanne Harper, Visited by God: The Story of Michael Harper’s 48 Year-long Ministry (Aquila Books, 2013), 146 pages.

Visited by God is the extraordinary spiritual journey of an extraordinary Spiritual man – Michael Harper. I think that I would not be missing the mark to say that Michael Harper was the leader of the Charismatic renewal in England and many other parts of the Globe. Beginning as an Anglican chaplain under John Stott at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, his journey finally culminated in his introducing an authentically British Orthodoxy as Dean of a new Antiochian Orthodox Deanery with English-speaking parishes all over the country.

His journey was a long and often ‘very difficult’ and testing one. In some ways I can liken it to the journey of St. Paul in that he depended solely on the Holy Spirit to lead him and lead him the Holy Spirit did! It all began in 1962 when Michael was visited by God while studying St Paul’s two prayers in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He ‘saw’ the Church as God saw her – broken by divisions and untended wounds.

It was almost from that very moment that Michael’s God-given mission for unity in the Church began. But there were many in the Anglican Church who opposed this renewal and together with Pentecostalism the movement was dismissed as over-emotionalism and therefore unacceptable. Inevitable disputes and arguments occurred but this did not deter Michael. On the contrary his detractors spurred him on! He continued to go wherever in the world there were people hungry for the power to live what they believed.

One might come to the conclusion that Michael’s journey as leader of the Charismatic renewal movement would result in a very broad liberality but when the Church of England’s General Synod of 1975 passed the motion allowing women into the priesthood, Michael felt more than just stirrings of discontent. Jeanne Harper describes Michael’s anguish which led to a most difficult and painful decision – to leave the Church of England – whom he called his foster mother, so faithfully had she cared for him and led him to his real mother, Orthodoxy.

Jeanne describes how he was led by the Holy Spirit to the Orthodox Church and in 2000 Michael founded the English-speaking Antiochan Orthodox Parish of St. Botolph’s near Liverpool Street, London. At the same time Michael was appointed as a director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies Cambridge. And in 2005 he was elevated to Archpriest.

The silken thread of a spider is spun from behind him as he moves forward to spin his web. The spider cannot see his work until he looks back and then the pattern of his web with all its links is revealed. Looking back over the web of Michael Harper’s life one thing is clear – from the very beginning Michael’s journey had a pattern and this pattern was a pure reflection of God’s will in his life. Once this was achieved Michael was taken in 2010 and lives in constant joy and prayer along with the saints in glory.

Jeanne Harper shares this God given Spirit filled journey of her husband with the reader and in so doing cannot fail to make us all yearn for the presence of the Holy Spirit to touch and lead all our lives.

And let us not lose this opportunity.

Reviewed by David Suchet CBE

* Last but not least, the concluding chapter “The British Antiochian Orthodox Deanery Mission” is written by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, one of the priests of the Deanery, whose parishes are strategically spread over England and are to be found in Ireland, north and south. The Dean who succeeded Father Michael, is Father Gregory Hallam, whose vibrant parish is in Manchester. Fr. Jonathan Hemmings ministers in Lancaster at the Orthodox Church of the Holy and Life Giving Crossworshipping at St Martin of Tours, Westgate. He writes the following chapter on the story of the Deanery and its missionary vision.