REMEMBERING DEATH

“My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.” (Kontakion-hymn, Great Canon of St. Andrew) Whether we like it or not, our mortality, or the fact that we will all, indeed, die a physical death, is something with which we are confronted more and more as we age. This fact really begins to “hit home” for many of us when we lose a parent, or notice our parents ageing. Psychologists observe that such reminders of our own mortality often cause depression, existential angst, and various unhealthy behaviours in middle- aged people in o

WALKING ON PATHS UNKNOWN

“The Lord God of hosts shall go forth, and crush the war: he shall stir up jealousy, and shall shout mightily against his enemies… ‘…I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will cause them to walk paths which they have not known: I will turn darkness into light for them, and crooked things into straight. These things I will do, and will not forsake them. But they are turned back: be you utterly ashamed that trust in graven images, who say to the molten images, You are our gods.’” (Is 42: 13, 16-17, Septuagint-translation) I am often shocked, really, by the very “human” expressions of God’s divine zeal for saving us, His people. “I will do these things,” He promises, “and wi

THE GREAT CANON OF ST. ANDREW

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Lk 18: 10-13) Tonight in our churches we will be hearing the very long, “Great” Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. It contains many, many words: beautiful lamentations, biblical references, theological insights, and so on. It can be hard for us, wi

WHY “FEAR” GOD?

“In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and he leaves his children a support. The commandment of the Lord is a fountain of life; and it causes men to turn aside from the snare of death.” (Prov 14: 26-27, Septuagint-translation) “Fear” is a life-giving, God-given gift, essential for survival. It is an evolved capacity in the human being, so science tells us. But like other God-given gifts and drives, which I inherently have as a human being, fear becomes harmful to me when it is divorced from God; when it is not “of God” and takes on a life of its own. Inherent, human fear in a life not God-focused is crippling, existential anxiety in the face of the many uncertainties and ambivalences

THE DEAF AND DUMB SPIRIT

“And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.’” (Mk 9: 25-29) A “deaf and dumb spirit” afflicts me when I am unable to say what I need to say, for example, at confessio

UNREFLECTING FAITH

”In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, O full of grace (κεχαριτωμένη), the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” (Lk 1: 26-29) Mary was not an un-reflecting kind of person. She was “greatly troubled” by, and “considered in her mind,” what in the world an angel, – yes, an angel, no less, – was talking about. She needed to know more, because the “greeting” made no sense in the cont

SHARERS IN EVERLASTING LIFE

“Now the powers of heaven minister invisibly with us. For, behold, the King of Glory enters. Behold the mystical sacrifice, fully accomplished, is ushered in. Let us draw near in faith and love, that we may become sharers/partakers (μέτοχοι, причастники) in everlasting life. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” (Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Great Entrance hymn) This is the hymn we sing at the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, when the “mystical sacrifice” of the Body and Blood of Christ, the already-consecrated Gifts (consecrated at the Divine Liturgy of the previous Sunday), are transferred in a solemn procession from the Prothesis-table to the Holy Table in the altar. Here the un

PLACING HOPE IN FALSEHOOD

“Therefore hear the word of the Lord, afflicted people, and rulers of the people that are in Jerusalem. Because you have said, We have made a covenant with Hades, and agreements with death; if the rushing storm should pass, it shall not come upon us: we have made falsehood our hope, and by falsehood shall we be protected: Therefore thus says the Lord, even the Lord, Behold, I lay for the foundations of Sion a costly stone, a choice, a corner-stone, a precious stone, for its foundations; and he that believes on him shall by no means be ashamed. And I will cause judgment to be for hope, and my compassion shall be for just measures, and you that trust vainly in falsehood shall fall: for the sto

COVERING YOUR FATHER’S NAKEDNESS

“Now the sons of Noah which came out of the ark, were Sem, Ham, Japheth. And Ham was father of Canaan. These three are the sons of Noah, of these were men scattered over all the earth. And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunk, and was naked in his house. And Ham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father, and he went out and told his two brothers outside. And Sem and Japheth having taken a garment, put it on both their backs and went backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their face was backward, and they saw not the nakedness of their father. And Noah recovered from the wine, and knew all that his youn

GOD’S MANY SIGNS

“And the Lord God said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant which I set between me and you, and between every living creature which is with you for perpetual generations. I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of covenant between me and the earth. And it shall be when I gather clouds upon the earth, that my rainbow shall be seen in the cloud. And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you, and between every living soul in all flesh, and there shall no longer be water for a flood, so as to blot out all flesh.” (Gen 9: 12-15) So, a “rainbow in a cloud” is a special “sign of covenant,” of a certain kind of agreement, understanding, or, simply put, “connecti

EXTERNAL & INTERNAL BEAUTY

“As a ring in the snout of a pig, so is beauty in an ill-minded woman.” (Prov 11: 22, Septuagint-translation) Wow, that’s harsh. But wait a minute, and let’s think about what this passage says about physical beauty in human beings. Because it is talking about physical beauty in a person, – not only a woman, – whose internal disposition (“mind”) is “ill.” If you want to argue with that interpretation, and insist that this passage refers only to women, then go ahead and argue that the very first words of the Psalter, “Blessed is the man…” (Ps 1: 1), refer only to “men.” If you will not argue that, then let’s dispense with gender-specifics and talk about physical beauty in people in general. Ph

BEING ALONE vs. BEARING MUCH FRUIT

“And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life/soul (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ) will lose it; and whoever loses his life/soul for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life/soul? For what can a man give in return for his life/soul?’” (Mk 8: 34-37) This doesn’t make much sense, this talk about “losing” my “life/soul” in order to “save” it, – does it? Well, it does, if I remember that our Lord distinguishes between two kinds of “life/soul”: 1. the kind we all have whether we want it

HE ROSE AND CAME HOME

“And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes and the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well (οἱ ἰσχύοντες) have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες); I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (εἰς μετάνοιαν).” (Mk

THE SIXTH & NINTH HOURS

“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘

OUR DAILY BREAD

“Give us this day our daily (τὸν ἐπιούσιον) bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” (Mt 6: 11-12) Yesterday I reflected on an unhealthy, deadly kind of “bread” that is Internet porn. Today I’d like to reflect on the vital, essential, “daily bread,” suitable to our nature both now and in the life to come (according to the many explanations one finds in the Fathers, of the term “τὸν ἐπιούσιον”), which we are called to ask for and desire. One of the great things about Lent, I find, is that it teaches me to pay closer attention to my “food-choices,” both physical and spiritual. As far as physical “bread” goes, let me gratefully note that God provides i

INTERNET PORN, THE “SECRET BREAD”

“A foolish and bold woman, who knows not modesty, comes to want a morsel. She sits at the doors of her house, on a seat openly in the streets, calling to passers by, and to those that are going right on their ways; saying, Whoever is most senseless of you, let him turn aside to me; and I exhort those that want prudence, saying, Take and enjoy secret bread, and the sweet water of theft. But one knows that mighty men die by her, and that one falls in with a snare of hell. But hasten away, delay not in the place, neither fix your eye upon her: for thus shall you go through strange water; but do abstain from strange water, and drink not of a strange fountain, that you may live long, and years of

THE FORTY DAYS

“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Gen 7: 11-12) Here’s a strange thought. These “forty days and forty nights,” mentioned in our Church’s reading for today, during Lent, remind me of the 40 days of Lent. But is that really strange, to connect these two? No, I don’t think so. Because Scripture, along with other parts of Tradition, like Lent, is handed down to me, so I can make connections and “recognize” One-and-the-Same God working and speaking through it, yesterda

HUMILITY, AN ELUSIVE THING

“But grant unto me, Your servant, a spirit of chastity (σωφροσύνης, whole-mindedness, цело-мудрия), humility (ταπεινοφροσύνης, humble-mindedness, смиренно-мудрия), patience and love.” (Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem, part 2) Humility is an elusive kind of thing, hard to define. It is also easy to mistake some “humility-counterfeit” for actual humility. For example, I might imagine I am being “humble,” while actually escaping responsibility, according to my vocation, or donning a mask I have concocted, just not to be who I am called to be in my God-given place, time, and identity. As G. K. Chesterton famously noted, “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved fro

WE SHOULD HAVE SUCH A HIGH PRIEST

“For it was fitting that we should have such a Ηigh Priest (τοιοῦτος…ἀρχιερεύς), holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like high priests (ὥσπερ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς), to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all (ἐφάπαξ) when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.” (Hebr 7: 26-28) We do, indeed, have many priests and “high” priests (e.g., bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, etc.). These are “men” appointed “in their weakness,”

IDLE WORDS

“O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not the spirit of idleness (ἀργίας, праздности), despondency, lust of power, and idle talk / idle words (ἀργο-λογίας, праздно-словия).“ (Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem, part 1) It is important for us to talk and to share with one another our thoughts, sorrows, joys, and so on. No doubt about it. In fact I think we don’t do enough of that today, when we are so often “alone together,“ even as a family, with each member staring into his or her computer/phone while sitting at the same table. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as “idle talk/words,“ so let me reflect on that a bit. What is it? Just like “idleness” (ἀργία, from ἀ-ἐργία, or “not doing”) means “no

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