Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"Can a heretical bishop defile the Church?"

This is a good comment overall by Mr. Constantine Zalalas on a common question that is being discussed today: "Can a heretical bishop defile the Church?" Whether or not one agrees with every one of his arguments, his main focus is using Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropoulos' commentary (a leading spiritual father and expert in the Church canons in 20th-century Greece) to make the point that a member of the clergy receives grace from God that is not hindered by their possibly sinful lives or even heretical beliefs. As members of the laity, we should not to be swift to condemn, slander, ridicule, judge and malign canonical Orthodox hierarchs throughout the world. Our job is to focus first on our own many sins, repent and pray that our Lord might speedily grant deliverance from our many passions and to dissolve heresies and divisions throughout the world. The job of censuring and bringing anathemas against unrepentant leaders and those who persist in teaching heresies is the role of the Holy Church Councils, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not that of any person who happens to be on a message board or have a blog. May the Lord grant us all humility, repentance and love, and may He heal our many wounds and passions and grant peace to His Church (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

St. Basil the Great: Account of the Present State of the Churches

Christ calming the storm (source)
Note: Metropolitan Ierothos (Vlahos) of Nafpaktos, a notable theologian and author of many books, recently wrote a post entitled: "Proposal for dealing with the Ukrainian issue". In this article, he summarizes his extensive previous writing on the issue of Ukraine and the many related issues that it highlights for the Church, and proceeds to give his suggestion for how this might be remedied going forward. One of the most striking parts of this article, however, is his lengthy quote of St. Basil the Great: "Account of the Present State of the Churches", in which the Saint highlights the great battle that was being waged in his time and afflicting the entire Church. I am not including this to endorse any opinion about the state of the Church and Ukraine (I do not have the wisdom or authority to do so). I do not want this post to be a place of argument on this issue, as there are too many places online already where this is occurring. I include this excerpt from a great Saint that we might fully perceive the great temptation that is facing the Church, that we might all endlessly repent of our sins, weaknesses and passions that are harming our brethren and breaking God-given peace, love and unity. May we pray for the Church and the people of Ukraine, entreating our Lord, His Mother, and all the Saints that they might enlighten and guide our Hierarchs, and that repentance, communion, peace, love, forgiveness, forbearance and true unity might speedily be granted to all who are suffering throughout the world.
St Basil the Great: Account of the Present State of the Churches
(St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, ch. 30, para. 76-79 in Letters and Select Works, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, ed. Philip Schaff & Henry Wace, Vol. 8, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, reprinted Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1996, pp. 48-50)
“To what then shall I liken our present condition? It may be compared, I think, to some naval battle which has arisen out of time old quarrels, and is fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight. Look, I beg you, at the picture thus raised before your eyes. See the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack. With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out. Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that ensigns are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost.
To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.
[Suppose] from every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other. Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants. Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.
Think, besides all this, of the confused and unmeaning roar sounding over all the sea, from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from admiral or pilot can be heard. The disorder and confusion are tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness.
Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually sinking into the deep.

Turn now, I beg you, from this figurative description to the unhappy reality. Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long-standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common hostility and individual suspicion.
But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of dogma has been shaken: everything resting on an unsound basis is dashed about and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another.
And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the inexperience of their own officers. We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the saving Passion have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of this world have caused the downfall of the people with a violence unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind.
The luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the Churches. The terror of universal ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger. Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind. So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of murder against one another. Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect.
On the one hand, are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand, are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.
Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion is all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel. No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error.
Every one is a theologian though he has his soul branded with more spots than can be counted. The result is that innovators find a plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while the self-ordained and place-hunters reject the government of the Holy Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches. The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office. The result of this lust for power is that our people are in a state of anarchy; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else.
So, since no human voice is strong enough to be heard in such a disturbance, I reckon silence more profitable than speech, for if there is any truth in the words of the Preacher, ‘The words of wise men are heard in quiet,’ in the present condition of things any discussion of them must be anything but becoming.
I am moreover restrained by the Prophet’s saying, ‘Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it is an evil time,’ a time when some trip up their neighbours’ heels, some stamp on a man when he is down, and others clap their hands with joy, but there is no one to feel for the fallen and hold out a helping hand, although according to the ancient law he is not uncondemned, who passes by even his enemy’s beast of burden fallen under his load. This is not the state of things now. Why not? The love of many has waxed cold; brotherly concord is destroyed, the very name of unity is ignored, brotherly admonitions are heard no more, nowhere is their Christian pity, nowhere falls the tear of sympathy. Now there is no one to receive ‘the weak in faith,’ but mutual hatred has blazed so high among fellow citizens that they are more delighted at a neighbour’s fall than at their own success. Just as in a plague, men of the most regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others.
Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage warfare is with our own people.
For all these reasons I ought to have kept silence, but I was drawn in the other direction by love, which ‘seeketh not her own’, and desires to overcome every difficulty put in her way by time and circumstance. I was taught too by the children at Babylon, that, when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty. They from out of the midst of the flame lifted up their voices in hymns and praise to God, regardless of the host that set the truth at naught, but sufficient, three only that they were, with one another.
Wherefore we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth. Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day. A further powerful incentive to my undertaking was the warm fervour of your ‘love unfeigned’, and the seriousness and taciturnity of your disposition; a guarantee that you would not publish what I was about to say to all the world, not because it would not be worth making known, but to avoid casting pearls before swine.
My task is now done. If you find what I have said satisfactory, let this make an end to our discussion of these matters. If you think any point requires further elucidation, pray do not hesitate to pursue the investigation with all diligence, and to add to your information by putting any uncontroversial question. Either through me or others the Lord will grant full explanation on matters which have yet to be made clear, according to the knowledge supplied to the worthy by the Holy Spirit.”
Christ walking on the water (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Elder Sophrony on Marital Problems

The Wedding at Cana (source)
When married couples would visit Elder Sophrony of Essex, and spoke of the problems in their relationship, he typically would hear complaints about one's spouse.
Elder Sophrony would ask: "Who is responsible for the problems in your relationship?"
The reply: "My wife! (or husband)"
Elder Sophrony: "So you aren't responsible at all?"
Response: "I'm also responsible, but the greatest responsibility is with my spouse!"
Elder Sophrony: How much do you think you are responsible, and how much your spouse?"
Response: "90% theirs, 10% mine!"
Elder Sophrony: "You correct the 10% that you say you are responsible for and you will see if the 90% from your spouse remains!"
The holy Elder remarked that the key element in order to maintain a proper relationship between spouses is that everyone should take responsibility for their own mistakes and not shift them all to one another.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

"The most-sacred branches from the chaste Sophia: Faith and Hope and Love..."

Sts. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love (source)
Kontakion in the First Tone.
The most-sacred branches from the chaste Sophia: Faith and Hope and Love, with grace showed the wisdom of the Greeks to be foolishness, and they struggled, and were shown to be bearers of victory, having received an incorruptible crown from Christ, the Master of all.
When the unjust command went forth to the ends of the earth to sacrifice to the idols and to the altars of the demons, and they hastened to their temples towards the destruction of men, then, the all-praised and beautiful virgins shown forth as stars, dissipating the shadow of atheism and ignorance. And they were radiant with piety in the hearts of the faithful, and they cry out in response: "O God, great are You, Who were crucified willingly, and Who rose on the third day, and in You we boast." Therefore, as is right, they received an incorruptible crown from Christ, the Master of all.
Sts. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

"She is a tree of life to all that lay hold upon her..."

Christ Crucified and His Precious Cross as the Tree of Life, mosaic from San Clemente in Rome (1118) (source)
My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loves, he rebukes, and scourges every son whom he receives. Blessed is He who Finds Wisdom Blessed is the man who has found wisdom, and the mortal who knows prudence. For it is better to traffic for her, than for treasures of gold and silver. And she is more valuable than precious stones: no evil thing shall resist her: she is well known to all that approach her, and no precious thing is equal to her in value. For length of existence and years of life are in her right hand; and in her left hand are wealth and glory: out of her mouth proceeds righteousness, and she carries law and mercy upon her tongue. Her ways are good ways, and all her paths are peaceful. She is a tree of life to all that lay hold upon her; and she is a secure help to all that stay themselves on her, as on the Lord.
-Proverbs 3:11-18, read at the Great Vespers for the Feast of the Precious Cross
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Today is the prelude of universal joy..."

The Nativity of the Theotokos (source)
Today is the prelude of universal joy. Today blows the breeze foretelling salvation, for the barrenness of our nature is dissolved, as the barren [Anna] is shown to be a mother of her who will remain a Virgin after giving birth to her Creator. From [the Theotokos], God, Who is foreign to nature, will come to dwell within, working salvation for the deluded through the flesh, Christ, the Lover-of-man, and the Redeemer of our souls.
-Idiomelon of the Stichera from the Nativity of the Theotokos

The Nativity of the Theotokos (source)
Most-holy Theotokos, save us!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

St. Nektarios the Wonderworker on Seeking Happiness

St. Nektarios the Wonderworker (source)
“How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! In the same [way,] to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: “I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!”
— St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 1
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!