Orthodoxy, Part 2
Translated from Russian by Natalie Semyanko
The Royal Hours. Passia. The Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria. Liturgical Colors. Our Help to the Deceased. Can an Orthodox Funeral Service be Performed for People of Other Faiths? How Saints are Called. This Pussy Willow is Being Blessed…. Bright Week. The Feast-Day of the Russian Land. About Fasting. Repentance. The Prayer Rule. How to Pray When time is Short. Things to Remember. "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night…" The "Protestant" Bible. Why does the Lord permit illness? Wearing a Cross. Prayer Beads. Name’s Days. How to help someone on their death bed. When will the end of the world come?
Appendix. Spirituality and Spiritual Guidance.
The Royal Hours.
"Hours" — are a short service, established by the Church to remember several holy events. There exist the first, third, sixth and ninth hours. The first hour remembers the banishment of Adam and Eve from heaven, and the appearance of Christ at the trial before Caiaphas. In the third — the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, in the sixth — the crucifixion of the Savior, and in the ninth — His death on the cross.
The hours are usually performed in the following order. The first — upon completion of the all-night vigil, after matins; the third and sixth — immediately preceding the liturgy; the ninth according to the bylaws should be read prior to the all-night vigil, before vespers, but in many local churches it is omitted. The fundamental prayers are psalms (there are three in each), as well as the chants of the current day — the troparions and kondakions. But three times in the year a special order for the hours is established, which in the liturgical books are called great, and among the common people: royal, or tsar’s. The common title came out of the ancient traditions of Byzantium: the Emperor himself was required to be present at these hours, forsaking all his governmental duties. Russia took on the traditions of the Byzantine church services, and our faithful sovereigns unwaveringly complied with this rule.
The great hours are served the day before Christmas and Epiphany, on the so-called "eves" (January 6 and 18), and are dedicated to these holy events, and also on Great and Holy Friday — in commemoration of the Lord’s Passions. Besides the psalms, in each hour (and they are performed in order, from the first to the ninth) there are readings from the Old Testament containing prophecies about the coming day, a text from the Apostles and a Gospel reading. Besides this, special troparions are sung. If any of the eves fall on a Saturday or Sunday, then the great hours are performed on the preceding Friday, and no Liturgy is served that day.
There are no faithful sovereigns in Russia any longer, but the tsar’s hours do not stop being such. For the Heavenly Tsar presides in the churches with His grace. Let us not forget about the great hours, because the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany begin with them, and they preface Pascha (Easter).
The last Orthodox service to arise was Passia (Greek for "suffering"), and it was compiled in the mid-17th century by the Kievan Metropolitan Peter (Mogila), the developer of many liturgical forms. At first, passias were served widespread in the southern regions of Russia, but by the 20th century they were being served throughout.
The service of Passia occurs four times in the year (according to the number of evangelists): on the second, third, fourth, and fifth Sunday of Great Lent, in the evening. From its title it is clear that these services remember the salutary sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Gospel reading related to them is read at each passia: in the first, the 26th and 27th chapters of Matthew, in the second, the 14th and 15th of Mark, in the third, the 22nd and 23rd chapters of Luke, in the fourth, the 18th and 19th of John. According to tradition, the praying stand with lit candles in hand during the Gospel readings.
Besides this, we hear several touching chants from the services of Great and Holy Friday — the day of the Lord’s physical death. Thus, we hear the stichera "Come and worship Joseph eternally remembered…," which is sung during the kissing of Christ’s Shroud; before the reading of the Gospel we hear the prokimen, "They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots…" These and other prayers carry us to Golgotha, again and again reminding us of the final goal of Lent — co-crucifixion with Christ.
During the Passia a sermon containing a lesson about Expiation is necessarily read. The early form of this service did not stipulate any parts, but the people’s piety added, to the Gospel and sermon, the akathist to Christ’s Cross or the Lord’s Passion, which is usually sung not only by the choir, but by all present. It is not surprising that Russian Orthodox Christians so love the Passia.
True, in certain circles the opinion exists that the Passia is of Catholic origin. Some find a similarity to the Catholic masses of Bach for the Passion week (the well-known "Passions of Matthew," "Passions of John"). This opinion is unfounded. On the contrary, the Metropolitan Peter compiled the order in contrast to the pomp of the Catholic services, because of which many adherents of magnificence accepted the Unia (the union with the Roman-Catholic faith). The spirit of passia is completely Orthodox: the incidental similarity to Catholic services in form is dissolved by the deep spiritual and moral content.
The Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria.
During Great Lent the faithful read this prayer regularly. During the period from Monday to Friday it is pronounced at every church service.
The prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria is read twice. During the first reading, after the words "idle talk," "Thy servant," and "Amen" one must prostrate himself once each time. Then it is necessary to bow at the waist twelve times, saying the prayer "God, cleanse me, a sinner!" Then the prayer is repeated in its entirety, at the end of which one prostration is performed.
This prayer is for us in a way a "memorandum notebook," assistance for our personal Great Lent efforts, aiming to free us from certain spiritual illnesses which deter us from turning to God, destroy our inner being and separate us from our neighbors.
Why perform prostrations? The Church never separated the soul from the body. In falling away, humans turned away from God, and now must be reborn. The body is holy, so holy, that God "became flesh." Salvation and repentance — are not disdain for the body, are not neglect of the body, as some claim, but instead, the reestablishment of the body to its true function — as the church of the Spirit. Christian ascetism — is not a battle against the body, but for it. Therefore the entire person repents — soul and body. Prostrations — are signs of repentance and humility, obedience and homage toGod.
Anyone who has at least once attended an Orthodox service, had to notice the beauty and festivity of the vestments. The diversity of colors is an inalienable part of the liturgical-church symbolism, a way of affecting those praying. The color scale of the vestments includes all the colors of the rainbow: red, yellow, orange, green, sky blue, blue, purple; together — they produce white, and in opposition to this — black. Each color is adopted to a particular group of feast or fast days.
White, including in itself all the colors of the rainbow — is the symbol of God’s uncreated light. White vestments are worn on the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Transfiguration.
Red (or more appropriately, dark red) is worn on the Sundays of Great Lent, during Christmas Fast, on the feast day of the Elevation of the Lord’s Cross, and sometimes on the feast days of great martyrs.
Yellow (actually gold) is the color of glory, greatness and virtue. It is assigned to Sundays, as the days of the Lord — the King of Glory; in addition, the Church in golden vestments notes the days of His special anointed ones — the prophets, apostles and hierarchal saints.
Green is the color of plants and a symbol of new life — it is used on Palm Sunday and throughout the feast of the Holy Trinity (until its end).
Sky blue or blue — is the color of the feast days of the Most Holy Mother of God. It is the color of the sky, and it conforms to the teaching about the Mother of God, who held the Resident of the Heavens in Her Most Pure Body.
Black is nearest in spirit to the weekdays of Great Lent. It is the symbol of renunciation from worldly strife, it is the color of repentance and strictness to oneself.
Our Help to the Deceased.
Someone close has died… Sooner or later we all encounter the mysterious phenomenon of death. And every decent person, by measure of his power and opportunities, tries to give the deceased his last due, to worthily send him off on the path of the whole earth. We attend to obtaining a coffin, to organizing the funeral, to planning the funeral repast. But we sometimes do not realize that the deceased himself does not need either the coffin nor the meal. Naked a person leaves his mother’s womb, naked he returns to the womb of the earth. Only one thing he needs, and needs it extremely. That is prayer. After the body’s death God designates a place for the soul until the Final Judgment — either heaven or hell, depending on how he had lived his life. Prayers for the repose of the dead, panihidas and commemorating at the liturgy greatly help the soul in the other world.
There is tale in the Lives of the Saints about the Venerable Macarius the Great, who prayed for everyone who departed for the other world. Once he saw a skull in the desert, which by the power of God related to Macarius that through his prayers, even the worst sinners receive some relief from their sufferings.
The first and immutable responsibility of each believer is the ordering of a funeral service for his deceased relative. One can display economy anywhere, only not on the funeral service! It must be performed no sooner than the third day of death (the day of death is considered the first day, even if the person died just before midnight); it is better, if the service occurs in church or at the cemetery. In an extreme case a funeral service can be performed in absentia. The deceased must be buried in the earth at all cost. Cremation is foreign to Orthodox ritual, borrowed from the eastern cultures. Even if the deceased willed to have himself cremated, going against his will is not a sin.
On the 9th and 40th days after death panihidas must be ordered—prayers for forgiveness of the sins of the deceased. Particularly important is the 40th day, on which the personal judgment of God is carried out over the soul, determining its fate until the Second Coming of Christ. Prayers for the repose will be more effective, if any one of the relatives of the deceased partakes of the Eucharist on these commemorative days. Panihidas should be served in the future as well, on birthdays, the day of death, the saint’s day of the deceased. Writing altar pleas, putting up candles can be done every day. At the cemetery, one must not insult the memory of the deceased by becoming drunk or pouring vodka on the gravesite. It is better to light a candle, to pray, to clean up the grave. At home, at the commemorative repast, Russians partake of special food — kutia (rice with honey or raisins), yeast-raised pancakes (blini), kisel (flummery).
If the deceased during his life was a believer, did not disparage God or the Church, confessed his deadly sins, long-term memorial services are ordered in the Church — for forty days (sorokoust), six months or a year. Monasteries accept "eternal" (while the monastery stands) remembrances.
Can an Orthodox Funeral Service be Performed for People of Other Faiths?
This question has been raised many times. Notice, that the question is not whether one can at least pray for a deceased person of another faith, but can funeral services or panihidas be served for them. It is vital to differentiate between these two inquiries: just prayers for deceased persons of other faiths, and the performance of an Orthodox rite for them. Personal, in-home prayer for non-Orthodox persons is not forbidden, one can remember them at home, read psalms at their gravesite, offer alms for the remembrance of their soul… But the Orthodox funeral rite and panihidas are constructed in the certainty that the deceased and the one for whom the service is being held is a true member of the Orthodox Church.
In protecting the purity of its Orthodox teachings and the order of life established by God, the Church has always forbidden bishops, clerics and laity to join in prayerful association not only in the church, but even at home with all heretics, schismatics, and excommunicants. The strictness with which the Church guarded its children from the danger of being infected by some heresy even extended to forbidding hierarchs to pray or serve even in the presence of heretics. The basis for this canonical rule lies in the eternal word of Christ: "But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:17). Being without the Church in life, heretics and schismatics are even farther from it in death, because then they lose the ability to repent and turn to the true light.
So it is perfectly natural that the Church cannot bring the mollifying bloodless offering or any prayer at all for non-Orthodox: this last is clearly forbidden according to the Apostle (1 John 5:16). In keeping with the commandments of the apostles and holy fathers, the Church prays only for the repose of Orthodox Christians who died in faith and repentance, as living members of the Body of Christ. This includes those, who might have fallen away at one time, but repented and returned to the Church.
Remaining true in all ways to the ancient Universal Church, our Russian Orthodox Church not only forbade funeral services for non-Orthodox — Roman Catholics, Protestants, Armenians, etc., but even to perform panihidas for them. Out of Christian mercy it only began to permit one condescension in relation to them: if the non-Orthodox is of "Christian faith," and for their burial there is no priest or pastor of their faith available, then an Orthodox priest may, in his vestments, accompany the body of the deceased to the cemetery and, during singing of "Holy God…" preside at the lowering of the coffin into the grave. Taking a body of a non-Orthodox person into an Orthodox Church is not permitted.
The expanse of Orthodox Christian love, in the name of which some demand to allow church prayers for deceased Christians of any faith, cannot extend to disregard for Orthodox teachings of faith, a treasure which our Church has protected in the course of centuries. Otherwise all boundaries will be erased, which separate the One True Church from those who are torn from the blessed unity with it.
From everything said here, it is clear that Church prayers are even more greatly forbidden for deceased Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and people of faiths, which do not recognize the Lord Jesus Christ.
How Saints are Called.
People serve God in different ways. The Heavenly Father bestows talents in needed measure and accepts the efforts of each in His Glory. The Church glorifies God’s workers in different ranks.
Prophets — are persons who receive the gift of foresight from God, relating to the world the paths of His Providence. Among the most revered prophets are: Elijah (remembered August 2), John the Baptist (July 7, September 11). Among well-known women-prophets there is, for example, the Righteous Anna (February 16).
Apostles — disciples of Christ, accompanying Him in His public service, and later spreading faith throughout the world. The Apostles Peter and Paul (July 12) are considered the Heads of the Apostles.
Equal-to-the-Apostles — are saints who, like the Apostles, labored to turn countries and peoples to Christ. Such are the baptizer of Rus Prince Vladimir (July 28) and the Princess Olga (July 24); the Emperors Constantine and Elena (remembered together on October 18).
Hierarchal Saints — patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops, attaining sainthood by tireless care of their flock, guarding Orthodoxy from heresy and schisms. Among their great number the Russian people particularly revere the following: Nicholas (December 19 and May 22), Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John the Chrysostom (remembered together on February 12); the Moscow Hierarchs Peter, Aleksey, Jonah, Philip, Job, Ermogen and Tikhon (remembered together October 18).
Venerable (coming to resemble the Lord) — saints, attaining glory in monastic toil. Through fasting, prayer, labors they formed in their souls great virtues — humility, chastity, meekness. Probably every monastery is glorified before God with a holy saint. In Russia, St. Sergius of Radonezh (July 18 and October 8) and St. Seraphim of Sarov (January 15 and August 1) are particularly loved. Among the venerable women the most well-known is St. Mary of Egypt (April 14).
Martyrs, who among saints constitute the majority, went through suffering and death in Christ’s name, for the true faith, for refusing to serve idols. Those who suffered particularly harsh punishments are called great martyrs. Among them are: the healer Panteleimon (August 9), George the Victory-Clad, Saints Barbara (December 17) and Catherine (December 7). Hiero-martyrs are those who suffered death as priests, and venerable martyrs are those who were killed in monastic orders.
Confessors the Church calls those, who suffered much for Christ, but did not suffer a martyr’s death.
The good and true tsars and princes used the greatness and riches God gave them for works of mercy, enlightenment, protection of public holy relics. Among them are Alexander Nevsky (September 12 and December 6) and Dmitry Donskoi (June 1)
Unmercenaries had the gift of healing and used it without compensation. Such doctors were the Saints Cosmos and Damian (July 14).
Fools-for-Christ, taking on the appearance of madness and suffering defamation from those around them, exposed human vices, brought those in power to their senses, comforted the suffering. One of these is Xenia of St. Petersburg (February 6)
Passion-bearers in Russia are honored separately, those who died at the hands of murderers and bandits. The first Russian saints were the princes/passion-bearers Boris and Gleb (August 6).
Angels — are incorporeal spirits, servants of God, messengers of His will. The highest among the angels is the Archangel Michael (November 21).
Saints which do not fit in any of these categories are honored as righteous. The Church thus calls the Saints Joachim and Anna (September 22), Zacharius and Elisabeth (July 8), John of Kronstadt (January 2).
This Pussy Willow is Being Blessed….
On Saturday evening, on the eve of the feast day of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem, Orthodox churches are transfigured. Church members, gathering in multitudes for the service, bring with them flowers and branches of pussy willows, so that the church begins to resemble a blossoming meadow. When did this beautiful ritual begin and what is its spiritual meaning?
The Lord Jesus Christ entered the Holy City several days before His suffering and death. Here He concluded His three-year service as the Messiah. The Hebrew nation, chosen by God in the Old Testament, had to receive evidence from Christ Himself about His Godly Merit. And so the Lord enters Jerusalem, accompanied by hordes of people.
The people, feeling the greatness of the event, from the excess of their hearts, called to Christ: "Hosanna!" (which means "blessed") and spread His path with green palm branches. Kings and great conquerors have been met with such festiveness since ancient times, and now, in the placing of the branches, the thousand-year hope of the Jews was expressed about the coming of the earthly King who will restore the throne of David. The people could not comprehend, that Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world…
Since then two thousand years have passed. But every year we, like the population of Jerusalem, come to meet Christ in church with tree branches (in Church Slavonic "s vaiyami"). There are no palm trees in Russia, and other trees do not leaf so early due to the harshness of the climate, only pussy willows reveal their tender catkins. The pussy willow — is a sign of spring, characteristic of this time of year’s spiritual rebirth. It harbors leaves in itself, but does not yet put them out, and thus gives us to understand that our joy from the feast of the Lord’s Entrance is not complete, but conceals in itself the beginnings of the great joy of Pascha.
The blessing of the pussy willows occurs during the festal service. After the Gospel reading the priests cense the pussy willows with sweet- smelling incense, read the prayer and bless the branches with holy water. Usually the blessing is repeated on the day of the feast, after the liturgy. We bring the blessed pussy willows home, where we keep them reverently, as a sign of the penetrating grace of God, until the next year. Then the branches are burned, replaced by new ones, or stuffed into a pillow, which is laid under the head of a deceased Christian in their coffin.
The Feast of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is a sort of threshold which divides the forty day Great Lent from the Passion Week, fortifying us before the terrible days of Christ’s Passion. Let us bring live flowers and pussy willows to the festive church service, so that we may hear the joyous words: "These pussy willows are being blessed, through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, by the sprinkling of this holy water, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!"
The Russian people celebrate Easter as they have in the past. Notwithstanding the many years of sermons about not believing, thousands of people gather on the night of Christ’s Resurrection in Orthodox churches, tens of thousands bless the Easter food. Russian hearts respond to the colossal charge of joy, renewal, enlightenment, which this greatest of all Orthodox holidays carries in itself. But for the majority, right after the first day of Easter, common weekdays commence, and the festivity is over. But in actuality the Holiday lasts much longer, for the Easter joy is so great that it is impossible to limit it to one day!
The Lord remained on Earth after His resurrection exactly 40 days. During this time, the services of the Orthodox Church return us to the night of Holy Easter. "Christ is risen!" — we greet each other and kiss thrice. Especially festive, joyful and majestic is the first week (Church Slavonic "sedmitsa," or seven days) following Easter, which is called Bright.
On Bright Week "all and all" — is Christ, Christ the resurrected. The fast, the time for crying and sorrowing, is over, the entire world is singing and glorifying the Lord. Each day in the morning, upon the conclusion of the liturgy, there is a procession, symbolizing the going of the women myrrh-bearers to the grave of Christ. The praying walk in the procession with lit candles.
All the services of Bright Week are served with open Royal doors, so that any one of us can see the church ritual in full detail. Open Royal doors symbolize the Lord’s grave, from which the Angel rolled the stone away. On this week there is no fast on Wednesday or Friday, but it is necessary to avoid overeating, which is so easy to do after the long fast.
On Friday of Bright Week is the commemoration of the icon of the Mother of God "The Life-Giving Font," and water is blessed after the liturgy. On the next day, on Great Saturday, the faithful are given pieces of the artos. There are no marriages or prayers for repose (panihidas) on Bright Week. Funeral services are performed, but more than half of the service consists of Easter chants.
The Resurrection of Christ — is the cornerstone of the Orthodox faith. The Apostle Paul teaches: "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). The joy of the Easter night — is a breach into the Heavenly Kingdom, the beginning of the endless joy of Heaven. How happy were the saints, such as the Ven. Seraphim of Sarov, who became worthy of continually having the memory of the Resurrection in his soul, and who met every person coming to him with the words: "My joy! Christ is risen!"
The Feast-Day of the Russian Land.
The second Sunday after the day of the Holy Trinity—is the Church Feast of the Russian Land. On this day, the Orthodox Church glorifies the great multitudes of God’s servants who completed their toils on Russian land.
No other country gave the world so many saints. All of them, and those, whom since ancient times the Russian nation reveres, asking for their help and intercession, and those, whose names we will never know, — are tied to the Russian land with indestructible bonds of prayer.
Let us glorify also this day the baptizer of Rus — the great Equal-to-the-Apostles prince Vladimir, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga, revealing the light of true faith to our Homeland. Let us bow to the faithful saints Princes Boris and Gleb, Alexander Nevsky and Dmitri Donskoi, sacrificing their lives for others. Let us praise the holy hierarchs and confessors — from the first Metropolitan of Kiev Michael to St. Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow, for protecting their Russian flock from schisms and sects, heresies and temptations. Let us pray to the spiritual fathers of the Russian land — from Anthony of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery to John of Kronstadt. Countless new Russian martyrs joined them, including the Tsar’s Family. Let us reverently bow our heads before the hundreds of thousands of new Russian martyrs, who did not abandon the faith and the Church in the last terrible years.
Princes and monarchs, bishops and fools-for-Christ, soldiers and holy women since the millenium protect our country in the fiercest times. Once, through the prayers of the ven. Sergei of Radonezh, Russia defeated the Tatars on the Kulikov field. Through the feat of confession St. Ermogen saved Russia from the Polish impostors to the throne. When all of Europe bowed down to Napoleon, Seraphim of Sarov saved our Homeland by prayer.
And now, when many think that the end has come for Holy Rus — it holds on, in spite of evil, by the prayers of its saints. Bishop Vassian (Piatnitsky) in his word on the Week of the Russian Saints said:
"What if the crushing poleax of the Lord is raised above us, and God’s anger with consuming fire is ready to fall on the Russian land? What then? Then… we believe! — all the Russian saints will stand up for us before the Terrible Righteous Judge. O, how many omophorions of the Saint Hierarch is Heaven will be spread above our Russian land! How many princely battle shields will be raised in her defense! How many poor mantles of the holy monks, how many uncovered bodies of the fools-for-Christ will stand up for her! Can we even think, that our holy relations and countrymen will forget their native land and their Church?"
All the saints of our land, pray God for us!
The Church of Christ commands its children to lead a temperate way of life, particularly singling out days and periods of required abstention —fasts. The righteous of the Old Testament fasted, Christ Himself fasted (Matthew 4).
The weekly fast days ("continuous" weeks excepted) are Wednesday and Friday. The Wednesday fast was established in memory of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and on Friday — in memory of the Savior’s sufferings and death. On these days it is forbidden to eat meat or milk products, eggs, fish (according to the Charter, fish and oil are permitted from Thomas Sunday to the feast of the Holy Trinity), and during the period from the All-Saints’ Week (the first Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity) until Christmas one should refrain from fish and oil on Wednesdays and Fridays.
There are four protracted fasts in the year. The longest and strictest is Great Lent, which lasts for seven weeks before Easter. The strictest of the weeks are the first and the last, Passion Week. This fast was established in memory of the Savior’s forty-day fast in the desert.
The Assumption fast is similar to Great Lent in strictness, but it is shorter, from August 14 to the 27th. The Church devotes this fast to the Most Holy Mother of God, Who, standing before God, unfailingly prays for us. In these two strict fasts fish can be eaten only three times — on the Feast of the Annunciation (April 7), the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (a week before Easter) and the Transfiguration of the Lord (August 19).
The Christmas fast lasts 40 days, from November 28 to January 6. Fish is permitted during this fast, except for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. After the feast day of St. Nicholas (December 19), fish can be eaten only on Saturdays and Sundays, and during the period from January 2 to January 6 strict fasting should be observed.
The fourth fast is of the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul). It begins on the Week of All Saints and concludes on the feast day of the Heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul, July 12. The charter concerning food in this fast is the same as for the first half of Christmas fast.
Single days of strict fasting are the eve of Epiphany (January 18), the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist (September 11) and the Elevation of the Lord’s Cross (September 27).
Some weakening of the strictness of the fasts is permitted the sick, as well as those doing heavy labor, expectant and nursing mothers. This is done, so that the carrying does not lead to a steep drop in strength, and the Christian would have enough strength for prayer rule and necessary duties. But fasting should not be strictly physical, but also spiritual. "He who considers that fasting is simply abstinence from food is mistaken. True fasting," teaches St. John Chrysostom, "is the withdrawal from evil, the curbing of the tongue, the laying by of anger, the subduing of passions, the ceasing of gossiping, lying and perjury."
The body of one fasting, not burdened with food, becomes light, and is fortified for accepting blessed gifts. Fasting subdues the desires of the flesh, softens the temperament, suppresses anger, restrains impulses of the heart, invigorates the mind, brings serenity to the soul, eliminates intemperance. By fasting well, says St. Basil the Great, by refraining from all sin, with all the senses, we fulfill the pious duty of an Orthodox Christian.
What should one do, whose conscience is troubling him? What if the soul is tormented?
The Orthodox Church answers: repent. Repentance — is the revealing of one’s sin, the decision not to repeat it in the future.
We sin against God, against our neighbor and against ourselves. We sin through deeds, words, and even thoughts. We sin through the urging of the devil, under the influence of the surrounding world and through our own evil volition. " There is no person, who lives on the earth and does not sin," is said in the prayers for the repose. But there is no sin, which is not forgiven by God through our repentance. It is for the salvation of sinners that God became man, was crucified and rose from the dead. The holy fathers compare the mercy of God to an ocean, dousing the strongest flame of human lawlessness.
Confession in Orthodox churches is performed daily. It is accepted overtly by a priest, but invisibly — by the Lord Himself, giving the Church priests the power to release sins. "May our Lord and God Jesus Christ, by the grace and generosity of His love of man, forgive you, (name), all your sins, and I, an unworthy priest, by the power He has given me, forgive and release you from all your sins…" — prays the priest. One must not defend oneself at confession, place blame on life’s circumstances, mask sins with vague phrases like "I have sinned against the sixth commandment," discuss extraneous matters. One must without shame (it is shameful to sin, not to confess!) relate everything, which the conscience and the Gospel expose. In no case must one conceal anything: one may hide a sin from a priest, but not from the All-Knowing God.
The Church considers the following to be grave, "deadly" sins:
Killing; abortions; beatings; adultery; debauchery and physical perversions; theft; blasphemy; sacrilege; hatred towards one neighbor, extending to cursing him; sorcery and fortunetelling; turning to help from extrasensories, "healers" and astrologists; drunkenness, smoking; narcotics.
But even less grave sins hurt people, serve as a barrier on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Even "harmless" lies or swearing can direct one to hell!
If, upon confessing something, we are determined to repeat that sin — repentance makes no sense. One cannot come to the mystery while quarreling or being in a prolonged non-reconciliation with anyone, by the words of Christ: "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). If that person has already died, then one must pray passionately for the repose of his soul.
In certain cases the priest assigns a penance — in its way a spiritual medicine, directed to rooting out the vice. These could be prostrations, reading of canons or akathists, stricter fasting, pilgrimage to a holy place — depending on the strength and possibilities of the repenting. The penance has to be performed without fail, and only the priest who assigned it can rescind it.
A reality of modern days has become the so-called "general confession." It consists of the priest himself naming the more prevalent sins, and then reads the releasing prayer over each penitent. Such a confession is only permitted those who have no deathly sins on their conscience. But even good, decent Christians must time to time check their souls on a detailed (individual) confession — at least, no less than once a month.
A person is responsible for their sins from age seven. Those who were baptized as adults, do not need to repent for the time before baptism.
The Prayer Rule.
The basis of the Orthodox Christian’s life is fasting and prayer. Prayer, said Saint Philaret of Moscow, "is the conversation of the soul with God." And as in a conversation it is impossible to hear one side all the time, so in prayer it is good to sometimes stop and listen to the Lord’s answer to our prayer.
The Church, daily praying "for all and for all," determined for every one a personal, individual prayer rule. The content of this rule depends on the spiritual growth, the living conditions, the person’s opportunities. The prayer book offers us morning and evening prayers, accessible to anyone. They are directed to the Lord, to the Mother of God, to our Angel Protector. With the blessing of the confessor, the private rule can include prayers to particular saints. If there is no opportunity to read the morning prayers before icons in a peaceful setting, then it is better to read them along the way than to omit them entirely. In any case, one should not breakfast before reading the prayer "Our Father."
If a person is ill or very tired, then the evening rule can be read not right before sleep, but a short time before that. But just before lying down to sleep, one should read the prayer of St. John of Damascus: "Lord and Lover of Mankind, is it possible that this bed will be a coffin…" and everything following it.
It is very important to include in the morning prayers the reading of remembrances. It is absolutely necessary to pray for the peace and health of the Most Holy Patriarch, the ruling archbishop, the spiritual father, the parents, relatives, godparents and godchildren, and for all people, with whom one way or another we are connected. If one cannot be reconciled with another person, even if not through one’s own fault, he is required to remember the " one who hates" and truly desire him good.
In the personal (cell) rule of many Orthodox are included the reading of the Gospel and the Psaltery. Thus, the Optina monks blessed many to read, during the day, one chapter of the Gospel, in order, and two chapters of the Apostolic letters. In addition, the last seven chapters of the Apocalypse were read, one each day. In this way, the reading of the Gospel and the Apostle (that is, the book with the Apostolic letters) were finished concurrently and a new cycle would be begun.
The prayer rule is determined by the one praying, and is confirmed (the rule, as well as any changes) — by the confessor. Once determined, the rule becomes in its way a commandment, and any deviation from it must be looked upon as a deviation, which must be told the confessor.
The main purpose of the prayer rule — is to dispose the soul of the Christian to active association with God, to awaken in him repentant thoughts, to purify the heart of sinful corruption. For this reason, by thoroughly fulfilling what is required, we learn, by the words of the Apostle, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18).
How to Pray When time is Short.
Which words to use when praying? What should one do, who does not have enough memory, who through lack of learning did not learn the most important prayers, and finally, those (and this life situation does occur) when there is simply not enough time to stand before the icons and read the compulsory morning and evening prayers? This question was decided by the great elder Seraphim of Sarov. Many visitors of the elder faulted themselves for praying very little, that they did not read even the mandated morning and evening prayers.
St. Seraphim established for such people the following easily accomplished rule:
"Upon rising from sleep, let each Christian, standing before the holy icons, read the prayer "Our Father" thrice, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. Then the song of the Mother of God: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary, full of grace…" also thrice. In conclusion the Creed: "I believe…" — once. Completing such a rule, let each Orthodox engage in his duties, to which he is assigned or called. During his work at home or along the way anywhere he should quietly read "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner," but if others surround him, then, while busy with his duties, let him only say in his mind "Lord, have mercy," — and thus until lunch. Right before lunch let him repeat the morning rule. After lunch, busy with his work, let every Christian read just as quietly: "Most Holy Mother of God, save me, a sinner." When preparing for sleep, let every Christian again read the morning rule, i.e., "Our Father" thrice, "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary" thrice and once "I believe."
St. Seraphim explained that, keeping to this small "rule," one can attain a measure of Christian perfection, because these three prayers — are the foundation of Christianity. The first, as the prayer given by the Lord Himself, is the pattern for all prayers. The second is brought from Heaven by the Archangel upon greeting the Mother of God. The Creed contains in itself all the salutary dogmas of the Christian faith.
In addition the elder counseled reading the Jesus prayer during activities, while walking, even in bed, and as confirmation used the following words from the letters to the Romans: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10: 13). For those who have time, the elder suggested reading the Gospel, canons, akathists, psalms.
Things to Remember.
There are words of the Holy Scriptures and prayers, which are desirable to know by heart:
Sacraments should not be confused with rituals. Rituals are any external show of reverence expressing our faith. Sacraments — are such services, during which the Church calls upon the Holy Spirit, and His Grace descends on the faithful. There are seven such sacraments: Baptism, Anointing, Eucharist, Repentance (Confession), Marriage, Unction, and Ordination.
"Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night…"
Human life costs less and less… It has become frightening to live — there is danger on all sides. Any one of us can be robbed, degraded, killed. Understanding this, people try to defend themselves: who gets a dog, who buys weapons, who turns his living quarters into a fortress.
The fear of our time has not by-passed the Orthodox. "How must one defend oneself against his neighbor?" — sometimes ask believing people. Our main defense—is the Lord Himself. Without His will, as it is said in the Scriptures, "shall not an hair of your head perish" (Lk. 21:18). This does not mean that we must challenge the sinful world with unreasonable hope in God. We must firmly remember the words "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matt. 4:7)
God gave us the greatest relics for defense against visible enemies. The first and foremost of these is the Christian shield — the bodily cross, which should not be removed under any circumstances; secondly, holy water and the artos, taken every morning. Also, Christians are protected by prayer. In many churches belts are sold on which the text of the 90th psalm, "He that dwelleth in the most High…" and the prayer to the True Cross, "Let God arise…" are printed. It is worn on the body, beneath the clothing. The 90th psalm has great power, Spiritually experienced persons recommend reading it before each time they exit onto the street, no matter how often we leave the house. St. Ignatius Branchaninov suggests crossing oneself and reading the prayer: "I renounce you, satan, and renounce your pride and your deeds, and attach myself to You, Christ, my Savior, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen." Orthodox parents must make the sign of the cross on each child, if he goes out alone.
Finding oneself in a dangerous situation, one must pray: "Let God arise," or "To Thee, the Champion Leader," (first kondakion from the Akathist to the Mother of God), or simply "Lord, have mercy," multiple times. One must turn to prayer even when danger threatens another person, but there is not enough courage and strength to offer assistance.
Prayers to God’s beloved who were glorified in military knowledge in life are very powerful: St. George the Victory-Bearer, St. Theodore Stratilat, St. Dmitry Donskoi. We will not forget the Archangel Michael, or our Angel-Protector. All of them received special power to help the weak in defeating their enemies.
"Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Ps. 127:1) The house of each Christian should be blessed. The grace will protect each house from all evil. If there is not opportunity to call a priest, one must sprinkle holy water on all the walls, windows, and doors, reading "Let God arise…" or "Save, O Lord, Thy people" (the troparion to the Cross). From the danger of arson, fire, it is usual to pray the Mother of God before Her icon "The Bush that does not Burn."
Of course, none of his will help, if we will lead a sinful life, and will not bring repentance for a long time. Often the Lord permits extreme situations to bring unrepentant sinners to their senses.
The "Protestant" Bible.
One often hears the question: "May I read the Bible that I received from a Protestant? Is it true that some of the books are missing from it?"
The generous preachers from the West in a few years have provided the Holy Scriptures to nearly every desiring Russian. Much of the population came to Protestant meetings only to acquire the Bible as a gift. One must confess, in this manner the Lord turned evil into good — through its own powers the Moscow Patriarchate would have had great difficulty publishing so many Bibles.
But may an Orthodox person read them without damaging his soul? The difficulty lies in not who gave the Bible, but what is printed in it. The overwhelming majority of "Protestant" Bibles in Russian were printed from the Synodal publication of the 19th century, and this is noted on the back side of the title page. If this reference is printed in the Bible — it can be read without qualm, because the text of the holy books does not contain anything non-Orthodox.
But it is something else again if it is a "free" translation of the Bible or separate Bible books (for example, "The Word of Life") and also Bibles with commentaries. Naturally, Protestants comment on the Word of God from their heretical point of view. There is another distinctive feature of Western Bible editions — the omission of eleven Old Testament books: Tobias, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, the wisdom of Joshua son of Sirach, the Prophet Baruch, the letters of Jeremiah, the second and third books of Ezdra, and three books of the Maccabees. They are not part of the modern Hebrew translation of the Holy Scriptures and are considered non-canonical, that is not entering the canon ("example," "rule" — Greek). In the truer Greek translation of the Bible these books exist.
The Slavic translation of the Holy Scriptures is taken from the Greek text, therefore the non-canonical books are entered into it and traditionally remain in the national editions of the Bible. In accordance to the Orthodox catechism of St. Philaret of Moscow, the Church offers its children the non-canonical books as pious reading, but does not extend to it the understanding of "God-inspired" that belongs to the canonical books.
The non-canonical books are not read during services, if one does not count several readings from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. So a Bible taken from the Protestants may be read for one’s spiritual benefit and edification. But one should not, as the Deacon Andrei Kurayev states, sell one’s soul for this gift and accept the Protestant faith.
Why does the Lord permit illness?
The Lord permits illnesses to come upon us, first of all, for our sins — to remit them, to change our immoral style of living, to realize this sinfulness and understand, that the earthly life — is a short moment, beyond which stands eternity, and what eternity will be like depends on the life one leads on earth.
Sometimes children are ill because of the sins of the parents, in order that sorrow would destroy their thoughtless life, force them to think and change, to purify themselves from passions and vices.
We suffer illnesses for our humility and keeping us from evil and ruinous deeds. Once Jesus Christ was walking with his disciples, and the apostles noticed a person who had been born without legs. He sat at the side of the road and asked alms. The disciples asked: "Why doesn’t he have legs?" Christ answered: "If he had had legs, he would have covered the earth with fire and sword" (from an apocryphal gospel).
Often the Lord tears us out of our day to day life through illness, protecting us from serious harm, through a small unpleasantness keeping us from a greater. Many illnesses result from the activity of the unclean spirits. And many symptoms of demonic attacks can be very similar to natural illnesses. It is clear from the Gospel that the crooked woman who was cured by the Lord (Lk. 13:11-26) was not possessed, but the reason for her illness was the activity of an unclean spirit. In such cases medical skill is futile, and healing can be given only through the power of God, who banishes the spirit of evil.
The Christian view of illnesses consists of humble acceptance of God’s will, in the recognition of one’s sinfulness and those sins, for which the illness was brought on; in repentance and changing one’s life. Prayer, fast, alms and other good deeds placate the Lord, and He sends us healing. If we do go to doctors, then we ask God’s blessing for recovery and trust our body to them, but not our soul.
Wearing a Cross.
Crosses are now in fashion. The unmovable hatred of atheists toward the crucifix (remember the "Death of a Pioneer" of Bagritsky: "do not resist, Valenka, he will not eat you?") is replaced by a new fashion. Crosses of various forms and sizes, expensive and not very, are sold in cooperative stores next to vodka in underground passages and jewelry stores. The cross is becoming the symbol of our time, but not as a sign of faith, but as an image of derision over Orthodoxy.
The Cross — is the greatest Christian holy relic, the visible evidence of our expiation. In the service of the Raising the Church sings the praise of the wood of the Lord’s Cross with many praises: "The Cross is the preserver of all the universe. The Cross is the comeliness of the Church. The Cross is the might of kings. The Cross is the steadfastness of believers. The Cross is the glory of the angels and the sting of demons." From the first centuries of Christianity every believer wears a cross on his breast, fulfilling the words of the Savior: "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The cross is put on every newly baptized person as a shield of faith and weapon against demons.
The unclean power fears nothing more than the cross. And nothing pleases them more than the careless treatment of the cross.
Those crosses which are sold in the church, are blessed through a special ritual. There exist canonical forms of the cross: four, six, and eight pointed, with a half-circle at the bottom and others, each line having its symbolic meaning. On the reverse side of Russian crosses one traditionally finds the words: "Save and protect." Modern "stall" crosses often do not even resemble the Golgotha cross. In several dioceses (for example, Crimea) bishops forbid the acceptance of crucifixes for blessing prepared outside the church shop. There is reason behind this, because sometimes the priest is given a cross, and instead of Christ — there is a woman surrounded by radiance. "Where did you get this?" "Some fellows were selling it on the street, wearing blue robes…"
But even a blessed cross cannot be worn without reverence. A sacred item, used without proper honor, is defiled and instead of help from above brings God’s anger on the defiler. The cross is not a medallion, nor an expensive bauble. "God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7)
There are no rules for the material from which the cross is made. Obviously, expensive metals can be used, because for the Christian there cannot be anything dearer than the cross — from this stems the desire to decorate it. But, certainly, plain wooden or metal crosses are nearer in spirit to the Lord’s Cross. There is also no principle difference between a chain and a string: mainly, the cross should be held securely.
The life of a Christian — is toil and prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) — the apostle exhorts, and with him the saints of our Church, by experience recognizing the power and benefit of continual prayer. The most well-known of these became what is known as the Jesus prayer:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
If all the works concerning the Jesus prayer that have been written by the holy fathers were gathered together, a vast library would result. The brevity and simplicity of it permits any Christian to include it in his daily prayer rule (of course, with the blessing of the spiritual guide), repeating it a specific number of times — 50, 100, 200… during the day. But how to pray and keep count at the same time? Prayer beads assist in this.
Modern prayer beads — is an enclosed string, consisting of small "seeds," divided into groups of ten by somewhat larger "seeds." The usual number of "seeds" is 50 or 100.
Prayer beads help keep count (the Russian word, chotki, is derived from the root chot, or count) of the number of prayers or prostrations. The person praying runs the fingers of the left hand over the "seeds" concurrently with the beginning of the new prayer being read. When coming to a larger "seed" they usually stop and read "Our Father" or "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary," and then continue the Jesus prayer. When the prescribed number is achieved, "It is meet…" is usually read. Any other prayer can also be read using the beads.
In ancient Rus the beads had a different form — of an enclosed ladder, consisting of wooden bars, sewn into leather or material. They were called "lestvitsa" or "lestovka" (ladder) and spiritually symbolized the ladder of salvation, rising to heaven. The enclosing of the beads and ladder symbolizes the unceasing, eternal prayer. Prayer beads are part of the monk’s apparel, laymen can pray with them, receiving the blessing of his spiritual guide. Prayer beads help to pray at work, in public places — one need only to put their hand in their pocket and start counting the "seeds."
The difficult-to-understand fashion of wearing the beads around the neck, tying them around the wrist, twisting them on the finger — are clearly not of pious roots. As with any holy item (and prayer beads are necessarily blessed), one must handle them piously and not be demonstrative about them.
For the Universe the greatest feast day is Pascha — the resurrection of Christ. But for each Christian there exists their own personal, little Pascha. This is the day of the saint with whom they share their name. The church calls this small Pascha namesake, or Angel’s day. The people call it name’s day.
A person used to receive their name from the Church, at their Baptism. It was not chosen randomly, but according to one of several rules. Most often the child was named after the saint that was honored on the day that it was born, the day the name was given, or the day of the baptism. Girls were permitted a hiatus of several days, if no woman saint was remembered then. In this way the birthday and name’s day most often coincided and were thus remembered together. To this day those who celebrate birthdays are referred to as name’s day celebrants in Russia (imenniniky — from the word imia, or name), but Christians celebrate the name’s day in honor of the saint.
In other cases the child is named according to promise, in honor of a specific saint, whose name had been chosen earlier and to whom the parents prayed even before the arrival of the child. Then that saint’s day was honored, and if the memory of the saint was celebrated more than once, then it was the day that was closest to the birthday. These days many are baptized as adults. How do people know the day of their saint? Using the Church calendar, one must find the saint with the same name that is nearest to their birthday. For example, a person, born in the beginning of July and who is called Peter, will celebrate their day on July 12, but a Peter born in the end of December will celebrate January 3. If there is some difficulty in deciding this question, ask any priest for advice.
One must celebrate a name’s day like any of the twelve great feast days. Before the Russian Revolution even less strict Christians tried to confess and partake of the Eucharist on this day (one must remember, if the name’s day falls on a fast day, then the celebration feast should consist of lenten foods).
How to help someone on their death bed.
The paths of the Lord are inscrutable. Sometimes a person, who all his life lived without God, on the threshold of death receives faith, desires to be baptized, that very sacrament about which the Lord said: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). But there is no priest available…
In such situations the responsibility of each Orthodox Christian is to perform baptism "for fear of death." For this one needs to sprinkle holy water, or even plain water, on the ill person and repeat thrice: "The servant of the Lord (full Orthodox name) is baptized in the name of the Father. Amen. And the Son. Amen. And the Holy Spirit. Amen." This baptism is considered valid, and if the sick person becomes well, it is enhanced in Church with the sacrament of Anointment.
Baptizing a person who is unconscious against his will, taking advantage of his bodily weakness, should not be done under any circumstances. The goal does not justify the means. Sometimes it also happens, that one baptized, but distant from the Church, on the threshold of death also wants to confess his sins. Here also each Orthodox Christian of course, if it is impossible to call a priest, is required to accept the confession of the dying. Question any grave sins — killings, abortions, adultery, depravity in all its forms, theft, alcoholism, participation in sects, ties with satanic power through astrology, extrasensory, medicine men. After the confession, a secret to be kept until the grave, fervently pray God that He be merciful to the penitent.
And if there is even the smallest chance of calling a priest to the deathbed, one must perform this kind deed, no matter what the difficulty.
When will the end of the world come?
In the fall of 1992, the already anxious life of Petersburg was extremely disturbed. On the pages of newspapers, from advertising sheets, the obtrusive words sounded: "October 28 — the day of Christ’s second coming." South Korean missionaries, overflowing with the knowledge of their own all-knowing, took upon themselves the "great" deed: to convince, within one month, unenlightened Russia of the necessity of repentance, of leaving all earthly chores and to wait the end of the world.
The less time that remained until the pronounced date, the greater the pressure of the atmosphere of waiting. Oil was added to the fire and the increasing weight of the first year of "reforms," through which one wanted to transfer to heaven, into the kingdom of the righteous. And then the day arrived…
The South Koreans were far from being the first to predict the "precise" date of the Second Coming. Such "prophets" consistently arrived once or twice in a century. They existed in Rus, in the era of the great schism, among the Old Believers. Then they predicted that God’s Judgment would come in 1703 (through a strange coincidence the year Petersburg was founded). In the 20th century these predictions increased remarkably, particularly with the appearance of the Seventh Day Adventists sect.
The fate of people who believed the false prophets was tragic. At best there was disappointment and desperation, in the worst — suicide. But the deceivers collected "dividends" from their lies in the form of money and property of the deceived — who needs earthly goods, if the end of the world is tomorrow?
Of course, the South Korean missionaries also turned out to be deceivers. The Lord did not come to judge the living and the dead on October 28. Instead of asking forgiveness for the disturbance they brought on, the eastern prophets "transferred" the date to… 2116 (counting on the fact, that the great-grandchildren of those fooled would already die by then).
A non-Church person, following this history, may easily begin to get the impression, that "Judgment Day — is a story for the elderly," as sang Vissotsky, and that the end of the world will never come, except maybe after a nuclear war.
But the Church teaches differently. In the 7th statement of the Creed it says: "I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ… " But the exact date of the Second Coming is hidden from the world. From the pages of the Gospel we hear the warning words of the Savior: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons" (Acts 1:7); "But that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13:32). Anyone, who dares to announce the day and year of the world’s end — is a deceiver and an enemy of Orthodoxy.
At the same time the Lord did not leave us without signs of the time of the Last Judgment. He gave us indications, by which we could deduct that the end is approaching. Based on the words of Christ (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), the Apostle Paul (2Thes. 2) and John the Theologian (Revelations), one could list the following as indications:
The final disaster, before the Second Coming, will be the arrival of the Antichrist — the enemy of Christ and his complete opposite (Greek "anti" — "instead," "against"). He will be raised to the height of power through world Judaism and will unite under his rule all countries and religions for three and a half years. The preparation for the appearance of the Antichrist, performed in the world through the dark powers, the Apostle Paul calls "mystery of iniquity" (2 Thes. 2:7). The Antichrist’s rule will be a time of great sorrows, previously unseen, and of the worst persecution of the Church. The Lord Himself will bring his end, Who will come on the earth in glory "for as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west" (Matt. 24:27). Before the Second Coming the sun will darken and the Holy Cross will appear in the sky — the sign of the Son of Man, visible to all. Then the time for the existence of our world will be fulfilled and the eternal Kingdom of God’s glory will commence.
Are we close to the days of the Last Judgment? One cannot say exactly, but many signs of the end of the world are being fulfilled in front of our eyes.
*** *** ***
Spirituality and Spiritual Guidance.
Anthony, the Metropolitan of Sura
Iwill begin with the definition of the word "spirituality," because when we speak of spirituality, we speak of specific expressions of our spiritual life, such as prayer, ascetism; and this is clear from such books as, for example, the books of Theophan the Recluse. But, I think, one must remember, that spirituality is what the grace of the Holy Spirit accomplishes within us.
This immediately puts us in relation to spiritual guidance into a very clear position, because now the discussion does not refer to raising a person by some kind of principles and teaching him to develop in prayer or asceticism by some kind of stereotype. Spiritual guidance will then mean that the spiritual guide, no matter what level he himself is at spiritually, would keenly observe what the Holy Spirit is doing in and over the person, would stir His activities, protect against temptation, downfall, and vacillations of loss of faith; and the result of the activity of spiritual guidance may appear, on the one hand, much less active, while on the other — much more meaningful than we often think.
Before going on, I want to say two words about the fact that spiritual guidance — is not an unequivocal concept. There are, as I see it, three types of spiritual guides.
On the most basic level is the priest who is given the blessing of priesthood, which in itself carries not only the right, but the sanctified power to perform the sacraments — the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Baptism, Anointing, as well as the sacrament of Confession, i.e. the reconciliation of a person with God. The great danger for a young inexperienced priest, full of enthusiasm and hope, lies in the fact that often young people, coming out of theological schools, imagine that the laying on of hands gave them brains and experience and "differentiating between spirits" and become what in ascetic literature was called "young elders": that is, not yet possessing spiritual fruition, not possessing even the knowledge that is given by pure personal experience, they think that they already know everything that can help take a repentant sinner by the hand and lead him from earth to heaven.
And, unfortunately, this happens too often, and in all countries: a young priest, through the power of his priesthood, but not because he is spiritually experienced, and not because God led him to this, begins to lead his spiritual children with "directives": don’t do this; don’t do that; do not read this kind of literature; go to church; do prostrations… The final result is a kind of caricature of spiritual life in his "victims," who do everything, that maybe even ascetics do — but those do it from spiritual experience, and not because they are trained animals. But for a spiritual guide — this is a catastrophe, because he enters into such an area, where he has no right, and no experience to be. I insist on this because this is a vital question for the priesthood.
One can only become a starets, or elder, through the grace of God, this is a charismatic phenomenon, a gift. To learn to be an elder is impossible, just as it is impossible to learn to be a genius. We all understand perfectly, that Beethoven and Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci and Rublev possessed genius which cannot be learned in any school, through no prolonged labor or long experience, because it is an expression of God’s gift of grace.
I insist on this, maybe, too much, because it appears to me to be a vital issue — in Russia, possibly, more than in the West, because the role of the priest in Russia is much more centralized. And often, young priests (young either through age, or their spiritual fruition or non-fruition) "direct" their spiritual children, rather than tend them.
Tending — means relating to them and behaving towards them as a gardener behaves toward his flowers or his plants: one must know the nature of the plant, must know the conditions in which they are placed, climatic or other, and only then may one help (and this is all that one can do) this plant develop the way it is natural for it to develop, according to its nature. To break a person in order to make him resemble oneself — is impossible. One spiritual writer of the West said: "One can lead spiritual children only to themselves, and the path into his life can sometimes be very long…" In the lives of the saints one can see how great elders knew how to do this, how they could be themselves, but see in the other person their exceptional, unique characteristic, and give this person, and another, and a third, the ability to also be themselves, and not replicas of their elder or, even worse, a stencil copy.
An example from the history of the Russian Church — is the meeting of Anthony and Theodocius Pechersky. Theodocius was taught by Anthony, but their spiritual paths were quite different, in the sense that Anthony was a recluse, while Theodocius — put down the foundation for a monastic society. One might ask — how could Anthony prepare him to create that which he himself would not begin to do, and to raise him to be a person that he himself did not want to be? It appears to me, that here one must clearly see the difference between our desire to make a disciple similar to ourselves, and the desire to make him similar to Christ.
Being an elder, as I said, is a gift of grace, it is spiritual genius, and for thus none of us can think of behaving like an elder (starets). But there is a middle ground — that is fatherhood. And again, too often a young — and maybe not so young — priest, only because he is called "Father so and so" imagines, that he is not only a confessing priest, but a true "father" in the sense in which Apostle Paul spoke, that you have many care-givers, but I bore in you Christ; and the same was said by St. Seraphim of Sarov in his time. Fatherhood consists of some person — and maybe not even a priest — bearing to spiritual life another person who, looking deeply into the former, saw, as in the old expression, in his eyes and face the light of eternal life, and for that reason was able to approach him and ask him to be his instructor and guide.
A Father is distinguished, also, as though he is of one blood, and in spiritual life — of one spirit — with his disciple, and can lead, because between them there is true, not only spiritual, but also mental, harmony. You probably remember that at one time ascetics and teachers filled the Egyptian deserts, but still people did not seek a teacher by merit of his apparent glory, they did not go to the person who was praised the most, but sought teachers whom they could understand, and that could understand them.
And this is very important, because obedience is not blindly doing what someone who has material-physical, or mental-spiritual power over you, says; obedience consists of the acolyte, choosing a teacher for himself in whom he believes completely, and in whom he sees that which he himself seeks, strains to hear not only every word, but also the tone of the voice, and tries through the expression of the teacher’s identity, and all the expression of his spiritual experience, to grow above himself, to partake of this experience and become such a person, who has already grown beyond the boundaries which he could have attained under his own power. Obedience is first of all the desire to listen, and to listen not only with the mind, not only with the ear, but with the entire being, with open heart, reverent contemplation of the spiritual mystery of the teacher.
What concerns the spiritual father, who bore you or took you on already born, is that he must have a deep reverence to that which is being accomplished within you by the Holy Spirit. The Spiritual father also, strictly speaking, like any conscientious parish priest, should be able (and this is always obtained by the price of effort, thoughtfulness, reverent attitude to those who come to him) to see in a person that beauty of the image of God, which is never taken away. Even if the person is damaged through sin, the spiritual father must see in him that beauty of the image of God, which suffered from the conditions of life, or from human carelessness, or from sacrilege; to see in him an icon and venerate that which remains in him, and on behalf of this Godly beauty which is within him, to work to eliminate everything, which deforms this image of God. Father Eugraph Kovalevsky, while he was still a lay person, once said to me: When God looks at a person, He does not see in him the virtues, which may not even exist, nor his successes, which he doesn’t have, but He sees the unwavering, shining beauty of His Own Image… And if the spiritual father is not capable of seeing this ever-eternal beauty in a person, and the already commencing act of his being called to become, according to the image of Christ, a God-person, then he cannot lead him, because one cannot build a person, one cannot make one, but one must help him grow by measure of his own personal calling.
And here the word "obedience," maybe, should be somewhat clarified. Usually we speak of obedience as subordination, subjection, and sometimes enslavement to the spiritual teacher or whom we call — entirely in vain and with harm not only to yourself but to the priest — spiritual father or one’s elder. Obedience consists particularly of what I mentioned above: in listening with all the power of the soul. But this obligates both the spiritual teacher and the disciple; because the spiritual teacher must listen with all his experience, all his being and all his prayer, and I will say more: with all the activity in him of the All Holy Spirit’s Grace, to that, which the Holy Spirit is doing in the person who has trusted himself to him. He must be able to follow the path of the Holy Spirit within him, revere that which God is performing, and not try to raise either according to his own image, or the way he thinks the person should be developing, as the "sacrifice" of his spiritual leadership.
And humility is demanded from both sides. We easily expect humility on the part of the disciple or spiritual child; but how much humility is needed by the priest, the spiritual guide, in order not to ever invade a holy region, to relate to the soul of a person in the way that Moses was ordered by God to relate to that soil, which surrounded the Bush that did not Burn. Each person — potentially or in reality — is already such a bush; and everything, which surrounds it, is holy ground, on which the spiritual guide can tread only taking off his boots; never stepping otherwise than the publican, standing at the threshold of the church, looking into the church and knowing, that that is the region of the living God, a holy place, and he does not have the right to enter unless the Lord Himself commands, or the Lord Himself suggests, what activity to perform or which word to say.
One of the problems of the spiritual teacher consists of raising the person in the spiritual freedom of God’s children, and not keeping him in an infantile condition all his life: so he does not come with trifles to his spiritual father, but would grow in such measure, that he can learn to hear that, which the Holy Spirit says in unspeakable words in his heart.
And if we consider what humility means, we can turn to two short determinations. First: "humility" in Russian — means a state of reconciliation, when a person is reconciled to God’s will, that is, has given himself up to it limitlessly, fully, joyfully, and says: "Do with me, Lord, what You will! — but in result is reconciled with all the conditions of his personal life: everything — is God’s gift, both good and terrible. God has call us to be His envoys on Earth, and He is sending us where there is gloom, to be light; where there is hopelessness — to be hope; where joy has died — to be joy. And our place is not only where it is peaceful, in church, or at the liturgy, where we are protected by our mutual presence, but there, where we stand alone as the presence of Christ in the gloom of the disfigured world.
If we then consider the Latin root of the word humility, then "humilitas" comes from "humus" meaning fruitful earth. Consider (Theophan the Recluse also writes of this) what the earth appears like: it lies silent, open, defenseless, vulnerable, before the face of heaven; it takes heat from the heavens, and the sun’s rays, and rain, and dew, but it also accepts that which we call fertilizer, that is, manure, scraps, everything, which we throw into it — and what happens? — it brings fruit, and the more it bears that, which we call spiritual degradation, insults, the more fruit it brings.
It follows, then, that to reconcile oneself — means to open oneself before God so completely, that one cannot revolt against Him, against the activity of the Holy Spirit or against the good image of Christ and His teaching; to be receptive to the action of grace. As in our sinfulness we are sometimes injured at hands of humans, from a sharp word, or a cruel deed, from taunts, thus we must so to give ourselves up to God’s will that by our own wishes, God would do with us everything that is in His will, and we would accept everything, open up, and then permit the Holy Spirit to subdue us.
It appears to me, that if the spiritual teacher will learn humility in this sense: to see in a person the certain beauty, and know his own place (and that place is so miraculous, so holy: the place of the groom’s friend, whose role is to arrange the meeting of bride and groom), then the spiritual teacher can truly be the companion of his spiritual child, go with him step for step, protecting him, upholding, and never treading into the region of the Holy Spirit. Then the spiritual teaching becomes part of the spirituality and the growth to holiness, to which each of us is called and which each spiritual teacher must help their spiritual children attain.
But where to seek spiritual teachers? The trouble is, that elders, even spiritual teachers, should not be sought, because we could travel the world and not find them; but experience shows that sometimes, God will send the necessary person at the right minute even for a short time. And then he suddenly becomes for us that, which were previous elders.
I sometimes think, that an example for me is the donkey of Balaam (Numbers 22:23), which began to speak and told the prophet that, which he did not understand. Something similar happens to me: sometimes, a person comes to me, and I do not know what to answer him, and suddenly I say something — and it turns out to be correct. I think that at such moments, God provides the needed words; but one cannot count on the fact that your own experience or knowledge will give you the ability to always to so; and for this reason one must very often be humbly silent, and then say to the person: You know, I cannot answer you right now…We have a wonderful example from the life of starets Ambrose of Optina: people came to him, asking for advice, he made them wait two-three days. Once a merchant came to him, saying: "I have to go home, my store is shut, but you are not giving me an answer…" The elder answered: "I cannot tell you anything! I asked the Mother of God, but She is silent…"
And I think, that we should answer: I could suggest something from my own mind, from books or tales, but this would be unreal — and it is better not to say anything. Pray and I will pray, if God places anything in my soul, I will write or tell you — and the person will regard the word you say completely differently, than if for all life’s occurrences you have some truism, because everyone knows these truths by heart. But the person has only one vital question to which he has to know the answer.
Now I want to explain, that, when I speak of genius, I do not speak of the priesthood, not even about the category of spiritual parenthood, but specifically and exclusively of eldership. And I used the word "genius" because in the area of the spoken word it explains that, which otherwise might be called "blessedness." In worldly matters this genius is musical, artistic, mathematical — it is something which we cannot achieve with any of our own efforts. For this reason I speak not of the priesthood in general, and, of course, do not mean to denigrate the parish priest, the youngest, simplest, but honest, doing his work, confessing people, sharing with them that which he learned from the Church fathers, from theologians, from their own spiritual guide, from the surrounding Christian praying environment. This is a valuable thing. But there is a moment, which disturbs me somewhat; that is when some priests — the more they are spiritually illiterate and unripe — the more they sure are that, as soon as they put on their vestments, that they are already speaking from God.
I remember one respected person (whom some people consider a great elder) who said to me: I do not pray any more when people ask me something, because since after prayer the Holy Spirit speaks through me, and then, if they do not do what I say, then they sin against the Holy Spirit and they will not receive forgiveness… This is precisely what I had in mind: this, thank God, is an extreme example. And I was horrified that a person might think that, if he thrice said: "Lord, enlighten my mind, which is darkened by evil lust," that his next words would simply be a prophecy from God.
And I think that simple elementary sense plays a role here: one may speak of that which one knows surely. Say, taking an example from a huge spectrum: the Holy Apostle Paul may speak with complete assuredness that Christ rose from the dead, because he met the living, risen Christ on the way to Damascus. About other things he can speak with not such first-hand knowledge. Other people also have certain experience, on a smaller scale, maybe, of less power, but of which they can say,"Yes, I know for sure." Thus one unbeliever, who turned to God, wrote a book in France called, "God exists, and I met Him."
The priest and layman may also speak from church experience, because they are involved — even if they do not possess it completely; because, having some common experiential premises with others, they can listen to the experience of other church people, and when necessary, they can say: "This — is true — because the Church says so, and I know from the church depths more, than I know from my own experience… And, finally, there are things, which we can say only because the Lord revealed them to us.
Missionary Leaflet # E50c
Copyright © 2002 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)