Archive for April, 2010

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Circumstances & Salvation

April 24, 2010

It is useless to accuse those around us and those who live with us of somehow interfering with or being an impediment to our salvation and spiritual perfection… Spiritual or emotional dissatisfaction comes from within ourselves, from inexperience and from poorly conceived opinions we do not want to abandon, but which bring on doubt, embarrassment, and misunderstanding.  All of this tires and burdens us, and brings us to a sorry state.  We would do well to comprehend the Holy Fathers’ simple advice: If we will humble ourselves, we will find tranquility anywhere, without having to mentally wander about many other places, where we might have the same, or even worse, experiences. – Elder Ambrose

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Angels & Monsters

April 23, 2010

Do you know the poem by Pushkin, “The Prophet”? He says there, “Through a dismal waste I dragged myself, fainthearted.” The desert—this is life. He understood this, that life is a desert. And he dragged himself along—he crawled with his whole body. Further, “And a six-winged Seraphim appeared where the pathways parted.” Here, perhaps, he has himself in mind; I don’t know whether one appeared to him or not. Then Pushkin draws a picture of the sanctification of an Old Testament prophet. It seems, or so they say, that he comprehended both “The angels in their soaring sweep,” and “The monsters moving in the deep.” Angels are pure—they only “philosophize celestially.” But in us there are also “the monsters moving in the deep.” These two currents run parallel in us. But we must endeavor only to “philosophize celestially.” This is not attained right away—but the movement of the monsters will become more and more quiet, and then one might reach the point when there will only be a heavenly yearning, and those monsters will dive into the abyss and vanish. Yes, it’s possible to attain to this. So here’s what I’m telling you—humble down and humble down! May the Lord help you! – Elder Barsanuphius of Optina

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Icons

April 18, 2010

And the aim of an icon is not to present you with a likeness of the person but with the message, to present you with a face that speaks to you in the same way in which a portrait is different from a snapshot. A snapshot is a very adequate image of the person photographed at a given moment. It’s exactly what at that given moment the person was, but it leaves out very often most of the personality of this particular person, while a good portrait is painted in the course of many sittings that allow the artist to look deeply into the face of a person, to single out features, which are fluid, which change, which move but which, each of them, express something of the personality. And so that the portrait is something much more composite, much more rich and much more adequate to the total personality than a snapshot would be although at no moment was this particular face exactly as the painter has represented it on the portrait. It is not an attempt at having a snapshot in color but of conveying a vision of what a person is.

Now, this being said, we treat icons with reverence, and a number of people in the West think that to us icons are very much what idols were in older times for pagan nations. They aren’t. They are not idols because they do not purport or even attempt at giving an adequate picture of the person concerned. This I have already mentioned abundantly but I will add this. Whether it is in words, in theological statements, in doctrinal statements, in the creeds, in the prayers and the hymns of the Churches, no attempt is ever made in the Orthodox Church at expressing, at giving a cogent, a complete image of what God is. Already in the fourth century St. Gregory of Nazianzen wrote that if we attempted to collect from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, from the experience of the Church, from the personal lives of saints, their sayings and their writings, all the features which reveal to us what and who God is and try to build out of them a completely coherent, complete picture of God, what we would have achieved is not a picture of God; it would be an idol because it would be on our scale, it would be as small as we are, indeed, smaller than we are because it could be contained in our vision, in our understanding. – Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

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Psalmody & Noetic Prayer

April 9, 2010

Psalmody is not suited (it is proper for beginners and the passionate) for constantly praying for one’s sins or against evil thoughts and the passions, because of the multitude of words employed, some to glorify God, others beholding His creatures or God’s dispensation and providence or His threats and promises or that He is pre-eternal and incomprehensible, and such things as these which the passionate and ailing mind cannot behold. In psalmody one’s thoughts fall into fantasy and only passively observe. A person thus only keeps to an external quantity and when he gets used to keeping it, he falls into a kind of complacent self-satisfaction and boasting of the heart of which St. John Climacus, who was experienced in such things, has said:

“Do not begin with being overly wordy, lest the mind be distracted by searching for words. A single word of the publican evoked the mercy of God and a single utterance saved the thief. A multitude of words has frequently distracted the mind and robbed it, while a few words gather it together well.”

What the New Theologian wrote is correct. After the withering of the passions chanting comes naturally for the tongue. For how can one sing or chant the hymn of the Lord in a foreign land [Psalm 136:4]—that is, in a passionate heart? – Elder Basil of Poiana Marului

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From “The Shell of Death”

April 7, 2010

How beautifully our people in the Balkans decorate eggs. The more beautifully to decorate Easter. To increase the joy of Pascha. To make their guests more happy. Sometimes the colored eggs are truly art. If the colored eggs are let to stand too long, they become rotten inside, and give off an unbearable odor, or at the end completely dry up.

That is when the colored shell holds within itself death. 

More dreadful is Jesus’ picture of the hypocrites who are like “whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness”… 

All their outward, fixed-up appearance, is only a colored shell of death, a whitewashed tomb. When it comes to them, that which we call death, alas, all that really comes to them is the confirmation and seal of their already long past, dead soul.  

But you, do not be like the hypocrites, Christ taught the people. Do not be like the hypocrites when you give charity, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:2,3) 

Do not be hypocrites when you pray to God. “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:5-13) 

Do not be like the hypocrites when you fast. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)  “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.” (Mark 4:22) 

God will reveal to you great secrets at a time when you do not expect it. The prophets and righteous knew this, but the scribes and Pharisees did not, and still don’t. – St. Nikolai Velimirovich