Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Kinds of Faith, an excerpt from “THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL

It is obvious, according to the Holy Fathers, that there are two kinds of faith. The first is rational faith, called faith from hearing, and is introductory faith, simple faith. The second is faith based on the vision of God (theoria); it is the faith of the perfect and that which saves man. There is no antithesis between the two kinds of faith. The former is introductory and the latter the result of the former. Thus we accept the faith of the Holy Fathers of the Church in order to cleanse our hearts from passions and to successfully follow the stage of purification. And when this is achieved, we shall then reach illumination of the nous, which is the second faith, the so-called faith based on theoria. When Adam was created by God, he was at the illumination of the nous. But after the Fall he was subjected to various passions. So, now we need the correct faith in order to reach the faith based on theoria, that is the illumination of the nous, and from there to the vision of God. The first faith opens unto us the way towards cure and the second faith is the fruit and result of man's cure.

James, the brother of God, speaks of the first faith, which, however, needs works to purify man. He says: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2,26). Both the theoretical acceptance of faith through hearing and the works which it entails are necessary for us so as to be purified and healed. The Apostle Paul speaks of perfect faith, faith based on the vision of God, when he says: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom.3,28). Many Christians think that the brother of God James contradicts the Apostle Paul. Interpreting the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, Luther, in particular, reached the point of speaking only about faith without works; he was ignorant of the fact that the Apostle Paul means therein the faith from theoria-vision of God, which is beyond the works of the Law. He does not say that there is no need for the works of the Law. Both the first faith and the works are necessary for us to pass the stage of purification of the heart correctly and effectively. When this is accomplished, we reach the illumination of the nous, whose characteristic is noetic ceaseless prayer. This is faith from theoria, which is a surpassing and not an abolishment of the works of the Law.

Thus I do not see any difference between the statements: "Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science and treatment" and "Orthodoxy is faith". They are connected with each other. Detaching one from the other entails a heretical life. We can say precisely the same thing about the term "Orthodox theology."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nothing New About "New Age" Thought

I have a real aversion to things which echo “new age” sentiments. I have seen it destroy people’s lives just like false notions of “religion” bring about many delusions, prejudices and destructive tendencies.

At this point we have all heard of Rhonda Byrne’s problematic book “The Secret”. It is a typical new age book that resurrects old ideas rooted in gnostic thought. A true and viable alternative to such nonsense is the work, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives the Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica”.

Instead of the notion that our mere thoughts create our destiny Elder Thaddeus gives us a sober view of purifying the mind from harmful thoughts sparked by inherent passions and dark spiritual energies and corruption of this world (logismoi). Instead of Byrne’s self exaltation, delusion and falsehoods promoting humans to a God-like status, as if we are creators such as God, Elder Thaddeus gives us holy wisdom that has been passed down since the inception of the faith.

“The Secret” promotes delusion, arrogance, pride, false hopes and promises of a fruitful existence. Elder Thaddeus’s experience promotes humility, cleansing of the mind, repentance and a healthy view of God and creation, making no arrogant promises. The only promise he gives is that we must struggle in the arena of our existence to draw near to God.

As Christians, must wholly reject methods of the “new age” submitting ourselves to the Divine Providence of God by relying on the grace of our Lord for all healing which may or may not take place. Many of these new age practices include energy work, psychic entrapments, false hopes, fantasies and delusions and practices are incompatible with the true catholic faith. In regards to spiritual practices we rely on the gifts granted to us and maintained in the Church of Christ made manifest through scripture, tradition, the sacraments, personal and communal prayer, hope in our Lord and the intercession He often allows.

This spirit is what is called the “new age”. It is simply a modern manifestation of age old heresies, deceit, and spiritual destruction. The new age is essentially a spirit of error and destruction which continually re-invents itself in a loose, but powerful, network of satanic entrapments, deceit and false promises leading the soul away from its only source of redemption and healing and restoration to the pre-fallen state, that of Christ. It substitutes truth for error or ambiguity, blending truth with falsehood in order to ensnare the will in a decision between the Almighty God and the fallen one. It seeks to exploit our inherent weaknesses and our human failure. It is in part the cause of sin, or at least the promotion of it, and therefore the reason for sickness and death of the soul. It tries to extinguish the True Light in a world of darkness. "The True Light that enlightens every man" and "that all who believe in His name may become the children of God" (John 1:9-12). It seeks to pit the created against the Uncreated. They seek the destruction of the essence by sowing seeds of discord. It is a mode of thought and action which is detrimental to the soul. Ambiguous, deceitful, cunning, full of lies and has a goal of having all under its hellish jurisdiction. It seeks the ruin of man and his entrapment either willingly or by trickery and deceit. It does not discriminate for it wants to destroy man who is created in the image and likeness of the One, Eternal God. It seeks to lead away even the elect by creating barriers between man and his redemption.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Letter written by the wife of the Newly Martyred Moscow priest, Matushka Julia Sysoieva

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your support and prayers. This is the pain which cannot be expressed in words. This is the pain experienced by those who stood at the Cross of the Saviour. This is the joy which cannot be expressed in words, this is the joy experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb.

O death, where is thy sting? Fr Daniel had already foreseen his death several years before it happened. He had always wanted to be worthy of a martyr's crown. Those who shot him wanted, as usual, to spit in the face of the Church, as once before they spat in the face of Christ. They have not achieved their goal, because it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. Fr Daniel went up to his Golgotha in the very church which he had built, the church to which he gave up all his time and all his strength. They killed him like the prophet of old – between the temple and the altar and he was indeed found worthy of a martyr's calling. He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength. Very often he would say to me that he was frightened of not having enough time, time to do everything. He was in a hurry. Sometimes, as a human-being he exaggerated, he got things wrong, he tripped up and made mistakes, but he made no mistake about the main thing, his life was entirely dedicated to HIM.

I did not understand why he was in a hurry. The last three years he was busy serving, never taking days off or taking holidays. I moaned, just now and again I wanted simple happiness, that my husband and my children's father would be with my children and me. But another path had been prepared for him. He used to say that they would kill him. I would ask him who would look after us. Me and the three children. He would answer that he would put us in safe hands. 'I'll give you to the Mother of God. She'll take care of you'. These words were forgotten too soon. He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury who. He said that I would bury him.

Once our conversation turned to funerals, I don't remember the details but I did say that I had never been to a priest's funeral. And he answered that it did not matter because I would be at his funeral.

Now I remember many words which have gained a meaning. Now my doubts have dissolved, the misunderstandings have gone. We did not say goodbye in this life, we did not ask each other forgiveness, we did not embrace one another. It was just another day: in the morning he went to the liturgy and I did not see him again. Why didn't I go to the church that day to meet him? I had thought of it, but I decided I had better get the evening meal ready and put the children to bed. It was because of the children that I did not go there. There was a hand that did not let me go. But the evening before I had gone to the church and met him. I had felt as if dark clouds were gathering over us. And in the last few days I had tried to spend more time with him. Over the last week I had thought only about death and about life after death. I couldn't get my head around either the first or the second. That day my head was spinning with the words: 'Death is standing right behind you'.

The last week everything was so hard, as if a huge load had been emptied out on top of me. I am not broken. He is supporting me, I feel as if he is standing by me. Then we said so many affectionate words, which we had never said to each other in our whole life before. Only now do I understand how much we loved each other. The memorial service for the forty days of Fr Daniel takes place on the eve of his namesday and the patronal feast of the future church, 29 December, and 30 December is the feast of the holy prophet Daniel. According to the prophecy of an elder, the church would be built but Fr Daniel would not serve in it. The second part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

“Concerning Repentance and Spiritual Warfare” by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov

The whole of our earthy life, from birth to our last breath, in the end will look like one concise act. Its content and quality will be seen in a flash. Imagine a glass of the clearest crystal full of water. A glance will tell whether the water is clean or not. So will it be with us when we have crossed into another sphere. The most transitory reflex of heart or mind leaves its mark on the sum total of our life. Suppose that just once in the entire course of my existence I have a moment’s wicked impulse, say, to murder. Unless I reject the idea from my heart in an act of contrition, it will remain with me, a black stain impossible to hide. ‘For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known’ (Luke 12.2).

We often comfort ourselves with the thought that no one saw what we did or knows what we think. But when we look upon this life as a preparation for eternity; when we strive to get rid of the dark places within us, the picture changes.‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1.8,9). When we repent, resolutely condemning ourselves before God and man, we are cleansed within. The water in the glass is purified, having been passed through the spiritual filter of repentance. So when I make my confession I convict myself of every evil because there is no sin in all the world of which I am not guilty, even if only for a second. Who can be quite certain that he is altogether free from the power of passionate thoughts? And if for a fleeting moment I have been held by an evil thought, where is the guarantee that this moment will not be transmuted into eternity? Therefore, in so far as we can see ourselves we must thoroughly confess our sins, lest we carry them with us after our death.Straightforward resistance is not always the most successful way of trying to defeat wicked or simply idle thoughts.

Often the best method is to stay our minds on the ‘good pleasure of the Father’s will’ (cp. Eph. 1.5) for us. To conduct our lives fittingly, it is of cardinal importance to know that before the very creation of the world we were intended to be perfect. To belittle God’s initial idea for us is not just mistaken: it is a sin. Because we do not see in ourselves, and still less in our fellow men, any permanent virtue, we behave towards each other like jungle beasts. O what a paradox is man- to contemplate him provokes both delighted wonder and consternation at his savage cruelty! The soul is constrained to pray for the world but her prayer will never fully achieve her purpose, since nothing and no one can deprive man of his freedom to give in to evil, to prefer darkness to light (cf. John 3.19).Prayer offered to God in truth is imperishable. Now and then we may forget what we have prayed about but God preserves our prayer for ever.

On the Day of Judgement all the good that we have done during our lives will stand at our side, to our glory. And vice versa: the bad, if unrepented, will condemn and cast us into outer darkness. Repentance can obliterate the effects of sin. By Divine power life may be restored in all its plenitude- not, however, by unilateral intervention on God’s part but always and only in accord with us. God does nothing with man without man’s co-operation.God’s participation in our individual life we call Providence. This Providence is not like heathen Fate: at certain crucial moments we do, indeed, decide for ourselves on one or other course. When we are faced with various possibilities our choice should be conditioned by the final aim that we have in view: the Kingdom of the Father. But too often we are influenced by other, more temporary considerations, and we turn aside from the true path offered to us by God, on to false tracks which will not lead to the hoped-for dawn. In any case, whatever we choose, suffering is inevitable. But when we opt for the way of God our sacrifice likens us to Christ. ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done’ (Luke 22.42).

When it is given to man to know the overriding value of prayer as compared with any other activity, be it in the field of science, the arts, medicine or social or political work, it is not difficult to sacrifice material well-being for the sake of leisure to converse with God. It is a great privilege to be able to let one’s mind dwell on the everlasting, which is above and beyond all the most splendid achievements of science, philosophy, the arts, and so on. At first the struggle to acquire this privilege may seem disproportionately hard; though in many cases known to me the pursuit of freedom for prayer became imperative.Prayer affords an experience of spiritual liberty of which most people are ignorant. The first sign of emancipation is a disinclination to impose one’s will on others. The second- an inner release from the hold of others on oneself. Mastery over the wish to dominate is an extremely important stage which is closely followed by dislike of constraining our brother. Man is made in the image of God, Who is humble but at the same time free.

Therefore it is normal and natural that he should be after the likeness of His Creator- that he should recoil from exercising control of the presence of the Holy Spirit within him. Those who are possessed by the lust for power cloud the image of God in themselves. The light of true life departs, leaving a tormenting void, a distressing tedium. Life is bereft of meaning. When the Holy Spirit by its gentle presence in our soul enables us to master our passions we realise that to look down on others is contrary to the spirit of love. And if I have not charity everything else- even the gifts of prophecy, of understanding all mysteries, or of performing miracles- profits me nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13.1-3).Spiritual freedom is a sublime grace. Without it there is no salvation- salvation revealed to us as the deification of man, as the assimilation by man of the divine form of being. It is essential that man of his own free will should determine himself for all eternity. The one true guide in the fight to fulfil this ineffably high calling is the bondage of corruption, waiting for deliverance which will come through ‘the manifestation of the sons of God’ (cf. Rom. 8.19-23).

It is sad to see that hardly anyone perceives what the genuine, divinely royal freedom of ‘sons of God’ consists in. Intense prayer can so transport both heart and mind, in their urgent desire for the eternal, that the past fades into oblivion and there is no thought of any earthly future- the whole inner attention is concentrated on the one interest, to become worthy of God. It is a fact that the more urgent our quest for the infinite, the more slowly we seem to advance. The overwhelming contrast between our own nothingness and the inscrutable majesty of the God Whom we seek makes it impossible to judge with any certainty whether we are moving forward or sliding back. In his contemplation of the holiness and humility of God, man’s spiritual understanding develops more quickly than does his ability to harmonise his conduct with God’s word. Hence the impression that the distance separating him from God continually increases. The analogy is remote but this phenomenon is known to every genuine artist or scientist. Inspiration far outstrips the capacity to perform. It is normal for the artist to feel his objective slipping farther and farther from his grasp. And if it is thus in the field of art, it is still more so where knowledge of the unoriginate inapprehensible Divinity is concerned. Every artist knows the torment of trying to materialise his aesthetic vision.

The soul of the man of prayer is often even more dreadfully racked. The dismay that invades him when he sees himself in the grip of base passions drives him ever deeper into the core of his being. This concentration within may take the form of a cramp whereby heart, mind and body are contracted together, like a tightly clenched fist. Prayer becomes a wordless cry, and regret for the distance separating him from God turns to acute grief. To behold oneself in the black pit of sin, cut off from the Holy of holies is distressing indeed.Prayer often proceeds without words. If there are words they come slowly, with long pauses between. Our human word is the image of the Word that was ‘in the beginning’. When words reflect intellectual knowledge they undoubtedly have metaphysical roots, especially where knowledge of God is involved.

In this connection the fathers of the Church, in an endeavour to express the inexpressible in concepts and modes within the limits of our worldly experience, suggested a certain parallel between the God-the-Father and God-the-Word relationship and the correlation of our mind and our word. They distinguished between the inner, immanent word of our mind- the έμφυτος logos and the word pronounced, expressed- the έναρθρος logos. The former manifests a certain analogy with God-the-Word ‘which is in the bosom of the Father’ (John 1.18); the latter can be seen as an analogy of the incarnation. And if in His incarnation as the Son of man He could say: ‘My Father is greater than I’ (John 14.28). Thus the human word uttered aloud conveys less than divine reality, knowledge of which was given in visions and revelations to the prophets, apostles and fathers. However, the vision when proclaimed was diminished more for the hearer than for the prophets themselves, since the revelation prompting the words was not lessened for them with their utterance. Just as for the Father the Incarnation did not diminish the Son.

Throughout the ages the doctors of the Church sought ways and means whereby to communicate to the world their knowledge concerning Divine Being. In their attempts they constantly found themselves torn between unwillingness to abandon their imageless contemplation of the essentially one and only mystery, and the love which impelled them to communicate the mystery to their brethren. God did, and does indeed, constrain His saints to tell of the gifts from on High. We see how this affected St Paul: ‘For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have reward’- an effusion of grace- ‘but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me’ (1 Cor. 9.16,17).

Thus it was with many ascetics through the centuries of Christian history. We note the same feature in Staretz, who writes: ‘My soul doth love the Lord, and how may I hide this fire which warms my soul? How shall I hide the Lord’s mercies in which my soul delights? How can I hold my peace, with my soul captive to God? How shall I be silent when my spirit is consumed day and night with love for Him?’Impossible to keep silent; impossible to give voice. And this not only because words fail but also because the Divine Spirit inclines the mind to profound stillness, carrying one into another world. Again, blessed Staretz Silouan says: ‘The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit, and we learned the song of the Lord and so we forget the earth for sweetness of the love of God…

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unseen Warfare - St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

"There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflexions, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body. Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in church. And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence. But the majority limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation. Yet all these virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only a means and a method for acquiring it.

"You must learn that perfection consists in nothing but coming near to God and union with Him, as was said in the beginning. With this is connected a heartfelt realization of the goodness and greatness of God, together with the consciousness of our own nothingness and our proneness to every evil .... This is the law of love, inscribed by the finger of God Himself in the hearts of His true servants ! This is the renunciation of ourselves that God demands of us! This is the blessed yoke of Jesus Christ and His burden that is light! This is the submission to God's will, which our Redeemer and Teacher demands from us both by His word and by His example!

"Do you now see what all this means, brother? I presume that you are longing to reach the height of such perfection. Blessed be your zeal! But prepare yourself also for labor, sweat and struggle from your first steps on the path. You must sacrifice everything to God and do only His will. Yet you will meet in yourself as many wills as you have powers and wants. Therefore, to reach your desired aim, it is first of all necessary to stifle your own wills and finally to extinguish and kill them altogether. And in order to succeed in this, you must constantly oppose all evil in yourself and urge yourself towards good. In other words, you must ceaselessly fight against yourself and against everything that panders to your own wills that incites and supports them. So prepare yourself for this struggle and this warfare and know that the crown--attainment of your desired aim--is given to none except to the valiant among warriors and wrestlers.

"But if this is the hardest of all wars... victory in it is the most glorious of all .... If you really desire to be victorious in this unseen warfare and be rewarded with a crown, you must plant in your heart the following four dispositions and spiritual activities, as it were arming yourself with invisible weapons, the most trustworthy and unconquerable of all, namely:
-never rely on yourself in anything;

-bear always in your heart a perfect and all-daring trust in God alone;

-strive without ceasing; and-remain constantly in prayer.

"You must know that progress on the path of spiritual life differs greatly from an ordinary journey on earth. If a traveler stops on his ordinary journey, he loses nothing of the way already covered; but if a traveler on the path of virtue stops in his spiritual progress, he loses much of the virtues previously acquired .... In an ordinary journey, the further the traveler proceeds, the more tired he becomes; but on the way of spiritual life the longer a man travels, reaching forth unto those things which are before, the greater the strength and power he acquires for his further progress.

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but...against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12) So this spiritual warfare of ours must be constant and never ceasing, and should be conducted with alertness and courage in the soul; they can easily be attained, if you seek these gifts from God. So advance into battle without hesitation. Should you be visited by the troubling thought of the hatred and undying malice, which the enemies harbour against you, and of the innumerable hosts of the demons, think on the other hand of the infinitely greater power of God and of His love for you, as well as of the incomparable greater hosts of heavenly angels and the prayers of saints. They all fight secretly for us and with us against our enemies, as it is written, The Lord wil1 have war with Amalek from generation to generation (Ex. 17:16). How many weak women and small children were incited to fight by the thought of this powerful and ever ready help! And they got the upper hand and gained victory over all the wisdom of the world, all the wiles of the devil and all the malice of hell."

News Video on the martydom of Father Daniil Sysoyev

Monday, November 23, 2009

Father Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009) - Memory Eternal!

Sad news indeed, a martyr for the faith last week. Let us pray for him and carry on his missionary zeal to bring others to Christ. Memory Eternal Father Daniil!
More can be found at: