Illumination

When a man detaches his mind from earth and opens it toward God with the desire to please Him, then God reveals His will in various ways. St. Peter of Damascus writes: “If a man has a full intention to please God, then God teaches him His will either through thoughts, through some other person, or through Holy Scripture.” Such a man becomes attentive and keen, and awaits God’s promptings from within and from without. For him, chance ceases to exist. The whole world becomes as a ten-stringed harp, which does not give out a single sound without the finger of God.

Source: The Prologue, April 10th

Death Unto Life

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).

Why does the sower cast wheat upon the ground? Does he do this so that the wheat will die and rot? No, he does this so that it will live and bear fruit. In sowing the seed, the sower does not think about the death and decay of the seed, but rather about its life and yield. Indeed, with joy does the sower sow his seed, not thinking about the death of the seed, but rather about life and fruitfulness.

The Sower is Christ the Lord and men are His wheat. He was pleased to call us wheat. There are many other types of seed on earth, but nothing is more precious than wheat. Why did the Lord sow us throughout the world? So that we should die and decay? No, rather that we should live and bring forth fruit. He alludes to our death incidently. He alludes to death only as a condition for life and multiple yield. The goal of sowing is not death but life. The seed must first die and decay, and He mentions this only in passing because He knows we are fully aware of it. He only reminds us incidently of this, as His Gospel is primarily a narrative of life–about life and about bringing forth good fruit. He speaks to us a great deal about the latter because He knows we are not aware of it and that we are suffocating from ignorance and doubt. Not only does He speak to us abundantly about life, but He also shows us life. By His Resurrection, He demonstrates to us, more clearly than the sun, life and the multitude of fruit. The entire history of His Church is a clear map of life.

O invincible Lord of Life, save us from a sinful death. Deliver us from spiritual death.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Source: The Prologue, April 9

Conquering Voice

Elizaveta Yurievna Pilenko (1891-1945), murdered in the concentration camp at Ravensbrück who became known as Mother Mary Skobtsova of Paris, was, as is every saint in their own way, a conquering voice. The word of God proceeds from them, conquering sin and death both inside and outside the Church, and returns to God having accomplished the work for which it was sent.

“It would be a great lie to tell searching souls ‘go to church because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. Go to church because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There, instead of lukewarm, you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed. Instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ…

Freedom calls us to act the Fool for Christ’s sake, at variance with enemies and even friends, to develop the life of the Church in just that way in which it is most difficult. And we shall live as Fools, since we know not only the difficulty of this way of life, but also the exaltation of sensing God’s hand on our work.” — Mother Mary of Paris

Keep the Watch and See

25 And in the fourth watch of the night (fourth watch = 3-6am) he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14.25-31)

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The hours between 3am and 6am.

The passages of Scripture associated with this time are numerous.

Keeping watch is synonymous with vigilance. It involves the edge where the temptation to turn away and to give in to slumber is great. Here the struggle is real not theoretical. Here the challenge is to avow or deny. Peter denied Jesus at “cockcrow” – the dawn – during the fourth watch. Here is where the saying is true, “It is darkest before the dawn.”

Here is where, “a little before dawn” Jesus made His first resurrection appearance (Luke 24.1).

The struggle to trust and not fear.

It is here that we ask, “Was that real or did I dream it?!”

It is here that the shadow of death becomes the morning (Amos 5.8). This is the place where what God creates. The new day dawns for us (Psalm 118.24).

It is the “time between times.” The liminal place where the change from one thing to another takes place. It is the place of transformation.

The threshold. The doorway.

The baptismal font.

It is here that Jesus “stands at the door and knocks.”

How can we watch if our eyes are closed? How can we watch if we are blind? How can we watch unless we can see and choose to see?

So, it is here where the heart is purified and the eyes are healed. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” It is essential to keep watch in this place. To stand and having stood, to stand.

Let us open to Him. Let us be attentive ! !

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“So be ready in the morning to come up on Mount Sinai and to present yourself to Me there on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 34.1)

The morning watch is essential. You must not face the day until you have faced God, nor look into the face of others until you have looked into His. You cannot expect to be victorious, if the day begins only in your own strength.

Face the work of every day with the influence of a few thoughtful, quiet moments with your heart and God. Do not meet other people, even those of your own home, until you have first met the great Guest and honored Companion of your life–Jesus Christ.

Meet Him alone. Meet Him regularly. Meet Him with His open Book of counsel before you; and face the regular and the irregular duties of each day with the influence of His personality definitely controlling your every act.

Begin the day with God!
He is thy Sun and Day!
His is the radiance of thy dawn;
To Him address thy lay.
Sing a new song at morn!
Join the glad woods and hills;
Join the fresh winds and seas and plains,
Join the bright flowers and rills.
Sing thy first song to God!
Not to thy fellow men;
Not to the creatures of His hand,
But to the glorious One.
Take thy first walk with God!
Let Him go forth with thee;
By stream, or sea, or mountain path,
Seek still His company.
Thy first transaction be
With God Himself above;
So shall thy business prosper well,

And all the day be love.
–Horatius Bonar

The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early upon their knees. Matthew Henry used to be in his study at four, and remain there till eight; then, after breakfast and family prayer, he used to be there again till noon; after dinner, he resumed his book or pen till four, and spent the rest of the day in visiting his friends.

Doddridge himself alludes to his “Family Expositor” as an example of the difference of rising between five and seven, which, in forty years, is nearly equivalent to ten years more of life.

Dr. Adam Clark’s “Commentary” was chiefly prepared very early in the morning. Barnes’ popular and useful “Commentary” has been also the fruit of “early morning hours.”

Simeon’s “Sketches” were chiefly worked out between four and eight.

Source: Streams in the Desert, March 3, by Cowman

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As I rise from sleep, I thank Thee, O Holy Trinity, for through Thy great goodness and patience Thou wast not angry with me, an idler and sinner, nor hast Thou destroyed me with mine iniquities, but hast shown Thy usual love for mankind; and when I was prostrate in despair, Thou hast raised me up to keep the morning watch and glorify Thy power. And now enlighten my mind’s eye, and open my mouth that I many meditate on Thy words, and understand Thy commandments, and do Thy will, and hymn Thee, in heartfelt confession, and sing praises to Thine all-holy name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Source: Orthodox Morning Prayers

My brothers and sisters. The new day dawns. This prayer, along with all the prayers of the Morning Office, are to enter into, by repentance, the victorious life – the light of life – which is Christ Jesus. It is, for us, not the day of picnicking. It is the day of battle. The day to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in the arena.

11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13.11-14 — NKJV)

Is There Such a Thing as Too Gentle?

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.
–St. Seraphim of Sarov
Source: Enlarging the Heart (BTW, I am very grateful for this wonderful blogsite. It is a true blessing.)

The Simple Life – The Good Life

The gospel readings remind me that, in view of the fact that that this gospel could be “best understood” and “most effectively lived” by “uneducated men” (Acts 4.13), the commonest of people who populated ancient Palestine (the fools !!), it must be a matter of the heart not the head. It points to the presence of a deep intuition that is not acquired but already present though inaccessible to us. Not achieved via the doctorate or the tickling of the emotions, but via the heart and the pouring out of life via “two copper coins.”

There is one thing needful and one thing only – the simplicity and mysterious quietness of an unrelenting hunger and thirst for righteousness (right relationship of synergistic union). The spirit of Mary. My Martha self and its attachment tobookworm education and emotional comfort can be the biggest roadblocks (distractions) to “understanding” and “living (working) out” of salvation in course of everyday life.

Ironic that these two – education and emotional comfort – are among the major goals of our post-Enlightenment social matrix.

Perhaps this is what I need to fast from – educated-ness and the false comfort it offers.

I have too many books and not enough silence. I need to spend more time engaged in what Elder Sophrony taught rather than reading about what Elder Sophrony taught…

The permutations of my familiar demon – the educated Thomas – are seemingly endless.

Twists and turns abound… Perhaps my road to hell is lined with bookshelves and comfortable leather library chairs…

Someone has said to me about all of this, “God is simple and still. We can only be with Him if we are simple and still.”

God grant me the mercy of this fast — simplicity and stillness. Not to fix but to heal.

Shared Life

“…but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12.9 – RSV)

“MY grace is sufficient for you.”

I am bold enough to read that as “The grace which is ME living in you and expressing MYSELF through you, is sufficient for you.”

My sufficiency is participating with others in the “shared-life” of Christ Jesus. In so much as I do so (live out baptism by unceasing repentance) I actually share the life of Christ Jesus and HIS life is manifest through me; AND I actually realize and live into the shared-life with others that is ours in Christ Jesus.

“My Lord IS my life,” AND “My brother (and sister) IS my life.”

So, we share in life and life is shared through us.

Self Examination Instead of Judging

“You must look at your own conscience and judge yourself. This is your duty, and your most beneficial pursuit. This is your duty – but is it easily carried out? Will you ever reach the point of correctly judging yourself? Study a bit, and you will find out that, in the face of a multitude of cares about your own sins, you will find no time to take up the sins of others. Study a bit, and you will learn that a great deal of attention, labor, self-compulsion, and time are needed to discern the sins of your emotions, your imaginings, your thoughts, your desires, your intentions, your tongue, your sight and hearing, and your sense of touch. Go, study a bit more, and you will learn that if you know your own weaknesses and faults well, you will not be able to bring yourself to cast a severe sentence upon the deeds of others.” – St. Philaret of Chernigov

A Prayer at Daybreak

A word:
I am amazed at the exquisite tradition of prayer that is ours in the Body of Christ. It is good to continue to be surprised by the Spirit of God. The deeper into the Holy Tradition I journey, the more I realize that I need not “have a prayer of my own” to “have a prayer that expresses the fullness of my real life.” Does that make sense to you? It means I DO have a prayer that is very much “mine” because it has been, is, and will ever more be “ours.”
 

Here is one of THOSE prayers. It is the Prayer at Daybreak by Archimandrite Sophrony.

Perhaps you will join me in knowing it to be “my” perfect prayer and “your” perfect prayer because it is “our” perfect prayer.

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A Prayer at Daybreak

O Lord Eternal and Creator of all things,
Who of Thine inscrutable goodness didst call me to this life;
Who didst bestow on me the grace of Baptism
and the Seal of the Holy Spirit;
Who hast imbued me with the desire to seek Thee,
the one true God: hear my prayer.

I have no life, no light, no joy or wisdom;
no strength except in Thee, O God.
Because of my unrighteousness I dare not raise my eyes to Thee.
But Thou didst say to Thy disciples,
‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive’
and ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do’.
Wherefore I dare to invoke Thee.
Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit.
Teach me to pray aright.

Bless this day which Thou dost give unto me,
Thine unworthy servant. By the power of Thy blessing
enable me at all times to speak and act to Thy glory
with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love,
gentleness, peace, courage and wisdom:
aware always of Thy presence.

Of Thine immense goodness, O Lord God, shew me the path of Thy will,
and grant me to walk in Thy sight without sin.

O Lord, unto Whom all hearts be open,
Thou knowest what things I have need of.
Thou art acquainted with my blindness and my ignorance,
Thou knowest my infirmity and my soul’s corruption;
but neither are my pain and anguish hid from Thee.

Wherefore I beseech Thee, hear my prayer
and by Thy Holy Spirit teach me the way wherein I should walk;
and when my perverted will would lead me down other paths
spare me not, O Lord, but force me back to Thee.
By the power of Thy love, grant me to hold fast to that which is good.
Preserve me from every word or deed that corrupts the soul;
from every impulse unpleasing in Thy sight
and hurtful to my brother-man.
Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.
If it be Thy will that I make no answer,
inspire me to keep silent in a spirit of peace
that causeth neither sorrow nor hurt to my fellow.
Establish me in the path of Thy commandments
and to my last breath let me not stray from the light of Thine ordinances,
that Thy commandments may become the sole law of my being,
on this earth and in all eternity.

Yea, Lord, I pray Thee, have pity on me.
Spare me in mine affliction and my misery
and hide not the way of salvation from me.

In my foolishness, O God, I plead with Thee for many and great things.
Yet am I ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness.
Have mercy upon me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence because of my presumption.
Do Thou rather increase in me this presumption,
and grant unto me, the worst of men,
to love Thee as Thou hast commanded,
with all my heart, and with all my soul,
and with all my mind, and with all my strength:
with my whole being.

Yea, O Lord, by Thy Holy Spirit,
teach me good judgment and knowledge.
Grant me to know Thy truth before I go down into the grave.
Maintain my life in this world until I may offer unto Thee worthy repentance.
Take me not away in the midst of my days,
nor while my mind is still blind.
When Thou shalt be pleased to bring my life to an end,
forewarn me that I may prepare my soul to come before Thee.
Be with me, O Lord, at that dread hour
and grant me the joy of salvation.
Cleanse Thou me from secret faults,
from all iniquity that is hid in me;
and give me a right answer before Thy judgment-seat.

Yea, Lord, of Thy great mercy
and immeasurable love for mankind,

Hear my prayer.

Source: His Life is Mine, pg. 52-54, by Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York, 2001.

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