Monday, October 31, 2016

An Introduction to 'Time and Despondency'

Dear Parish Faithful,
In yesterday's post-Liturgy discussion, we were treated to a short, but excellent presentation by our former parishioner, Dr. Nicole Roccas. Nicole spoke of her forthcoming book that will be titled Time and Despondency.  In fact, she actually read the first couple of pages of her Introduction for us yesterday.

It was all quite intriguing, and based on these few pages I am now eagerly anticipating the release of her book sometime next year.  A fruitful discussion ensued as Nicole was able to take on a few good questions in our short time frame.  In her book, she will be dealing with the phenomenon of despondency, and how that universal affliction relates to time.  Thus, though she will be dependent for her analysis of despondency as found in the penetrating insights of the desert dweller and writer, Evagrius of Pontus, she will make a new contribution to that analysis by relating it to the concept of time - the subject of her doctoral dissertation - and, of course, placing her analysis within a contemporary setting that will speak to us today.

This brought to mind a former meditation on that theme that I wrote a few years back (2012), based on a book review of the theme of despondency, which is one of many translations of the Gk. word akedia (Latin, accedie; rendered in English as acedia), almost a technical term that describes one of the many "passions" that can afflict us today as it did the early Christian ascetics. (This was a Lenten meditation, but this theme is not restricted to a particular liturgical season).

Reading through this meditation, I believe that Nicole and I are interpreting akedia it in a very similar way, so if you missed her discussion yesterday, perhaps some of the ideas she presented  can also be found here.  I believe that her use of the term despondency works better over-all than the word depression. It is my humble opinion that if anyone believes that he or she is not suffering from akedia/despondency on some level, then that person is further suffering from self-delusion.

Acedia and Us and Our Lenten Effort

Monday, October 24, 2016

To notice the Lazarus in our midst

Dear Parish Faithful,

My intention was to write a new meditation on the powerful parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man this morning, following yesterday morning's Liturgy in which we were directed "Let us attend!" before we heard the parable read in church. However, other pressing concerns and obligations did not allow for that plan to come to fruition. 

In case anyone may be interested, here are two meditations from the past that deal with the parable in a very direct manner.  The first is from the OCA webpage archives and the second from my Meditations blog on our parish website.  The meditations are actually similar in content - and both depend on and incorporate some of the writings of St. John Chrysostom - but in case you like choices...

As someone remarked to me yesterday:  Poor people make us feel uncomfortable, and some of our avoidance of those environments in which we may encounter the poor is perhaps our unconscious reaction to that discomfort. 

Is part of that discomfort our conscience speaking within us of the disparity between our own comforts in comparison with others who are without any?  Lazarus is that type of person who evokes that very reaction, as he must have been a "sorry sight" indeed with his sores and all.  Our challenge is to find humanity in the very persons who seem to have been stripped of it.  The image of God is often obscured - but never defaced.  This is why Christ challenges us to notice the Lazarus in our midst.

Alleviating the Plight of the Poor

Just Who is the Real Rich Man?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Vespers and the Fulfillment of Time

Dear Parish Faithful,

I understand that our Church School studied the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple in their respective classes yesterday.  To remind everyone, the Church School curriculum this year is "The Life of Christ."  They have already covered the Lord's Nativity, so the Meeting of the Lord (LK. 2) follows chronologically.  They are well ahead of the liturgical cycle! 

Some of the younger children colored an icon of the Meeting of the Lord. The Righteous Symeon, one of the key figures found and described by St. Luke the Evangelist in his Gospel is, of course, in that icon. One of the most beautiful hymns in the Scriptures was uttered by St. Symeon when he behold and then held the Christ Child in his arms. 

Often, this hymn is referred by the Latin of its opening words - Nunc Dimittis. We all know that hymn by heart as it is invariably sung or chanted at every single Vespers service - Daily, Great or Festal. But we can include it hear to help us focus on the power of its words:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,
   according to Thy word;
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
   which Thou hast prepared before the face of Thy people.
a light to enlighten the Gentiles
   and the glory of Thy people Israel.
  (Lk. 2:29-32)

I bring this to our attention because I spoke of this hymn in the homily yesterday in the context of pointing out the theological structure of the Vespers service. 

This first of the services of our daily liturgical cycle has a profound theological structure to it that embraces and expresses the four essential components of an Orthodox Christian world view. And these are: 1) Creation; 2) Fall; 3) Redemption; and 4)  Kingdom. 

I would like to write about this in more detail in the future; but for the moment, I will simply point out that St. Symeon's Hymn points us toward the Kingdom which is to come, and which he speaks confidently about entering having - by the grace of the Holy Spirit - recognized the Messiah in the little Child cradled in his arms.  St. Symeon thus believes that he can now "depart" - that is, die - "in peace," with that inner certainty that he will now be held within the embrace of God. 

Thus, this hymn is eschatological in its orientation, pointing us toward the End, which is the beginning of life in God's eternal Kingdom. With his usual eloquence, Fr. Alexander Schmemann describes the experience of St. Symeon as follows:

Symeon ... stood for the whole world in its expectation and longing, and the words he used to express his thanksgiving have become our own.... He had beheld the One he had longed for. He had completed his purpose in life, and he was ready to die. 

But death to him was no catastrophe. It was only a natural expression of the fulfillment of his waiting.  He was not closing his eyes to the light he had at last seen; his death was only the beginning of more inward vision of that light. 
In the same way Vespers is the recognition that the evening of this world has come, which announces that Day that has no evening. In this world, every day faces night; the world itself is facing night. It cannot last forever.
Yet the Church is affirming that an evening is not only an end, but also a beginning, just as the evening is also the beginning of another day.  In Christ and through Christ it may become the beginning of a new life, of the day that has no evening...
We come into the presence of Christ to offer Him our time, we extend our arms to receive Him.  And He fills this time with Himself.  He heals it  and makes it - again and again - the time of salvation.  (For the Life of the World, p. 44-45)

A wonderful vision by which we end one day and begin another in the grace-filled life of the Church.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers - Volume Two

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

I thought I would share this book promotion that I just received.  This is Volume Two of a series that I have turned to before for some great insights into the "spiritual life" that we find among the great saints of the Church. That is their specialty!  

I like to occasionally send these out to everyone so that we can collectively listen carefully to this "wisdom of the divine philosophers."  Perhaps you remember or saved some of the gems from Volume One. 

And again, these "philosophers" are not Heraclitus, Pythagaros, Socrates or Plato.  They are the great teachers of the Church - the ones we call the Holy Fathers & Mothers - from ancient times or of more recent times.

The promotion below offers an excellent sampling of what may be found in this Volume Two.  Please read them carefully. These are the types of sayings that invite meditation and reflection. Even that deep "pondering" that allows us to unpack what on the surface seems like a short and pithy insight.  

I am particularly drawn to the practical wisdom conveyed below by the Elder Joseph the Hesychast ( a 20th c. saint, by the way) on the issue  of "anger management."  Just think how much grief we could save ourselves and those around us by "attending" to his advice!  

The saying of St. John Climacus is deeply profound.  He understands the cause of our fear of death; yet takes us beyond that into the realm of judgment, making a real distinction between a natural fear of death" and the "terror of death." The other sayings below may have other forms of appeal.

You may even desire to purchase the book! 

That is St. Seraphim of Sarov (+1833) on the cover. He once said, somewhat enigmatically:

"Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved."


Volume Two of Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers features spiritual counsels from our Orthodox saints and elders that are categorized under 67 topics. They will provide you with a wealth of wisdom to help guide you on the path to salvation.

$13.95 plus $2.00 shipping

Order online at
Or Call: 412-736-7840


On Humility:

In the mercy of God, the little thing done with humility will enable us to be found in the same place as the saints who have labored much and been true servants of God.

~ St. Dorotheus of Gaza

We should try to have good thoughts which will radiate from us. A meek and humble person is always very pleasant to be with, for he emanates peace and warmth. That person may not say a single word, yet we rejoice to be in his presence.

~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica †

On Worry:

If the head of a family is burdened with cares and worries about the future of his family, he will have no peace. All the members of the family will feel his unrest. They will know that something is wrong, but they will not know exactly what. We can see how much our thoughts influence others. Misunderstandings in the family also happen because of our thoughts.

~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica †

On Anger:

Never correct someone with anger, but only with humility and sincere love. When you see anger ahead, forget about correcting for a moment. When peace has returned, then your powers of discernment are functioning properly and then you can speak beneficially. Since man was created rational and gentle, his is corrected far better with love and gentleness. An angry and irritable man is not accepted into the Kingdom of God even if he raises the dead. Therefore, suppress anger with all of your might, and you will find it weaker the next time.

~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast †

On Repentance:

This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.

~ St. Isaac the Syrian

Fear of death is a property of nature due to disobedience, but terror of death is a sign of unrepented sins.

~ St. John Climacus

On the Soul:

If human beings...could see their inner ugliness, they would not pursue external beauty. When our souls have so many stains—so many smudges—are we going to be concerned, for instance, about our clothes? We wash our clothes, we even iron them and we are clean outside; while inside—well, do not ask!

~ St. Paisios the Athonite

On Prayer:

Whatever we do without prayer and without hope in God turns out afterwards to be harmful and defective.

~ St. Mark the Ascetic

Always let the remembrance of death and the Prayer of Jesus, being of single phrase, go to sleep with you and get up with you; for you will find nothing to equal these aids during sleep.

~ St. John Climacus

On Evil:

Those who have realized how dangerous and evil is the life they lead, the devil succeeds in keeping in his power mainly by the following simple, but all powerful suggestion, “Later, later; tomorrow, tomorrow.”

~ St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite
Phone:  (412) 736-7840

Friday, October 7, 2016

Let Us Attend!

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"Take heed then to how you hear."  (LK. 18:18)
Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks."  (HEB. 12:25)

We are blessed with hearing the Scriptures at every Divine Liturgy, be it the Lord's Day or any other day on which the Liturgy is celebrated. Therefore, we will hear at least one reading from an Epistle and one from a Gospel.  When the calendar so designates it, there may be two readings.  When there exists a complicated convergence of feast days and commemorations, there are even Liturgies at which there may be as many as three prescribed readings! 

The readings from the Scriptures are the culminating moments of the first part of the Liturgy, referred to as the "Liturgy of the Word," or "The Liturgy of the Catechumens."  Before we commune with Christ in the Eucharist, we commune with Him through the inspired words of the Holy Scriptures - the words of the Word.  This is the public proclamation of the Word of God, meant to complement each believer's personal or "domestic" reading of the Scriptures. 

Just as we pray both liturgically and personally; so we hear/read the Scriptures both liturgically and personally.  Each is essential to support and make the other meaningful.  To ignore one or the other is to impoverish our relationship with Christ.

By the presence of the Spirit, our minds are open to the full meaning of the sacred texts that we hear. This was revealed to all Christians of all generations on the Road to Emmaus, when the Risen Lord encountered Cleopas and an unknown disciple:  "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (LK. 24:27).

Following this encounter and the "breaking of the bread," during which these disciples recognized the Risen Lord, "They said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures'?"  (LK. 24:32). 

Christ speaks to us today through the reading of the Scriptures, thus making it possible for us today to experience the identical "burning of heart" when we, too, make the time to read the Scriptures. As Fr. John Behr succinctly said: "In the Church, we are still on the road to Emmaus."

Due to the great importance of the liturgical proclamation of the Scriptures, these readings are prefaced by a dialogue between the celebrant, the designated reader and the gathered faithful.  I will concentrate here on the liturgical reading from the Gospel, aware that the preparation for the Epistle also has its own solemn and very similar introduction.  Before the reading from the Gospel, we thus always hear:

Priest or Deacon:  Wisdom! Let us stand aright.  Let us listen to the Holy Gospel.

Bishop or Priest:  Peace be unto all.

Choir:  And to your spirit.

Priest or Deacon:  The reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint _____.

Choir:  Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.

Priest:  Let us attend!

This solemn dialogue both reveals to us that we are about to do something of great importance:  proclaim the living Word of God amidst the assembled believers - clergy and laity alike. And this prefatory dialogue is therefore meant to get our attention. 

In fact, the final words before the actual reading are:  "Let us attend!"  In some translations, it may be:  "Let us be attentive!"  In simple English it could be:  "Pay attention!"

Right before this we are first directed to "stand aright."  This is lost in some translations, which twice read "Let us attend," as a translation of two different Gk. words in this dialogue. When we hear "Let us attend" for the first time, this is actually "Let us stand aright," based on the Gk. command "Orthi" which means more-or-less literally "stand aright."  The second "Let us attend!" is based on the Gk. word proskhomen.

The point is that standing at attention is a potentially better bodily posture than sitting for the gathering of our (scattered?) thoughts, as well as simply a bodily posture that expresses greater respect for listening to the Lord teaching us through the words of the Gospel. Strange as it may sound to us, there is something of the soldier standing at solemn attention as he is about to hear his "orders" that must be faithfully fulfilled.  This is an image that is found often in Christian antiquity. 

In our Liturgy today, it is a time when there should be no movement in the church, and nothing to distract us from hearing the Gospel with an attentiveness that expresses our love of the Gospel as the "precious pearl" worth more than anything else. An outer silence in the church will hopefully facilitate an inner stillness within our minds and hearts that honors the Gospel reading as the sharing of the "words of eternal life" on our behalf.

As a possible "test" to measure our actual attentiveness at a given Liturgy, we can ask ourselves later in the day - or perhaps even during the week! - what was the Gospel reading that I heard earlier in the Liturgy? 

An attentive listening of the Gospel would mean that we can identify the evangelist and, even more importantly, the prescribed text for the day.  And the same should hold true for the Epistle reading.  "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" 

If our ultimate goal is to live out the teachings of the Gospel beyond the initial hearing of the Gospel, then our awareness of the text, accompanied by a "burning of heart" will allow us to meditate upon a given passage with the goal in mind of actualizing the teaching heard in our daily lives.  How would any of this be possible if we forget the Gospel reading once we leave the church? (The homily is meant to support that process - but that may or may not happen!).

If we forget the Gospel reading, that means that we may have "attended" church, but that we were not "attentive" in church. To "be" there cannot be reduced to our bodily presence.

To further emphasize the great significance of the Gospel reading at the Liturgy, there is a wonderful prayer said by the celebrant before we actually get to the dialogue outlined and commented on above.  This prayer is placed immediately after the final alleluia verse following the Epistle reading.  And it prepares us for the ensuing dialogue. 

For this reason alone it is my humble opinion that this "prayer before the Gospel" must be chanted/read aloud by the celebrant of the Liturgy - the bishop or priest. That is the practice in our parish. Why should a prayer that embraces everyone present be read "silently" by the clergy alone?  

Though we have heard this prayer countless times, perhaps bringing it to mind here will be helpful.  For the attentive reader of the Scriptures, there are various scriptural passages that are gathered together, alluded to, or paraphrased in this prayer, a few of which will be pointed out:

Illumine our hearts (II COR. 4:6), O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light (REV. 21:23-25) of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind (EPH. 1:18; LK. 24:45) to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down carnal desires (II PET. 2:10), we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living (I COR. 2:12), both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee (PHIL. 2:13). For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Obviously, a good deal is made of the Gospel Reading at each and every Liturgy. This is because the Gospel is "Good News" to be attentively listened to and obeyed. Familiarity may dull our appreciation of this, but we must always struggle against familiarity leading to spiritual laziness or inattentiveness.  When (over-) familiarity turns to boredom then we are facing a spiritual crisis of sorts.

Putting aside any such temptation, let us acknowledge how privileged and blessed we are to "stand aright" in church at the Liturgy and to hear the Holy Gospel.  "Let us attend!"

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cycles of the Orthodox Calendar (and why they matter)

Dear Parish Faithful,

I just received this notice from our former parishioner Nicole Roccas:

I wanted to pass this along to you, you may want to share it with people. It's an infographic I made about the cycles of the Orthodox year. It basically explains some of the early history of our calendar, and why this is beneficial for our faith. It's something I worked on over the summer.

Some of you may remember Nicole better by her maiden name of Lyon.  Nicole was part of our parish before marrying her husband Basil and moving to Toronto, Canada. (Nicole and Basil were first "betrothed" here in our parish, before their "crowning" in Toronto).  Nicole's first encounter with the Orthodox Church was in our parish, when she attended a Lenten retreat with Fr. Thomas Hopko as our guest speaker. Following that Retreat, she became an enthusiastic inquirer, and was eventually catechized and chrismated in our parish. There is more information about Nicole and her current work at her blog reached by the link below.

Her infographic is both fascinating and highly informative.  Please give it your attention, as it will prove to illuminate our liturgical year for you.  You are all familiar with my phrase "the battle of the calendars."  Here, then, is an excellent introduction to the Church calendar, a good balance if you are more familiar with the secular calendar.  The calendar is about time - we can almost say about the "mystery of time" - and how time is both "redeemed" and "sanctified" in the Church.  Thus, the Church calendar is not simply a succession of dates and commemorations, but a profound revelation of the meaning of time as it is now directed toward the Kingdom of God.

Cycles of the Orthodox calendar (and why they matter)