Jun 15, 2010


Sin in our lives is not something we can ignore, set aside, or postpone. It doesn't become static. Unless we are actively, daily working to eradicate it, sin will take over. Fr. Michael, priest of the Holy Nativity Orthodox Church in British Columbia gives us a vivid picture of how sin can easily spread and flourish.

Sin is a little bit like Sequoia Blackberry bushes. It’s an invasive species that takes over, yet because of the sweet berries, you let it. But the berries are only there for a few weeks, and the thorny bush it there all year. At first you decide you can live with the thorns. You try to avoid and ignore the thorny parts and think longingly about the next season of sweetness. And each spring the bush grows several feet larger.

Then one day you realize that your whole life is organized around the thorn bush. You say to yourself, “I’ve got to do something about this.” But you don’t. And the bush continues to grow. And finally you get so sick of this thorn bush taking over your life that you attack the bush with sheers and shovel. You cut it back. You dig up as much of the root as you can. You bleed and sweat and win--for a moment. 

But it’s not over. Like sin, no matter how much you fight it, it still keeps coming back. Mercifully, fighting second growth is much easier than battling an established bush, if you don’t get lazy. If you dig it out as soon as you see a new shoot, it’s easy and only takes a minute. You can even grab it with a bare hand near the root and pull (but it does get your hand dirty). If you get lazy, if you say, “I’ll get it tomorrow; I don’t want to get my hand dirty right now.” Watch out! Before you know it the sweet taste of August black berries is calling your name and you are saying to yourself, well maybe a small thorn bush is not so bad...

Jun 14, 2010

Creation Blindness

I am a fan of PBS nature programs, wildlife specials, the Discovery Channel, etc. The complexity, diversity, and beauty of plants, animals and ecosystems amaze and delight me. God's hand is visible everywhere in creation. Even those insects, weeds, and animals that at first glance appear useless and destructive end up being a "vital link" in the survival or growth of something else. The incredible wisdom and creativity of our God!

And yet what seems so obvious and visible to me manages to completely escape many botanists, ornithologists, entomologists, ichthyologists and zoologists. They personify "Nature" and give her/him/it the credit for all the creativity, intricacies, balance and complexities in the world around us. The Creator of the Universe is never acknowledged.

Evidently, this is nothing "new under the sun", as Solomon made the same observation way back when. In the 13th Chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon (verses 1-9):
For all men, while ignorant of God, were useless in their condition.
So, from the good things that are seen, they were unable to know Him who exists, nor did they know the Craftsman by paying attention to His works.
But they supposed that the gods who rule the world were either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars or violent water or the luminaries of heaven.
If, while delighting in their beauty, men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these things is their Lord, for the Creator of beauty created them;
And if they were amazed at their power and working, let them understand from them how much more powerful than these is He who made them.
For from the greatness and beauty of created things the Creator is seen by analogy.
Nevertheless, there is little reason for complaint against them, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and wish to find Him.
For as they live among His works, they examine them closely and are persuaded by what they see, because the things they see are beautiful.
However, they are not to be excused; for if they were able to know so much with their ability to investigate the world, how is it possible they did not quickly find the Lord of all these things?

I couldn't have said it better!

Jun 11, 2010

The Log in My Own Eye

He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.
- St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th/6th century

Jun 9, 2010

More Than Food

In the Orthodox Church we have many times of fasting. It is easy to focus only on the removal of certain kinds of food, but the Desert Fathers understood fasting to include all aspects of our lives...
We must not only keep a sharp watch over our diet, but keep away from all other kinds of sin so that as our stomach keeps fast, so also may our tongue as we abstain from calumny, from deceit, from idle talk, from railing and anger and all other vices which arise from the tongue. So also let our eyes keep fast. No looking for trivialities, no letting the eyes wander freely, no impudent lying in wait for people to talk to. The same with the hands and feet, to prevent them from doing anything evil. Fasting in this way, as St. Basil says, is an acceptable fast and, leaving behind all the evil to which our senses are inclined, we may come to the holy day of Resurrection, renewed and clean and worthy to share in the Holy Mysteries.
- St. Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings

Jun 8, 2010

Stranger on the Mountain

One of the joys and a source of great encouragement to me is reading about and reflecting on the ways that saints who lived years ago are currently active and involved in our lives today. Just such an account was posted on the Pravmir website yesterday...
Some time ago, in the 1990s, our parish invited a local "tree surgeon," Leo M., to cut down a couple of dead trees in the back of the church property. He came and worked with his wife, Kathleen, doing the job quickly and with kindness to the rest of the surroundings. But they strongly resisted being paid, insisting on offering their work gratis to our church. They were non-Orthodox, and we wondered about the reason for such generosity. The reason, as we learned from them later, was to be found in something that happened a few years before, just after they had been married.
Both Leo and Kathleen were serious enthusiasts of mountaineering and rock climbing, and so for their honeymoon t
rip they decided to go to Alaska to bag the highest peak of North America, mount Denali (a
ka McKinley), 20,320 feet. While living at the camp at the foot of the mountain, they thoroughly prepared their expedition: talking to guides, studying the maps, checking the equipment, and waiting for a long stretch of good weather.
When they finally started their exciting, but extremely difficult, ascent, everything went just fine for a few days. But at the end of one day, on a narrow path, they met an old, strange-looking man in a long dark robe. He was walking in the opposite direction, down the mountain. In a friendly manner he greeted them and advised them to turn around and return to the base camp as quickly as possible because the weather was changing into a severe storm. Soon, he said, it will be very dangerous around here. And, as if in answer to their unasked question of how could he know such a thing, he explained that he was local and knew the climate very well. Leaving them surprised and uneasy, he continued on his way.
Some minutes later, after Leo and Kathleen made the wise decision to turn back, and then tried to recall the appearance of the old man, they realized that they hadn’t seen a backpack or any other hiking gear with him. How could he have made it up so high in the bare, rocky mountain in sub-zero temps, without any food or protection?!
A few days later, almost at the bottom of the mountain, they were indeed caught by a severe storm. They survived it, constantly in their minds thanking the old man who had warned them of the danger. A week later, still staying at the base camp, they learned that some other climbers, who happened to be at higher elevations than they were during the storm, never came back.
Then, as if in answer to their curiosity, Leo and Kathleen noticed something at the camp cafeteria. It was a picture of their rescuer, pinned on a bulletin board between some miscellaneous ads and photos of the mountain. They recognized him at a glance. When they asked the waiter for his name, he told them, "It's an Orthodox saint who lived in Alaska. His name is St. Herman." And the photo showed the icon of St. Herman from the Orthodox Church nearby.
The Saint had told them the truth. He was indeed a local guy...
- posted in Pravmir, June 7, 2010, by Matushka Galina Tregubov and Lee Browne-Beed, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, Claremont, NH

Jun 6, 2010

Words of Truth

I have always assumed that the purpose of language was as a vehicle, a means, for communicating, one person to another. As I was reading Psalm 11 this morning, I turned to a worthy commentator on the Psalms - Fr. Patrick Reardon - in order to get further insight. I don't think I will ever think of speech and words in quite the same way again.
"The idea is now common that the primary purpose of speech is communication, the sharing of ideas, impressions, and feelings with one another. Language is currently considered to be, first of all, social and therefore completely subject to social control. Human speech is widely interpreted as a matter of arbitrary and accepted fashion, subject to the same vagaries as any other fashion. Thus, the senses of words can be changed at will, different meanings being imposed by the same sorts of forces that determine whatever other tastes happen to be in vogue. Words become as alterable as hemlines and hats.
"According to this view, words are necessarily taken to mean whatever the present living members of a society say that they mean, so that the study of language really becomes a branch of sociology...such a view of language dissolves the relationship of speech to the perception of truth, rendering man the lord of language without affirming the magisterial claims of truth over man...Human society, no matter how sinful and deceived, is named the final authority over speech, which is responsible only to those who use it, subject to no standards above the merely social...words must mean what people determine them to mean, especially such people as cultural engineers, political activitists, feminist reformers, news commentators, talk-show hosts, and other professionals who make their living by fudging the truth....
"How different is the view of the Bible, where speech is not regarded, first and foremost, as a form of communication among human beings. In fact, Adam was already talking before ever Eve appeared. Human speech, that is to say, appears in Holy Scripture earlier than the creation of the second human being, for we find Adam already naming the animals prior to the arrival of the marvelous creature that God later formed from his rib.
"At the beginning, before the Fall, Man was possessed of an accurate perception into reality. He was able to name the animals because he could perceive precisely what they were. His words expressed true insight, a ravishing gaze at glory, a contemplation of real forms, so that the very structure and composition of his mind took on the seal and assumed the formal stamp of truth. Human language then was a reflection of that divine light with which heaven and earth are full. The speech of unfallen man was but the voice of vision.
"This primeval human language, the pure progeny of lustrous discernment, flowed forth already from the lips of Adam prior to the creation of Eve, who heard it for the first time when her husband, awaking from his mystic sleep, identified her and told her exactly who she was: "You are bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." Human speech was already rooted in the vision of truth before it became the expression of human communication.
"Moreover, the Fall itself, when it came, derived from that demonic disassociation of speech from truth that we call the Lie: "You will not surely die." Eve's acquiescence in that first lie was mankind's original act of metaphysical rebellion. It had more to do with the garbling of Babel than with the garden of Eden. It was human language's first declaration of independence: "Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?"
"Just as truthful speech streams forth from vision, springing from the font of a pure heart, so lying is conceived in the duplicitous heart before it issues from the mouth. Says Psalm 11: "Each one has spoken follies to his neighbor, deceitful lips have spoken with divided heart." The situation described here is so bad that one despairs of finding any truths left in human discourse: "Save me, O God, for the godly man has disappeared, because truths are diminished among the sons of men...The wicked prowl on every side."
"In contrast to these varied, seemingly universal lies of men stand the reliable words of God: "The words of the Lord are pure words, smelted silver purged of dross, purified seven times." In this very unveracious world we yet trust that, though heaven and earth pass away, His words will never pass away."
- from Christ in the Psalms, Patrick Henry Reardon, Conciliar Press, 2000

Jun 5, 2010

The Kingdom of God

Living in a Western, democratic country which rewards individualism, ambition, and material success brings with it its own set of problems for one who is trying to live "in" the world but not "of" I the world. Fr. Sveshnikov posted a worthy examination of this conflict. You may read the entire article here. What follows is an excerpt:

In the Gospel reading for the memory of the saints, we hear about the strange beatitudes or qualities that make people blessed in the eyes of God (Matt. 5:1-12). They are the blessed qualities that shine forth through the lives of saints, but how unusual they are in the eyes of the secular world! Christ says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (3), but it is the rich and the arrogant that the world adores. “Blessed are those who mourn” (4), but the world urges us not to even think about death, to forget that this earthly life has a purpose and an end. “Blessed are the meek” (5), but it is the ruthless that get ahead in the secular world, and it is through brutality that earthly kingdoms are established. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (6), but the world wants us to hunger and thirst for very different things. “Blessed are the merciful” (7), but secular schools teach the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. “Blessed are the pure in heart” (8), but purity is trampled into dirt in today’s society. “Blessed are the peacemakers” (9), but the secular definition of peacemaking is to start a preemptive war. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (10), but the world persecutes righteousness and leaves no place for it as it marches along the path of “social progress.” Blessed are those who are persecuted for Christ (11), but who are the persecutors? In ancient Israel, they were the leaders of the people. In ancient Rome, they were the best emperors. And in Russia, those who envisioned a “bright future” for all slaughtered hundreds of thousands of clergy and millions of the faithful. We must remember this fact whenever we feel comfortable in this world order, whenever the world seems to be our friend. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

The kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). It is in this world, but it is not of this world. This distinction is very important for us. We must not treat the kingdom of God as some sort of a fantasy happening sometime in the future on some far-away planet. On the contrary, life with God must begin in this earthly life, and “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). And those who follow Christ get to partake of the kingdom in anticipation of the resurrection of the world to life with Christ. Similarly, those who reject Christ and His kingdom in this life, get to partake of life without God in anticipation of the eternal result of their choice. Those who choose to live according to sins and passions that rule the secular world, rather than according to the law of Christ, get their choice inscribed in their hearts, even as those who choose Christ get His law inscribed in theirs (Heb 8:10).

Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, M.Div., M.A.A.Th. - Rector of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia Orthodox Church in Mulino, Oregon (Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church)