Monday, December 11, 2017

What are the Major Steps of the Spiritual Life?


Fr Staniloae gives us a clear view to answer this question  He says there are two phases. The first is the practical phase and the second is the contemplative phase.

The practical phase involves taking actions that help a believer overcome their attachment to passions and progressively learning to practice the virtues leading to love. The purpose of this phase is to become liberated from the passions. The mind must be cleansed and become dispassionate so it can go onto the last phase of contemplation undisturbed by passions. 
He says, 
"Only a clean shinny mirror, unspotted by passionate attachment to things of the world, is capable of receiving divine knowledge."
The contemplative phase is an exclusive focus on God. It is a "reintegration, unity and simplicity." The mind becomes empty, cleansed of passions, quiet with peace and tranquility, now able to receive and accept divine knowledge.

There is a final stage which he calls the theological or mystical contemplation of God.

In the beginning our aim is purification. We must first strive to become able to live the virtues as tough by Jesus Christ. It is the virtues that combat the passions. So it is like a two dimension struggle. Pursue a virtue and eliminate a passion.

When we move towards contemplation we begin to see the reality of the universe. Our object is the "logo" of created things. This is the true meaning of them in eyes of God. One begins to see everything from a spiritual perspective.

Once the inner nature of things is known, then one enters into the understanding of mystical knowledge of God Himself. He says this is "an ecstasy of love, which persists unmoved in a concentration on God."

These steps are similar to the idea of purification, illumination and perfection which was used by Dionysius the Areopagite.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 69-73

Monday, December 4, 2017

Build Faith and Overcome Anxiety


We all know that faith is the foundation we need to be united with God. It's important to examine our faith and become clear about how true it is. As the Scripture asks, “Are you anxious about your life?” As you reflect on all your worries remember God knows all your needs. Worry will bring you no relief but remembering God, giving thanks, and seeking comfort and His grace, there is nothing that can cause us to worry.

We develop our faith by participating in the sacramental life of the church, especially regular participation in Holy Communion and Holy Confession. Also, we need a daily prayer life, in fact a life of prayer. The church fathers teach us the Jesus Prayer, which after repeating it over and over with our love of God and sincere desire to be united with Him, becomes a way to connect with God instantly in our most difficult moment.
Of course, if we have a heart clouded by bodily passions and self-centered desires, we cannot see God. Therefore, we seek His grace, the Holy Spirit, to help us. To strengthen our own will so we can cooperate with His will we must fast as is shown on our Church Calendar, especially on Wednesday and Friday. Fasting is an important means to gain greater self-control and humility.

As we gain spiritual strength, our faith becomes strong. Then God allows His grace to flow through us and we become more able to do His will, not out of sense of obligation, but because we love God so much and have an unquenchable desire to be united with Him.

John Cassin writes,
Unless the grace of God comes to the help of our frailty, to protect and defend it, no man can withstand the insidious onslaughts of the enemy nor can he damp down or hold in check the fevers which burn in our flesh with nature's fire.

Conferences, Conference Two: On Discernment, Paulist Press pg. 74, 5th century
Ten Points for Orthodox Way of Life

Friday, November 24, 2017

How do you show a martyr's spirit in daily life?t



When we read about the martyrs of our faith don't we wonder how this virtuous action applies to us in our daily life?

As an example of martyrdom in our daily life, Elder Aimilianos told the following story :
Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn't be late. On the way, I asked the driver:
"Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?"
You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home.
"Every day" he told me, "both lunch and dinner."
"How do you manage it? What time do you eat?"
"Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning."
Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn't this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love.
Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one's own selfish needs for the benefit of another.

Think of some ways you show the spirit of martyrdom in your life. 

Reference: The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, pg 160 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Modern frustrations


Why do so many people think everything is on the wrong track? It has nothing to do with the economy or the government. The problem today is that society as a whole has moved away from a spiritual grounding. Now everyone expects happiness and well being to come from material benefits. Also strangers are no longer God's children but soulless individuals, objects, and many are seen as a threat to our material way of life. To think that a government leader can make us feel better is misguided thinking. Politics has become too important! Let's focus on the message of Christ and our individual spiritual growth. This must be our aim, to become united with Him.

Our problem has nothing to do with our physical or material well being. Our problem is a sickness of the soul. Our soul is clouded and distorted by our earthly passions and desires. The soul longs for its reunion with God, its natural state. The healing of this spiritual illness is what will lead us to peace and joy no matter what difficulties we face. This healing has nothing to do with governmental action. It requires sincere prayer and worship with a spirit of humility with continual repentance.

What we seek can be found in the Church and it's sacramental life where we are nurtured by the a Holy Spirit. When we know God we see all our shortcomings and begin to recognize the yearning of our soul to be perfected to be reunited with Christ. We begin to seek repentance and to eagerly come to worship and receive Christ Himself through our regular participation in Holy a Communion. We learn how to pray seeking the gift of His Grace instead of earthly benefits. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.

If you seek true happiness, joy and peace, practice the Orthodox way of life.

Ten points for an Orthodox way of Life

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer Is About Silence



When we begin to pray we experience prayer as a struggle. Because of our love and intense desire to be in communion with God we cry out to Him. This is a cry that comes from the depth of our heart. But when we find that our cry is not being heard what do we do?


Elder Aimilianos says the following:
It has to be transformed, reversed—into silence within an atmosphere of silence. God is the God of those who live in tranquility and silence.
This may seem contradictory. First we cry our from our depths with intense desire but then we change our direction to silence. But this is not a contradiction. It is a transformation. We must transform from trying to speak, to intent listening. This requires silence. It’s a sequence of successive steps.

The Elder says,
Everybody’s got to stop, including you, if you want to hear the other person. And if they are talking, the first thing you’ll say is “Shh!” and then you’ll speak, to make yourself heard. It’s this experience and this reality that we’ll go through when our soul has recourse to God, too.
What he is talking about is a progression in our prayer. We are making a monvement toward God. This happens in silence.

He says,
When prayer is about to leave from inside us, to become, truly, a movement towards God, then we will see a “silence within silence”. Absolute silence, in other words.
This means we have to learn to learn how to pray in silence while surrounded with noise. It helps to find a quiet place to pray as Jesus instructed His followers. He used to go away from the crowd to pray where it was quiet. This why it is best to pray at night or early in the morning when your surrounding are quieter.

If we are following our breath while saying the Jesus prayer there is a cycle of crying out and silence. When we breath we inhale and then exhale. There is a midway point where we make a transition, an interval between these two movements. It is in the interval that we can find silence and listen for God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
I have to learn to keep this interval, this tuning, this setting of the ear, and then I’ll see that this is a fundamental thing in prayer, not the sound of my own voice... I have to learn to be silent, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God.
Resource: The Authentic Seal, pp 205-206
More on Prayer

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Needed: A Renewed Approach for Orthodox Sunday School


I am greatly saddened at the lack of understanding of our Orthodox faith by many of our members. We are not teaching the faith to our children and they are becoming lukewarm Christians from observing their parents and then become Nones, not attached to a church, when they go off to college. Change is needed - Change in the curriculum and in our teaching methods. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.

In our secular schools teachers have learned how to deal with the short attention spans of our youth. They know the class has to be entertaining and interactive and the parents involved. They have been learning to use new technologies to assist them. In our Orthodox Sunday Schools we need to learn from them and adopt their methods.

First, we must learn to integrate video interactive smart boards and smart phone/tablets into our lessons. We can now link our efforts with smart phones all kids have now days for further interaction in the classroom (some schools
have tablets like iPads as a part of classroom equipment). But more is needed. In addition to engaging our children in the classroom we need to engage them in learning throughout the week along with their parents. Today we have the tools to do this with texting, email, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, YouTube and others. Our Archdiocese has developed many short and entertaining videos in series like Be the Bee that should be integrated into or lesson plans as well as those created by teachers and students. A teacher who cares will learn to not just engage our kids in the short time on Sunday but also during the week as well. Interaction between classmates and parents can nowadays occur anytime, not just in the classroom. There are platforms that allow for sharing of all forms of media and all types of interaction. Videos can be shared to be viewed before coming to class and class time can then be used for more interactive activities like skits, role playing, making videos and so forth. 

In addition we need to rethink our curriculum. There are three stages that need to be taught: 1. The Orthodox way of life; 2. the history of the Church and how the truth of the work of the Apostles has been preserved; and finally, how our Orthodox faith differs from what other Christian Churches teach. The Orthodox way of life, which includes participation in the Sacraments, daily prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and lives of the saints, and being aware of the liturgical cycle and seasons, can be taught in the lower grades along with the motivation of the Lords Prayer and the Creed. In the intermediary grades a comprehensive study of the history of the Church beginning with the life of Christ, the book of Acts and then the early Christian life, the Councils, the Byzantine Church up to our present day Church. In the 11&12th grade the focus can be on a deeper discussion of our faith and how it differs from other Western Churches. (There is an excellent book by Fr Andrew Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, that can be used to help build specific lessons) in this way our children will have the “tools” of a sound practice of the Orthodox Way of life, an assurance of the continuity of Truth received from Christ and His Apostles by understanding Christian history, and knowledge to effectively interact with those of other Christian Churches knowing how to counteract their misguided teaching after they graduate from High School and leave the shelter of home. Of course all this needs to be done using the teaching methods stated in the beginning and keeping the parents involved.

We cannot sit by and blame the inattentiveness of the students or lack of involvement by the parents. We need to recognize the forces of Protestantism, atheism, and relativism found in our modern world and proactively take counter measures. Salvation is at stake in our efforts. The aim of theosis must be made clear and the power of the Church, the Body of Christ, understood so our youth can surrender their self-centeredness to His teachings and fully utilize the means He has made available to us in the teachings of the Church through the Orthodox way of life.

Ten Points for Orthodox Way of life
Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
Smartboards

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Does Prayer Begin?


Once we realize how great is the gap between our earthly being and the transcendent and all powerful God, we begin to appreciate how little we know about God. We come to terms with the limitations of our intellect and our rational powers.

Edlder Aimilians says,
We don't know God. We live in total ignorance, in what is essentially total oblivion. I neither remember God nor know Him. This is why I cry all the time, so that He can feel sorry for me and can answer me. And when God answers I can strike up a conversation. That is how prayer starts!

The beginning of prayer is a movement from the deepest part of our being. It's a humble cry for help. In the beginning prayer can be expressed in many ways. It can begin with the words we express with our mouths, reading the prayers of the psalms or the Church. This can be an outward verbal expression or one that is said silently from inside ourselves. What is important is that the prayer is sincere, based on our faith and coming from our inner depth. The key is for us to pray with this depth so that we eventually become aware that it is the spirit within us that speaks.

Elder Aimilianos says,
What matters is that there should issue forth a cry from the depths, which is like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake, should shake the heavens and make God answer, in the end, and say to us: Are you shouting to me? Why?
The beginning of prayer involves this intense longing to communicate with God. It is an urgent cry and a persistent one. Always based on a humble view of our reality in relationship with Him. It makes no difference how we try to express this, whether standing, sitting, or lying prostrate on our belly. It must be a cry that God cannot ignore.

The Elder says,
We should learn to seek Him. Because if God were to surrender to us immediately, before we did any of these things... we'd cast Him off as easily as we'd won Him, because we would not know His true value... God wants us to sense Him first from the depths of our beings which we raise up to Him.
The first thing is to experience prayer as a struggle. The second is a cry from the depths.

Reference:  The Authenic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 203-205.