Showing posts from February, 2020

Dialogue with God or Monologue with Ourselves

"It is our conversation with God that brings about our union with him. Beginning a dialogue with God and putting a stop to the monologue with ourselves and with our passions: this is the essence of prayer and of salvation." These are Abbot Sergius's words in the front of the new prayer book. It is no small task to enter into prayer, especially passing beyond the monologue. Entering into dialogue with God, or communing with him, is far beyond most of us. In this pursuit, a prayer book is an invaluable aid, as Fr. Sergius continues: "The prayers of the Orthodox Church help us learn how to speak to God in a truly Orthodox and right way. They reveal to us the disposition of heart and the height of sanctity which we must internalize and make our own. They act as icon and window, giving us a vision of the Communion of Saints, for, by using the prayers composed by the saints and by their disciples, we slowly bring our lives into harmony with theirs." One thing I

Prayer is Communion

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra said, "Prayer is communion." Communion with God is the entire focus of the spiritual life, and by "spiritual life", I do not mean merely "being spiritual" or "living religiously", but rather the process of salvation. Actually, we could just drop the word "spiritual" out of that sentence and be closer to the truth: communion with God is the sole focus of life. What is communion? All too often, the word is used only for the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Yes, that is communion, and certainly the primary and most grace-filled communion available to mankind. Communion with God is every contact with the Other. Communion is a return to our true self, that image of Christ within us. Communion is the restoration of creation, the restoration of this lump of earth to its first-created state. Communion is union with Christ. Communion is no less than partaking of the very being of God and becomin

Saints Are the Living Books of God

How do we learn about God. If you are anything like me, when you pick up some of these theological books and read a page or two, you are overwhelmed by what is being said; you put it back down and are tempted to think theology is above you. Well, what about those fishermen...the Apostles? They were simple people. In a hymn last week, on Wednesday night Vespers commemorating the Apostles for Thursday, we hear about the best library for learning about God's mysteries: You are truly the new tables written by God, The living books, keepers of his mysteries, Holding the word of salvation written with the finger of the Father. So you traveled over all the ends of the earth, And clearly showed to all men the Orthodox Faith, That path that leads to Heaven. Most of us would do well to just put down that complicated book of theology, and instead make a habit of reading the lives of the saints. They themselves are the "new tables" (that is, like the two "tablets"

Finding Our Quiet Place in the World

And what of those of us who are not monastics, those not only married, but living far from solitude in the this busy and loud world? We would do well to remember Basil’s principle behind the need for silence, "More than anything, 'school' to the soul is the gracious granting of nightly hesychia (silence)." With that in mind, he has this to say about those married and living in the world: "Do not relax your efforts, therefore, you who have chosen the companionship of a wife, as if you were at liberty to embrace worldliness. Indeed, you have need of greater labors and vigilance for the gaining of your salvation, inasmuch as you have elected to dwell in the midst of the toils and in the very stronghold of rebellious powers, and night and day all your senses are impelled toward desire of the allurements to sin which are before your eyes." That phrase is packed with good advice, though it may not look like it at first. This is just a general statement, but he

Not Just Silence, Desert Silence

There is another aspect to Basil’s hesychastic silence. Along with his use of the word hesychia (ἠσυχία, silence), he uses other words to stress the importance of a physical or geographical separation from the world. He directly ties together hesychia with this physical separation when speaking of the beautiful spot he found in the Pontus area of Cappadocia for his own retreat from the world: “This [isolated] place, besides being beautiful, also nourishes and brings forth all the fruits of hesychia” (ἥδιστον ἐμοὶ πάντων καρπῶν τὴν ἠσυχίαν τρέφει). On the surface, this topic appears pointed only at monastics, who are literally “far removed from the disturbances of the city”, but before we leave off the topic of hesychastic silence, I will also make sure and share some of our spiritual guide’s thoughts on the application of this same concept for those of us still in the world and not at all physically isolated. This physical separation is essential for Basil, for he said that to brin

What does Basil mean by hesychia?

In reading through the letters and the Ascetical Writings of St. Basil the Great, there are numerous mentions of silence, solitude, tranquility, and stillness, but he uses various words in different ways and for different contexts. It would be helpful, for those of us who want to learn what we are able from the experience of our Father Basil, to dig down to that root meaning that ties them all together to really understand how we also may attend this "school of the soul" of which he speaks when he says, "More than anything, 'school' to the soul is the gracious granting of nightly hesychia (silence)." If we are going to go to school, we will have to know where it is. As a beginning to our search for Basil’s “Soul School of Silence”, we must first explore what he does not mean by hesychia (‘silence’). It is not just ‘staying quiet’, and indeed, Basil does not use the same word when he means merely staying quiet: “It was my purpose to maintain silence (ἀποσιω

The Accidental Heretic

In Letter 51, a letter from St. Basil the Great to Bishop Bosporius, we catch a quick glimpse into St. Basil’s beautiful pastoral heart. Bishop Bosporius thought Basil had anathemetized a fellow bishop named Dianius for listening to the Arians, and evidently had written Basil about it. Letter 51 is Basil’s reply. Now, “anathemetized” is not a word we use all that often these days, obviously, but avoiding a deep historical analysis, which may be possible, but too much for our current read on this letter, it at least means that Bishop Dianius would not be considered a canonical bishop of the Church and that his beliefs would be “denounced”, of a sort, so that nobody would follow his example. These were days when the decisions hammered out at the First Ecumenical Council were still being practically decided in the everyday life of the Church, and Basil was not only on the front lines, but was practically surrounded by opposing bishops. So, back to the letter concerning Bishop Dia

St. Simeon's Prayer - Obedience in Love

This past Sunday, Bishop Alexis shared a touching homily. I will have to admit, I first started paying attention only because there was a mention of a mistranslation of a very commonly-heard passage: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word" and I wanted to know what the issue was. To be fair, it is only "very commonly-heard" if you are Orthodox, since it is a key hymn sung in every Vespers service. The rest of you might be thinking I am just exaggerating. ...but I digress. First, there is a distinction between two Greek words for Lord, but I will get to that in a minute. The interesting thing is that this is not question or suggestion toward the Lord; the Shakespearian fling to "now lettest thou thy servant depart" leaves modern listeners in a bit of syntactical no-man's land. We do not know exactly what that means. The ESV hits the meaning well enough, "now you are letting", but not really the tone. And