Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Second Stage of Contemplation

Woe is me, unhappy that I am! What shall I do? I have sinned greatly; many blessings are bestowed on me; I am very weak. Many are the temptations: sloth overwhelms me, forgetfulness benights me and will not let me see myself and my many crimes. Ignorance is evil; conscious transgression is worse; virtue is difficult to achieve; the passions are many; the demons are crafty and subtle; sin is easy; death is near; the reckoning is bitter. Alas, what shall I do? Where shall I flee from myself? For I am the cause of my own destruction. I have been honoured with free will and no one can force me. I have sinned, I sin constantly, and am indifferent to any good thing, though no one constrains me. Whom can I blame? God, who is good and full of compassion, who always longs for me to turn to Him and repent? The angels, who love and protect me? Men, who also desire my progress? The demons? They cannot constrain people, unless, because of negligence or despair, he chooses to destroy himself. Who is then to blame? Surely, it is myself?

I begin to see that my soul is being destroyed, and yet I make no effort to embark on a godly life. Why, O my soul, are you so indifferent about yourself? Why, when you sin, are you not as ashamed before God and His angels as you are before men? Alas, alas, for I do not feel the shame before my Creator and my Master that I feel before a man. Before a man I cannot sin, but do all I can do to appear to be acting righteously; yet standing before God I think evil thoughts and often are not ashamed to speak of them. What madness! Though I sin, I have no fear of God who watches me, and yet I cannot tell to a single man what I have done so as to give him a chance to correct me. Alas, for I know the punishment and am unwilling to repent. I love the heavenly kingdom, and yet do not acquire virtue. I believe in God and constantly disobey his commandments. I hate the devil and yet do not stop doing what he wants. If I pray, I lose interest and become unfeeling. If I fast, I become proud, and damn myself all the more. If I keep vigil, I think I have accomplished something, and so I have no profit from it. If I read, I do one of two evil things in my obduracy; either I read for the sake of profane learning and self-esteem, and so am further benighted; or by reading, and not acting in the spirit of what I read, I simply increase my guilt. If by God's grace I happen to stop sinning in outward action, I do not stop sinning continually in what I say. And if God's grace should protect me also from this, I continue to provoke His wrath by my evil thoughts. Alas, what can I do? Wherever I go, I find sin. Everywhere there are demons. Despair is worst of all. I have provoked God, I have saddened His angels, I have frequently hurt and offended men.

I would like, Lord, to erase the record the record of my sins by tears, and through repentance to live the rest of my life according to Thy will.  But the enemy deceives me and battles with my soul.  Lord, before I perish completely, save me.

I have sinned against Thee, Saviour, like the prodigal son; receive me, Father, in my repentance and have mercy on me, O God.

I cry to Thee, O Christ my Saviour, with the voice of the publican: be gracious to me, as to him, and have mercy on me, O God. [ footnote - Sunday Vespers, stichira of repentance, Tone 2: The Lenten Triodion, pp. 184-5]

What will happen in the last days? What is to come afterwards?  How hapless I am! 'Who will give water to my head and a fountain of tears to my eyes?' (Jer 9:1, LXX). Who can grieve for me as I deserve?  I cannot do so.  Come, mountains, cover me in my abjectness.  What have I to say? O how many blessings has God bestowed on me,  blessings that only He knows of, and how many terrible things in act, word and thought have I done in my ingratitude, always provoking my Benefactor.  And the more long-suffering He is, the more I disdain him, becoming harder in heart than lifeless stones.  Yet I do not despair, but acknowledge Thy great compassion.

I have no repentance, no tears.  Therefore I entreat Thee, Saviour, to make me turn back before I die and to grant me repentance, so that I may be spared punishment.  [footnote - Sunday Vespers, stichira of repentance, Tone 2: The Lenten Triodion, p. 186]

O Lord my God, do not abandon me, though I am nothing before Thee, though I am wholly a sinner.  How shall I become aware of my many sins?  For unless I become aware, severe is my condemnation.  For me Thou hast created heaven and earth, the four elements and all that is formed from them, as St. Gregory the Theologian says [footnote - cf. Orations 14, 23].  I shall keep silence as to the rest, for I am unworthy to say anything because of my many crimes.  Who, even if he had the intellect of an angel, could not grasp all the countless blessings I have been given?  Yet because I do not change my ways I shall lose them all.

By meditating in this way, a man gradually advances to the third stage of contemplation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Address given to the “Stand up for Religious Freedom Rally” Syracuse, NY on October 20, 2012

By Fr. Philip McCaffery, Pastor of  HolyTransfiguration Orthodox Church

There is an old and a wise saying “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom”.

The philosopher Terrence once lamented that in the Rome of his day, men who could make falsehood seem to be truth and truth to be falsehood, were in great demand, particularly by the government.  That seems also to be the case today.

We are told, for example, that our Constitutional freedom of religion must also be understood as freedom “from” religion, as if religion were some kind of second hand smoke, a health hazard that the government must legitimately confine and curtail in the interest of national health and public safety.  Similarly we have begun to hear that freedom of religion is only freedom of worship – that any religious activities other than worship, as defined by the government, are second class religious activities, not necessarily covered by the First Amendment.

I do not believe these perversions of meaning are a mistake, which might be made innocently – but rather part of a deliberate attempt to marginalize and banish the voice of religion from the public square. This redefinition of religious freedom must be fought and that is why the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act must also be fought, even to the point of civil disobedience.

As a representative of the Eastern Orthodox Community, I would like to share with you something of our community’s historical experience with religious oppression and Orwellian re-definition of words.  As you may know, many of those cultures that have traditionally identified themselves as Orthodox Christians, Russians, Georgians, Romanians, Bulgarians and others found themselves behind the iron curtain under communism.  I personally have known and interviewed survivors of the notorious Gulag Archipelago and the indescribably horrible prison systems of Romania and Bulgaria.  These men and women were and are living martyrs, what the Church calls Confessors. What we Americans often have difficulty understanding is that all of the time these and hundreds of thousands even millions, of other believers were being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed, the communist regimes all publicly declared their commitment to religious freedom. Freedom of religion was even written into the Soviet constitution. But, they defined religious freedom as freedom of worship only, just like we are hearing now. Of course under communism, church schools, hospitals or charities simply did not exist. Neither was any preaching allowed that touched upon social or political issues.  For now, we don’t have that here in America, but many pastors are aware that the potential for this is growing.  One of my great heroes of that era, Fr.George Calciu of Romania was imprisoned for preaching a series of sermons to the youth, exposing the falsehood of Marxist materialism.  We believe that only the spotlight of international attention prevented Fr. George from being murdered while incarcerated.

What impresses me to this day is the fact that without exception, such people as Fr. George and countless others, when asked their views about American politics, inevitably ask, “What’s wrong with you Americans?  Are you blind?  Don’t you see where all of this government intrusion  into your private and personal life leads?”  For you see, secularists, no matter how well intentioned, will inevitably see the state as primary. That means that government becomes the creator of men’s rights rather than the servant, the master of our private relations and the ultimate adjudicator of questions concerning conscience or religious duty.  In the HHS mandate the government presumes to define what forms of religious community are religious enough to qualify for a right to religious conscience. As Prof. Matthew Franck of the William E and Carol G Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution has written, “Even the administrations promised ‘accommodation’ would treat religious colleges, hospitals and charitable ministries as second class religious institutions.”

Despite the real and important differences in what and how we believe, people of religious belief need to come together to resist this threat to religious freedom.  It is important that we remember and teach that one of the great differences between America and all other forms of society is the foundational affirmation that our rights, as spelled out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, are not vested rights, which are bestowed upon us be the state, but are rather what the founders termed ‘natural rights’, God given rights ‘natural’ to every human person.

The stated purpose of American government is to ‘secure’ those rights, not to threaten them.

Earlier this year the Bishops of the Orthodox Church of North America issued a statement protesting the HHS mandate and affirming religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment.  In a spirit of solidarity with all faith communities, increasingly threatened by a government that has lost its bearings, I would like to share that statement with you.

The assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, which is comprised of the 65 canonical Orthodox bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico, join their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and call upon all the Orthodox faithful to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion.  This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for “contraceptive services” including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions.  Providing such services should not be regarded as mandated medical care.  We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment.

May God not only bless America, but may God help America and help Americans stand up for religious freedom.

Father Philip is a former pastor of mine who has graciously permitted his remarks to be reprinted here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787)

Commemorated after October 11 The Seventh Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Empress Irene and met at Nicaea from September 24 to October 13, 787. Patriarch Tarasios (commemorated February 25) presided. The council ended almost fifty years of iconoclast persecution and established the veneration of the holy icons as basic to the belief and spirituality of Christ's Church. As the Synaxarion says, "It was not simply the veneration of the holy images that the Fathers defended in these terms but, in fact, the very reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God."   "The second Council of Nicaea is the seventh and last Ecumenical Council recognized by the Orthodox Church. This does not mean that there may not be ecumenical Councils in the future although, in holding the seventh place, the Council of Nicaea has taken to itself the symbol of perfection and completion represented by this number in Holy Scripture (e.g. Gen. 2:1-3). It closes the era of the great dogmatic disputes which enabled the Church to describe, in definitions excluding all ambiguity, the bounds of the holy Orthodox Faith. From that time, every heresy that appears can be related to one or other of the errors that the Church, assembled in universal Councils, has anathematized from the first until the seventh Council of Nicaea." Synaxarion In Greek practice, the holy God-bearing Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council are commorated on October 11 (if it is a Sunday), or on the Sunday which follows October 11. According to the Slavic MENAION (not followed by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, however), however, if the eleventh falls on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, the service is moved to the preceding Sunday.

A Short Spiritual Ladder - XII - Various Instructions (from Letters)

by Elder Hilarion,
from Little Russian Philokalia: Abbot Nazarius of Valaam

To one who is attentive to his own salvation and is sober, every place is a place for saving souls.  "It is not the place that saves, but one's way of life and pleasing to God . . ."  I live in the saving harbor of Sarov, but poorly.  For it is not the place that saves; Judas was not saved even in the presence of Christ Himself.  No matter where you are, you need attentiveness to yourself and sobriety.

I am neither a faster nor a man of prayer, nor a struggler, but on the contrary, I eat and drink and have contact and speak with everyone; but I do everything to the glory of God.  In all my sorrows I often remember and cry out with heartfelt sighs the favorite words of Chrysostom: "Glory be to God for everything!"

It is characteristic of generous, valiant souls not to despair in the midst of perils; and it is the work of one who is grateful not only to give thanks to the Lord in good fortune, but to show the same thankfulness in misfortunes as well.  Nothing can embitter the virtuous soul, but everything that he suffers he considers to be gain for himself.  And what can be better than to bear one's lot generously and without complaint?  There is nothing more generous than to forget the offenses made against one.

Reflecting on these and similar things and fortifying myself, I tell myself: Endure sorrows, O sinner, and in the sorrows give praise to God.  Neither is there any repose without labor, nor any victory without battle.  And to him who overcomes, says Christ, I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of Paradise (Apoc. 21:7).

Sorrows are always followed by joys; guilt draws after itself chastisement.

Do not grow despondent from a fall, but fight; and do not grieve much, lest the enemy, having wounded you much already, should cut your head off - that is, bring you into despair, which is most vile of all sins, as John of the Ladder writes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Short Spiritual Ladder - XI - Patience

by Elder Hilarion,
from Little Russian Philokalia: Abbot Nazarius of Valaam

Strive as much as possible, with God's help, to acquire patience in the bearing of deprivations and sorrows.  Ask, knock, seek day and night, and you will obtain from Christ the Saviour the help and strength of patience, if you desire it with your whole soul and heart.

One must train oneself in generous patience, so as to endure without complaint all that happens to us.  We will possess patience when we accept everything that happens to us, both what is joyful and what is sad without distinction, as from the hand of God.

In your patience possess ye your souls, Christ instructs us.  Be patient, slave of the Lord, and you will possess your soul which you have ruined by sins.
In patience is the assembly of all the virtues by which our souls are saved, as St. Ephraim says: He who acquires patience touches on every virtue; for he rejoices in sorrows, is well tested in misfortunes, is glad in perils, is ready for obedience, is filled with love, gives praise when provoked, is humble when reproached, is unwavering in misfortunes.

He who has acquired patience has acquired hope, and such a one is adorned with all good deeds.

Regarding the many other virtues, such as faith, hope, and love, read yourself the holy books and listen to instructions, through which you will become wise and will inherit eternal good things in Christ Jesus our Lord.  May we all receive these things through His help and Divine grace.  Amen.

Blessed Roman Lysko

Feastday: April 2
1914 - 1949
Beatified By: Pope John Paul II

Blessed Roman Lysko (August 14, 1914 - October 14, 1949) was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and martyr.
from Wikipedia
Blessed Roman Lysko (Ukrainian: Роман Лиско; August 14, 1914 - October 14, 1949) was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and martyr.
Lysko was born on 14 August 1914 in Horodok, Lviv Oblast. He studied theology and graduated from the Lviv Theological Academy. On August 28, 1941 he was ordained a priest by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. He was Pastor of the Archeparchy of Lviv for Ukrainians. Lysko was also active in working with youth.
On 9 September 1949, he was arrested by the NKVD. He was put into prison in Lviv. The people of the city reported hearing him loudly sing Psalms after he was tortured. His torturers reportedly thought he had gone insane. He died from starvation after being immured in the prison walls. The official date of his death was 14 October 1949.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 27, 2001.