Showing posts from January, 2020

A St. Sophrony Story

St. Sophrony of Essex is a newly canonized saint in the Orthodox Church, and I just happened to hear a beautiful account of a miracle he worked from the mouth of the recipient himself. This past weekend, my family and I had the pleasure of traveling down to Washington D.C. to attend the episcopal ordination of His Grace Alexis, Bishop of Bethesda (for the OCA). Because of that event, I was able to meet some incredible new people, and hear this wonderful story about St. Sophrony. Now, this whole story was related to me by a Greek man, who struggled to relate this story in English. So, I will do my best to gloss my understanding of the story into English. "I was driving from the northern part of Greece down to Athens, and that is a very long drive. I was driving on the high-speed highway, when all the sudden, I was hit with vertigo. The road was moving all around; the world was spinning; I had no idea how to drive the car or what to do with the steering wheel. "My first tho

Singing the Twelve Apostles

I had to learn the names of the Twelve Apostles: not exactly a part of our Synoptic Gospels class, but also not something that Archbishop Michael was willing to allow us to not know. The grade is easy: if you can name all twelve Apostles, you get a 100 for that grade. If you cannot name all of them, you get a 0. He actually mentioned that it would be good to know the names of all of The Seventy, that is the 70 Apostles Jesus sent out, as well, but "that was asking too much". It was when he was talking about The Seventy that I first started thinking that it would not be too hard to learn them all if you had a fun song. I saw somebody singing the periodic table once, and if that is possible with all the weird element names, the strange-to-us first-century saints names must be doable. I mentioned to one of my classmates that we should sing the Apostles' names to some tune. Once they mentioned that Abp. Michael was a Broadway fan, it was a done deal. It had to be done. I

When Miriam Speaks against Moses

In Numbers chapter 12, we see Miriam and Aaron questioning Moses's unique role. God replies, "Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?" So the Lord's anger was aroused against them, and He departed. God is going to great lengths to bring this people unto himself, establishing a way to commune with God; mankind is being reunited to God, and yet we ruin it with our judgment of others, and here especially, the lesson is directly pointed at our speaking against those in the clergy. And then, Moses's response to Miriam's punishment of leprosy is the very icon of what the priest must do for his flock (or closer to home for most of us, what the parent should do for the children). He immediately goes before God on Miriam's behalf, begs for her healing, and asks for a penance, a consequence which will be to her benefit and for her salvation. Moses is clearly afraid that this will crush her under too heavy a weight. And as for our response,

Say "He Was" Four Times

I took a brief detour outside of the letters of St. Basil, our holy father and guide in the spiritual life, to read his Homily on the Beginning of the Gospel of John , found in the book On Christian Doctrine and Practice . In his homily, not only is our guide clear-sighted and battle-ready to repel the enemy seeking to confuse his flock, but he delivers a simple, straightforward, and easily memorable few words that anyone could walk away and use. He was preaching in a world flooded with the influence of the Arian heresy, even though, confusingly (as we look from our viewpoint 1,500 years later), Arianism had been clearly denounced a few decades before at the Council of Nicaea. Heaping high-sounding philosophical terms upon his flock would not have helped anyone. He picked one beautifully simple passage with which to arm them against deception: John 1. He says that “the Holy Spirit takes the initiative through the gospel, saying, In the beginning was the Word ” to give us ever

Silence is the School of the Soul

First looking at St. Basil's three hundred and something letters, I was afraid I would not find direction toward the spiritual life for quite some time. Well, I was wrong. In Letter II: Basil to Gregory , that is St. Gregory of Nyssa, a friend of his, I hit a key word that really sparked my curiosity and did indeed lead to some of St. Basil's "secrets" to the spiritual life. He said, "We must try to keep the mind in tranquility." That "tranquility" word made me wonder if he might possibly be talking about hesychia, the much-mentioned idea during our Spirituality class: hesychia being that quiet or stillness in God as the primary path to union with him. Sure enough, in Greek, St. Basil said, Ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ τὸν νοῦν ἔχειν πειρᾶσθαι προσήκει, and there is the hesychia, translated as "tranquility". And this was not just a mention of a key term, it was a central theme to this letter. He went on to say, "For it is no more possible to w

Make All Creation New

What an interesting parallel. My wife noticed the close connection between this church sign, which we pass to and from the monastery church, and the pre-Theophany (Epiphany) hymn we have been hearing the past few days. Compare that with the last line of the troparion of the Forefeast of Theophany: "Christ has appeared to make all creation new." The troparion is making reference to Christ coming in the flesh—this is why Theophany is tied to Nativity—in order to restore all creation. I would imagine this coincidence is as simple as this. The church sign was simply looking for a "new" theme to put on their sign for the new year. I do not want to discuss that sign too much; I have too many questions about its meaning and I do not want to look like I am picking on someone's theology. The troparion, however, is the yearly-repeated, core essence of the purpose of Christ's coming on earth. And it is no coincidence that Theophany, the baptism of our Lord, occur

Bible-Loving Basil, Seed of Saints, Molder of Monastics

St. Basil the Great went so far as to apologize for using his own words to speak of the spiritual life, that is, instead of using only those words found in the Scriptures themselves. This is a love for the Scriptures that many of us would not so readily associate with a Church father from the 4th century. Yet, his love for Christ and his dogged adherence to the faith of the Apostles were key ingredients into the making of one of the most important defenders of Christianity at a time when the Church was very much under attack by those who would twist those beloved Scriptures to mean something quite different. His own family background speaks volumes. His maternal grandfather was a martyr. His paternal grandmother is a canonized saint, St. Macrina, who seems to have been quite influential in the spiritual formation of her grandchildren. Not much information is available for St. Macrina's husband, St. Basil's grandfather, but there is reference to him as an "unbending victi