How to find a spiritual father

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“This is one of the most frequent mistakes we make in the relationship with our spiritual father. Either out of ignorance and lack of experience in the spiritual life, or because we perceive any ‘distance’ between us as a sign of imperfection which triggers fear in us – we are easily tempted by the desire to befriend our spiritual father. That never ends well.

A spiritual father is a tool Christ uses in our life for spiritual purposes. He is the voice of Christ in our life.

When we use him for anything less than that, we lower the relationship and, sooner or later, we shall get it dirty and it will be taken away from us. We do not get closer by replacing a spiritual relationship with a human friendship. We lower something that is of Christ to something that is of this fallen works. We corrupt the relationship, and corruption always leads to death.

Our spiritual father is given to us as a gift from Christ and we need to keep that relationship pure and fit for its purpose – we need it to discern the voice of Christ, and for nothing else. ….”

More by Father Seraphim Aldea at   https://www.ancientfaith.com/…/how_to_find_a_spiritual_fath…

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A Christmas Card from Elder Sophrony Sakharov

 

Archimandrite Sophrony
The Old Rectory, Tolleshunt Knight
by Maldon, Essex

 

Christmas 1967

 

Beloved in Christ,
Sister Paraskevi!
May the grace and peace of the Lord multiply to you.
And first – I wish you a Good Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Pareskevi, has it ever occurred to you perhaps that you did something with my blessing, and the result was harmful? Or on the contrary, have you ever done something consistent with your ideas and having abandoned my words and my humble advice, that everything was done according to the good pleasure of God and successful? So also now listen to me like a crazy person, and do as I bless you to do.
The only way that will be beneficial to you and yours, is to complete your studies working as my monks work, from morning until evening – or rather night. Dispel now every care of life for [the third person the Elder speaks of here is left anonymous to not be known] and your family.
The unworthy Archimandrite Sophrony,
I send you the love of all who are to be found in our Monastery.

 

 

Christ’s Naked Word

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St. Cuthbert, an early Celtic Saint, used to pray standing in the sea. When he stepped out, the sea otters would dry his feet with their fur.

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“The more I examine myself, the more I see that a life devoted to constructing and organizing, a life which produces positive results and which succeeds, is not my vocation, even though, out of obedience, I could work in this direction and even obtain certain results. What attracts me is a vocation of loss–a life which would give itself freely without any apparent positive result, for the result would be known to God alone; in brief, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.” (Father Lev Gillet, Letter of 9 March 1928, in Contacts, 49, no. 180, 1997, p. 309.)
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“The one thing that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us is their struggle to remain entirely obedient to Christ. There is no bargaining in their mind, no negotiating Christ’s teaching, no diluting His words to the point where they lose the strength to open for us the path of salvation.

Most of us receive the word of God with caution, and we immediately start turning it on all sides until we reach a compromise that works for us. Most of us fear the word of God. All we truly want is something that looks like His word enough to make us feel good about ourselves, enough to make us have the appearance of Christians, but not to the extent that we could lose control over our lives.

One can go through life either in obedience to Christ or in obedience to one’s own will. The challenges and choices of this world are simple and clear if we obey Christ’s word – we need to love, we need to forgive, we need to help. Ultimately, we need to allow the world to crucify us for His name and become true followers of the Crucified One. These are His words, and this is the way of the Saints.

Things only seem complicated when our brain gets in the way. Things only seen unclear when we begin negotiating Christ’s word, looking for a human version of it which does not lead to the Cross. Unfortunately, we always succeed. Unfortunately, we have the frightening ability to reduce Christ’s teaching to something that excludes the Cross. The danger, though, is that without the Cross there can be no Resurrection either.

The Saints are not like that. The Saints do not build an idol of their earthly lives. They have no vision of a perfect life here, no vision of a perfect self in this world. They remain faithful to Christ and His word, and allow nothing of this world to come between them and their God.

Look at St Cuthbert. Look at his faith, the faith of a young man who spent his nights into the cold waters of the North Sea, so he may control his mind and his body in prayer. Look at his obedience to his true calling – a hermit at heart, he left everything behind to be obedient to Christ. A man alone on his island, but carrying the world and its Creator in his heart.

Through his prayers, may we also be given the faith to obey Christ’s naked word, not our own tamed version of it.” (Fr. Seraphim Aldea, Mull Monastery Blog)

 

 

Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

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Gerondas Theoklitos, Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian

 

Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly ‘leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me.

 

But let me start with the beginning.This Bright [1]Week pilgrimage was appropriately the brightest I have ever participated in! It felt like the fulfilment of St. John’s of Damascus Mystical Pascha captured in his Paschal Canon! To be sure, any trip to Greece in springtime straight from a foggy, misty, rainy England is bound to feel full of light! Especially if to Athens and the islands!

 

Still, the Light which nearly blinded all of us during this Bright Week pilgrimage must have contained a tiny ray of Christ’s Light [2]! A palpable, tangible Transfiguration Light dancing in all pilgrims’ eyes, on the bus and in all the monasteries we visited. The atmosphere felt so light as if were all to collectively Ascend to Heavens. The sheer exuberance of “Christ is Risen” chanted 99 times every single day during Resurrection Day and All Bright Week made our hearts leap with joy! And our Lord’s greeting “Rejoice!” in all the 11 Resurrectional Matins (Eothina) Gospels reverberated in our hearts. And as we were soon to find out, we were about to meet lots of literally dancing and leaping holy men and women.

 

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Mount Olympus (3) on Bright Tuesday

 

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That was another discovery of that week: how many Paschal verses indeed contain this image of “leaping”:

 

THE PASCHAL CANON

 

Ode 4.

David, the forefather of our divine Lord, leapt and dancedbefore the symbolical Ark of the Covenant.

 

ode 5

“When they who were held by the chains of hell beheld Thy boundless compassion, O Christ, they hastened to the Light with joyful feet, exalting the eternal Pascha.

 

ode 7

We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life. And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.

 

THE PASCHAL STICHERA IN TONE FIVE

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and leap for joy, in that thou beholdest Christ the King like a bridegroom come forth from the grave.

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Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly “leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me:

 

To Be Continued …

 

Footnotes

 [1] Bright week begins with the Sunday of Pascha, and comes to a close on Bright Saturday, at Vespers. One may actually argue that Bright week comes to a close before the ninth hour (which precedes vespers), since the royal doors and deacons’ doors, which have been wide open all week, are closed. This is a sad and significant moment. Just like our forefathers Adam and Eve, we cannot remain in paradise in this life, because of our sins. Ours is a life of struggle against our passions, which hold us back from full realization of paradise in this life.
‘How many days are in Bright week?’ There are TWO correct answers! According to the sun’s rising and setting, Bright week is seven days, (Sunday through Saturday) but to the church, liturgically, it is one day – the “eighth day”.

[2]Cf. Lev Gillet’s notes on the theme of light in the Byzantine liturgical year: ‘Come, take light from the Light that has no evening, and glorify Christ, risen from the dead.’ On the Sunday Pascha, the celebrant stands at the royal doors of the iconostasion and holds a lighted candle in his hand. “Once more, the eastern Church represents the Christian mystery in terms of the mystery of light; this Light, whose birth was marked by the star of Bethlehem, has been shining among us with growing intensity; the darkness of Golgotha could not extinguish it. Now it reappears among us, and all the candles which the congregation hold in their hands, and that they now light, proclaim its triumph. In this way, the deeply spiritual meaning of Easter is indicated. The physical Resurrection of Jesus would be without value to us if the divine light did not shine at the same time among us, within us. We cannot worthily celebrate the Resurrection of Christ if, in our soul, the light brought by the Saviour has not completely overcome the darkness of our sins.”[The Uncreated Light] on Easter night triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith. Pentecost is the ‘midday flame’. (The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, p177, p215 respectively)

[3]: For information and a documentary in Greek about our first stop, the beautiful Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus, go herehere and here.

Choice

freedom-a-choice-anila-ayilliath

“Freedom, A Choice”,  a painting by Anila Ayilliath

 

Choice (*)

 

-Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.

-No, it is in this town that you must meet me.

-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 loneliness?

-My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”

(“Sunday Letters”, Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p23)

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* Dedicated to my spiritual father 

This dedication, initially made on 10/6/2017, holds true of course, only yesterday, when I re-discovered these letters last night, I thought every single iota of these verses was written for me! Piercing my heart … Each time, returning here is becoming increasingly difficult … 

He Broke the Fast

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A Short Story by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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”

Reblogged from The Catalogue of Good Deeds

A Martyr’s Spirit in Daily Family Life

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A true story by Elder Aimilianos 

“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