Dec 28, 2011

Time to Merge

Up until now, I have tried to maintain two separate blogs - one focusing on my journey in the Orthodox Church and another dealing with everyday events in my life. The former was initiated several years ago and the latter only this year.

Initially, when I was considering and reading about the Orthodox faith, there were no grandchildren and my husband and I were being led away from our Evangelical roots. My searching and discovering took up much of my time, and I felt the need to put down some of my thoughts and experiences from the journey. The result was my establishing the Narrow Pathways blog.  

In the past year, my lifestyle has changed rather dramatically, and I found it necessary to work on living out my faith in my current, very busy and often unpredictable situation. Therefore, as in my personal life, I feel it is time to merge these two blogs into one, since there are so many things that seem to overlap. So I have moved to my other blog - Two Harvests - where I will be sharing life events as a mother and grand parent in addition to reflections on the Orthodox faith as I continue to learn and grow. I invite you to visit sometime!

Aug 17, 2011

The Life-Giving Spirit

"Observe the difference between the presence of the life-giving spirit and the presence of the spirit that deadens and destroys your soul. When there are good thoughts in your soul you feel happy and at ease; when peace and joy are in your heart, then the spirit of good, the Holy Ghost, is within you; whilst when evil thoughts or evil motions of the heart arise within you, you feel ill at ease and oppressed; when you are inwardly troubled, then the spirit of evil, the crafty spirit, is within you. When the spirit of evil is in us, then, together with oppression of heart and disturbance, we generally feel a difficulty in drawing near to God in our heart, because the evil spirit binds our soul, and will not let it raise itself to God. The evil spirit is a spirit of doubt, unbelief--of passions, oppression, grief and disturbance; whilst the spirit of good is one of undoubting faith, of virtue, of spiritual freedom and breadth--a spirit of peace and joy. 

"Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you, and when the spirit of evil, and, as often as possible, raise your grateful heart to the most Holy Spirit that gives you life and light, and flee with all your power from doubt, unbelief, and the passions through which the evil serpent, the thief and destroyer of our souls, creeps in."

Aug 12, 2011

Charcoal Burner

I love reading accounts of the lives of the saints. In the Orthodox Church, a number of such saints are venerated (honored) each day of the year, and there are online resources that pull up the readings for every day. Today is the first time I have read the story behind Alexander, Bishop of Comana. What a sober reminder to not  judge others by how they appear on the outside.

Hieromartyr Alexander, Bishop of Comana (3rd c.)

"He lived in the town of Comana* near Neocaesarea as a simple charcoal-burner**. When the Bishop of Comana died, St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, the Wonderworker, was invited to preside over the Council to choose a new bishop. At the Council there were both clergy and laymen. They were unable to come to agreement on one person, estimating the candidates they selected according to their outward worth and behavior. St. Gregory told them that they must not give so much weight to the outward impression as to the soul and the spiritual aptitude. Then some wag called out mockingly: 'Then let's choose Alexander the charcoal-burner as bishop!', and there was general laughter. St. Gregory asked who this Alexander was.

St. Alexander of Comana
Thinking that his name would not have come up before the Council except by the providence of God, he commanded that he be brought. Being a charcoal-burner, he was black with soot and in rags, and his appearance provoked further mirth in the Council. Then Gregory took him aside and asked him to tell the truth about himself. Alexander told him that he had been a Greek philosopher, enjoying great honor and position, but that he had set it all aside, demeaned himself and made himself as a fool for Christ from the time that he had read and understood the Holy Scriptures.

Gregory commanded that he be bathed and clad in new clothes, then went into the Council with him and, before them all, began to examine him in the Scriptures. All were filled with amazement at the wisdom and grace of Alexander's words, and were quite unable to recognize the former charcoal-burner in this wise man. With one voice, they chose him as bishop, and he received the love of his flock for his holiness, his wisdom and his goodness. He died a martyr for Christ under Diocletian." (Prologue)

* Comana was located in the northern part of what is now known as Turkey.
** One whose job it was to make charcoal from wood

Aug 10, 2011

Gratitude not Compensation

During my many years in the evangelical realm, I was blessed by having many good resources to help me understand the scriptures - teachers, preachers and books. Still, there were many passages that remained troublesome to me, in spite of the evangelical explanations offered. The parable of the vineyard workers is one of them. It never seemed right that the workers who worked one hour got paid the same as those who had worked all day. With an explanation from the author of Dynamis and the Church Father, John Chrysostom, I finally understand that the focus is not on compensation.

The Worthy Heart III ~ Is Grateful
Saint Matthew 20:1-16, especially vs. 15
“Is it not lawful for Me to do what I wish with My Own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” 

In the parable of the vineyard workers, our Lord begins and ends with a declaration: the “...last will be first, and the first last” (vss. 19:30 and 20:16). This pair of verses acts like bookends to highlight the message of the parable and take us more deeply into what the Lord teaches.To best understand the message of the parable, review Christ’s challenge to a man who said he wished to follow Him (Mt. 19:16): “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt. 19:21). Sadly, the man could not forego his possessions, and he went away (Mt. 19:22). The stringency of the requirement on the man perplexed the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” (Mt. 19:25). Peter quickly applied the message to them all and asked, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Mt. 19:27). Our Lord assured His disciples that they would have a place as rulers, “...judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and that if anyone should give up the goods of this world to follow Him, he would be rewarded a hundred fold “...and inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:28,29). After this, He makes the first statement: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt. 19:30).

Plainly, the Lord Jesus sought to reassure His first disciples in their commitment to Him. And He still desires that all his ‘followers’ not be ‘reward-oriented,’ but rather be grateful for Him our Savior and greatest Good. Plainly, God rewards those who are committed to Him. However, He rejoices in those who gratefully embrace Him as did Abram (Gn. 15:1).

The parable that follows the first bookend emphasizes the truth that ‘all laborers receive equal pay.’ Ordinary human thinking expects compensation to differ in proportion to labor expended, but our Lord is explicit on this point: the kingdom of God operates by its own rules which shatter the tidy categories of measuring reward. Gradations such as ‘first’ and ‘last’ are rendered meaningless by the ‘avalanche’ of God’s unmerited grace toward all men. See how Saint John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily applies to this parable: 

"If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay; for the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first....Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward...."

Saint John Chrysostom understands that gratitude must brush compensation aside! In the mercy and saving love of our Lord, repentance and gratitude gain Life. “O give thanks unto the Lord and call upon His Name; declare among the nations His works” (Ps. 104:1).Commenting further on this parable, Saint John Chrysostom asks: 

“But the question is this, whether the first have gloriously approved themselves, and having pleased God, and having throughout the whole day shone by their labors, are possessed by the basest feeling of vice, jealousy, and envy.” 

May God’s grace elevate our gratitude and keep us from all envy and dissatisfaction - from questioning what God gives us in relation to what He bestows upon others.

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endureth for ever! (Ps. 105:1)

Aug 8, 2011

The Pure Heart

"The purer the heart is, the larger it is, and the more able it is to find room within it for a greater number of beloved ones; whilst the more sinful it is, the more contracted it becomes, and the less number of beloved can it find room for, because it is limited by self-love, and that love is a false one; we love ourselves in objects unworthy of the immortal soul—in silver and gold, in adultery, in drunkenness, and such like."

~ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Aug 6, 2011

Transistors and Resistors

It seems that every 3 years, churches known as Bible churches get swept up in a new "direction" or "emphasis" - Connectedness, Community, Fellowship, Relevancy, Transformation. In the Orthodox Church, the emphasis has always been the "transfiguration" of our lives into the life of Christ. Not upon entrance into heaven, but here and now, in God's Kingdom. But there are many things that we carry around in our lives that hinder this process. Fr. Joseph (monk at Mt. Tabor Monastery in California) used a great illustration in a recent post of his blog.

"Now, if you can remember back to the Dark Ages of humanity - before the invention of the microchip - they used to have, in electronic devices, circuit boards which were wired up with all these little components which would somehow either store or regulate the flow of electricity in the device, so that the thing wouldn’t burn out or blow up in your hand. Now, one of the things they had in there was called a “resistor”: it keeps the electricity from going too fast, or where it’s not supposed to go.
"Our souls, however, are not circuit boards, so we don’t need all those resistors. As a matter of fact, that’s what the problem is! The reason that our faces are not shining like the sun is because we have in our souls too many “resistors” to the grace of God: too many things that are impeding the flow of Divine Energy that God is trying to communicate to our hearts. We don’t need them - we won’t burn out with an unlimited flow of grace!

"We have to look and see what these “resistors” are. We have to do a serious examination of conscience - not just the daily examen where you look over the day and see how you screwed up today and then make your amends, but we have to look at our whole life and see what’s wrong with our life: what are the main areas where the habits are - the resistors to divine grace in our souls - whatever they might be? It could be pride, or sensuality, or selfishness, or some sort of addiction, or some idol that we create and cling to or put between us and God just for our own satisfaction or ego-building, or whatever it might be. Those are the things that we have to clip out of our life - a circuit board might need resistors, but our souls do not. We have to get rid of that stuff. And then, once we are cutting these away, one at a time, we will notice that the divine grace is able to flow more freely through us, and that is the transfiguration we’re looking for."

Aug 1, 2011

Meteora Monasteries: Rousannou Monastery

Founded in the 16th century, the easily-accessible Rousannou Monastery occupies a lower rock than the others of the Meteora.

Rousannou (Ρουσανου) Monastery was founded around 1545 by Maximos and Ioasaph of Ioannina. The reason for the monastery's name is not known - it is actually dedicated to St. Barbara - but may reflect the name of a hermit who occupied the rock. It soon declined and became subject to Varlaam Monastery by 1614.

The monastery once again fell into disrepair for the two centuries prior to the 1940s, when it was damaged in World War II then plundered by the Germans. It was later repaired by the regional archaeological service and since 1988 it has been occupied by a small community of 13 nuns.


Rousannou Monastery stands on a low rock and is easily accessible by a bridge built of wood in 1868 and replaced by more solid material in 1930. Despite this, its situation is still quite dramatic, with the rock dropping off sharply on all sides.

The monastery covers the entire surface of the rock and consists of three levels: the church and cells occupy the ground floor, while the two upper floors house the guest quarters, reception halls, an exhibition room, and more cells.

The frescoes in Rousannou's Church of the Transfiguration of Christ, which is essentially a smaller version of Varlaam's church, date from 1560. The narthex is decorated primarily with gruesome scenes of martyrdom, as at other Meteora monasteries.

The resident nuns tend to be friendlier to visitors than their male counterparts in Meteora and often provide sweets to guests as they relax in the courtyard

In a previous post, I mentioned the Meteora Monasteries. I am devoting a post to each of the six monasteries that are a part of this group in Greece.

If you want a satellite view of the area, click here.