Sometimes it happens like this: a person tries to keep the fast, but then he falls and feels that he has defiled his whole fast, and that there is nothing left from his feat. In fact, it is far from being like this. God looks at this fast from a different viewpoint. I can explain this to you with one example from my personal experience.
When I was a doctor, I was dealing with one poor Russian family. I did not take any money from them because they just had no money. Once, during Great Lent, when I was fasting especially strictly, trying no to violate any church rules, when they invited me for dinner. It turned out that during whole Lent they were saving money to buy a small chicken and treat me. I looked at that chicken and saw the end of my fasting feat in it. Of course, I ate a piece of it. I could not afford to offend them.
I went to my spiritual father and told him about the misfortune that had happened to me. I told him that I was fasting almost perfectly during Lent, but then I ate a piece of chicken during the Holy Week. Fr. Athanasios looked at me and said:
– You know what? If God looked at you and saw that you have no sins and that a small piece of chicken could defile you, He would protect you from that. But God looked at you and saw that there was so much sinfulness in you that no chicken can defile you more than that.
I believe that many people can use this example in order not to blindly follow the church canons, but be honest people first of all. Sure, I ate a piece of chicken: not as something dirty, but as a gift of human’s love. I remember an episode from the book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, where he wrote that everything what exists in this world is God’s love. Even the food we eat is the Divine love in edible form.
From the book by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, “The Works”
“Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn’t be late. On the way, I asked the driver: “Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?” You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home. “Every day” he told me, “both lunch and dinner.” “How do you manage it? What time do you eat?” “Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning.” Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn’t this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love. Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one’s own selfish needs for the benefit of another.”
The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 160
*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
“Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.”
“I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.”
“But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.”
“There is something else as well; there is sin.”
“Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!”
“Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.”
“Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my solitude?”
“My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”
Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’, “Sunday Letters”, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p231
“Our Easter joy is offered in order to be shared with others. … A pious custom among Orthodox Christians is to share with others the light of Christ the moment their candle is lit. This sharing of Christ’s Light highlights the duty of the faithful to evangelise, to spread the Evangelion (Ευ-Αγγέλιον), the Good News of our Lord’s Resurrection, like the Apostles. Our resurrected Lord said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And He added: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Πορευθέντες οὖν.
So, there is one consequence, one “therefore”, one “οὖν”: Don’t limit yourselves to your own personal salvation and joy; you have a holy responsibility to spread this Evangelion to all those who ignore this Truth. This Hope must not be kept hidden, must not be confined to only one community. This Hope is for all peoples, for the renewal of all mankind.” (Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Easter Message 2017)
“As a young person I had been moved by stories of Father Damian, a Catholic priest who served lepers in Hawaii, and also Albert Schweitzer. I asked myself whatever happened to our missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church? Where were the Orthodox missionaries? What are we doing to share our faith with others? What are we doing to reach all those people who have never heard the Gospel? I realized that indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. How had it happened that a Church called to baptize the nations was so indifferent to the nations? Saint Paul brought the Gospel to Greeks. Who were we bringing it to?”
It was a pivotal question that would shape the rest of his life.
Indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ.
‘Krishti u ngjall, Zoti eshte me ne, lavdi Zotit!’ — ‘Christ is risen, God is with us, Glory to God!’
While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, Anastasios has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all. Also we pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan — we see not how someone is my neighbor but how someone becomes a neighbor. It is a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”
People look at the difficulties of life here and say to me, ‘How can you stand it? It is so ugly!’ But for me it is so beautiful! It is God’s blessing to be here — not the blessing I imagined but the one I received. …
“People sometimes ask me about my expectations, but I don’t know about the future! You can only do your job with love and humility. I am not the savior of Albania, only a candle in front of the icon of the Saviour.”
A conversation with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Father what you have been saying has been a continuous surprise for me, from which I cannot yet recover. How can it be that emotion is also a result of the Fall, or rather that emotion itself is an ill condition?
-Emotion is mixed up with the passions of pleasure-loving. It is not completely identified with them, but is imbued by them to a great degree. A healthy man spiritually is a balanced man in all his manifestations. I said earlier that when man’s nous is illumined -when man is at the illumination of the nous- he is not moved by God simply psychologically and emotionally, but has true communion with God. Moreover, he sees in all creation the “causes of beings” -the uncreated governing energy of God. He is not moved emotionally by nature and its beauty, but sees the energy of God in it. As St. Isaac the Syrian says, faith based on theoria -which man attains when he is at the illumination of the nous- “is a gate to the mysteries of God”.
I will mention a simple example. St.Diadochos of Photiki says that the introductory joy is one thing and the perfecting joy is another. The first one, being strongly emotional, is mixed with fantasy, “is not devoid of fantasy”, while perfecting joy is associated with humility. Between emotional joy and perfecting joy there is “god-loving sorrow and painless tears”. Emotional joy, which is called introductory, is not entirely rejected, yet we must be led to the perfecting joy. This perfection and cure is achieved through the cross. “By the cross gladness prevails to all world”. Thus within the Church we struggle to transform all emotions as well as everything mundane. The transformation of emotions to genuine and authentic experiences is accomplished by repentance. Repentance leads us from a painful and tragic monologue to a dialogue with the living God. Through repentance, self-condemnation and humility, we transform emotions to spiritual experiences. In this case also holds true what we mentioned about fantasy. The more a person is emotionally ill, the more he reveals the death and darkness of his nous. And the more a person’s emotions are transformed, the more his nous is illumined; he is at the state of illumination. Can you see that the movement of the nous is very important? Can you see that it plays an important role whether the nous follows the movement according to nature or contrary to nature?
-Allow me, continued Irene, to ask you to explain even further how the emotions are transformed to spiritual experiences.
-I think I referred to the basic points. But since you wish I can expand more on the subject. The Fathers say that in the woman’s soul psychological experiences are connected more with spiritual ones. In other words, many women consider the so-called psychological conditions to be spiritual experiences. They may for example feel an emotional sweetness, while praying, and think that it is the coming of the grace of God. A lot of attention is needed, because at this point many images of fantasy intervene and create the preconditions for serious psychological anomalies.
I give you an example. A small girl expresses motherhood by playing with dolls. She feeds them, washes them, puts them to sleep, etc. When, however, she grows up and becomes a real mother, she does all these things undergoing pain. She feels pain to give birth to the child and pain and toil to bring it up. The little girl expresses motherhood, and, I could say, enjoys it emotionally, without pain and suffering, whereas becoming a mother for a woman is connected with pain and suffering; it is a “cross”. It is in this way somehow that we distinguish emotional joy from spiritual joy, emotions from spiritual experiences. Only true and complete repentance can cleanse all these psychological states and make them spiritual. And, naturally, it is our spiritual father who helps us with this; it is he who has the responsibility of distinguishing and curing this condition. In this way and with the help of our spiritual guide our nous is cured; it is led from the movement contrary to nature to that according to nature and, even more, above nature; the nous then is illumined and united with God and it is cured from fantasies and emotions. This is why the realisation of the real problem, and also the cure of the darkened nous are absolutely necessary.
Source-The illness and cure of the soul in the Orthodox Tradition