—Batushka, what’s going on…? I believe in God, I don’t deceive anyone, I don’t steal, I don’t cheat on my wife… I work honestly… My wife has left me for another man, my business is failing, my car broke down, my daughter has problems in college, my son can’t find work, and so on, and so on… What can I do?
—Give thanks to God… Hang a tablet on your door at home that says “IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS WAY,” forgive everyone, and let go of resentments.
After a while, they met again:
—Batushka, everything is great! My business has taken off, my wife returned, everything with my kids is even better than expected, and so on, and so on. Glory to God!
—I’m very glad for you! But don’t take the tablet down from your door…
Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos was a lecturer, preacher, and confessor in the Metropolis of Thessaloniki, Greece. His spiritual lectures often drew on his study of psychology. Thirty books have been published in Greece based on his lectures. He founded two monastic communities, Holy Trinity for men and the Nativity of the Theotokos for women.
A Memorial Service was performed in the Church and a Trisagion at the cemetery.
*Dedicated to a soul who is struggling, entangled in this net, in a deadly embrace. Buddhism wants you to empty yourself. Our faith is about filling yourself with Christ. When you empty yourself, the demons enter. With love and poor prayers
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?
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?
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
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
Being immersed in the Beauty of Slavonic Church services, especially the awesome beauty of the Eucharist- the Divine Liturgy has everything we need. Overpoweringly beautiful and haunting. Such Beauty seems to sum up Christianity. We Christians should be first and foremost Eucharistic creatures.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints (Ennismore Gardens, London)
Coming here has been a dream from my youth. Metropolitan Anthony’s of Sourozh books, especially Living Prayer, School for Prayer, God and man, and Courage to Pray, have sealed my conversion to Christ:
“I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him.
I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning.
As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year…”(continue)
Metropolitan Anthony’s presence is so alive here! You can feel him still serving, from Heaven, at the Altar, especially during the Divine Liturgy.
So many Russian Saints relics here! St Seraphim Sarov, St Silouan the Athonite, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Ignatius Bryanchaninov, John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Xenia of Saint Petersburg, just to name a few ...
Praise the name of the Lord Byzantine Chant
At the homily, the priest spoke about the Feast of the day: the Synaxis of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church
More than 1700 names are commemorated in the Synaxis. Here is just one of them:
Martyr Catherine Arsky, laywoman
Commemoration date December, 17 (December, 4 old calendar)
Born into a merchant family in St. Petersburg. In 1920, she survived a tragedy. First, her husband, an officer of the Tsar’s Army and warden of the Smolny cathedral, died of cholera, then all five of their children. Seeking the Lord’s succour, Catherine joined the brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky, founded at the cathedral of the Fedorovskaya Icon in Petrograd, and became the spiritual child of Hieromartyr Leo (Egorov).
Catherine was arrested in 1932 with the other members of the brotherhood (ninety in total). She was sentenced to three years of labour camp “as a member of a counter-revolutionary organisation.” Upon release, she settled in Borovichi, like Martyr Keira Obolensky. In 1937, she was arrested and charged with the clergy of Borovichi. She refused to plead guilty of “counter-revolutionary activity” even under torture. Was executed by firing squad on the same day as Keira Obolensky.
At the time of execution, she was sixty-two.
For other martyrs and confessors commemorated today, go to Pravmir
In today’s gospel reading, we find a woman in great need: her daughter is horribly demon-possessed. In such situations, when you experience pain, you do things that you wouldn’t do under other circumstances. Just so, this Canaanite woman runs with determination to receive that which she seeks. First, her great faith and second, the depth of her humility, give her complete conviction that she will receive that which she desires. And her entire conversation with Christ develops gradually, in a remarkable way.
She seeks, although it looks as though God does not hear. In reality, all holy souls come across this very difficulty ( reached the point of saying: “Lord, you are implacable.”)
Christ says something, but in a way that prohibits any such help: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Everyone who wants to find God will feel that he is rejected by Him.) Humility makes the woman insist: “Lord, help me”. The Canaanite woman is not affected; she does not take offence. In this way, humility holds the door of God’s mercy open.
With Christ’s final response: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs”, one would expect the woman to get up and leave. Her faith, however, informs her and she humbly responds: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (When you are humble, you know what to say to the Lord.) Following the whole of this trial the Canaanite woman is made worthy to hear from the Lord: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” He does not simply say: “Your faith has saved you …”
And what about us? I wonder, will we go down, one step at a time, just as the Canaanite woman did? Will we accept whatever the Lord permits so that we stay faithful until we receive our desired end, our salvation?
Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.