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.

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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

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“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.

In Step With Sts. Patrick and Gregory of Tours

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today I feel most joyous! It is St. Patrick’s Day and my spiritual great grandfather Seraphim Rose of Blessed Memory had a special love for this Saint. Two beloved Saints together! Their prayerful presence is so intensely felt! I May we have their intercessions! God is glorified in His saints! St Patrick pray for us!

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“In San Francisco there was one who got on fire with the idea of the Jesus Prayer. He began adding prayer to prayer, and he finally came to, in the morning, 5,000. Right in the middle of the world, in the middle of the city, in the morning, before doing anything else, before eating, he was able to say 5,000 Jesus Prayers on the balcony, and he felt wonderfully refreshed and inspired. It happened one morning that somebody else came out right underneath the balcony and began busying himself and doing something while this person was saying his last thousand, and it so happened that this person was so put out by this that he ended up by throwing dishes at him! How can you deal with a person occupying himself with the spiritual life, with the Jesus Prayer, when all of a sudden, while he is saying it, he is able to start throwing dishes?” (excerpt from Fr. Seraphim’s talk on St. Patrick’s day, see below for the full text)

A Homily by Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina

EDITOR’S NOTE: As an example of Fr. Seraphim’s simple, down-to-earth approach to spiritual life, we present here a faithful transcription of one of his “unprepared” recorded talks. It was given on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1977, to monks and pilgrims at the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery. 

1. A PERSPECTIVE ON ST. PATRICK

THE CONFESSION OF ST. PATRICK [or here] is a very simple document about how he planned to serve God and a few of the trials and sufferings he went through. From what St. Patrick writes, we see that in his lifetime he did not have the universal glory that surrounds him today. He apparently did miracles and many people had great respect for him, but he still had difficulties with bishops and church people, and there was controversy over whether he was doing things the way he should be doing them. This shows us that even those who later become quite glorious have to go through—in their own lifetimes—the same struggles that each one of us must go through; and it’s not seen until the end whether a person even saves his soul.

It is extremely important that we look at St. Patrick, not from the point of view of glory in the eyes of men, but as he is: that is, spiritually—his spiritual worth. It is of absolutely no significance that today everybody wears green on his day. When I was going to school, you had to do something to anyone who didn’t wear green—tie him up or something. It was obvious that those who did this had no idea of what St. Patrick meant, or what kind of Orthodox saint he was; it was just that the general opinion had been formed in society that he was very important. Gradually he is deprived of all religious meaning, and in the end the honoring of his memory becomes something close to superstition, some kind of a totally meaningless ritual. Of course, this is not what we should look at St. Patrick for. He was a burning apostle of Christ, and because he was close to God, and because God chose him, he was able to convert the whole of Ireland’s people.

All of us are very inspired by lives like his, and this makes one want to do something oneself. What can one do? The inexperienced convert gets the idea: “Oh! I’ll go to Ireland and do something.” Of course, it will not work out. It will not be like St. Patrick because it could only be done once. In a small way it is possible to imitate him, but in general such literal imitations do not work out. We should look to lives like that of St. Patrick for some kind of inspiration or guidance as to what we can do ourselves in our own conditions.

What is realistic? What can we do to be burning with that same apostleship in the conditions we have today? We look around, and we see that there does not seem to be too much of the inspiring phenomena of St. Patrick’s era: whole countries being converted, great monastic revivals, great movements towards Orthodoxy. On the contrary, we look around and see things which may very easily make us discouraged. One asks why there are no great apostles like St. Patrick today. Of course, it is very realistic historically. There was an age of apostles, there was an age when whole peoples were unconverted and apostles were sent out to them. Today, virtually the whole world has heard about Christ, and there are very few totally pagan peoples left who are not getting the Word preached to them. In Africa, as we continue to hear, the Orthodox Gospel is being preached to those wild tribes, from one country to the next, in East and Central Africa. But in most places, the peoples of the world have become rather weary, tired, worn out people who once heard of Christianity and have now got bored with it. It is very difficult to inspire oneself with that. Here and there are a few converts who find that Christianity is something fresh, that it is not the same as the ordinary idea of it. Nevertheless, not too much is very inspiring when you look around the world, from the point of view of Orthodoxy.

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Slemish, where St. Patrick lived as a slave in his youth

 

2. THE CONDITIONS OF MODERN LIFE

There are, of course, definite reasons for this. The conditions of the world today are quite different from what they were in the past. The whole phenomenon of the apostasy, of the falling away from the truth, means that people do not know how to accept the Gospel freshly. They have already heard about it and have been inoculated against it. Therefore, very few of them—when they hear the message of Orthodoxy—come.

Another thing in the air today that is different from earlier times is this “Mickey Mouse” atmosphere. It is the lack of seriousness that one sees in the air, in just everyday customs. For example, when people part, they say, “Take it easy”—the sort of thing that indicates: “Relax, take it easy, there’s nothing important going on. Just go along with whatever happens.” We used to say things like: “God be with you.” “Goodbye” even comes from the word “God”.

The young people of today are very much absorbed in the whole fantasy world of television. “Mickey Mouse’s” place is even called Disneyland, Disney World. Our whole spiritual and sober outlook is affected by this—even religious views. There is a very sincere fundamentalist Protestant in Florida who has a big parcel of land right next to Disney World, and who is going to make a replica of the Temple of Jerusalem, in order to attract the people going to Disney World to come over there for a spiritual thing, on the same level. They’ll be saying “ah! ” and “ooh! “—It will be the same thing as all the fairy castles they saw in Disney World. This whole atmosphere—this unreal, movie-type atmosphere is very much in, not only the air, but our very homes. It affects the whole seriousness of life, the way children are brought up—though children are obviously not brought up anymore. The whole idea of bringing them up, of raising them in a certain mold, is gone now. They just raise themselves, go into whatever influences are around, and the result is something very unserious. This is the chief reason why, when young people become independent, so many of them simply go crazy and get involved with various wild religions and drugs, why they run into crime and all kinds of mad things. In childhood they never had down-to-earth contact, either with spiritual life or simply with the seriousness of living from one day to the next. That is one of the chief things that makes our times different and much more difficult for spiritual efforts.

Another thing is all the modern conveniences which surround us and which, without a doubt, depersonalize and cause people to be less concerned for each other, more concerned about things, gadgets. The very idea of the telephone means that you can instantly have contact with someone for the sake of a message—nothing personal about it. If you have to go to great lengths to get to him, your soul is different than it would be if you just had to dial a number. All this makes our times different and very unfavorable to any kind of spiritual activity such as apostleship, missionary activity, leading just an ordinary spiritual life, monastic life and the rest.

Something else also is in our air which we Orthodox Christians have to be mindful of, and that is the weight of tradition. If we accept all that the Church hands down to us simply as something already accomplished, something given to us without our effort, as if it is just there and we can take it for granted—this already deadens us spiritually, because everything that is high must be fought for, must be struggled for. That is one reason why modern conveniences only depersonalize. The whole effort to make everything more convenient takes away the element of struggle, which is the fabric, the fiber of life.

With all these things in view, the whole of modern life becomes extremely oppressive. For a long time now, as far back as William Butler Yeats, seventy-five years ago or so, everything in the modern age had been accomplished and done, all the seeds had been sown. The twentieth century can add almost nothing of its own. It has only put into effect that which has already been sown in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The result was that there was nothing more to do. Everything is done, it’s hopeless. As William Butler Yeats, a sensitive Irish poet, expresses it in his poem The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand
The Second Coming! Hardly are these words out
When a vast image of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

This is a kind of factual view of life: the worst people are simply immersed in evil deeds and the best people are going frantic, because there is no more spirituality left, there is nothing left to strive for, everything is taken away, materialism is triumphing, there is no hope for the world, and “the beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born”—the vision of Antichrist. The world is going hopelessly down and there is no hope of getting out.

3. THE TIMELESS SPIRITUAL LIFE

All of this is the negative side we see surrounding us today, and it is a very real part of the atmosphere we breathe every day. On the other hand, we have the Orthodox Christian revelation; that is, the revelation of God to His Church. It has come down to us now these two thousand years, very richly, with many testimonies of Scriptures and Holy Fathers, giving us a definite spiritual outlook, a definite spiritual law of life. The spiritual life and its aim do not change from one time to the next. In fact, we know that from the very beginning, from the time when the Gospel was first preached until now, there are being gathered out of the world citizens of one kingdom, all going towards the heavenly kingdom. All these citizens will speak the same language, and know each other, because they have gone through the one, same Orthodox life, the same spiritual struggle, according to the laws of spiritual life.

The Holy Fathers spoke about the latter times as times of great weakness, in which there would not be the great signs which were performed in the early times of the apostles and in the desert by the first monks, when thousands of miracles were being worked, great Fathers were raising people from the dead, many supernatural events were occurring; and these very Holy Fathers said that this dazzling age of miracles would fade away, and in the end there would be almost nothing at all like that. In fact, those who would be saving themselves would seem totally indistinguishable from everybody else, except that they would somehow keep alive the struggle against all these temptations. Just keeping alive the spark of the true Christian Faith, without making miracles, without doing anything out of the ordinary, would already make them, if they endured to the end, as great as or even higher than those great Fathers who worked miracles.

Therefore, in our times, it seems that outward activity for Orthodox Christians is greatly limited in comparison with past times. It seems that way. Still, the inward spiritual activity must be just as possible for those who are willing to struggle. And, in fact, we look around us and we see rather spectacular examples in our century: St. John of Kronstadt, who worked thousands of miracles, probably more miracles than anyone in the history of the Church; St. Nectarios in Greece, a very humble person, in complete disgrace as a bishop, but a wonder-worker especially after his death; and our own Archbishop John [Saint John of San Francisco, glorified in 1994], who lived and actually walked our very soil and passed within forty miles of here many times, undoubtedly blessing all this area, especially with the icon of the Kursk Mother of God. And so it’s obvious, in looking at these people and realizing they are spiritual giants, that it is possible to do something even in our evil times.

st patrick-ireland

St. Patrick, using the shamrock to teach about the Holy Trinity

4. AWARENESS

This brings us to some of the practical considerations concerning the qualities needed for being spiritually creative and fruitful. There are a few important things which come to mind. One thing is that we must see things the way they are; that is, not go off blind, acting blindly without knowing what’s going on in the world. We must be aware that there is such a thing as apostasy, that there are many different kinds of people who call themselves Christians, that they are acting in different ways and some of them are definitely in conflict with each other and with us, and that it can’t be that all of them are right and are on the right path. We can see historically how many different kinds of errors, wrong views, wrong kinds of actions got mixed in with Christian faith. We see the frightful modern revolutionary movement; that is, the movement totally away from religion, aiming towards a great world empire of atheism, a foreshadowing of which is seen in Communism. This is not just among the unbelievers or among those who don’t believe in the Orthodox way, but even among Orthodox people. We look around and see that many Orthodox people are simply, totally worldly and do not think about the higher side of their Faith. They take it for granted. “It’s all automatic. That’s what has been handed down. There’s always a priest somewhere. If he’s not in this town, he’s in the next one. He has sacraments and Holy Communion. We just go to him and get what we need and that’s all…. You go home and you’re satisfied…”

By reading and getting a historical perspective, we see that in past ages this was not considered enough, even by ordinary laymen. They were constantly doing things out of the ordinary. They were getting up very early in the morning. Every village had daily services. At four or five o’clock in the morning, Matins would begin. The people woke up and they went to church every morning, and again to Vespers in the evening. We take many, many Lives of Saints, and we read how they heard the church bell when they were children. If the child was very zealous for God, he would be the first one up in the morning and he would wake the parents up and get them ready for church. If the father could not go because he had to work in the fields, the child would get the mother up and they would go to church. Sometimes he went by himself. The whole atmosphere was penetrated with churchliness. And now, we see worldliness. Very seldom can one find a place where even daily services are celebrated in the world. People have grown unaccustomed to the idea that there is supposed to be an everyday church, everyday church services.

This, then, is one of the very great things which we see in front of us: this worldly attitude of people who are themselves in the Church. We must look at it realistically and see it the way it is: apostasy, error, evil, demonic activity and worldliness such as never before in the history of the world. These things are all anti-spiritual, anti-Orthodox. They lead down; and if anyone follows these paths, they do not lead one to salvation.

Then, once having done this—that is, having looked at things the way they are and been realistic about them—one must learn to fight on the right battlefields. The whole spiritual life is struggle. One must learn to know where one must fight, what one must do. This is extremely important, because it is very easy in the beginning stage to go totally off, by picking up and reading a book that talks about spirituality, hesychasm, and so on.

5. IMITATION SPIRITUALITY

Bishop Theophan the Recluse [+1894], when quoting some of the Holy Fathers, deliberately omitted many of the passages which dealt with the physical sides of prayer. He did this knowing that—even in his time, the 19th century—many people would take those physical aspects as the end and begin imitating without getting the essence. Therefore he just left those writings out of his published works. Now, however, many of them are being published in English and you can read how you are supposed to sit on a stool with your head down, etc. People begin to imitate; they begin to think “this is it! “—and it is a matter of fact that if you fast for a long time and do certain exercises, you begin to have all kinds of things happen to you. But that is not spiritual life. It is almost guaranteed, on the contrary, that it is the activity of demons. The spiritual life is much more serious, much more down-to-earth, and therefore that is not the place where you are supposed to find it first of all.

Usually one can spot people who are not serious and are imitating. We even have a story from the early history of our brotherhood…. In San Francisco there was one who got on fire with the idea of the Jesus Prayer. He began adding prayer to prayer, and he finally came to, in the morning, 5,000. Right in the middle of the world, in the middle of the city, in the morning, before doing anything else, before eating, he was able to say 5,000 Jesus Prayers on the balcony, and he felt wonderfully refreshed and inspired. It happened one morning that somebody else came out right underneath the balcony and began busying himself and doing something while this person was saying his last thousand, and it so happened that this person was so put out by this that he ended up by throwing dishes at him! How can you deal with a person occupying himself with the spiritual life, with the Jesus Prayer, when all of a sudden, while he is saying it, he is able to start throwing dishes?

This means that inside of him the passions were free, because he had some kind of deceived idea or opinion that he knew was right for himself spiritually.  He acted according to his opinion, but not soberly, not according to knowledge; and when the opportunity came, the passions came out.  In this case it is more profitable not to say those 5,000 Jesus Prayers, but to do something else that is spiritual.

This, then, is not where we should be fighting the battle.  We should begin fighting the battle right on the level of awareness, by being aware that we are surrounded by worldly forces.  We must fight them by keeping our minds constantly up rather than down; that is, having in mind heavenly things.  (I will explain shortly what is involved in this). For all practical purposes, in our times this means that we will have to be a little crazy; that is, we will not be in step with what ordinary church people are doing. We will be considered a little, at least a little, out of the ordinary, or even crazy.  This is an absolutely essential thing.  I’ll come back to this theme.

st patrick's grave

The purported grave site of St. Patrick in Downpatrick

6. LOOKING UPWARD

The Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the examples of Saint’s lives, the services of the Church—all these things have to do, not with worldliness in our daily life, but with conducting us to heaven. By looking above to these things, we are enabled to have zeal; that is, to see that there is something above this routine of worldliness, which is very boring, discouraging, and leads nowhere. But these higher things—these services, tales of people who have come back from the dead, Lives of Saints, writings of the Holy Fathers, Holy Scriptures, the interpretations of the Holy Fathers on passages of Scripture, which are very profound sometimes—these things always make us very zealous, if we have a spark of love for God within ourselves. We want ourselves to be living in such a state and to be going to heaven. But this zeal,  by itself, must be of such a kind that it does not come just in a spurt and then eventually fade away. It must be of such a kind that it will last. This means the zeal must be tempered by something deeper, and that something deeper is what St. Seraphim calls determination; that is, zeal that is constant and keeps going—a sort of constant point for your whole life. It keeps you going even when you’re discouraged, because you see that there is something above towards which you are striving, and which does not depend upon your moods or your opinions. It is something which must be your constant possession. It is your determination to get to heaven. And this determination, or rather this zeal which becomes determination, must be constant, so that it will not go up and down and burn out.

In everything that happens, we must look at the higher side, that is, the spiritual side; because if we are sometimes looking at the higher side and sometimes at the lower side, we will be up and down. And the lower side is so powerful, operating even through what we saw in the life of St. Patrick in the golden age of Christianity: even through bishops, through those who are supposed to be the very ones leading the flock to heaven. They can be contrary, because they are human beings also. They can be actually discouraging, keeping people away from that goal; in our times, of course, it is even worse.

Therefore, if we are sometimes looking above and sometimes below, if we are going one foot forward, one foot back, and then one foot forward and two feet back, we will simply not get to the gate of heaven. We must be at all times where we are in some way looking at the spiritual reality. I have an interesting quote from Abba Dorotheos of Gaza which we read just recently in church, and which gives a little hint about this. He says: “It is good, O brethren, as I always tell you, to place your hope for every deed upon God, and to say nothing happens without the will of God. Of course, God knew that this was good and useful and profitable, and therefore He did it, even though this matter also had some outward cause. For example, I could say that inasmuch as I ate food with pilgrims and forced myself a little in order to play the host to them, (that is, he overate) therefore my stomach was weighed down, and there was a numbness caused in my feet, and from this I became ill. I could also cite various other reasons for one who seeks them. For one who seeks them there is no lack of them. But the most sure and profitable thing is to say: in truth, God knew that this would be more profitable for my soul, and therefore it happened in this way. For out of everything which God creates, there is nothing of which it can be said that it is not good. For in the beginning He created all, and behold, they were all very good. And so no one should grieve over what happens, but in everything he should place his hope in God’s Providence, and be at ease.”*

7. FINDING THE REAL CAUSES

There is a very interesting book from the same period of Abba Dorotheos (the sixth century) by St. Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, which is all about the life at the court of that time and religious people. There are very many interesting lives of Saints in it, as well as the lives of the kings. The kings of that time were particularly unedifying spectacles. They were constantly poisoning each other. The women were even worse…. There was one Brunehild and her sister Fredegund. They were trying to get their sons and grandsons on the throne, and what they didn’t do to get them there! They were dragging people by horse’s tails and killing them off, and lying and cheating and fantastic things—very uninspiring. But this bishop, St. Gregory, was there and was writing a history of this people, writing in such a way that it actually comes out very inspiring. Behind everything there is a meaning. St. Gregory is constantly on the lookout for comets, earthquakes, and such things. When a king does something wrong, there is an earthquake nearby, or if he goes and kills a person or a whole village unjustly, then there is a famine: and St. Gregory always sees that God is looking out. There is always something spiritual whenever something happens—a comet is seen, the king dies, etc. There is always a connection between what happens in the world and the moral state of the people. Even when the moral state is very bad, all the constant earthquakes and famines and everything else remind us that it is the wrong way to behave, and inspire people to behave correctly. Nowadays, the historians say that this is a horribly outmoded way of looking at things, that it is very “quaint” and “naive” and unsophisticated, and that of course nobody can think like that now. They think it’s very cute, in fact, to look at this after all these centuries and to see how people used to think. “But of course,” they say, “we serious historians are looking for the real causes.” By real causes they mean what a person ate and what it caused his feet to do and so forth. The Christian point of view, however, is that these are not the real causes, but the secondary causes. The real cause is the soul and God: whatever God is doing and whatever the soul is doing. These two things actualize the whole of history, and all the external events—what treaty was signed, or the economic reasons for the discontent of the masses, and so forth—are totally secondary. In fact, if you look at modern history, at the whole revolutionary movement, it is obvious that it is not the economics that is the governing factor, but various ideas which get into people’s souls about actually building paradise on earth. Once that idea gets there, then fantastic things are done, because this is a spiritual thing. Even though it is from the devil, it is on a spiritual level, and that is where actual history is made; all the external things mean nothing.

Thus St. Gregory is actually looking at history in the correct way, because he sees that there is a first cause, which is what God does in history and how the soul reacts to it, and that the secondary cause is ordinary events. Therefore, whenever he sees some great event like a comet or an eclipse, he tries to give it meaning. At one point, in telling of a strange sign that was seen in the sky over Gaul, he says in all simplicity, “I have no idea what all this meant.”** Of course, from the scientific point of view we know that we can predict these things, that they are caused by the shadow of the moon and so forth; but from St. Gregory’s point of view, why does God choose to frighten us like this? What is the moral meaning of it? He was constantly looking above, not below.

8. CONSTANT CHEERFULNESS

Our whole modern outlook is to look below to find the causes, the secondary causes. The whole Christian outlook is to look above, and that is why such people as St. Gregory as we can see by reading their writings and their lives—are constantly cheerful. This does not mean that they are overly happy, but rather that they are in a state of deep happiness, because they are constantly looking above and keeping in mind, with determination and constancy, to get to a certain place, which is heaven, and thus they see all the details in the world in that light. If what they see has to do with evil, with the nets of demons, with worldliness, with boredom, with discouragement, or just with ordinary details of living, all that is secondary and is never allowed to be first. In fact, we are told by the Holy Fathers that we are supposed to see in everything something for our salvation. If you can do that, you can be saved.

In a pedestrian way, you can look at something like a printing press which does not operate. You are standing around and enjoying yourself, watching nice, clean, good pages come out printed, which gives a very nice sense of satisfaction, and you are dreaming of missionary activity, of spreading more copies around to a lot of different countries. But in a while it begins to torture you, it begins to shoot pages right and left. The pages begin to stick and to tear each other on top. You see that all those extra copies you made are vanishing, destroying each other, and in the end you are so tense that all you can do is sort of stand there and say the Jesus Prayer as you try to make everything come out all right. Although that does not fill one with a sense of satisfaction (as would watching the nice, clean copies come out automatically), spiritually it probably does a great deal more, because it makes you tense and gives you the chance to struggle. But if instead of that you just get so discouraged that you smash the machine, then you have lost the battle. The battle is not how many copies per hour come out: the battle is what your soul is doing. If your soul can be saving itself and producing words which can save others, all the better; but if you are producing words which can save others and are all the time destroying your own soul, it’s not so good.

9. DAILY SPIRITUAL INJECTIONS

Again, in everything one must be looking upward, and not downward, at the kingdom of heaven and not down at the details of earthly life. That is, the details of earthly life must be second, and this looking upward must be with zeal, determination and constancy. Constancy is something which is worked out by a spiritual regime based upon wisdom handed down from the Holy Fathers—not mere obedience to tradition for tradition’s sake, but rather a conscious assimilation of what wise men in God have seen and written down. On the outward side, this constancy is worked out by a little prayer, and we have this basic little prayer in the church services which have come down to us. Of course in different places they are performed according to one’s strength, more or less.

Constancy involves also a regular reading of spiritual texts, for example at mealtime, because we must be constantly injected with other-worldliness. This means constantly nourishing ourselves with these texts, whether in services or in reading, in order to fight against the other side, against the worldliness that constantly gnaws at us. If for just one day we stop these other-worldly “injections,” it is obvious that worldliness starts taking over. When we go without them for one day, worldliness invades—two days, much more. We find that soon we think more and more in a worldly way, the more we allow ourselves to be exposed to that way of thinking and the less we expose ourselves to other-worldly thinking.

These injections—daily injections of heavenly food—are the outward side, and the inward side is what is called spiritual life. Spiritual life does not mean being in the clouds and saying the Jesus Prayer or going through various motions. It means discovering the laws of this spiritual life as they apply to one in one’s own position, one’s situation. This comes over the years by attentive reading of the Holy Fathers with a notebook, writing down those passages which seem most significant to us, studying them, finding how they apply to us, and, if need be, revising earlier views of them as we get a little deeper into them, finding what one Father says about something, what a second Father says about the same thing, and so on. There is no encyclopedia that will give you that. You cannot decide you want to find all about some one subject and begin reading the Holy Fathers. There are a few indexes in the writings of the Fathers, but you cannot simply go at spiritual life that way. You have to go at it a little bit at a time, taking the teaching in as you are able to absorb it, going back over the same texts in later years, reabsorbing them, getting more, and gradually getting to find out how these spiritual laws apply to you. As a person does that, he discovers that every time he reads the same Holy Father he finds new things. He always goes deeper into it.

10. PRESERVING ZEAL

If one has all this in mind, having the possibility of constant spiritual nourishment, then one must say that it is not true that the whole church situation is hopeless today and that one can do nothing. In fact, the possible activities for today are quite surprising and unexpected. What might come out, we don’t know, but there are all kinds of possibilities. We should always learn to expect what is the unexpected, to be prepared for something that might not have been the same way just a little while ago, but that is still within the possibility of true Christianity. This is only done by looking up and not down. We have right in front of us an example of somebody who was like that constantly, and that’s our Archbishop John. It is obvious that he was constantly in a different world. He himself, I recall once, gave a sermon on the spiritual life, the mystical life, in which he said: “We have no such thing as some of the later saints of the Latin Church who were sort of up in the clouds—some kind of a realm of sweetness and light and pink clouds—that’s prelest. All of our sanctity is based upon having your feet straight on the ground, and, while being of the earth, constantly having the mind lifted upward.” It’s obvious that Archbishop John was himself like that. He would come from time to time to our shop next to the Cathedral [in San Francisco], and would always have something new and inspiring to say. He would come with a little portfolio, and would open it up and say, “Look! Here is a picture of St. Alban and here is his Life.” He had found it somewhere. He was collecting these things: the lives of Romanian saints and all kinds of different things which were very inspiring and had nothing to do with everyday business or the administration of the diocese. In fact, some said he was a bad administrator, but I don’t know. I doubt it, because I know that whenever anyone wrote him a letter, that person always got a reply back in the language he wrote it in, within a very short time; therefore, when it came to things like that, he was very, very careful. But the first thing he was careful about was being constantly in the other world, constantly inspired and constantly living by that. The opposite of this is to make even the Church into some kind of business, to be looking at only the administrative side or the economic side or the lower, worldly side. If you do that long enough, you will lose the spark, you will lose the higher side. Archbishop John gave us the example of constantly looking up, constantly thinking of the higher things. In the end, the deeper you get into this, the more you see that there is nothing else possible. If you are an Orthodox Christian, you can do this and have people call you crazy or say that you are a little bit touched, or something like that; but still you have your own life—you lead it and you get to heaven. The alternative is to be bogged down in this boring world, which is totally overrun by machines and conveniences and opinions. You would be surprised at how these, opinions about what is right and what is wrong, what is the way to act and so forth, have no contact with reality. It even happens that there is a certain opinion in the air—I’d say it is universal among church people if they ever stopped to think about it—that of course, when you come to church you must be warm, because you cannot think about church services and prepare yourself for Communion when you have to think about cold feet. People tell us this. “It’s a very great draw back,” they say. “You cannot go and have cold feet and expect to have any spirituality come out.” This happens to be an opinion, and it’s totally off. The Holy Fathers have been living throughout the centuries in all kinds of conditions; and, though there is no deliberate plot of torturing oneself with cold feet—still, this is something which helps to make one a little more sober about the spiritual life, perhaps to help one to appreciate what one has, and not to just take for granted that one is going to be comfortable and cozy and that’s it. In our time, if one undertakes anything in the Church, and does not have in mind to be looking constantly to the heavenly realm, one will lose the spark of zeal, the interest in doing spiritual things, and will become worldly. Worldly means dead, spiritually dead.

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11. THE MIND OF THE FATHERS

It is very difficult in our times to be looking to heaven, because of all the weight, the dead weight of worldliness which lies upon us. If one applies oneself constantly, however, one can begin to do it. Even with a little bit of struggle, if applied constantly, one begins to form for oneself a whole different viewpoint, a whole different way of looking at life, a whole different possibility for action. Any kind of spiritual activity that is to come out of our world today, any kind of Orthodox missionary activity, apostleship, etc., must be on the basis of such a view of things. It must be based on looking first at what God wants, first at what is the higher side, first at what the Holy Fathers think, and only then looking down at the practical means one has to use, at money problems, and even at things like sicknesses, because they are all sent for our good, and we have to find how to bring the good out of them. If one does not do that, one is weighed down, especially in our days. If a person is in a place of leadership, such as a priest in a parish, and if he is going to look back and look first at the people, he will see that 99% of them are going to drag him down, because they have their problems and passions, confessions weigh him down, and so on. If this side becomes too important for him, it simply drags him back and he cannot lead them to heaven. Of course, a pastor or any kind of spiritual leader must be leading to heaven first himself and then the others, by looking first to the other world. We don’t have to imagine what that other world is like or have opinions about it, because we have the whole treasury—much of which is now available in English—of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently we have had such great fathers as Bishop Ignatius Brianchininov (+1867), who was one of the sharpest ones to speak about the apostasy, and also one of the greatest ones to speak about the Holy Fathers. We must get into their language, into their way of looking at things, because that is Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, of course, does not change from one day to the next, or from one century to the next. Looking at the Protestant and Roman Catholic world, we can see that certain spiritual writings get out of date. Sometimes they come back into fashion again, sometimes they go out. It is obvious that they are bound up with worldly things, which appeal to people at one time, or rather to the spirit of the times. This is not so with our Orthodox holy writings. Once we get into the whole Orthodox Christian outlook—the simply Christian outlook—which has been handed down from Christ and the apostles to our times, then everything becomes contemporary. You read the words of someone like St. Macarius, who lived in the deserts of Egypt in the 6th century, and he’s speaking to you now. His conditions are a little different, but he’s speaking right to you now, in the same language; he’s going to the same place, he’s using the same mind, he has the same temptations and failings, and there’s nothing different about him. It’s the same with all the other fathers from that time down to our century, like St. John of Kronstadt (+1908). They all speak the same language, one kind of language, the language of spiritual life, which we must get into. When we do that, we can save ourselves; and, as St. Seraphim says, “When you acquire the Spirit of Peace, the Holy Spirit, you can save thousands around you.” It is not for us to calculate whether thousands around us will be saved. It is only for us to acquire the Holy Spirit, and what God will do with that is His doing.

We have yet to expect in our times many surprising things, so we should not have the opinion that it is too late to do anything, everything is stuck, nobody cares, the world is collapsing…. All that is opinion, and opinion is the first stage of prelest (deception). Therefore we should free ourselves from being stuck in opinions, and should look at things freshly, i.e., according to the spiritual life. Father Nicholas Deputatov, who is obviously one who has much love for the Holy Fathers, has read their writings, underlined them and written them out in books. He says: When I get in a very low mood, very discouraged and despondent, then I open one of my notebooks, and I begin to read something that inspired me. It is almost guaranteed that when I read something which once inspired me, I will again become inspired, because it’s my own soul that was at one time being inspired, and now I see that it was something which inspired me then and can nourish me now also. So it’s like an automatic inspiration, to open up something which inspired me before.

Thus, when we think of someone like St. Patrick, our attitude should not be merely: “Aha, that was a long time ago, that was inspiring; but now—well, what’s the use?” On the contrary, in the activity of St. Patrick we should see the activity of a contemporary person, of a soul who was burning with zeal and love for God. He has gone to that country where we are to be citizens, if only we will strive. We are all of the same nationality, the Christian race. St. Patrick’s life should be for us a contemporary thing, something which applies to us today. Whatever inspiration we can take from it, is for us right now. And however much fruit this bears, depends on how much we love God and how much opportunity there is. The inspiration is ours for free.

Endnotes

* The Counsels of Abba Dorotheos, chapter 12 (translated from the Russian version by Fr. Seraphim Rose).

** The History of the Franks, V, 23.

St. Patrick2

 

Troparion — Tone 3

Holy Bishop Patrick, / Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock, / You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel: / The mighty strength of the Trinity! / Now that you stand before the Savior, / Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

Kontakion — Tone 4

From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service: / He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage. / You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts. / In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul! / Having received the reward for your labors in heaven, / Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth, / Holy bishop Patrick!
God is glorified in His Saints! St Patrick pray for us!