Sunday, March 19, 2023

Lenten Meditations - The Third Week

GREAT LENT - Day Seventeen

"If a poor man comes to you asking for bread, there is no end of complaints and reproaches and charges of idleness; you upbraid him, insult him, jeer at him. You fail to realize that you too are idle and yet God grants you gifts. Now don't tell me that you actually work hard. If you call earning money, making business deals, and caring for your possessions 'work,' I say, 'No, that is not work. But alms, prayers, the protection of the injured and the like - these are genuine 'work.'

You charge the poor with idleness; I charge you with corrupt behavior."

- St. John Chrysostom

If we allow for St. John's use of rhetoric - he is called the "Golden-Mouth" as we know - he offered quite a twist on the meaning of "work." I highly doubt he is telling hard working people to stop working and supporting themselves and their families; but he is reminding us in his blunt way that there is other "work" to be done, and that work is consistent with the Gospel. And also that the prosperous are wrong in blaming the poor for their hardship and suffering. Our own rhetoric as to why the poor are among us can often enough be nothing but empty and cruel complaints, as St. John says.


GREAT LENT - Day Eighteen

"Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven."  - Amma Theodora

Here is a note on Amma Theodora's life: "Lived in the desert of Egypt in the fourth century. Not much is known about her. She was a colleague of Archbishop Theophilos of Alexandria.Many monastics came to her for spiritual education on the monastic life. Her feast day is September 1."


GREAT LENT - Day Nineteen

Saint Patrick, Bishop of Armagh, Enlightener of Ireland

I assume that we all know that St. Patrick of Ireland is a saint of the Orthodox Church. All of the glorified/canonized women and men of the "pre-Schism" Church (before the events of the 11th - 13th c. - both East and West - are canonically considered saints of the Church. For today's Lenten Meditation, we can read this summary of St. Patrick's Life and rejoice in his love of Christ and commitment to spreading the Gospel.


Amma Syncletica - Life as a Sea Voyage

Dear Parish Faithful,

GREAT LENT - Day Fifteen

"Here below we are not exempt from temptations. For Scripture says, 'May you who think that you stand take heed lest you fall' [I Cor. 10:12]. We sail on in darkness. The psalmist calls our life a sea and the sea is either full of rocks, or very rough, or else it is calm. We are like those who sail on a calm sea, and seculars are like those on a rough sea. We always set our course by the Sun of Righteousness, but it can often happen that the secular is saved in tempest and darkness, for he keeps watch as he ought, while we go to the bottom through negligence, although we are on a calm sea, because we have let go our the guidance of righteousness."

- Amma Syncletica

We continue to hear the wise voice of Amma Syncletica, one of the most renowned of the Desert Mothers. Comparing life to a sea voyage was very prevalent in the world of late antiquity, and Christians used this image to describe the journey of life toward the Kingdom of God. The journey could be calm or stormy, depending upon both exterior and interior circumstances in life. During the Arian controversy of the fourth c., St. Basil famously described the Church as if engaged in a sea battle in the darkness of night, when one could barely distinguish between a friendly or enemy ship. The Church is meant to be the ark of salvation which can survive, by the grace of God, even in a catastrophic flood, as it remained intact after the "storm" of the Arian heresy had "battered" it mercilessly.

Amma Syncletica, in her words above, makes a rather typical comparison between those on a calm sea - either a believer or, more specifically, those who have withdrawn to the desert away from the tumultuous world; and those on a rough sea ("seculars") - either a non-believer or even a Christian caught in that same tumultuous world. However, the fine twist that Amma Syncletica offers is that "we/us" can be shipwrecked by a lack of vigilance; while the "secular" can maintain the necessary vigilance and care to complete the journey successfully. There is no room for complacency and self-righteousness (the publican and the pharisee). There are no guarantees and nothing is automatic. As the unknown author the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "How shall we escape, if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3)


Lenten Meditations: The Second Week

Our apologies for not posting Fr Steven's meditations in a timely manner the second and third weeks of Lent. To catch up, we are providing his brief emails to the parish in two collections, and hope you enjoy these edifying reflections from both early and contemporary Orthodox fathers and mothers on our Life in Christ.

Note: Fr. Steven sometimes provides a brief comment after these "words" (shown here in italics), opening up the meaning for us a little more.

GREAT LENT - Day Eight

"So you may walk in the way of goodness, And keep to the paths of righteousness." - Proverbs 2:20

"It is clearly we, I say, who make rough the straight and smooth paths of the Lord with the wicked and hard rocks of our desires, who very foolishly abandon the royal road paved with apostolic and prophetic stones and made level by the footsteps of all the holy ones and of the Lord himself, and who pursue byways and brambly roads. Blinded by the seductions of present pleasures, we crawl along the dark and obstructed trails, our feet lacerated by the thorns of vice and our wedding garment in tatters, and we are not only pierced by the sharp needles of thorny bushes but also brought low by the stings of the poisonous serpents and the scorpions that lie in wait there..."

- St John Cassian

Friday, March 3, 2023

Amma Syncletica - On Anger


Dear Parish Faithful,


"It is good not to get angry, but if this should happen, St. Paul does not allow you a whole day for this passion, for he says: 'Do not let the sun go down on your anger.' (Eph. 4:26) Will you wait til all your time is ended? Why hate the one who has grieved you? It is not this person who has done the wrong, but the evil one."

Amma Syncletica (+460)

Anger, according the saints, is a "passion." Meaning we lose control of this impulse, but are rather controlled by it. It is hard to think straight or to pray when you are angry. I would imagine that this is a common experience. The Apostle Paul is exhorting us to limit the extent to which this passion rules our life. Be done with it at the end of the day. Be forgiving as our heavenly Father is forgiving, seems to be what the apostle is teaching. As to the last sentence from Amma Syncletica, I highly doubt that she is saying "blame the devil" for your reckless impulses. As I highly doubt she is relieving us of our personal responsibility when we unleash our anger on someone - including our loved ones. 

My sense is that she is alerting us to the ever present reality of temptation, the source of which is ultimately the "evil one." The Apostle Peter teaches us: "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring line, seeking some one to devour." ((I Pet. 5:8) I rather think that it is easier to control of food and drink intake - fasting - than it is to control our anger. Great Lent is a season of reconciliation.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Amma Syncletica - Kindling the Divine Fire

Dear Parish Faithful,


Today, we are returning to the wisdom of the Desert Mother, Amma Syncletica:


"In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God, and afterwards ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: 'Our God is a consuming fire' [Heb. 12:24]): so we also kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work."


As much as we may resist it, to draw closer to God - or to purify the heart - is a real struggle in a fallen and sinful world. It only seems "natural" to seek pleasure and to avoid any pain. Of course, we can be content with being Sunday "church goers" and leading a more-or-less moral life (but possibly being bored with it all over time). 

But Amma Syncletica is clearly referring to encountering the living God, Who indeed can be a "consuming fire." Adjusting to a "lenten lifestyle," may just be the "lighting of a fire" that at first causes us some grief, but will - if taken seriously - eventually yield to "kindling the divine fire" of love and adoration before the Lord of Glory Who was crucified for our sakes and then arose from the dead. All of which is certain to bring us "ineffable joy!"