Showing posts from April, 2020

Joab Disobeying David's Census and Obedience in Orthodoxy

I made the following comment on the passage in 1 Chronicles 21:6: But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's word was painful to Joab. Joab was obedient to David's command to take a census of the people, but knew this was a bad idea. Similarly, we are to live in obedience, unless asked to do something against the Gospel commands. What are the Gospel commands: love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Obedience, unless that obedience is not in love. Obedience is difficult, especially for us independent Americans. I often think of a particular passage in St. Silouan's biography (paraphrased)... There are two ways to find God's will. Simply obeying our spiritual father is simple and foolproof (because if it is wrong, the responsibility is on the spiritual father). The other way, to seek God in prayer and discern for ourselves, is perfectly acceptable, but much mor

Isolation Has Exposed Our Weaknesses

They shall be scattered to search for food, if they are not satisfied they grumble. But I will sing of thy power, proclaiming thy mercy each morning, for thou hast become my helper, my refuge in the day of my affliction.  Ps 58(59) Pascha has passed over us. What now? When we had barely learned how to live quarantined away from church, we were faced with missing the most memorable services of the Church year: Holy Week and Pascha. Our desire to turn on a live-streamed service under those circumstances is understandable. Now it is time to throw off everything that hinders and to fulfill the call of the quarantine. This current situation has called to question how we see church. It has challenged our personal spirituality. It has exposed an unhealthy dependence we have had on our churches. In the words of the psalmist above, are we scattered away from our churches, left to fend for our daily bread in whatever way we can find it, grumbling that the church doors are closed? Or, amid

How to Serve Pascha at Home

Fresco in Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, Constantinople Holy Saturday Late morning or early afternoon:   Holy Saturday Reader's Vespers Between the Epistle and Gospel reading (during "Arise, O God, and judge the earth..."), we change the church's colors from dark to bright, because Vespers liturgically transitions us into the next day...Pascha. At home, this is a great time to add white or bright decoration to the icon corner and to put up an icon of Pascha, if you have such. For those who have taken on the struggle of the strict fast on Holy Friday till Vespers on Holy Saturday, the faithful partake of a little bread and wine after Vespers, along with some figs or dates (which could translate to dried fruit and nuts today). Reading the Acts of the Apostles: Following Vespers (which normally would have been a Vesperal Liturgy), the faithful would remain in church listening to the reading of the book of the Acts of the Apostles till time for the Paschal s

Holy Week Services at Home

This is an incredible opportunity to keep Holy Week even more full of prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. As for the "tone" or manner in which we go through this week, Elder Vitaly of Tbilisi "taught that one should go to church during the whole of Holy Week and to not get involved with vain things. He would only allow food preparation. He would say that the days of Holy Week sanctified all the days of the year. Holy Monday sanctified all the Mondays of the year, Holy Tuesday the Tuesday of the year, and so on." This echoes the Book of Exodus, and its guidelines for keeping the Passover: "No servile work shall be done on them; and whatever must be done by each soul, this only shall be done by you" (12:16). But don't forget to prepare for the Pascha Feast!  I will mention this again at the end of this post, but the Artefact Institute is providing a free download of a wonderful way to celebrate the feast at home with food,

How Do We Prepare for Holy Week?

Bishop Alexis can feel the pain in our hearts. How are we to go through Holy Week without going to church? It is unimaginable for most of us...but there are some holy examples that may help calm our fears and even give us hope for a once in a lifetime opportunity to commune with our God like never before. Following Live-Streaming and Finding the Steams of Living Water Thirty years ago when I was a young novice at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, I recall being moved while reading an account of the Athonite Elder Callinicus the Hesychast (1853–1930) who went to the austere community of Father Daniel, a community in the Athonite desert always lacking milk, cheese, and eggs. Father Daniel explained to the young Callinicus , “ At Pascha, we have no red eggs to eat . One that is preserved from year to year is brought out that we may see it and remember the Feast.” (Archimandrite Cherubim, Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos , 180). This same Elder Callinicus later chose to lock himself up i

No One Saw the Resurrection

As we were ending class today with Archbishop Michael, he obviously had Holy Week on his mind and this scattered flock of seminarians arranged in a grid on his computer screen, and like a good shepherd, he could not help but share a word of love and encouragement as we prepare to pass into the most important week of the year and attempt to celebrate all in our own little isolated homes. "No one saw the resurrection of the Lord. It was in the tomb...Look at the apostles who were not there: one denied Christ, one ran away, one doubted... Without all the aids of the Church. It's hard. I suffer with you. For 47 years, I have never missed any of these services. It is just not the same. "But soul work is hard work. Christ did the hardest of that work for us. Unite yourself with him, in spite of the obstacles, see yourself in the persecution of the Church, and rise above it. Love, know, and serve as best you can, that Lord. May he bless you and your family, this Pascha, and

Private Prayer Must Be Our Daily Bread

In the Preface to the Orthodox Christian Prayers prayer book, there is a wonderful little paragraph that echoes many of the responses I have heard to our COVID-19 quarantine. I have noticed that many responses, from Met. Tikhon to Bishop Alexis , from Abbot Sergius to Archimandrite Zacharias , have emphasized that this quarantine is a time to turn to God in prayer. I would warn against counting out their opinion because they are monastics and unlike us in the world, but the common monastic response is no accident: these are men whose spiritual life is not dependent on going to church services, but rather on the foundation of prayer and communion with Christ in the "secrecy of their room". The prayer book has this encouraging word for us: "As disciples of Christ and his imitators, Orthodox Christians pray together at church, offering the services of Vespers, Matins, the Hours, and above all the Divine Liturgy. We may also pray in small groups outside of church, with

Without Scandal or Anxiety

I have a bit of a hidden jewel to share. Right at the very beginning of widespread quarantining, Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA shared a comforting word about the difficulty of being separated from church . I remember this particular statement, but when I tried to share it with someone, it took me a while to find it, because it was buried in a document that necessarily had to carry quite a lot of other text pertaining to the practical details of the OCA's response to the CoronaVirus. So, because it is such a good word, and because it is now completely buried in the millions of words written about the CoronaVirus, I would like to share it again: "My beloved children in the Lord, none of the measures adopted by any part of the Church should cause scandal or anxiety. They should also not be used as the subject for mockery, vile jokes, sarcasm, or—God forbid! —division or disunity. They have been taken as our Christian response to protect our brothers and sisters. Our Lord tells

We Are Joining Christ Outside the Camp

There is a growing number of voices sharing faithful reactions to our plight in these days of the CoronaVirus. Fr. John Parsells shared this beautiful image of joining Christ's sufferings "outside the camp", as St. Paul relates in the epistle to the Hebrews: "Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore" (13:13). Fr. John connects this idea of joining in Christ's separation, intentionally sharing in his sufferings, with our current separation from the Holy Mysteries. Yes, it is a suffering, but we reap no spiritual benefit from it if we rebel against it. Last week, our hierarchs delivered us a hard word: we will not be able to celebrate Great and Holy Pascha at church. In this situation, we remain in isolation, out of obedience to our hierarchs and in love to our brothers and sisters, as Fr. John states: "By instructing us through our hierarchs to temporarily and selflessly stay outside the church for the benefit of othe

Follow-up Spiritual Reflection from Bp. Alexis

This is an excellent reflection from Bishop Alexis, a spiritual reaction to being separated from church and isolated in our least, this could  be our reaction. I have emphasized some of the main points, but this is the full text of Bishop Alexis's spiritual reflection as posted on the OCA website. The Sign of the Prophet Jonah in our days Bishop Alexis, 3 April 2020 “For those with eyes to see and ears to hear,” these days of being in the belly of the whale, physically separated not only from one another, but also from our beloved Churches and places of prayer, we have a rare opportunity for spiritual growth. In this crisis that has overcome the entire inhabited world, we are given the sign of Jonah that calls forth a response from us all. Saint Ephraim the Syrian writes, “the sign of Jonah served the Ninevites in two ways. If they would have rejected it, they would have gone down to Sheol alive like Jonah, but they were raised from the dead like him because the

A Voice in the Desert: Abbot Sergius Interview

I just listened to an interview with Archimandrite Sergius, the abbot of St. Tikhon's Monastery. I highly recommend going and listening to the full interview with Fr. Sergius . Right off the bat, Fr. Sergius says...and when I say "says", I really mean emphatically repeats, "The inner life is just as real as the outer life." He encourages us to pay attention to our heart...and no, that is not some warm-and-fuzzy saying; he is literally suggesting that the heart is both a physical place and a spiritual place. The spiritual place of the heart is "the door to the world to come". And "it is a shared space...Christ is there, too". We will have to work to uncover that Kingdom within, and when we do, "it is only in that stillness of the heart that we will be able to experience God." But that is only how Fr. Sergius starts off in the interview. He has recently posted a couple of videos in response to our being cut off from being able to

Our Communion Stretches Even unto Quarantine

I am thankful for reading a recent article by Fr. Lawrence Farley, and particularly for the additional perspective he has added to my thinking about what "going to church" means in the wake of these worldwide quarantining measures to fight the spread of this virus. He wrote at length about the importance of the gathering of Christians as being central to the purpose of the Eucharist, and thus to the meaning of  "the Church". That "gathering" aspect is not something I had dwelled on much. I would like to add another layer to what he said. He said, " The Eucharist is what Christians do on Sunday when they gather together in the Lord’s Name, and the celebration of the Eucharist presupposes a previous gathering." That is true. Otherwise, a priest would be allowed to celebrate by himself. The Church is the "ekklesia" (Greek ἐκκλησία, 'gathering'), the community of believers, which is seen in beautiful perfection when we partake of