Friday, November 25, 2016

Redeeming the Time

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

In Ephesians 5:15-16 we read, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil."  To "walk" -- in the context of this passage -- is a metaphor for how we conduct our lives.  We can live wisely or unwisely.  To "walk" unwisely means that we can easily resemble a "fool."

Avoiding such a false step, but on the contrary walking with wisdom, will depend on how much effort we put into "making the most of the time."  This can also be translated as "redeem the time."  To redeem the time is, first, not to waste time, especially on what is superfluous.

More positively, it could mean to spend our time in worthwhile pursuits, seeking to do the good in all of life's various circumstances.  We are children of God at all times, not only when we are in church or before the icons in our domestic prayer corner.  How we live and how we interact with others is basically how we express our Christian faith on a daily basis.

On a deeper level, to "redeem the time" could also mean to sanctify time, both remembering and honoring the fact that the full expanse of our lives — our lifetime — is a gift from God, for as humans our lives unfold within the time of this world as created by God.  Our time is limited because our lives are of finite duration.  An awareness of this can go a long way in how we appreciate -- and therefore redeem -- the time.

We are drawing closer to the celebration of the Lord's Incarnation.  We can redeem this time within the rhythm of ecclesial time, the time of the Church.  We need to pick up where we perhaps left off during this long and enjoyable Thanksgiving Day weekend.  We have just feasted along with our fellow Americans; now let us fast as Orthodox Christians. To squander a season of preparation before a feast by neglecting prayer, almsgiving and fasting is to act unwisely if we claim to be serious Orthodox Christians.  Any struggle against our lower instincts to eat, drink and be merry as the most meaningful pursuits in life is one sound way of redeeming the time.  One more obvious example of the "battle of the calendars."

The Apostle Paul writes that "the days are evil."  In a fallen world, every single day presents us with the possibility -- if not probability -- of encountering evil on a grand or limited scale.  To somehow believe the days we are living in are not all that evil is to be lost in a wishful thinking divorced from any rational perception of reality.  We live in a time wherein people have forgotten God, and through this forgetfulness lose sight of their basic humanity.  To de-sanctify the world (by claiming that the world is an autonomous reality and a result of blind forces) is to debase humanity, for only through faith in God can we have faith in the goodness of human nature.

We can be "in the world," but not "of the world," if we choose to "make the most of the time, because the days are evil."  One of the key words here is "choose."  Do we really have a hard choice to make?  Hardly!  In my humble opinion, within the grace-filled life of the Church, the choices before us are very easy to make!

Here is a simple prayer (but just try to put it into daily practice!) from the diary of Elder Anthony of Optina [1820] that teaches us how to redeem the time.

O God, be attentive unto helping me.  O Lord, make haste to help me.

Direct, O Lord God, everything that I do, read and write, everything that I say and try to understand to the glory of Your holy Name.  From You have I received a good beginning, and my every deed ends in You.

Grant, O God, that I might not anger You, my Creator, in word, deed or thought, but may all my deeds, counsels and thoughts be to the glory of Your most holy Name.  Amen.

From the diary of Elder Anthony of Optina, 1820

Monday, November 14, 2016

Overcoming Stress - The Orthodox Way

Dear Parish Faithful,

Are you feeling "stressed out" these days? Rather overwhelmed with various cares and anxieties?  Are things pulling apart, rather than holding together? If so, here are some wise words from a Romanian elder that, if put into practice, may bring some consolation to your mind and heart.  

All such counsel is merely an elaboration on the words of Christ concerning anxiety, found in MATT. 6:25-34, culminating in:  "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."

Quotations from the newly reposed (+ Oct. 30) Archbishop Justinian Chira of Romania

When you are distressed, when you are upset, when in temptations, be untroubled. Go to your brother and talk to him:

“How are you, brother?”  Do not tell him you came because you are very troubled. Discuss trivialities. Sadness may scatter and you may receive strength from his strength.

Prayer has the grace to make the eternal fountain of joy sprinkle our soul. The soul from which springs no voice of prayer unto Heaven is like a deserted house, full of cobwebs, inhabited by the birds of darkness alone. A soul that does not know how to pray will never know what happiness is, even when owning all the riches of the earth. True prayer is Holy labor.

Stress is formed from exaggerated concern. From concern, and concern only. Every evil comes from this exaggerated concern.

We must preserve and cultivate our longing for God, our longing for the Mother of God, our longing for Saints. Let us seek to cancel the barriers that cool us off spiritually, that harden our hearts, those that make us forget God.

When Jesus is truly known and obeyed, then peace prevails in our soul, our family, our country and in the world.

I will stand by the gate of Heaven and wait for all of you to arrive!