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Category: the Jesus prayer

This world is not my home

by Andrea Elizabeth

“I’m just a passin’ through”, as the song goes.

I’ve been thinking (“a dangerous past time, ‘I know'”, as another song goes, [from Beauty and the Beast.]) about the relationship between matter and consciousness. Since I don’t really know the relationship, I’ll just list some observations in the order I remember or think of them.

Imagination and dreams are very compelling. Who can live without literature and now movies?

Stories draw from knowledge of material things.

Death separates us from material things. Resurrection will some day reunite us with an altered form of them.

Meanwhile, we are to strive for a healthy detachment from passions associated with material things. The attachment itself is at first immaterial, but it usually seeks a material consummation.

The Church consecrates material and immaterial things that we can properly attach to. Monastics commit to these being their only attachments. People in the world may attach to a broader number of things, which St. Paul says leads to inevitably being burdened by worldly cares.

Even monastics are encouraged to read stories, like those of Charles Dickens, which are mostly about people in the world. But since they are fiction, Dickens can achieve an immaterial relationship with them. Our relationships with immaterial concepts so depicted undoubtedly influence our relationships with material beings and things in our physical circle. If there is conflict between our conceptualized desires and our immediate circumstance, we seek escape from the latter. Perhaps this is not bad in itself. Perhaps our unfulfilled (meaning not yet materialized) desires are valid, and worthy of being dwelt upon in a desire for harmonic perfection of our inner and outer states. But we should stay open to the process required to bring about such harmony. Our circumstances, and our selves, are rough hewn rocks that require much chiseling. Actual escape is usually a premature burial of what could have been. But I will say that some stones are too unwieldy, and should be scrapped.

What happens if our culture, by becoming less human, makes it more difficult to achieve inner and outer harmony? Isolation occurs, but perhaps it always has. One is never alone who doesn’t seek to be, however.

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Happy faces and the Jesus Prayer

by Andrea Elizabeth

During the Epistle reading yesterday I thought about happy, loving, Protestants.

Romans 2:10-16  (Epistle)

10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
11 For there is no partiality with God.
12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law
13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;
14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,
15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)
16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. [from oca.org]

(I hope no one is offended that I am comparing Gentiles to non-Orthodox.) The man who initially introduced me to Orthodoxy told me at the onset that it was dangerous for me to inquire into Orthodoxy because then I would be responsible for what I learned. I would then be subject to the law, as is described above.

Then today I listened to this very good talk on the Jesus Prayer by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov, linked on Ora Et Labora. It starts out by talking about ‘when you fast, do not look somber…’

Fr. Artemy also talks about how the Greeks, unlike the Russians, frequently omit, “on me a sinner” from the end of the Jesus Prayer. I have conflicting views (as usual) about this. I think the Greek idea is that sometimes it leads someone to despair to constantly identify themselves as a sinner. Indeed when Fr. Artemy is talking about how we need to keep from being prideful by remembering how insignificant, dust and speck-like we are, I can get a bit of a fear of annihilation by this mindset. He gives the illustration of a insect infested tree which has lost its usefulness and is weak and frail. We pray for the remedy to this situation. Trees are lovely things, so it is obvious that we are not un-worthwhile as a species. He cautions that without identifying ourselves as sinners, we ignore the huge amount of baggage we carry around behind us, and thus are not as desperate for the cure. Yes I do.

I remember reading that Archimandrite Sophrony had to curb what he said to people during confessions because the western ego is so much more fragile than the eastern one. I guess it’s easier for Russians to consider themselves as dust than other people. Fr. Artemy also talks about becoming like, or considering ourselves a baby. A baby is obviously very dear to its parents. However our abilities and usefulness can be compared to that of a baby’s for accomplishing anything, thus we rely on Our Father when we pray. I’ll stop now and just recommend the talk.

The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

by Andrea Elizabeth

The beautiful looking and sounding film formerly known as Sophia, Secret Wisdom has a new trailer and release date. Click here for more info.

Mantras and The Jesus Prayer

by Andrea Elizabeth

If I may mark my place in some recent thinking. In contrasting the use of Mantras to the Jesus prayer, I was initially thinking of dismissing the use of mantras as attempts to calm a person by bringing harmony with their bodies and emotions, at the expense of their minds. But I don’t know much about the use of Mantras. I know that some Orthodox Saints like Father Sophrony and Fr. Seraphim Rose explored eastern religions before finding Orthodoxy and thought they fell short. They seemed to think that the meditation may bring one into communion with onesself or nothing, yielding a certain feeling of enlightenment, but that they did not truly bring one into communion with the True God. I’m not sure if they meant the Triune God, the more specific God, or a different God.

I may have underestimated the meaning of Mantras because it seems more comprehensive than I thought, and I’m only about a third way into the Wikipedia article linked above. Firstly, the article states that Mantra literally means “to think” – so much for bypassing thought.  Next it goes into the significance of the sound and frequency of the word “Aum”. Growing up, my first loves were horses and music. To me the word “aum” sounds kind of like those Australian Aboriginal horn things. It is a deeply comforting sound. In my uneducated speculations into physics, I have pondered that the string theory, that which makes up the most fundamental part of created matter, describes different vibrations and frequencies that hold atoms and other diverse things together. So there may be something to “aum”.

My new hypothesis, which is only a little more respectful than my old one, is that eastern meditation is very good for improving one’s humanity, or more accurately, getting in harmony with one’s already good humanity. As far as communing with God, I cannot judge another’s experience. I have been taught that the states brought about by non-Orthodox religions are copies and not genuine communion with God, but are communion with one’s own graced humanity or with creation in general. Not with the divine. I don’t want to contextualize uncreated divinity and created things as opposed to each other, though the Fall certainly caused that to happen, or at least to appear to happen (with real results in that being unable to perceive reality is genuinely destructive [I’ll refrain from saying existentially]).  The Wiki article is starting to go into one being in communion with God through the use of Mantras, but I can’t keep going there right now.

I’d rather think about thinking. When we try to still our thoughts, I think we are bringing ourselves under submission to God and to reality. Our scattered, wild, limited thinking falls short of reality. Since the Fall, our sight is dimmed. The earth is also fallen, so our observations of cause and effect are not only hampered by incomplete views of causes, but they are studying a fallen world, not an intended world. Only the new heaven and earth will show how things are supposed to be – lions laying with lambs and such.

Also, our thoughts can provide noise to keep out deeper things in our hearts. When we get quiet, buried demons, hurts, memories, childish perceptions, and wrong teachings can be drawn to the surface. I think this is why the first number of years for desert monastics are so tough. They are fighting all these demons that have affected them their whole lives. If they are able to keep focused on God during or at least frequently during these attacks and exterminations, then they will ascend towards fulfilling communion with God. Communion with God is relationship. Relationship involves conversation. If we are trying to construct God by our own reasonings alone, we will fall short. It’s like someone who does not know you well analyzing what they think a person like you is like based on past experience with other people like you. If we do not stop and listen to another person and quietly observe them with, dare I say, an open mind, then we will keep our old perceptions and not get to know them better. We must allow them to be different than our mental constructs. I think this is why we must be still, so that we can know He is God.

Perhaps thinking should be more about trying to verbalize what we limitedly know and are learning. We are called to contemplation. Contemplation to me connotes learning about another, not independently defining things on my own.

The Jesus Prayer is a request for Christ to come and reveal Himself to us and change us into His image – thus healing ours. It’s not about the sound of the words themselves, though when I hear it in another language, Kyrie Elieson or Gospodi Pomilui, I am able to get past the words better and sense that there’s a reality behind them. Another aside: I want to learn Slavonic because somehow I need to say Slavonic out loud, and not just read it. I don’t like praying out loud in English, I prefer reading it. Perhaps through Slavonic and Greek prayers I am able to distance myself from what I have learned about life and God in English my first 40 years and let Him be Himself.

Consciousness

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Orthodox meditation, one seeks to direct one’s mind toward God. One does this by using one’s mind as a tool or a muscle to descend into one’s heart where God and the cosmos dwells. The mind is a focusing agent to observe others. Asceticism is used to direct the mind away from onesself. My impression of Buddhist meditation is that not only is one directed away from onesself, one gives up on knowing God and the cosmos too. I believe Buddhists teach that there is a means to do this through contemplating nature, but nature isn’t the end either.

The passions are distractions that make one focus on one’s feelings and appetites. When these are mastered, with the help of redirecting thoughts through repetitive Liturgical prayer, one learns to train one’s mind on God. I say mind because it is the heart’s love which makes one choose to think on God over onesself. The Prayers and Readings inform the mind on who God is and what He has done and what He desires. It is important to get this right or one will become unbalanced and not be able to advance as far towards communion with Him. For example, if one believes that God hates the unelected, one’s heart will be too warped to attain likeness to God, and one will not see Him as He is.

The hard part is what to do with one’s sense of self. If one is denying self and focusing on God, where does that leave one? The purpose is to be filled with the energies of God, or uncreated grace. One delights in the Other. Delight is unselfconscious, but an awareness of enjoyment is entailed. When one focuses on the enjoyment, one can lose focus, similar to St. Peter’s looking down at the water and thus starting to sink. When one thinks of being in love, one is focused on the object of one’s affection, and can feel a sense of their presence in one’s heart. One can get lost in this feeling. Yet one is aware that they are happy. Through this experience we can see that thinking is accompanied by feeling.

Some ascetic practices require one to deny one’s feelings. One cannot always trust one’s feelings. We can desire wrong things, or be deceived as to the nature of these things. Even if one senses that one feels the presence of God, one can be wrong and should not completely trust these feelings. One can also sense the rightness of things that are taught about God. I suggest that ultimately we do have to trust some of these feelings or one will have to deny everything, which may be the Buddhist way.

If there is one way, as I believe there is, and that it is Orthodox (which includes physical communion, not just mental), then to me everyone should have this innate sense of rightness about it. Skipping over arguing this point, does that make everyone fundamentally the same and put this sense of feeling the rightness about Orthodoxy on the level of human nature? I think so. What about individualism? Why isn’t everyone Orthodox? Because they are denying themselves. Why would someone do that? They must hate themselves, or at least they are distracted from themselves. So to become Orthodox you must learn to love yourself and quit ignoring yourself. But isn’t Orthodoxy about denying yourself and taking up your cross? Yes, in order to find yourself in Christ. You have to love Him more. So losing yourself to Christ is the way to find yourself? Yes, because He wont let you disappear. You can let go of yourself if you trust Him to keep you.

das Es, das Ich, unt das Über-Ich

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another thing now-Metropolitan Kallistos Ware brought out in The History of Orthodox Christianity is that in today’s world a person’s Orthodoxy is less about the circumstances of one’s birth and more about a conscious “commitment”. Today’s Orthodox Christian needs to know much more about the details of theology and anthropology and to more consciously follow the Tradition. This subject of consciousness is much within my thoughts lately. I wrote in “Problem Solving” of self-consciousness and goal-consciousness, and careless abandon in “Christmas Spirit”. Others’ thoughts about being observant and employing onesself are also circulating.

The problem I have with the lack of goal orientation or problem solving is the problem of unfinished business. We are to run the race, as St. Paul says. Our goal is Christ, and He has worked this into our own individual teloses. I suppose one has to navigate between acquiring notches on one’s belt and only doing things when one feels love or some other motivating feeling in doing things well. And in doing things well, one needs to love the telos of others. This focus on others leads into the idea of abandonment. Careless abandon is reckless and inconsiderate. We are not to lose consciousness, but to remain vigilant and aware on a very deep level. If we are employing ourselves, we are concentrating deeply on an object besides ourselves.

This gets more tricky when one is looking in a mirror. The refectory bathroom at Holy Archangel’s Greek Orthodox Monastery does not have a mirror. I understand the admonition against vanity, but I believe it can be considerate to others to look in a mirror. I am bad at head coverings, which are required there, and had to have a friend rescue me from having a particularly silly arrangement that would be distracting to others for different reasons that not wearing one would be. However, learning to depend on one’s friends may make not having a mirror of greater benefit. But some friends aren’t bothered by spinach and such, so is it vanity to not want others distracted by things that they may not consider bothersome? Maybe so.

Continuous prayer takes great concentration and vigilance. Yet there are moments where it is not supposed to just seem like work. Great caution is mandated in such experiences though. They can easily lead to prelest and emotionalism. Some people cut them off on purpose. It is also interesting to me how personal most of the prayers are. We not only worship who God is in our prayer, but much attention is given to personal confession (the “me, a sinner” part), crossing ourselves (some people call this blessing ourselves), and petitioning Psalm-like things for ourselves. We are not annihilated in our relationship with God.

If I may expand upon a general impression I’ve had converting to Orthodoxy that I am drawn towards. It does have a sort of self-centered focus. This is the criticism many non-Orthodox have about Orthodox monasticism in particular. A person withdraws from the world and others in order to save himself. The outcome of this is supposed to be that one finds union with God and thus becomes automatically (and unselfconsciously) a more effective intercessor for others, either directly in contact with visitors and fellow monastics,  or what can be misunderstood as indirectly.

It is this idea of indirect contact that can almost seem gnostic. I have not worked this out yet. Today in researching Fr. John McGuckin’s film project, Sophia, Secret Wisdom, I find that there haven’t been any updates on the websites since 2008, except for one reference to a name change to Living with God: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. I wonder if they came under criticism for any perceived associations with Bulgakovian Sophiology or gnosticism.

One other floating thought about my criticism in my last post of The History of Orthodox Christianity regarding ecumenism. I do sometimes want  to stress the common humanity of people with other faiths, but also worry about compromise or dilution. The Greek Church may be able to navigate those mysterious waters. Many look on nervously while even the Orthodox Church in America’s primate, Metropolitan Jonah, seeks to find common ground with the Anglicans. He is a bit more obvious about stressing several points that wont be compromised, like the ordination of women and homosexuals and Calvinism, but still there is the worry that some of the more subtle differences will be glossed over. Perhaps this worrying is a lack of faith in the cleansing power of the Spirit in the Orthodox Church.

Still, to relate again to the ideas in “Christmas Spirit”, and to discussions of Western Rite Orthodoxy and Celtic Christianity, even if some Christmas Carols are “Orthodox enough”, it seems that the errors that occurred contemporaneously in the communions from whence they came may creep in through the cracked door. My thought on Celtic Christianity is that at the time it was Orthodox, but that much of the context in which those Saints worshiped has been lost (reading their lives would still be as valid and in context as reading eastern Saints lives, imo). There may have been an abiding strain in continuing Anglicanism, but trying to extract it requires unbaking the cake or such microscopic dissection that one is not left with an intact body. Eastern Orthodoxy is still intact, and the fullest expressions have been preserved mainly by monastics who are the most serious about saving themselves.

[update: I was speaking of Christmas Carols not being appropriate for Liturgical, not “secular” settings. I do not discount that realizing the Orthodoxy in one’s favorite western carol can be a helpful bridge to Orthodox hymnography however. As I have shared, my first visit to an Orthodox Church was in a Western Rite where they sang Handel’s “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” and I felt my first Orthodox feeling of presence while my long nagging cough went away. If I’m not being too polemic, I could justify that Handel’s libretto is solely comprised of Scripture verses. It’s been a while since I heard the whole thing, but I think there may be an emphasis on substitutionary atonement towards the end though. I’ll save comments about western classical style for later, but would meanwhile defer to Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works for how to contextualize a love for Bach or Handel. I’ll just say I don’t think he played it in the Temple.]

The Heart of the Fathers

by Andrea Elizabeth

For reasons of space, emphasis, and to not give it all away, I am only copying the sixth quality in the chapter on acquiring “The Mind of the Fathers.”

6. Pain of Heart. In this is found the last and most crucial key to Fr. Seraphim’s entry into the mind of the Fathers. In the Patristic writings, “pain of heart” generally refers to an elemental inward suffering, the bearing of an interior cross while following Jesus Christ, and a spirit broken in contrition. “Suffering,” Fr. Seraphim stated, “is the reality of the human condition and the beginning of true spiritual life.” From Archbishop John [of San Francisco], who had utterly crucified himself in this life, Fr. Seraphim had learned how to endure this suffering in thankfulness to God, and from him he had learned its fruits. If used in the right way, suffering can purify the heart, and the pure in heart … shall see God (Matt. 5:8). “the right approach,” wrote Fr. Seraphim, “is found in the heart which tries to humble itself and simply knows that it is suffering, and that there somehow exists a higher truth which can not only help this suffering, but can bring it into a totally different dimension.” According to St. Mark the Ascetic (fifth century), “Remembrance of God is pain of heart endured in the spirit of devotion. But he who forgets God becomes self-indulgent and insensitive.” And in the words of St. Barsanuphius the Great of Egypt, whose counsels Fr. Seraphim translated into English, “Every gift is received through pain of heart.”

Besides its general meaning, “pain of heart” has a literal meaning in the writings of the Fathers, for when the heart is concentrated in fervent prayer to Christ, it may be actually pained. As Fr. Seraphim noted, in Patrisitic terminology the “heart” does not mean mere “feeling,” but “something much deeper – the organ that knows God.” The heart is both spiritual and physical: spiritually, it is the organ where the nous finds its secret dwelling place. concentrated within the physical heart, the nous cries out to the Saviour, and such a heart-cry – born in pain and desperation, yet hoping in God – calls down Divine grace. This is seen especially in the Orthodox practice of the Jesus Prayer. When we approach the Jesus Prayer simply, says Elder Paisios of Mount Athos (+1994), “we will be able to repeat it many times, and our heart will feel a sweet pain and then Christ Himself will shed His sweet consolation inside our heart.”

“The Patristic teaching on pain of heart,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “is one of the most important teachings for our days when ‘head-knowledge’ is so over-emphasized, at the expense of the proper development of emotional and spiritual life… The lack of this essential experience is what above all is responsible for the dilettantism, the triviality, the want of seriousness in the ordinary study of the Holy Fathers today; without it, one cannot apply the teachings of the Holy Fathers to one’s own life. One may attain to the very highest level of understanding with the mind of the teaching of the Holy Fathers, may have ‘at one’s fingertips’ quotes from the Holy Fathers on every conceivable subject, may have ‘spiritual experiences’ which seem to be those described in the Patristic books, may even know perfectly all the pitfalls into which it is possible to fall in spiritual life – and still, without pain of heart, one can be a barren fig tree, a boring ‘know-it-all’ who is always ‘correct,’ or an adept in all the present-day ‘charismatic’ experiences, who does not know and cannot convey the true spirit of the Holy Fathers.” (p. 471,2)

Changes

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the Diocese of the South, we are slowly coming to terms with His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH’s election. Even though he was our Bishop for only 11 days, he had been spending a lot of time in the Dallas area since the decision had been made over the summer to make him auxiliary Bishop. Last Wednesday all the plans started changing. The plans that affected our family were that Bishop Jonah was to serve at our parish yesterday while our Priest was out of town. But it was important for Metropolitan Jonah to serve at the Cathedral in Dallas instead. We went ahead and attended St. Barbara’s for Liturgy, served by another Priest from St. Seraphim Cathedral, as two of our boys are alter servers and two sing in the choir, as do one of our daughters and I. For some reason I prefer to stay at our Parish for Divine Liturgy unless I am out of town. I think we, and not just Priests, are tied to a particular alter on Sundays. I heard the Metropolitan gave a very good homily though, which helped people come to terms with how our relationship with him is changing. He will keep his new residence in Dallas for the time being and hopes to come down often.

Last night was to be a reception at St. Seraphim Cathedral for our new Bishop Jonah in which two very talented musicians from Russia and Estonia, the violin and piano Duo Baltica, were to give a concert in His Grace’s honor. It was given for the new Metropolitan instead, so some preparatory plans changed. We stood as His Beatitude entered the hall just as the musicians were ready to begin. I know subjective experiences aren’t given much credence, but I felt a wave a grace when he entered the room. I have written elsewhere about the one other time that feeling was associated with coming into presence of a living person, who happened to also be a monastic. We sang Many Years followed by Eis Polla Eti Despota and he blessed us and then we enjoyed the lovely classical concert.

Jared, who has been coordinating introductions of his Catholic Dallas University to the Orthodox Church with then Abbot Jonah and other St. Seraphim Priests, has wondered about the changes in plans. The “field trip” which Jared and St. Seraphim Cathedral hosted last Sunday Liturgy went very well. Fourteen Campus Ministry people and students attended the Cathedral with a special tour and talk afterward. Many were interested in the iconography and so they arranged for a talk on praying with icons to be given this Tuesday as part of their visiting lecturer series on campus. Brother Gregory, who came from St. John of San Francisco Monastery with the now Metropolitan, was to give the talk, but with the new plans, it has been arranged that our very able Father Justin from St. Maximus the Confessor Orthodox Church in America in Denton will give it instead.

After the concert and most people had left, George brought me to the Metropolitan for a blessing. I again felt a wave of grace as I approached. I told him how sad I was that he was leaving, but I recognize that what is good for the OCA is also good for the Diocese of the South. Another Priest expressed it well, “Our loss is our gain.” His Beatitude is a very loving, giving person, and I very much appreciate the time he took to talk to our kids before we left. He encouraged Jared in his studies and told him that he has been charged with starting an OCF on campus by the Metropolitan! He spoke of taking one day at a time, scheduling relaxing time for exercise, and not getting overwhelmed, which is how he survived his studies at St. Vladimir’s. He seems like he knows how to handle high pressure situations, which will come into good use in his new position. His Beatitude and the newly ordained Subdeacon Gregory, who is his secretary, are to travel to the Metropolitan’s office in New York and begin work today. Our prayers are with them.

Speaking of the Church in Denton, then Abbot Jonah gave a wonderful talk there a week before his consecration as Bishop, on the Jesus Prayer. It is now available on the St. Maximus website.

I just found His Beatitude’s sermon from yesterday here.

Pre-Lenten Retreat

by Andrea Elizabeth

(links corrected)

Saturday morning all eight of us got up early and took the van to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas to attend a Pre-Lenten Retreat which nourished us with breakfast and lunch, Orthodox Trinitarian Theology presented by Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and monastic wisdom from Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou, as John (who I had the joy of meeting in person!) from Notes From a Common-Place Book said, is the Spiritual Child of Elder Sophrony, the Spiritual Child of St. Silouan. I also got to touch base with our dear friend, Eric (Jacob), Priests and other friends from St. Seraphim Cathedral and different parishes in the North Texas area, as well as some from our own parish, St. Barbara’s, like David Bryan, Audra and their Katie, Charles, Brad, Rex, Marilyn and William.

I took detailed notes of the two lectures and question and answer sessions because my memory has gotten hazy. But now I forgot where I put them so I’ll have to hurry and write down what I do remember so’s not to loose the entire thing. Not that permanent seeds weren’t planted, or changes made even if I don’t recall them.

Professor Veniamin spoke on St. Gregory Palamas and his Sunday during Great Lent. He said St. Gregory had a vision of milk overflowing and turning into wine which had a beautiful fragrance. The angel said the he needed to share this wine and not keep it to himself, like the parable of the talents. I forget what exactly he said the milk and wine represented. I believe he also talked on hesychasm as the way to salvation.

Elder Zacharias said that the three things Orthodox Christians need to focus on more than any other in order to be strengthened and energized are:

1. The Liturgy,

2. The Name of Christ,

3. The Word of Christ

I really wish I had my notes! He explained them in opposite order, but the priorities are as listed. He said that when we read the Bible we need to let the words inform us of His commandments so that we can become one with them and in being conformed by them, we attain godliness and then God will be present with us. That each word is like a stone, building us in the image of God as well as enlarging our hearts.

The name of Christ is called upon in the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. He said Elder Sophrony used to say that the reason we repeat it so many times is because we don’t know it yet. In it we confess who God is and who we are. This also enlarges our heart so that the Holy Spirit can fill us with His energy. He used the word energy a lot, and he indeed sparkled with it.

Then he said that in the Liturgy we make the great exchange. When we make the bread we are to pray for everyone in our hearts, and it comes to represent all that we are and have. Our very best. During the Liturgy we lift it all up to be exchanged for all that Christ is, and slowly, little by little we attain His fullness. This is why it is important to maintain the Liturgy our whole lives. We benefit the world when we lift it up to be exchanged. This counterbalances the effect of the world on us. He said that each generation has gotten weaker in that our predecessors attained greater heights of spiritual feats like raising the dead, and that each successive generation is half as good as the one preceding it. I think this was a humble way of comparing himself to Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan. Anyway, in the last days the greatest spiritual feat will be to keep the faith in the Liturgy.

All three of the ways of increasing God’s presence in the world were very encouraging, motivating and inspirational to me to feel that our prayers, readings, and Liturgy are all effective ways of increasing mercy and grace in ourselves and the world. Sometimes I get discouraged by our small numbers. Our parish is right next door to a Pentacostal mega-church. I have been discouraged by the disparity of numbers before, but in actuality, this disparity has not defeated us. We still have cars in the parking lot every Sunday and that is a victory for the world.

I believe both speakers mentioned the presentation of the Theotokos to the temple and how she realized her connection with creation and God. They are united in her. Elder Zacharias said that one day she was reading Isaiah’s “behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son”, and began repeating it enthusiastically and prayed, ‘may I be her handmaiden’. It was then that the angel Gabriel came to her to give her the good news.

Thankfully they recorded the lectures, and I believe the DVD’s will be available in a few weeks. Check North Texas Orthodox Missions for more details.

If anyone can add to or correct what I’ve written above, please feel free.

Why we get incensed

by Andrea Elizabeth

It’s because of the Protestant Revolutionaries’, I mean Reformers’, reaction to the evolved totalitarian Papal position which was borrowed from pre-Constantine Roman emperors.

Were there incensed peasant revolts before the Reformation? Maybe that’s what the Huns and other barbarians were. No I think there’s a difference between incensed peasants and barbarians. In the good old days, evil totalitarian regimes ended when God took care of the situation through a painful, but natural death, well Julius Caesar’s wasn’t natural, though he wasn’t killed by incensed peasants but cool colleagues. There is a long history of usurpers, like Absolom, before peasant revolts were popular. Countries were typically taken over by a recognized, motivating leader. There was still submission to authority, however fluid that authority was.

However, the Protestant Reformation introduced anarchy. They marginalized leadership. It’s true that many despotic leaders have marginalized the people, after all absolute power corrupts absolutely. Aren’t labor unions and strikers all about peasant revolts? I just can’t think of when that was done prior to the Protestant Reformation. That’s when authority was given to whoever held their own copy of the Bible. After that, the Bible was optional but helpful. So I don’t believe the peasant French Revolution, which closely followed the peasant American Revolution is to blame for the peasant Russian Revolution. I’m thinking it’s a progression from the Protestant Revolution. They said you don’t have to have to suffer under a leader. And since then “suffering” has been vilified to an intolerable extent. When the Israelites suffered, they cried to God, and He and Moses appealed to Pharoah, but Moses didn’t lead a jihad against Pharoah. God took care of him in the Red Sea. Jihad, ah, the Muslims. My impression is that they are a curious mix between peasant revolters and despotic authoritarianism.

Anyway, the point is, incitement against people who cause suffering looks like prideful revenge seeking to me. Methinks they protest too much, which I’m sure I do too. But I calmly and lovingly believe that the Protestants, peasants, teens who drop out of an unjust high school or leave home in protest, jump from the kettle into the frying pan. Of course justice and mercy are better than tyranny, but I pray we find them peacefully.

It’s risky second guessing to try to speculate how suffering could have been relieved without brutal wars. I think that they should have looked for relief from inside when the outside was intolerable. That’s what Father Roman Braga, who spent years in a communist prison for his faith, did. Here’s what he said in this about suffering,

“I think that the Church, at least in Romania and Russia, was strengthened during the communist persecution. I dare to say that suffering matures not only the individual but the Church also.”

And from here,

Father [Dimitru] Staniloae confessed that his time in prison was the first time he could pray without ceasing, with the mind in the heart.

I cannot say that I experienced prayer as Father Staniloae, but what I do know is that we will never reach the same spiritual level of life as in Communist imprisonment. There was no pencil, no paper, no T.V., nothing; especially in solitary confinement, you could not even look through a window. There was no exterior horizon, nothing but the four walls of your cell. You had to go somewhere; you had to find an inner perspective, because otherwise you would truly go j crazy. I’m ashamed to say that I was forced to find myself in ‘ prison. I had some ideas about prayer because I came from the Burning Bush Movement, but it was mostly theory about what prayer is; but there in those difficult moments I confess that I started to recite the Jesus Prayer and practiced it intensely. Only then was I able to discover how beautiful the interior life of man is. I liked it very much. A couple of months before I discovered this, I thought that I would go crazy because the solitude was a total break from the world with which I had been so much involved. And you know that our culture is oriented outside ourselves; it is a cosmological knowledge directed toward existence outside ourselves. Now I needed a method to find myself, to liberate myself from the slavery of the books, because there were no books there. It is not an exaggeration to say that in freedom we become slaves of the books; we do not have time even to know who we are because we are made out of quotations….

What was your spiritual life there like?

I told you I did not reach the level of St. Paul, to say that Jesus is my personality, He is in the center of my heart, He is the seal of my authentic personality—I could not say that. However, I reached the level of feeling the presence of God in a vivid way; that is, since that time, I never saw or imagined God in my prayers outside of myself, and I hope I will never see him in a “vision” outside myself while I am in this world. I hope to remain with the true understanding of God, not with illusions. But I have the feeling of His presence. When God speaks to you He does not use material words but brings you joy. I experienced such joys in prison, I could not detach myself from them. I was never interested when they brought me food or water…

Another book, besides the Derrida ones, that George got me for Christmas was Father Braga’s Exploring the Inner Universe, from which the above was excerpted. I look forward to reading it.